Elman - let's try something new

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Elman - let's try something new

Postby Sans_Deity » Thu Jun 28, 2007 4:04 pm

As I'm interested in reaching some sort of understanding...let's see if we can't come to some agreement on definitions and the nature of reality:

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Do you agree that you and I both exist in a common, shared yet non-dependent reality?


When I say 'reality', I'm referring to everything that is real with no disctinctions about materialistic reality, spiritual reality, supernatural reality, alternate reality... these (if they exist) are all included in "reality". (We may classify and subdivide reality later, but for now, reality is everything that is real. If you believe god is supernatural, you believe he is real, but separate from the demonstrable, materialistic reality.)

By 'common, shared', I'm referring to a reality that exists independent of either of us, but one in which we both exist and that we can both perceive. We may not have identical perceptions, beliefs, knowledge, experience or understanding - but reality is the same for both of us, we could, potentially, come to near-identical perceptions of reality (with whatever limitations our brains may impose).

By 'non-dependent', I'm referring to a reality that exists independent of our personal perspective. We may perceive elements differently and our internal models may differ, but we do not create reality with our thoughts and the fundamental nature of reality is not dependent on the model that our brains make.

There's nothing 'tricky' about the question. It's designed to eliminate solipsism (because, if you're a solipsist, the conversation is over) and act as a first step toward finding a common ground - in order to figure out where our thought processes part company.

This is a pretty basic start - but I feel like we need to start here or we're never going to make any progress.

-Matt
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Postby Elman » Thu Jun 28, 2007 7:47 pm

I saw nothing there to disagree with. What is solipsism?
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Postby Some Dude » Thu Jun 28, 2007 9:00 pm

Elman wrote:I saw nothing there to disagree with. What is solipsism?


Wikipedia says that solipsism is the philosophical idea that "My mind is the only thing that exists".
I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair but it would be much worse if life were fair and all the things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them. Now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.
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Postby Sans_Deity » Thu Jun 28, 2007 9:11 pm

Solipsism is the metaphyscial belief that your mind is the only thing that exists. It can encompass a number of positions that make it impossible to identify any common reality - so eliminating it first can prevent a lot of wasted effort.

So, next:

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Do we agree that 'truth' is any claim about reality that is actually true?


A claim about reality can be true or false. Our opinions (beliefs) about the truth of the claim may be correct or incorrect, but they are completely independent of the intrisic evaluation of truth of the claim. (Something we established by agreeing on a non-dependent reality)

A simple example... Claim: Another 'universe' exists.

This claim is actually true, or actually false. We are free to believe that is true or that it is false, and we could be right or wrong - and we may never know, to a reasonable degree of certainty, whether it is true or false. There may be only a single universe, or there may be many, or there may have been universes before or after ours - any of which may make the claim true, or we may never be able to discover the truth of the claim.

Additionally, the truth of a claim is dependent upon definitions which must be understood and externally consistent. Esoteric definitions cannot be justify a truth, as they establish personal truths which are inconsistent with a shared, non-dependent reality.

In the universe example. The claim that another universe exists depends on an agreement on what we mean by "another", "universe" and "exists". This can be cumbersome, but it's often necessary for clarity.

It does no good for me to claim that when I say universe, I mean pinochle deck, unless we agree on that definition (in which case we should still switch to the more externally consistent term). Where definitions and claims are more ambiguos, we must define things in more detail in order to ensure clarity.

So, I might define 'universe' as 'the limits of the particular area of space/time in which we currently exist'. That's probably not a great definition, but it may serve the purpose.

If you're in agreement so far, great. If not, ask away...
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Postby Elman » Fri Jun 29, 2007 8:21 pm

I agree so far and I am not a solipsist
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Postby Sans_Deity » Fri Jun 29, 2007 9:24 pm

Ok, thanks. Let me post some definitions and explanations for you to consider. I may not get back to this topic over the weekend, but I'll try.

Belief - acceptance that a claim is most likely true. The strength of belief may range from 'just barely' to 'strongly' (or similar) and is dependent upon the degree of certainty that has been established by the heuristic criteria of the individual.

I'm going to avoid trying to define 'knowledge'. There's a traditional concept that knowledge is 'justified true belief', but this isn't without problems and may be largely irrelevant to the discussion. That may become more clear in a moment.

I'm also going to jetison the notion of 'absolute certainty'. I am absolutely certain that I exist. I am absolutely certain of tautologies (definitional truths like 'all bachelors are unmarried', mathematical truths like '1+1=2') and experiential declarations ('I am hungry'). Outside of cases similar to those, absolute certainty is a red herring.

Knowledge is an extreme subset of belief, and absolute certainty is simply the most extreme degree of certainty - so we can set aside these extremes and focus on belief and establishing degrees of certainty.

A comprehensible claim is one that the individual can understand (to some degree, though not necessarily thoroughly - or even properly) and evaluate. A nonsensical claim is one that is, for lack of a better term, gibberish ('I have a pet Akzkn1lalf!') or beyond consideration for lack of clarity ('Square penguins love stores').

When we are first presented with a claim that is comprehensible:
1. We immediately establish a non-zero assessment of the claim
- Until that time, we have no belief about the claim.
2. This immediate assessment, which some might term a gut-feeling, is a casual assessment based on the bulk of our experiences

When we assess a claim beyond the immediate reaction, we follow some sort of heuristic process. This process is similar (though not necessarily identical) for all of us.

Some steps may be 'weighted' more heavily than others. There may also be additional steps, and some individuals (by preference or ignorance) may skip steps.

Here's a sample of what our brain considers when analyzing a claim:

- What do I know about the claimant?
- Do I have good reason to think that they are trustworthy?
- Do I have good reason to suspect that they are untrustworthy?
- Do they have something to gain by convincing me of their claim?

- How does this claim compare to what I already accept about reality?
- Is it consistent with what I accept?
- Does it better explain things I already accept?
- Is it an extension of principles I already accept?
- Does it contradict anything I already accept?
- If it does contradict, which claim is better supported by the evidence?
- Which claim assumes the fewest unknowns?

- How reliable is the evidence for this claim?
- Is there any empirical evidence?
- Is it consistent with accepted facts about reality?
- Is this evidence falsifiable?
- Can it be duplicated?
- Is it independently consistent?
- In addition to the claimant, is there additional anecdotal evidence?
- Does this evidence conflict with empirical evidence for any accepted truth that this would supplant or alter?
- Is any testimonial evidence coming from recognized, reliable experts in the field (if any exist)?

- If I accept this claim, how does this change my understanding of reality?
- Will I have to discard or modify other beliefs?
- If so, is that justified? Should this new claim 'trump' the old one?

- How does accepting this change affect my life and decisions I make? (How critically would this belief affect my worldview?)


I'm sure I've overlooked something, but this was a quick sample.

I'll pause here so you can respond. The point that I hope we agree on is that we each have some heuristic criteria for assessing claims and that some methods are better than others. Asking better questions, considering more parameters and other factors will increase the accuracy and reliability of our built-in 'truth detectors'.

We 'grade' claims based on this process and assign them a 'degree of certainty' (which can be a negative value, to denote disbelief).

Because we live in a shared reality, where truth is not dependent on the individual - we can evaluate the reliability of our internal truth-detectors. Some methods will be more reliable than others.

If we care about whether or not our beliefs are most likely true and we also prefer to minimize the number of false beliefs we hold - then we should prefer the heuristic model that is demonstrably more reliable.

Are we still in agreement?
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Postby Elman » Fri Jun 29, 2007 10:04 pm

Yes.
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Postby Sans_Deity » Mon Jul 02, 2007 4:20 pm

Next... since we agree that we're sharing a common reality, we're clearly experiencing this reality - collecting information about it and then using that information to develop an understanding of it.

Our brain collects information from our senses - taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight - and uses this information to form a mental model of reality.

We often say that our senses can be fooled, however, they only provide information - it is, in fact, the brain that can be fooled. Consider the following optical illusion:

Image

The two tabletops are exactly the same size and shape (feel free to take a piece of paper and trace out the top of one table and then rotate it to match the other). This illusion doesn't fool your senses. Your eyes are sending a very accurate image to your brain - it is the brain that is fooled, because it is making spacial assumptions (for very good reasons).

The same is true for hallucinations. These are generated in the brain. Your brain is convinced that you're seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touchin something, but the phenomena exists only in the brain.

Our senses are, actually, very reliable. The model that our brain makes, based on that sensory data, is also very reliable. The fact that the brain can be fooled (and our fascination with making it happen) is, in fact, testament to how reliably that lump of grey matter performs.

We can quantify the reliability of our senses and assess the reliability of our brains - and we do this all the time.

On the right side of my desk I see a plastic bottle of Coke, it appears to be about half-empty, and I can see a very fine layer of condensate around the bottom half. I can test the validity of the information that my eyes have sent my brain by asking someone else if they also see it. The more "someones" who confirm this, the more likely it is that my eyes have sent good information.

A similar example of this is the standard eye chart. We establish criteria that define 'normal' vision - and this allows us to evaluate an individual's vision. This process is also directly confirmed by the individual as they try out various corrective lenses. They can see the difference. There are other tests for other senses.

However, what if there's no one around to verify what I see? Well, I can move around a bit, and view the bottle from several vantage points, and that will provide more data which will either support or refute what I saw earlier. (It should be immediately obvious if this is simply a picture of a coke bottle, as its dimensions will appear to change as my vantage point changes).

I can also use my other senses. I can touch the bottle - confirming the temperature where the condensate is, confirming the shape, weight and other tactile information. I can take the lid off and hear the 'hiss' of carbonation. I can inhale and see if the smell is similar or different to previous experiences with Coke... and I can taste the stuff.

The point is that our senses provide information and the validity of this information can be evaluated in comparison to our other senses, to the sense of other people and to measuring devices that we've constructed.

This is the process by which we understand reality. It is the reason that we can identify abnormal and defective brains and sensory organs.

In addition to the 5 classical senses, there are additional senses - though any claim about a new sense needs to be clearly defined, and supported by evidence. New senses must also be consistent with data received from other senses as well as independently confirmable in others.

For example we have a "sense of balance". This can be tested, is consistent with other senses and independently verifiable.

Some people have claimed to have ESP (extra-sensory perception) or similar senses and trans-senses. These claims have not proven reliable and cannot qualify as a method of providing the brain with information. They aren't consistent with other senses and, when scientifically tested the overwhelming conclusion is that there's nothing to test - the results, in properly controlled studies - are no better than chance.

Are we still in agreement?
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Postby Elman » Mon Jul 02, 2007 8:10 pm

Only on Physical reality. If there is a spiritual reality it is not subject to our senses and it is not reasonable to me that realilty is limited to what we as human beings are able to observe or detect. If we are created, it is reasonable to assume we would not be able to detect with our physical sense, our Creator, unless we were created with that ability. Probably since we are reasonably unable to understand our Creator, it is would follow we would be unable to observe or detect the Crator with our physical senses.
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Postby DallasHeathen » Mon Jul 02, 2007 9:36 pm

Excuse me for jumping in here...

Elman wrote:Only on Physical reality. If there is a spiritual reality it is not subject to our senses...

I assume that by "not subject to our senses," that you mean not even indirectly? A small magnetic field is not subject to our human senses directly, but we can build devices to measure it indirectly. A simple example would be to take a nail and see how it behaves.

If you mean that we can't observe it, even indirectly, then in what way can you consider that it's "real"?
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Postby Sans_Deity » Mon Jul 02, 2007 9:43 pm

I was pretty sure this was where we would part company.

Elman wrote:Only on Physical reality.


You don't get to subdivide - reality is reality is reality. We already agreed on this. If there is some non-physical aspect of reality it needs to be justified, not simply asserted.

Elman wrote:If there is a spiritual reality it is not subject to our senses


If there is a spiritual aspect of reality - what justification do you have for claiming it is beyond our senses? This is simply your personal preference. Some people claim to see ghosts and gods. The Bible even supports those claims.

Additionally, anything that has any effect on reality must be detectable. We may not be able to directly decect the cause - but we can see its effect.

Elman wrote:and it is not reasonable to me that realilty is limited to what we as human beings are able to observe or detect.


I didn't say that reality is limited to what we are able to observe and detect - but anything we cannot observe or detect is, by definition, beyond the scope. If you cannot observe it or detect it, you can say nothing about it or its effects - including whether or not it's real.

This isn't about what the limits of reality, it's about limits of truth - limits about what you can rationally justify as reality.

Elman wrote:If we are created, it is reasonable to assume we would not be able to detect with our physical sense, our Creator, unless we were created with that ability.


You are simply assuming a special case scenario to justify your inability to rationally justify your belief.

Additionally, if we are created and we're not created with the ability to detect that we're created - then we have no good reason to think we were created.

You're simply inventing, from less-than-thin-air, a belief that feels good without any justification.

Elman wrote: Probably since we are reasonably unable to understand our Creator, it is would follow we would be unable to observe or detect the Creator with our physical senses.


You just keep making wild assertions and calling them reasonable - they're not. Reasonable has a definition.

We agreed on definitions of reality, truth, belief and how we go about discovering reality. I gave examples of senses that are verifiable methods for giving our brains information about reality and you immediately disregard all of that in order to support your beliefs.

What you're doing is exactly what I accused you of - inventing a special way of knowing and offering nothing to support that method.

Please support your hypothesis with anything approaching evidence or reasonable argument - because, as it stands now, you've thrown out everything we've agreed on simply because it doesn't support your presumptions.

-Matt
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Postby spblat » Tue Jul 03, 2007 3:42 am

Perhaps you should narrow your disagreement to whether there can be more than one "reality." What does "reality" mean? Everything-everything by definition, all inclusive, nothing outside this set? Or merely everything that can be sensed and perceived as part of a common experience?
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Postby DallasHeathen » Tue Jul 03, 2007 4:29 am

Well, I'll stick by what I had said earlier - if you can't observe it, then is there a justification for saying that it's "real"? In what way is something real if it cannot, even in principle, be observed?
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Postby jhawksgirl » Tue Jul 03, 2007 7:23 am

Only on Physical reality. If there is a spiritual reality it is not subject to our senses and it is not reasonable to me that realilty is limited to what we as human beings are able to observe or detect.

Do you not see that you are using the word "If"? Possibility is not proof. Possibility doesn't even make something probable. Their may be alien life forms on another planet - but, since I have no knowledge or ability to back-up such a claim, I can't make the claim as if it were factual. Until I have a basis, it would always be an "If" proposition. "IF we evolved after billions of years of evolution, THEN it is possible this has occured on other planets." I know other planets exist. I know evolution is a valid theory. Therefore, I can make conjecture about the potential for the two knowns (planets and evolution). But, the result of the knowns will always ONLY ever be conjecture until I have proof. My knowledge is limited, as you say, and you're right in that that knowledge doesn't change reality. However, I'm not making special exceptions for reality when I speak in conjecture. YOU are trying to make your conjecture reality.


If we are created, it is reasonable to assume we would not be able to detect with our physical sense, our Creator, unless we were created with that ability. Probably since we are reasonably unable to understand our Creator, it is would follow we would be unable to observe or detect the Crator with our physical senses.


Once again, "IF we were created...", that's a pretty big "IF" to base your reality on. It's highly unlikely, and has been disproven to the satisfaction of our present capability, that humans were created by a supernatural deity. It would be like me saying, "IF the Rocky Mountains were created by little green men piling up pebbles, then...". I have no evidence of the little green men AND all of our knowledge about the Rocky Mountains speaks to their geological formation by the natural forces of the earth's techtonic plates. Making claims about the possibilty that they may have been created by aliens is silly. It's possible, but silly. And, my imagination doesn't create reality.
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Postby Sans_Deity » Tue Jul 03, 2007 3:27 pm

spblat wrote:Perhaps you should narrow your disagreement to whether there can be more than one "reality." What does "reality" mean? Everything-everything by definition, all inclusive, nothing outside this set? Or merely everything that can be sensed and perceived as part of a common experience?


All of this was clearly defined in the very first post.
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