Trying to justify my search for truth

Open discussion for all registered members.

What do you seek?

Truth for its own sake
10
83%
Truth if its useful
1
8%
Useful info, true or not
1
8%
 
Total votes : 12

Trying to justify my search for truth

Postby PCoulton » Sun Oct 07, 2007 2:09 am

Living in Northern England I don't meet may fundamental christians or many loud christians at all for that matter. So imagine my surprise when l found that I share an office building with a full blown Evangelical Creationist End timer.

Since meeting we have had a number of long and politely heated debates. We started with the obvious Dear Dr. Laura, then the argument from evil, then she 'countered' with the argument from design, and because this requires a basic understanding of biology and evolution to fully refute we are still discussing design.

Her arguments were less than compelling, but speaking to her has lead me to question one belief that l had held without question until now. l now ask:

Why is truth so valuable to me?

My Christian friend lives a happy life without, in my eyes, any regard for the truth of things, so truth can't be essential, and if it isn't necessary, then what is it good for?

I have some thoughts but l feel they are less than compelling and are certainly not strong enough to put this question to rest.

So, is truth valuable to you on its own and if so why? If not, why not?
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Postby eebamxela » Sun Oct 07, 2007 2:40 am

At the very least I find that seeking the truth just for the sake of having truth be known (whether or not said truth is useful) is excellent practice for finding the truth that IS useful.

For me this trait has its pros and cons. It used to drive my ex girlfriend crazy all the times i kept asking why why why. Nine times out of ten i wasn't just asking why because i felt like being annoying. I ask why because i just want to know, even if i cant do anything about it. Its better to question and know, than to not question at all.

Welcome to the forum.
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Postby Diagoras » Sun Oct 07, 2007 2:45 am

See my signature.
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Postby PCoulton » Sun Oct 07, 2007 2:59 am

eebamxela wrote:At the very least I find that seeking the truth just for the sake of having truth be known (whether or not said truth is useful) is excellent practice for finding the truth that IS useful.


I agree.

eebamxela wrote:For me this trait has its pros and cons. It used to drive my ex girlfriend crazy all the times i kept asking why why why. Nine times out of ten i wasn't just asking why because i felt like being annoying.
I ask why because i just want to know, even if i cant do anything about it. Its better to question and know, than to not question at all.


But is seeking the truth justifiable? I feel compelled to ask the why questions, but when I ask why do I ask why, I strugle to justify it beyond that fact that I'm curious.

The reason that I can't stop at this point is that without justifying my truth-seeking I can't justify my compulsion to correct those people that believe untrue things.

eebamxela wrote:Welcome to the forum.

Thank you very much.[/quote]
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Postby PCoulton » Sun Oct 07, 2007 3:03 am

Diagoras wrote:It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. —Carl Sagan


I agree with the sentiment, but if the delusion has practical and benefitial consequences, how do you justify its replacement. Should truth-seeking overide practical value iin all cases?
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Postby bugsoup » Sun Oct 07, 2007 3:30 am

PCoulton wrote:But is seeking the truth justifiable?
Absolutely yes!!!

PCoulton wrote:I feel compelled to ask the why questions, but when I ask why do I ask why, I strugle to justify it beyond that fact that I'm curious.
Curiosity is a perfect justification.

PCoulton wrote:The reason that I can't stop at this point is that without justifying my truth-seeking I can't justify my compulsion to correct those people that believe untrue things.
Wanting to help people learn the truth is also a perfect justification.

PCoulton wrote:Why is truth so valuable to me?
Ask yourself that question the next time you get an email from an Nigerian prince who wants you to have millions of dollars. Ask yourself that question the next time your mechanic tells you that you need thousands of dollars in repairs to your car. Knowing truth and seeking truth are important to protecting yourself and people you care about from those in this world that prey on people who wish to remain ignorant.
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Postby eebamxela » Sun Oct 07, 2007 3:42 am

PCoulton wrote:But is seeking the truth justifiable? I feel compelled to ask the why questions, but when I ask why do I ask why, I strugle to justify it beyond that fact that I'm curious.


I think persuit of truth (regardless of necesity) falls under the category of rational self interest. No matter what the case is the discovery of a truth is a satisfaction that is tantamount to sexual orgasm. Think about it. Those "Ah HA!" moments. At least for me those discoveries are freakin awesome.
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Postby Diagoras » Sun Oct 07, 2007 3:46 am

And conversely, the state of not knowing something about the universe is a state that causes us displeasure. That is, I think, a large part of the reason why people throughout history have tended to put God into the gaps of their understanding. The reality of the situation is/was too complex for them to comprehend, but nobody feels comfortable with a huge mystery like not knowing how complex organisms came about or not knowing where morality comes from, so they invent answers to satisfy that desire to understand the universe.
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Postby Diagoras » Sun Oct 07, 2007 3:58 am

PCoulton wrote:
Diagoras wrote:It is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring. —Carl Sagan


I agree with the sentiment, but if the delusion has practical and benefitial consequences, how do you justify its replacement. Should truth-seeking overide practical value iin all cases?

I don't see how a delusion or a lie could have real practical value. Give me an example.

I do think that the truth ought to override emotional comfort. The truth sometimes hurts, and we just need to accept that. It's far better to cultivate a mindset where you learn to accept reality for what it is, than to cultivate one where you tell yourself it's okay to hold onto a delusion because it's emotionally uncomfortable to consider the alternatives. It may not make you happy to know you have a terminal disease, for instance, but it is ultimately in your best interest to know.

In the big picture, it's better for us to have an accurate understanding of how the world is. Eventually denial of the truth will come to bite us in the ass. If we accept lies and delusions in exceptional circumstances, I think that leads us down a slippery slope towards accepting them in more and more circumstances. Once you accept a proposition that doesn't jive with objective reality, that causes you to accept other propositions that don't jive with objective reality so you can keep on believing the original proposition. If you have ever seen someone start by telling one lie and then go on to build a big web of lies in order to keep the truth about something from someone, you know what I mean. Once that web of lies, or in the case of religious people the web of supernatural delusions, comes tumbling down, it is a very devastating situation, and it is best avoided by just sticking to the truth in all circumstances.
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Postby PCoulton » Sun Oct 07, 2007 4:21 am

I'm agreeing with everything stated so far, so I think I need to move the discussion to a different place.

True things are true even if we don't beleive them, and they are true even if we weren't around anymore to discover them.

Religious beliefs, in my opinion, are not true; but they I think that they are real. That is, people have real experiences, real changes can occur once you accept them.

So, is it justifiable to reject these ideas simply because they are not true.

Real World Example
The Placebo Effect

I'm sure everyone knows the placebo effect so I won't describe it in detail, but for completeness it is ability of inaffective substances and procedures to generate positive effects in patients that believe the treatment is real.

So here we have an example of when not knowing the truth can be benefitial. In fact the more you think the untrue treatment is true, the more effective the results.

So when a Homeopath makes a claim that I know not to be true the way that he thinks it is, am I justfied in correcting the believers and destroying any positive effects that may otherwise result?
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Postby PCoulton » Sun Oct 07, 2007 4:29 am

Diagoras wrote:In the big picture, it's better for us to have an accurate understanding of how the world is. Eventually denial of the truth will come to bite us in the ass. If we accept lies and delusions in exceptional circumstances, I think that leads us down a slippery slope towards accepting them in more and more circumstances.


I use this same argument myself, but this is [literally] the slippery slope fallacy. I'm not suggesting lets beleive anything, I just saying that I hold truth above all other goals myself, and I'm not sure I've ever questioned my reasons for doing so.
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Postby Diagoras » Sun Oct 07, 2007 4:39 am

PCoulton wrote:So when a Homeopath makes a claim that I know not to be true the way that he thinks it is, am I justfied in correcting the believers and destroying any positive effects that may otherwise result?

Definitely. The belief in homeopathy has the danger that it causes believers to distrust the medical establishments that reject it, and often believers will reject forms of medicine that might actually work. And where there is no effective medicine for whatever is afflicting them, it stifles the desire to find the real solution for the problem. Plus, it's setting a bad example for others, and it's a big waste of money spent to companies which are essentially scamming people. Sure, in the immediate future it may make you happier to delude yourself into thinking this stuff is working, but the long-term consequences of that are not really desirable.

Overall, honing our critical thinking skills and applying it to every aspect of our lives will result in a better life for ourselves and for society at large. You can't only apply critical thinking to those aspects of your life that don't carry any emotional significance to you, because that's not critical thinking at all. Everybody knows how to be critical of ideas they already disagree with. If you want to claim any kind of intellectual high ground, you have to be critical of all ideas no matter what they are.
Last edited by Diagoras on Sun Oct 07, 2007 4:52 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Diagoras » Sun Oct 07, 2007 4:42 am

PCoulton wrote:
Diagoras wrote:In the big picture, it's better for us to have an accurate understanding of how the world is. Eventually denial of the truth will come to bite us in the ass. If we accept lies and delusions in exceptional circumstances, I think that leads us down a slippery slope towards accepting them in more and more circumstances.


I use this same argument myself, but this is [literally] the slippery slope fallacy. I'm not suggesting lets beleive anything, I just saying that I hold truth above all other goals myself, and I'm not sure I've ever questioned my reasons for doing so.

I don't think the slippery slope argument is always fallacious. Sometimes there really are slippery slopes (i.e. feedback loops) in life. Punch somebody in the face, and you're likely to start a big brawl. Tell one lie or believe in one delusion, and you're likely to build a big web of untruth around that. That's just what my experience has taught me, since I have, I will admit, built many such webs over the course of my life and seen them destroyed. It's not universally true, but it's true to enough of an extent that we are better off just avoiding lies and delusions altogether, especially since we don't know beforehand which lies and which delusions will lead us down that ugly path.
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Postby PCoulton » Sun Oct 07, 2007 5:24 am

Am I asking a question that doesn't actually require answering, like "What colour is E#?" Is it just a nonsense question?

Truth seems to be a correct goal, but on what basis does one make that determination? You say that believing Non-Truth leads to more delusions, and that maybe so [I probably agree], but I think is depends on your aims.

If you are seeking truth as a reason for being, then fine. But if you are seeking to live the best life you can, is truth-seeking the best strategy?

Please don't just answer yes, because truth is good, I agree, it is good, but is 100% truth optimal? In every situation? And how can you tell?
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Postby Diagoras » Sun Oct 07, 2007 5:38 am

I don't think it matters whether or not the truth is conducive to happiness in 100% of situations, since probably nothing is. But it is precisely because you can't tell beforehand in a given situation that you need to hedge your bets on the truth.

Let's say, hypothetically, me punching an old lady in the face and stealing her purse starts a chain of events that ends up with somebody curing AIDS next year and then finding Osama bin Laden. If I knew that, I think I would have a moral obligation to punch the lady and steal her purse. But since I have no way of really knowing that, I have to rely on general rules of thumb like "punching old ladies in the face and stealing their purses is not conducive to happiness and actually causes suffering in most situations so far as I can predict". Similarly, truth is usually, though not always, conducive to our happiness as individuals and as societies in the long run, and that is a good general rule of thumb to live by.

Even those truths that cause displeasure often end up opening windows to new knowledge that do the opposite, and we never know ahead of time whether they will or will not. For instance, the theory of evolution was at first a very displeasing idea for people, but because people were able to make that shift in thinking we were able to make huge advances in medicine. I think it's always better to bet on more knowledge being a good thing. Yeah, it might not always be in every situation, but you don't know whether it will or not ahead of time, and you don't fold a good hand just because it has a small chance of losing.

Besides, let's say we found out that believing in some lie actually makes you happier. Do you honestly think you could get yourself to believe it, knowing it was untrue? If we understand enough about a lie to know for certain whether or not it will make people happier in the long run, we probably understand that it's a lie, and thus we can't convince ourselves it's true. Weeding out the lies that are harmless from the ones that are harmful, and choosing to only believe in the harmless ones, is logically impossible.
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