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Author Topic: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?  (Read 400 times)

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Offline LostInTheMistTopic starter

Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« on: September 16, 2016, 05:36:33 PM »
I hope this is the right place to put this:

The classical answer to this question is "no". Knowledge only comes about things that are true. You believe something to be true, but if it is not true, that is belief or opinion, not knowledge.

I personally, have always had a bit of a problem with this though. I mean, we all know that two objects fall at the same speed regardless of weight. (Discounting air resistance. A wrench or hammer on the moon falls at the same speed as a feather, though obviously the wrench or hammer falls faster here on earth where we have an atmosphere.)

But for almost two thousand years, it was "known" that the heavier object fell faster than a lighter object. It was so well known that it wasn't tested for nearly two thousand years.

Our knowledge or understanding of the universe was bound entirely to calculus for centuries, until it was discovered that calculus is only MOSTLY correct for understanding the motions of objects. All objects have a certain amount of uncertainty in their motions, even planets or suns, though for large objects that uncertainty is tiny. But on a subatomic level, we are so uncertain of where electrons are that we can only project their location as probability clouds. (That could still be wrong.)

The problem that I get to is that word "truth". What is true? Leaving aside mathematics, we cannot absolutely KNOW anything to be true (some would argue we can't even know math to be true), so we can't know that we know anything at all.

If knowledge is the truth of an idea, a statement, or a preposition, then we must know nothing, because we cannot know whether anything is true or not. So we either know nothing and accept everything around us on faith or some other basis, or we know some things which may turn out not to be true.

Thoughts?

Offline Lianna

Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2016, 09:09:31 PM »
Your last sentence encapsulates my initial thoughts on the subject. Going further, I think of knowledge as the body of information we gather through life experiences and people teaching us "facts." But what we've learned isn't always accurate or true. You can be taught that the world ends, but if you later sail past the so-called edge of the world, you've altered your perception of the world and gained knowledge that belies what you were once taught.


Of course, what I've done is alter your definition of knowledge. If we define knowledge as only things that are irrefutably and always true like the bedrock principle of Physics whether they are known or not, then we can't have knowledge of anything or rather we can't be sure if what we 'know' is knowledge.


Great question, probably deeper than I am capable of easily analyzing. We haven't even got into things that are subjective like knowing that the shoes I bought last summer are the best pair I'll ever own.

Offline TheLaughingOne

Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2016, 09:44:34 PM »
.. Not to seem trite on it.. but "To know that you know nothing".

What we have as proven fact change, or are found out to be not entirely correct, or have hidden parts we cant see or havent figured out yet.

As an absolute? No. In the subjective? Yes.

I know that i am 5'9, but i dont Know the exact precise measurement.

so, i think in this, its kind of a fault of language. To know, and to Know. One of what information we have and can make a supposition from. The other Absolute, total, and immutable.

... Im gonna put the scotch away and crash. im trying to be philosophical, and making myself out as an idiot.

Very interesting question though!

Have a great night!!!

Offline Beguile's Mistress

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Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2016, 09:51:33 PM »
Knowledge can also comprise the after effects of actions or events.  If this...then that.

You experiment.  You get results.  You attain knowledge.

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2016, 11:59:08 PM »
Socrates put it best.

"I went to the Oracle and there they named me the wisest of all men, for they know that I know nothing."

Of course there's also the Goethe's Faust where he highlights this idea of the impossibility of knowledge.

I.E. To know about something you must know everything that leads to that something, and then you have to know everything that leads to the things that make up the something.

Take, a car for example. You'd have to know everything that makes up the car. Let's start with the windshield. It's made of tempered glass. Well what's the glass made of? Sand. Then you have to know the geological processes that form sand and why. Then you have to take it back up to understand tempering glass, and then you have to learn about annealing, so on and so forth until you quit.

Ultimately the sum total of human knowledge is axiomatic. There comes a point where we don't really know and have to take it for granted.

For instance, on the generally round shape that is the earth how can anything be truly level, but we take it for granted that if our plumb bob says so it is.

Or for instance certain dimensions of a circle are unknowable because we don't know the last digit of PI, but we say 3.14 and call it a day.

Don't worry about it.

Offline LostInTheMistTopic starter

Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2016, 02:51:10 AM »
Knowledge can also comprise the after effects of actions or events.  If this...then that.

You experiment.  You get results.  You attain knowledge.

Experimental results have seemed to back up some conclusions we know now are false. Experimental test after experimental test told us calculus perfectly explained the motion of objects in the universe. Turns out that it doesn't quite do so. So we have relativity. Relativity perfectly explained the motion of objects in universe. Well... not quite, because it breaks down in high-gravity situations....

The only real facts we tend to obtain from experimentation is that what we "knew" to be true yesterday, turns out to be wrong. (That does have something to do with the nature of experimentation. It's impossible to absolutely prove something, and by comparison it is easy to disprove it.)

To comprise a "theory" under scientific definition the theory must explain all observations, and all future observations must match the theory.

Before Hubble (Edwin, not the telescope named for him), everyone KNEW the Universe was static. It might not be infinitely old, but it was unchanging. Then Hubble discovered that the Universe was expanding. This idea was so offensive to Einstein, one of the greatest minds of all time, that he invented a "cosmological constant" that countered this expansion. (He would later acknowledge this as one of the greatest mistakes of his career.) Further, Einstein hated the idea of quantum mechanics because "God does not play [dice] with the universe."

Every idea we have ever had is wrong, and every "truth" we cling to out of desperation, fear, or faith, is only a part of a greater truth.

I don't know what that greater truth is though.

And I knew someone would bring up Socrates, which is precisely why I didn't bring him up. Consider this. He knows that he knows nothing, so he knows something, but if he knows something, then he doesn't know nothing, which means that his knowledge that he knows nothing must be wrong. So he knows nothing. But if he knows nothing, than his knowledge that he knows nothing means that he knows something....

Leaving that little infinite loop aside, remember that Socrates believed that nothing in the world was real in the way that we perceive it. (Oh great, the cave.)

Because we lack perfect instruments (and because the universe lacks perfection) none of our observations are absolutely correct, which means that there is no absolute truth to be had. We can conceive of these absolute truths, just like we can conceive of perfect circles, but there is no such thing. (Planck distance, look it up. Any "perfect circle" is a convex shape of finite sides, each of the Planck distance in length.)

So... basically:

There is no truth.

1) If there is no truth
and
2) Knowledge requires truth
then
3) There is no such thing as knowledge.

EDIT: Left out the concluding part. So, either there is no knowledge, or knowledge doesn't require truth. Which means we can know things that are wrong.
« Last Edit: September 17, 2016, 02:52:36 AM by LostInTheMist »

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2016, 06:26:29 AM »
You've basically described Nihilism.

Nihilism holds that there are no great truths.
Which... includes Nihilism.
*Puff of logic smoke*
 

Offline Oniya

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Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2016, 11:07:54 AM »
Quote from: Rene Descartes
Accordingly, seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us; And because some men err in reasoning, and fall into Paralogisms, even on the simplest matters of Geometry, I, convinced that I was as open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto taken for Demonstrations; And finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts (presentations) which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects (presentations) that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams. But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be something; And as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am, was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the Sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.

Just to save you the first step.

Offline Chrystal

Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #8 on: September 17, 2016, 11:37:19 AM »
Heh, I was going to quote Descartes too...

The other thing that is an immutable law that you can always go back to is "@ + @ = @@" In other words if I have one of an object and I add another object the sameto it, I then have two of that object. This holds true and is an absolute regardless of the symbols and sounds used. In George Orwell's classic 1984, the sum 2+2=5 is used. The thing is, that by doing this you have not changed what two plus two is equal to, all you have done is redefine five as one less than it's previous value!

But, this very concept is somewhat relevant...

The phrase "two plus two equals five" ("2 + 2 = 5") is a slogan used in many different forms of media, most notably in Part One, Chapter Seven of George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four; therein, it is used as an example of an obviously false dogma one may be required to believe, similar to other obviously false slogans by the Party in the novel. It is contrasted with the phrase "two plus two makes four," the obvious—but politically inexpedient—truth.

Orwell's protagonist, Winston Smith, uses the phrase to wonder if the State might declare "two plus two equals five" as a fact; he ponders whether, if everybody believes it, does that make it true? The Inner Party interrogator of thought-criminals, O'Brien, says of the mathematically false statement that control over physical reality is unimportant; so long as one controls one's own perceptions to what the Party wills, then any corporeal act is possible, in accordance with the principles of doublethink ("Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once").

The Party decrees that something is Fact, and that makes it Fact. And everyone Knows it to be true! Does this make it true?

Are we all, in fact, in The Matrix?

There is no spoon!




Offline Oniya

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Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #9 on: September 17, 2016, 11:52:17 AM »
Heh, I was going to quote Descartes too...

The other thing that is an immutable law that you can always go back to is "@ + @ = @@" In other words if I have one of an object and I add another object the sameto it, I then have two of that object. This holds true and is an absolute regardless of the symbols and sounds used.

I wasn't going to get into Bertrand Russell without a lot more coffee.  :D

Offline Inkidu

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Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #10 on: September 17, 2016, 12:08:19 PM »
My personal favorite when you get right down to it.

"To be is to do." Aristotle
"To do is to be." Descartes
"Do be do be do." Sinatra

:3

Offline LostInTheMistTopic starter

Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2016, 02:05:17 PM »
My personal favorite when you get right down to it.

"To be is to do." Aristotle
"To do is to be." Descartes
"Do be do be do." Sinatra

:3

That's one of my favorites.

I don't actually dispute Descarte's first point. But the first point is only step one (and the most famous) of a five step plan to prove that God exists.

I'll summarize really quickly that the crux of Descarte's argument is that he conceive of a perfect being, therefore a perfect being must exist, and as he knows that only God could be a perfect being, God must exist.

Anyone here can conceive of a perfect circle or a perfect sphere, but neither one can actually exist in our universe. So being able to conceive of something or to be cognizant of something does not mean it exists. (I do not want this to develop into a case study on the existence or non-existence of God. I would have put this in controversies if I wanted this. I merely mean to illustrate that the ability to conceive of something doesn't prove its existence, and illustrate with examples things we can all think of that also don't exist.)

I'm not really a nihilist as the interpretation above suggests. I believe that I know things. I just accept that some of the things I know may be incorrect, and that I cannot absolutely know to be true any of the things I know.

I know nothing can travel faster than the speed of light in our current universe.
I know that the universe was a quantum singularity when it began, and that there was nothing before, because there was no "before".
I know that my car runs on gasoline, and that I'm paying too much for it.

But I know all of these things with the caveat that I may be wrong. (And to anybody living in Europe, I paid $2.55 per gallon for gas yesterday. That's $0.67 per liter. Or in Euros, 0.60 per liter or 0.52 british pounds per liter. So I'm probably not paying too much for gas by your definition.)
« Last Edit: September 17, 2016, 02:09:25 PM by LostInTheMist »

Offline Oniya

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Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #12 on: September 17, 2016, 02:26:58 PM »
That's one of my favorites.

I don't actually dispute Descarte's first point. But the first point is only step one (and the most famous) of a five step plan to prove that God exists.

Trust me, though - don't go the Russell/Whitehead route without access to sanity-restoring potions.  I think they finally got around to proving that there was such a thing as '2' after a book and a half (which means somewhere around 1050 pages of proofs).

Offline Chrystal

Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #13 on: September 17, 2016, 03:29:57 PM »
52p per litre? DAMN that's cheap! we're paying £1.11 on a good day. That's $1.44US per litre or $5.45 per US Gallon. (UK Gallons are slightly larger).

So there you go, you know you are paying too much, and yet you are not!

Relativism is what we are encountering here (Not relativity, that's something else again). Basically, everything is relative to something else. What is true for you is not necessarily true for me.

I can, however give you two more absolutes: Everyone poops, and everyone dies! Without exception. That is the only exception to the rule that states that to every rule there is an exception (except this one)!

Offline LostInTheMistTopic starter

Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2016, 04:24:42 PM »
52p per litre? DAMN that's cheap! we're paying £1.11 on a good day. That's $1.44US per litre or $5.45 per US Gallon. (UK Gallons are slightly larger).

So there you go, you know you are paying too much, and yet you are not!

Relativism is what we are encountering here (Not relativity, that's something else again). Basically, everything is relative to something else. What is true for you is not necessarily true for me.

I can, however give you two more absolutes: Everyone poops, and everyone dies! Without exception. That is the only exception to the rule that states that to every rule there is an exception (except this one)!

Not to get crude, but there is a condition in which one can be born without an anus and thus never poops and dies as a result. (Usually this is corrected with surgery.) And infants don't poop for a while after being born anyway.

Everyone dies is true, but the key is SO FAR. Maybe one of us is immortal. You never... know.

Online stormwyrm

Re: Can You "Know" Something That Is Untrue?
« Reply #15 on: November 16, 2016, 09:03:12 PM »
Isaac Asimov wrote an excellent essay on the Relativity of Wrong, which is probably the best description of what truth and knowledge mean in the context of science.
Quote
The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong. The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. "If I am the wisest man," said Socrates, "it is because I alone know that I know nothing." the implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.

My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that "right" and "wrong" are absolute; that everything that isn't perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.

However, I don't think that's so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts, and I will devote this essay to an explanation of why I think so.

When my friend the English literature expert tells me that in every century scientists think they have worked out the universe and are always wrong, what I want to know is how wrong are they? Are they always wrong to the same degree?
The point you seem to be making is very much like that which the fellow who wrote to Isaac Asimov is trying to make. On the other hand in science there is no notion of absolute right and wrong. If you want that, go to the mathematics department, but even there they have Gödel's Theorem. But that's beside the point. In science, right and wrong are degrees. Thinking the world is flat is wrong, but it's right enough on small scales, given that the actual curvature of the earth is actually fairly small. In the days of the ancient Greeks they worked out that the curvature is actually not zero, but something more like eight inches to the mile, which is close enough to zero for it not to matter unless you're travelling long distances or doing serious astronomy. And so on until later they realised that the earth isn't exactly spherical either, but bulges at the equator wider than it does at the poles, deviating from a true sphere by about a third of a percent. That amounts to a variation in curvature to 7.973 inches to 8.027 inches to the mile.
Quote
In short, my English Lit friend, living in a mental world of absolute rights and wrongs, may be imagining that because all theories are wrong, the earth may be thought spherical now, but cubical next century, and a hollow icosahedron the next, and a doughnut shape the one after.

What actually happens is that once scientists get hold of a good concept they gradually refine and extend it with greater and greater subtlety as their instruments of measurement improve. Theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.