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Author Topic: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?  (Read 3944 times)

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Offline Oniya

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Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #25 on: December 15, 2012, 12:46:29 PM »
I still haven't found any references to 1 being not equal to 1.

As for 1+1 equaling 2 and not something else, (well, it can equal 102, but only if you're in a binary base system) I would refer to Russell and Whitehead's 'Principia Mathematica', but only if you have a couple days and a full bottle of ibuprofen to kill.  It's three very large books, and they finish up the proof somewhere in volume 2 - after proving that 1 exists, addition exists, and 2 exists.  I think there may even be a bit about proving that = exists, but I gave up three-quarters of the way in.  (Fscking reference library hours.)

Offline TaintedAndDelishTopic starter

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #26 on: December 15, 2012, 01:00:04 PM »
I think the idea is that if the laws of physics were to change due to some  unimaginable event - something as monumental as the big bang.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #27 on: December 15, 2012, 02:05:55 PM »
See, I've actually been listening to lectures about that very thing recently (thanks to an inquisitive 11-year-old), and something that cataclysmic would require a complete unraveling and re-creating of the universe - meaning that none of us (or our future progeny, or the progeny of any species that exists now or in the future, even to the point of assuming that black holes have consciousness) will have the opportunity to experience it.  We would be reduced to our components - possibly down to strings - and absolutely nothing of the current state of things (on a universal scale) will exist.  Game over, hit the reset button, new experiment.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #28 on: December 15, 2012, 02:24:51 PM »
I may have been making a reference to the 0.9999999 equals 1.  Not so much that 1 does not equal 1.  Misspoke.  As I said, math gives me a headache and is a long way from my subject.  Science I'm good, math I'm not. 

Offline Lithos

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #29 on: December 15, 2012, 02:30:24 PM »
Here is my view of it.

You could say that physical truth (by truth here i mean validity of either theory or accepted physical law) is something you can use to make predictions that are true to the greatest accuracy of observations available at the time. There have been many different truths and there will no doubt be many more. There is no such thing as total accuracy of observation, and in some things (quantum physics) the very observation tampers with the result so things get tricky there. I suppose in things between two people for example, truth would be something that is percievable to totally unbiased observer. Just like totally accurate observation there is no totally unbiased observer so there, too some sort of "ultimate" truth will probably always elude us.

Newtonian physics were accurate enough to get man to the moon, theory of relativity was accurate enough to give us things like GPS (without taking changes in flow of time relative to speed to account, accuracy of gps system would deteriorate by 10 kilometers each day, so would have been useless very soon after launch.). Getting more accurate truth in physical sense has nice rewards for sure, these things matter very concretely for our everyday lives.

The source for the deterioration rate that i cited is here, i am not sure that I would remember it if somebody asks later: http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~pogge/Ast162/Unit5/gps.html
« Last Edit: December 15, 2012, 02:56:54 PM by Lithos »

Offline Caehlim

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #30 on: December 24, 2012, 02:13:26 PM »
I recently posed these questions to a good friend of mine, and not so surprisingly, he squirmed in his pants as if afraid of the consequences of answering them. He dodged the question by stating that the concept of "Truth"  was not so easily defined. The idea of defining what truth is was rather interesting, but in this case, the question was  used as a smoke screen or delay tactic. I thought that this would be an interesting topic for discussion, so here are my questions:

1. What is truth?

I believe that we each have our subjective experience of whatever reality is out there. It's not true per se, but it is important because all of the pleasure, pain, justice, love, good and evil in our lives is contained within our own subjective experience. All the things that truly matter are subjective, however...

Quote
2. Does it matter if our beliefs are true or not?

... As time goes by, we learn that simply acting on our subjective experience alone rarely allows us to control our lives and get the results we are hoping for. In order to actually get anything done we have to understand how our actions shape the future sensations that we experience. The only reliable way in my experience to get this done is to form a model in our head of what 'reality' is like and to learn its rules, at least enough to roughly predict the outcome of our actions upon our subjective experience.

Quote
3. How does one go about determining if something is true or not?

You can't. But you can see if something is close enough to true, by observing how it affects your ability to predict the personal consequences of your actions.

In the end your beliefs may not be correct, but they can be good enough for practical purposes and that's good enough for me.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2012, 02:43:08 PM by Caehlim »

Offline Caehlim

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #31 on: December 24, 2012, 02:35:20 PM »
That would mean that I cannot state that 1=1 is an irrefutable fact?

It's not a fact at all. It's a convention of formal logic*. We have all agreed to construct the language in which we discuss the universe in such a way that 1 = 1. But this doesn't say anything at all about reality itself, we just invented it so that we can understand one another when we talk.

There are other forms of human communication in which 1 does not equal 1. Sarcasm, parody and humour in general being the most obvious examples. Because we know the rules of these ways of talking, we can all still understand what one another means.

Edit:
* I was actually thinking of A = A when I said this was a convention of formal logic. 1 = 1 is obviously a more specific example and is actually a convention of formal mathematics. Still, the same idea applies none the less.

I believe this also forms one of the four Axioms of mathematics but it's been a looooong time since I've read mathematical philosophy, so you might have to take that with a grain of salt.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2012, 02:39:22 PM by Caehlim »

Offline Oniya

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Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #32 on: December 24, 2012, 05:51:51 PM »
It would be the Axiom of Equality.  Without putting too fine a point on it, it's the very definition of equality, and without it, we'd have no business even talking about the subject.

Offline Sethala

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #33 on: December 25, 2012, 08:54:36 PM »
Hm, interesting topic...

First, about the whole 1=1 thing, I did actually find a "proof" somewhere the ends with 1 not being equal to 1, but it involves dividing by zero (technically, having a denominator of "a - b" and then defining a = b, making the denominator a - a).  So that might be what some of you are thinking of.

Back to the topic, though.  My answers:

1. Truth is factual, impartial information, whether we can actually obtain that information or not.  For instance, say someone decides to bury a box under his home.  We have no way of knowing what's in the box short of either asking the person, or digging it up ourselves.  That doesn't change the fact that whatever he put in the box, is what's in the box.  Similarly, if we find a dinosaur skeleton, we can say for a fact that that dinosaur somehow died.  We won't be able to tell how it died, though we can possibly make some guesses based on the condition the bones were in and how they were positioned.  The "truth" in that case is how the dinosaur actually died, even though no one can actually say for certain what that is.

2. It is important if you make decisions based on those beliefs.  For instance, let's say that my personal banker is a young-earth creationist (in other words, he believes that God created all life as it is now about 6000-10000 years ago, despite all evidence to the contrary).  Now, being a banker, what his belief of the world's origins doesn't actually matter - as long as he can still do my banking, he can believe whatever he wants.  However, if he were a high school biology teacher instead, his belief of how old the earth is and whether or not we all evolved would definitely impact how well he does his job.  Thus, his beliefs being based on truth would be significantly important.  Similarly, if he had decided back in September to sell off all of my assets because the would would end in December, that would definitely be a bad thing for me; again, he's letting his personal beliefs interfere with his decisions, which can have disastrous results.

3. The scientific method has proven itself to be the best way for us to determine whether something is true or not.  In short, you simply observe something, try and predict what's causing it, determine a way to test whether your guess is correct or not, then test it.  Most importantly however, you need to come up with a result that would prove your guess false.  If you try to say that something is the way it is "because God made it that way", you need to come up with some result that would convince you that your answer is false before you test it; if you would always assume your guess is correct no matter what result you get, you're not actually testing anything.

That being said, sometimes there's just no way for us to know if something is true or not.  In that case however, you should still try to get an answer that's as true as possible; throwing around "God did it" as a panacea for every single question you have does not actually help at all.

Offline mj2002

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #34 on: December 27, 2012, 02:39:58 AM »
Of course belief is not bad. I believe ghosts may exist. I have no proof, and I'm ready for a day when they are proven a scientific impossibility. I will then accept that ghosts as I've known them simply do not exist. My belief is and will always be based on reality. No, that isn't 'absolute truth' as people have thrown around, but who needs absolute truth?
This is a weak position in my opinion. First of all you're waiting for the day when a negative is proven. This of course will never happen. As such, you've now allowed the possibility that everything may exist. This makes your position useless because every figment of someone's imagination is now considered 'possible' by these standards. While that may technically be true (because one can't be absolutely sure that they're not possible) it devalues the whole process of distinguishing what true and what is not true to the point where it is meaningless. Logically this could be a valid position, until you consider the overwhelming evidence that shows that trying to find evidence for a claim instead, does actually work. If you continue down this line, then there is no reason to assume ghosts exist.

As for the more general question, how does one determine what is true. I like these two rules;

1) Independent verification (basically the Scientific Method)
2) Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

Offline Sabby

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #35 on: December 27, 2012, 03:42:29 AM »
This is a weak position in my opinion. First of all you're waiting for the day when a negative is proven.

I never said that :P Ghosts aren't even defined. But eventually we'll learn things that will make the concept more or less plausible. We may never prove or disprove it, but I'm not waiting for an absolute. My 'suspicion' (because I realize belief is the wrong word) is a shaky one at best, and that reflects the evidence.

If one day we discover something that lends a small amount of plausibility to the concept of ghosts, my suspicions will then be strengthened a small amount. Likewise, something that makes the concept of ghosts seem slightly more unlikely then before will make me slightly more doubtful. But I will never claim that they exist simply because I have suspicions.

Offline mj2002

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #36 on: December 27, 2012, 04:07:31 PM »
I never said that :P Ghosts aren't even defined. But eventually we'll learn things that will make the concept more or less plausible. We may never prove or disprove it, but I'm not waiting for an absolute. My 'suspicion' (because I realize belief is the wrong word) is a shaky one at best, and that reflects the evidence.

If one day we discover something that lends a small amount of plausibility to the concept of ghosts, my suspicions will then be strengthened a small amount. Likewise, something that makes the concept of ghosts seem slightly more unlikely then before will make me slightly more doubtful. But I will never claim that they exist simply because I have suspicions.
Like I said, you could take up this position for any figment of one's imagination and you still wouldn't get anywhere. I think we're somewhere on the same level though. I just word it like this; Ghosts probably don't exist, so the concept shouldn't be taken seriously. If evidence is found proving otherwise, then the possibility can be taken somewhat seriously. Perhaps even better; I'm almost absolutely sure that ghosts don't exist. There is no known evidence, yet there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows that ghosts are just an idea, a concept made up by men. Fiction.

Offline Sabby

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #37 on: December 27, 2012, 05:48:51 PM »
On that we agree. I admit I misused the word belief, so my suspicion of ghosts is a very fragile one for the reasons you stated. No physical evidence whatsoever, and plenty of cultural reasons to explain the concept. Also that whole vibrating pipes thing really threw a wrench in it for me, so my suspicions have been severely lowered.

The only 'evidence' is the same kind you get for UFOs and Angels. Eyewitness accounts. And no one in their right mind would deem something true just because someone says they saw it. Now, if billions of people see it every year, thats another thing, but something that so many people apparently see would be a lot easier to track down, wouldn't it? And yet there's not one cup of ectoplasm to attest to these eyewitness accounts.

UFO's, however, get slightly more credence for the simple fact of how unlikely it is we are alone in the universe. Once again, the physical evidence does not exist, like with ghosts, but the theory is still slightly more credible.

I guess what I'm getting at is the plausibility of a concept is something we can and should measure in the absence of physical evidence, but it should never be a substitute.

Offline Serephino

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #38 on: December 27, 2012, 10:23:26 PM »
What is the truth?  Well, that depends on who you ask.  I know that many of you will not like that answer, but... that is the real truth.  Do ghosts exist?  Yes.  To me, that is truth.  Too many weird things have happened to me for me to believe otherwise.  We as beings are the sum of our experiences.  Another person who, say, is more scientifically minded and hasn't had the same experiences I have will say ghosts don't exist, and that is the truth to them.  Whether or not ghosts actually do exist is beside the point.  Each person's truth is based on their personality that has been shaped by environment.

My spiritual teacher once said to me the world can change for me, and yet, nothing changes.  What she meant by that is something could happen to me that would completely rock my world.  Such things have happened.  And yet, for everyone else who didn't have that experience, nothing changed.  Life went on as usual for the rest of the world.  Or, say it was scientifically proven that ghosts do exist.  That would change everything for us humans, and yet, nothing actually changed because the ghosts existed before their existence was proven, it's just that many people who didn't have the evidence didn't believe.

Me, I like to believe that anything really is possible.  Who am I to say that something isn't?  I am just an imperfect person on this planet with billions of other imperfect people.  If you can't prove a negative, then why not be open to possibilities?  I find life so much more interesting when I look at the world that way.  My truth is that there is so much more to this world than can be proven by science. 

Offline Sabby

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #39 on: December 27, 2012, 10:37:11 PM »
You are mistaking the word truth for belief. They are not the same thing. I can go into a lead box, erase my memory and render myself a completely blank slate. All I would know is that I am in a box, some kind of force holds me towards the ground, and that I lose strength as time passes. This is all I know based on my surroundings and feelings.

I can come up with ideas as to why this one side of the box attracts me, and the other five do not. Perhaps it has something to do with the groaning in my stomach. As time goes on, I find it harder to stay off of the floor. My stomach must need to rejoin the 6th surface of the box! It explains why it sounds so unhappy and why I am drawn to it.

So I disembowel myself to appease a slab of metal. I believe that it will allow me to fly and escape the box. Now, you people outside the box know this is idiotic. I'm going to kill myself if I do this. But I have no way of knowing that. I only know what is in this box, and I have come to this conclusion based on my experience in the box. Does my ignorance render my theory of disembowelled flight on par with the scientific theory of gravity?

Offline TaintedAndDelishTopic starter

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #40 on: December 28, 2012, 12:38:05 AM »

While its true that different people have different ideas of what truth is, this difference of opinion does not change what truth is. Truth is correct. It's consistent, and it's never false. If it was inconsistent or false, it would not be truth but rather, something other than truth.

Can truth be discovered? Yes. Are we too stupid, flawed or imperfect to know truth? No, we have proven over time that we humans are quite capable discovering truths and putting that factual knowledge/information to use. Discovering truth is much easier when you use a sound method. When you use methods that are highly error prone, its much harder to discover truths.

If I assume that any new piece of information that pleases me must be truthful - because it makes me feel good, then I'm going to have a very hard time discovering truth. "Feels good", "Is pleasant to think about", "makes my colleagues nod and smile" and "doesn't force me to change my other beliefs" are all very inaccurate indicators of truth.

Does it matter if our beliefs are truthful? Yes. Beliefs that are not truthful lead to erroneous conclusions. For example, if I believe that reality is subjective - that I can leap from a tall building and choose to defy gravity if I really, really, truly believe it because reality is what you allow it to be, then I'll be sorely corrected when my body is smashed against the ground - assuming that I do not die from the resulting injuries.

Is it OK to just pick and choose false and truthful beliefs without much concern for the consequences?
Yes, but here's an example of the troubles that this will cause:

  • I believe that all men are abusive.
  • I believe that all women are gentle.
  • I believe that Pat is a man.

If I learn through trial and error that Pat is not abusive, but gentle instead, then I must now adjust my beliefs about men being abusive, or about Pat being a man because one of the two is clearly not correct. If he's gentle, then perhaps he's really a woman? I could get around this by just saying, "Well, you can never really be sure of anything", but that's replacing intelligence with ignorance. It's a cop out.

This is a tiny example of the logical errors that result from false beliefs. Think about all the interconnected knowledge that our minds hold. Having a core belief change can cause a huge ripple effect as illustrated above.

So how does one filter out untruths and false information?

  • Don't believe that something is true unless you or someone else can prove that it's true.
  • Make a clear distinction between fact, theory, and questionable information and judgments.
  • Refuse to allow your emotions to influence what you choose to believe.
  • Be prepared to dispose of your beliefs in favor of newer ones that are proven to be more accurate.
  • Use a sound, well thought out method to evaluate truths and rank any judgments made( fact, theory, speculation).

Offline mrsjaz

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #41 on: December 28, 2012, 07:32:18 AM »
@ TaintedAndDelish

I’m not very good at these types of debates but a couple of points struck me about your example, please correct me if I’m wrong but your example and the one above by Sabby seem to fit square pegs into round holes.
They appear god-modded and designed to leave nothing to chance; yours seems to say “I am without reason, unaware of depth perception and I’m jumping.” And Sabby’s seems… well godded - as in  “get out of this example if you can.” Both have a subjective nature (I think most if not all truth does) that although I understand them as being designed to show what you meant, they nevertheless betray a type of bias, an untrue and unrealistic situation. Can you set up examples that make your point if they have this characteristic? As I said both appear “unnatural” or unreal examples used for real life problematic questions. Is that fair? I’m not criticising.  And/or it is a case of extreme questions requiring extreme examples?   
   

Offline mj2002

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #42 on: December 28, 2012, 05:06:06 PM »
@ TaintedAndDelish

I’m not very good at these types of debates but a couple of points struck me about your example, please correct me if I’m wrong but your example and the one above by Sabby seem to fit square pegs into round holes.
They appear god-modded and designed to leave nothing to chance; yours seems to say “I am without reason, unaware of depth perception and I’m jumping.” And Sabby’s seems… well godded - as in  “get out of this example if you can.” Both have a subjective nature (I think most if not all truth does) that although I understand them as being designed to show what you meant, they nevertheless betray a type of bias, an untrue and unrealistic situation. Can you set up examples that make your point if they have this characteristic? As I said both appear “unnatural” or unreal examples used for real life problematic questions. Is that fair? I’m not criticising.  And/or it is a case of extreme questions requiring extreme examples?   
   

I'm having trouble with your notion that "most if not all" truth is subjective. This is what I gather from your post, correct me if I am wrong. How can truth be subjective? That seems to go against its definition. If a 'truth' is different for other people, it either isn't a truth or it is just an ill defined truth that needs to be refined in order to remove bias.

Offline Sabby

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #43 on: December 28, 2012, 06:28:36 PM »
Mrsjaz, I don't understand. My example wasn't intended for you to find a way to beat it. It was an example of why subjective truth does not work. Ignorance does not somehow elevate your belief. That was all I meant by it. If it was unclear, then I'll restate it here in much simpler terms for you :)

You believe the Moon is made of cheese.

I believe it is a large rock.

Serephino is suggesting that we are both correct. I am saying that that is wrong. The words 'belief' and 'truth' are being mixed up. Belief in something does not need to be backed up. Elevating it to a truth, however, does need evidence.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #44 on: December 28, 2012, 10:29:15 PM »
Truth being subjective is not a new concept and is pretty well argued throughout history.  For instance, taking the moon example, a good response would simple be how does someone "know" the moon is made out of rock?  Has anyone here been to the moon for certain to say that  the moon is rock and not some strange form of curdled milk?

Offline Sabby

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #45 on: December 28, 2012, 10:43:46 PM »
...we have been there o.o We brought back samples. We know how planetoids are formed, and that information rules out space milk congealing.

Quote from: Universe Today
The composition of the Moon is a bit of a mystery. Although we know a lot about what the surface of the Moon is made of, scientists can only guess at what the internal composition of the Moon is. Here’s what we think the Moon is made of.

Like the Earth, the Moon has layers. The innermost layer is the lunar core. It only accounts for about 20% of the diameter of the Moon. Scientists think that the lunar core is made of metallic iron, with small amounts of sulfur and nickel. Astronomers know that the core of the Moon is probably at least partly molten.

This much we know. And that much allows us to make fairly accurate predictions. The core is PROBABLY sulfur and nickel based on our studies of the outside layers, but it could be a slightly different material. But not knowing for 100% certain what the core is comprised of does not make cheese an option.

Quote from: Continued
Outside the core is the largest region of the Moon, called the mantle. The lunar mantle extends up to a distance of only 50 km below the surface of the Moon. Scientists believe that the mantle of the Moon is largely composed of the minerals olivine, orthopyroxene and clinopyroxene. It’s also believed to be more iron-rich than the Earth’s mantle.

The outermost layer of the Moon is called the crust, which extends down to a depth of 50 km. This is the layer of the Moon that scientists have gathered the most information about. The crust of the Moon is composed mostly of oxygen, silicon, magnesium, iron, calcium, and aluminum. There are also trace elements like titanium, uranium, thorium, potassium and hydrogen.

This is what we know. The composition of the crust is enough for us to reasonably rule out an inner layer and or core of cheese. Ignorance of this knowledge does not someone invalidate it, and subjective truth is and always has been absurd. Perspective does not change truth, only our view of it.

Offline Oniya

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Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #46 on: December 28, 2012, 10:55:51 PM »
I believe Pumpkin was referring to anyone here on E personally.  After all, there's nothing saying that those rocks had to come from the moon.  The reports could have been faked.  The specimens could be from right here on Earth.  Those photographs could have been made on a soundstage, and the film footage of astronauts walking done with a slow motion camera.

And for my final comment on that...

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #47 on: December 28, 2012, 11:01:43 PM »
There is a certain amount of belief extended to the scientific community that the results, findings and such are indeed true.  Afterall, very few people have actually been to the moon and the samples recovered are distributed by only a select few sources.  Once more, this is simply casting a little shadow over a very simple concept so one can see how subjective truth can easily be expanded to more complex notions that are not so observable.

Offline Sabby

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #48 on: December 28, 2012, 11:07:59 PM »
Okay, where do you draw the line between subjective truth and a lack of an answer? Both are concepts you think exist, right? So they must both have their own criteria in order to be two separate concepts. So what is an example of something you think hasn't been answered yet, and something that is a subjective truth?

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Truth: What is it, and do we really need it?
« Reply #49 on: December 28, 2012, 11:49:01 PM »
I would suppose the line is between "knowing" something and not "knowing" something.  Just because something is subjective does not mean the conclusion was determined irrationally.