Is there an "Objective Truth"?

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Tchebu
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Is there an "Objective Truth"?

Postby Tchebu » Sun Mar 18, 2007 1:07 am UTC

The question is quite simple.

Do you think we "discover" the laws of nature, or do we "invent" them? Do we get a sneak peek at "God's plan", or do we simply come up with logical systems that correspond to observed facts to a certain extent, and gradually get refined and replaced as new facts are observed? Is there a set amount of these laws, which we can (theoretically) eventually be able to discover entirely, and therefore know EVERYTHING about the Universe, or is our process of learning about the Universe a perpetual process where each discovery leads to more potential observations and therefore more unexplained facts, for which we will need more theories?

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Postby Gelsamel » Sun Mar 18, 2007 1:15 am UTC

We invent them, generally F=ma is true, but we found that not to be true, at low speeds the difference in negligible but it's still a difference. So we invented F=m/sqrt(1-v^2/c^2)*a, but this, in the end is probably yet another approximation, as all laws and formula are but an approximation.

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Postby Torn Apart By Dingos » Sun Mar 18, 2007 10:44 am UTC

You can view physics as being completely correct or completely wrong. Completely wrong in the sense that the laws are never entirely accurate. Completely right in the sense that they match predictions to a certain accuracy within the domain of the law (F=ma is correct for low speeds), as confirmed by experiments (if a law were discovered to be inaccurate, it would be thrown away).

I don't think we get a view of "God's plan" and I don't think there would ever be an end to research. Assume we've found out precisely how the universe works, and that it is a simple automaton just like the game of life. We'd only need those few rules that dictate the automaton to "know everything about the universe", but it's much more useful to know of macroscopic laws (like F=ma, which would be consequence of those rules).

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Postby Icaruse » Sun Mar 18, 2007 12:39 pm UTC

Human-made 'laws' are only models and predictions (as such they are 100% inventions, no matter how right they are). They can say where a certain object should be in a few hours given certain parameters, and with the right algorithms, they could be 99.9% right. The more we observe and the more we analyze, the better out predictions will be until we can predict everything with percent so close to 100 that the error is negligible. But will it eventually be a perfect model of the working universe (of course we'll never know if it is, but it might very well be)? I doubt it, but it seems it all comes down to wether or not all factors are non-random and wether or not all factors are observable. Or maybe they are an infinite non-predictable series going down or up increasing in insignificance or generality. That'd be a 'researching forever' type scenario. But, like calculating pi, the only reason you'd continue calculating these utterly insignificant differences is because you can.

A side note, if randomness is indeed involved somewhere in there, continuing research would create a model with more and more accuracy, but the model would look like a regression model or something and we could construct confidence intervals maybe. If something like free will or other external yet non-independent, immeasurable factors exist, then scientists are probably pretty much outa luck.

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Postby Andrew » Sun Mar 18, 2007 1:40 pm UTC

Icaruse wrote:That'd be a 'researching forever' type scenario. But, like calculating pi, the only reason you'd continue calculating these utterly insignificant differences is because you can.

But pi exists. It's a thing.

Just because we'll never know what it all is that doesn't mean to say it isn't well defined or doesn't exist.

There are laws of nature. We know that is almost certainly the case because the universe operates pretty neatly according to some equations we've worked out. We may ever know what they all are, but they exist, and if some other civilisation arose they'd inevitably end up with very similar approximations to them as we have (if they bothered to look).

The laws of nature themselves are there to be discovered. The approximations we use are invented.

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Postby Icaruse » Sun Mar 18, 2007 2:22 pm UTC

'Pi' (as calculated to some number of digits) is an approximation of the ratio between the circumference of a circle and the diameter. The ratio exists. Pi is invented. Same as the laws of nature. We can never pull back the curtains and see the laws of nature, but we can continue to refine our approximations of them.

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Postby Andrew » Sun Mar 18, 2007 3:22 pm UTC

Icaruse wrote:'Pi' (as calculated to some number of digits) is an approximation of the ratio between the circumference of a circle and the diameter. The ratio exists. Pi is invented.

The symbol pi refers to the ratio itself, not any one of the vast range of approximations people use for that ratio.

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Postby Icaruse » Sun Mar 18, 2007 3:56 pm UTC

Andrew wrote:The symbol pi refers to the ratio itself, not any one of the vast range of approximations people use for that ratio.


But in the context of my example- calculating pi to many many digits- the actual ratio is the theoretical unknown and that which is being (rather pointlessly) approximated is the calculations. But that's rather a tangent. My point was really that there is absolutely no reason to calculate pi to 1,000,000,000 places and eventually I believe there will be absolutely no point to refine out mostly-perfect model of the universe (provided the other stuff I mentioned) since it'll be good enough for any practical application. But people still will because they can.

I suppose your arument is that a ratio between the diameter and circumference are things that definively exist and can be seen/understood, whereas the laws of nature cannot. But how is it that you know anything to be a perfect circle? A circle and a circumference and a diameter are inventions used to model a shape that seems to exist within nature and pi is only well-defined in that context, but they are no less approximations than Newtons laws or anything else modeling nature discussed here.

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Postby Andrew » Sun Mar 18, 2007 4:01 pm UTC

Icaruse wrote:But in the context of my example- calculating pi to many many digits- the actual ratio is the theoretical unknown and that which is being (rather pointlessly) approximated is the calculations. But that's rather a tangent. My point was really that there is absolutely no reason to calculate pi to 1,000,000,000 places and eventually I believe there will be absolutely no point to refine out mostly-perfect model of the universe (provided the other stuff I mentioned) since it'll be good enough for any practical application.

Just because something is pointless doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Look at this discussion, for example.

You keep saying that things like Newton's Laws are approximations, and they are. But what are the approximations of? Whatever answer you give to that question is the "objective truth" of the OP.

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Postby Icaruse » Sun Mar 18, 2007 4:05 pm UTC

They are modelings around data, nothing more. We cannot be 100% laws of nature exist just because it looks that way in our data, we can only be 99.9999....% sure.

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Postby OmenPigeon » Sun Mar 18, 2007 4:18 pm UTC

Icaruse wrote:eventually I believe there will be absolutely no point to refine out mostly-perfect model of the universe (provided the other stuff I mentioned) since it'll be good enough for any practical application.


Right around 1900 there were more than a few people who insisted that physics had solved everything, that in the next ten years the entire world would be completely known. Then someone noticed that when he looked real close, light seemed to do this funny thing where it acted like a particle.

I know "we were wrong before, we'll be wrong again" isn't a strong argument, but seriously. The depths of our ignorance are unfathomable. It smacks of some serious hubris to think that we will actually know everything there is to know. Will we answer the questions we have now? Yes. Will we still have no damn clue about the questions we aren't even smart enough to ask yet? Yes. And thats why science is awesome.
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Postby Icaruse » Sun Mar 18, 2007 4:33 pm UTC

One could make an 'universe is infinite in depth and dimension (I certainly have)', but I believe the human perspective is much more finite. Unless humans start changing themselves and their logics, then there'll eventually be a point where it just isn't relevant anymore. Either it's too general or to specialized. That's the situation I was talking about before. Humans will probably never completely understand the universe, but if what humans consider significant is relatively finite and human longevity is infinite, then by definition, we'll discover everything that has any remote practical applications eventually. One could argue that the universe is infinite in density, but we would still be filling up the important parts with good models such that the wholes in the significant area are insignificant in size. Unless you believe that there are parts that are simply unable to be seen/understood by humans ever, that we're bounding to a value that isn't infinity, so to speak; this is the "external, immeasurable, non-independent, SoL" situation I mentioned.

It's probably rather silly to think that the human perspective is going to stay the same if we understand everything about genetics and the inner-workings of the brain, but I certainly don't give a damn about super-humans and their superior logic and perceptive skills. Not that I all that much care about the kind of distance in the future I'm talking about.

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Postby Andrew » Sun Mar 18, 2007 5:37 pm UTC

Icaruse wrote:They are modelings around data, nothing more. We cannot be 100% laws of nature exist just because it looks that way in our data, we can only be 99.9999....% sure.

That "..." had better not mean "recurring", otherwise you've just got three points on your internet license, so I shall assume that it doesn't.

So you're saying "I'm almost completely certain that Andrew is right".

Although in any case, in the ludicrously improbable case that it somehow turns out that there are no laws of nature, and that in fact things are just random and happen to have behaved thus far as if force equalled mass times accelleration, then that is an objective truth.

Hell, even the statement "there is no objective truth" would, if true, be an objective truth.

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Postby Icaruse » Sun Mar 18, 2007 6:01 pm UTC

That "..." had better not mean "recurring", otherwise you've just got three points on your internet license, so I shall assume that it doesn't.


Yea, ... means w/e it happens to be. Sorry, I'm not very strict when it comes to my notation on random internet arguments.

Also, I never meant to answer the question "Is there an 'Objective Truth.'" Just to answer the slightly different:
Do you think we "discover" the laws of nature, or do we "invent" them? Do we get a sneak peek at "God's plan", or do we simply come up with logical systems that correspond to observed facts to a certain extent, and gradually get refined and replaced as new facts are observed? ....

And give some possibilites to the scenarios I could think of.

Of course their is 'a way things are.' Maybe it's dynamic, maybe it's random, maybe it's over, under, parrallel too, or a effed up transformation of any combonation of our understandings. But I find it rather irrelivant since we'll never see it to know if we're right. Besides, we are, ourselves, an imperfict medium to the world. Our imperfect models suit us just fine.

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Postby VannA » Sun Mar 18, 2007 8:57 pm UTC

Andrew wrote:Hell, even the statement "there is no objective truth" would, if true, be an objective truth.


Which is why my answer is "Possibly, but we'll never be sure."

The only way to be 100% sure about the operation of any system is to view it externally.

And that is not something we are capable of doing with the universe.

Everything is subject to a frame of reference, and what is given in that frame may be percieved as objective, but is not universal.

To my mind, objectivity must be true in any and all circumstances. And that would imply being aware of everything.

You can have limited 'objectivity', which is essentially highly refined and shared subjectivity.

For practical observation, my answer is no.
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Postby evilbeanfiend » Mon Mar 19, 2007 1:38 pm UTC

ahh interesting, we have already had one discussion which came down to scientific realism vs logical positivism, the evolution one. quantum mechanics is another place this was famously an issue.

to confuse things a little it is possible to take a realist view on some subjects but a positivist view on others.

and of course as VannA said you can not conclusively pick a correct answer as this is a philosophical viewpoint.

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Postby Patashu » Mon Mar 19, 2007 9:36 pm UTC

There likely is an objective truth, but since reality is only what we can percieve, we'll never be able to find it. ie, a God could know what the objective truth is, since his senses are infallible + he is outside the universe and time.

We only think of protons and electrons as billiard balls because that's how we -think- they look.

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Postby Aoeniac » Tue Mar 20, 2007 2:52 am UTC

Is there an objective truth?


Isn't it impossible to answer that without being subjective?
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Postby EstLladon » Tue Mar 20, 2007 11:44 am UTC

i think that there is objective truth. We just are not constructed to percieve it. We are built more on conceptions of survival and other stuff like that. For example it is really hard (or even impossible) to say anything actually true in any natural language, but it is very convinient and effective for everyday communication.

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Postby evilbeanfiend » Tue Mar 20, 2007 11:55 am UTC

Aoeniac wrote:Is there an objective truth?


Isn't it impossible to answer that without being subjective?


yes, i think the OP meant is there an underlying or absolute truth.

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Postby Yakk » Tue Mar 20, 2007 2:31 pm UTC

Assume, objectively, there is no objective truth.

This is a truth that is objective. Thus a contradiction.

As there is or there is not an objective truth (law of excluded middle), there must be an objective truth.

What that truth is is unknown.

...

Did I mention that proof by contradiction has issues? :)

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Postby AllTooHuman » Tue Mar 20, 2007 4:08 pm UTC

Fun stuff.

There is a similiar discussion on another forum, but more in line with 'right' and 'wrong' rather than 'Truth'. That thread is here: (good/bad ... right/wrong)...

<begin wikipedia links...>
Is truth knowable? Philosophers have discussed this from various angles for years: Wikipedia: Truth/Philosophy

I guess it comes down to the these questions:

Do you believe in Subjectivism?

Or do you believe in Absolutism?
</end of wikipedia linkage>

Eh.. maybe that's a trick question. You can't really 'believe' in Absolutism: I guess you'd just have to 'know it' as fact right? Because if you subscribe to Absolutism, then Absolutism 'IS' whether you believe in it or not.... hehe...

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Postby Shadowfish » Tue Mar 20, 2007 11:31 pm UTC

There is an objective reality but, but not an objective truth.

I have been thinking about this for a while, and I am not sure if this is an established school of thought or not.

There is a physical universe. Everything that happens in it can be said to be objective reality. If we could know anything about the universe for sure, that would be said to be objective truth.

The tricky thing is, us humans do not live in the physical universe. This sounds weird, but hear me out. Our bodies are part of the physical universe, and our thoughts are physical processes. So, in that sense, we are in the universe, but the universe we experience is not the actual physical one. Our experience is a function of our nervous system, and so, that is all we truly know. Our nervous system has various ways of detecting what is going on around it, and so it can make a fairly accurate picture of the environment it exists in. However, all of your personal reality is happening in your nervous system, which has an understanding of its environment.

Our ideas of physical laws are a part of this understanding. They are the universe, but only as the ink on the paper that we write about them our the possesses in our brain as we think about them.They are an understanding the universe, not the universe itself, so they cannot be said to be objective truth.

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Postby Andrew » Wed Mar 21, 2007 12:39 am UTC

We do we have to know something before it counts as "truth"?

I don't think you're wrong in anything you say, but a couple of your definitions seem unusual.

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Postby Shadowfish » Wed Mar 21, 2007 1:57 am UTC

I've only taken an introductory philosophy class, and that focused on morality, so I don't really know how philosophers usually define truth. So, my definition is "if your knowledge exactly reflects reality, then you know the truth." So, yeah, I guess we do have to know something before it counts as truth.

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Postby TheTankengine » Wed Mar 21, 2007 8:42 am UTC

Truth is dynamic, just like life itself.
Truth is invented. It is merely the best guess we have after a series of experiments and observation.

Or, it is what some guy wrote in a book a couple thousand years ago, which was then transliterated twice. Whatever.

500 years ago, the earth was flat. That was the truth, because that was the best worldview the general population could come up with. We believe that F=ma is the truth, but what is there to stop people 500 years from now looking back at us as blithering idiots for believing that?

There is no absolute truth, only a good guess and general acceptance.
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Postby aldimond » Wed Mar 21, 2007 8:59 am UTC

TheTankengine wrote:500 years ago, the earth was flat.


500 years ago the earth was flat. Then God took up drinking.

More recently you could go faster than the speed of light. Then there was a wartime oil shortage and a universal speed limit was imposed.

These days acceleration is doled out according to mass as well as force, but after the revolution, dear comrades, all that acceleration will be distributed evenly according to the force exerted on each body (or at least according to the whims of a corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy). Workers of the universe, unite!
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Postby evilbeanfiend » Wed Mar 21, 2007 9:09 am UTC

TheTankengine wrote:There is no absolute truth, only a good guess and general acceptance.


while that could be considered true, it is only a good guess and general acceptance. :wink:

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Postby Gelsamel » Wed Mar 21, 2007 9:10 am UTC

evilbeanfiend wrote:general acceptance. :wink:


General acceptance? Donno about that, a lot of people probably don't think about this stuff.



Although this is just a good guess.

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Postby Drostie » Wed Mar 21, 2007 9:20 am UTC

Easiest freaking question ever.

Suppose that there are no absolute truths. Then "there are no absolute truths" is an absolute truth. Therefore, there are absolute truths.

Done.

And guess what? We can know absolute truths, too!

Suppose we can't know absolute truths. Then the preceding sentence is an absolute truth that we know. Therefore, we can know absolute truths.

Done.

And guess what? Some of those truths are objective! (Objective meaning "true for everyone, no matter what anyone thinks. The complement of objective is subjective.)

Let's say that S = "objective truths don't exist." Assume S is true. S must be subjectively true -- it can't be objectively true, because then S would be false. But since it's subjectively true, then that means that, for some people it's false, and for those people, objective truths exist. But since those truths are true for everyone if they're true for anyone (that's what "objective" means), then they're true for everyone; so, S is false anyways.

Done.

And guess what? Some of those truths are necessary! (A necessary truth is a statement which is true in all possible worlds. The complement of necessary is contingent.)

Let's say that S = "necessary truths don't exist." Assume S is true. S must be contingently true -- it can't be necessarily true, because then S would be false. But since it's contingently true, then that means that, for some possible worlds it's false, and for those worlds, necessary truths exist. But since those truths are true for all worlds if they're true for any worlds (that's what "necessary" means), then they're true for all worlds; so, S is false anyways.

Done.

Really, that took next to no effort.

No, laws of nature don't exist; the universe is not some giant calculator. The past lives on only in memories, and we live in the past, forever unable to clutch at the coattails of an elusive present. The world we see is 1% observation and 99% metaphors we invent to wrap our heads around things -- there are no tables, no chairs, no beds, just like how you're looking at pixels, not words; and for that matter, there are no pixels, either. Life's a cabaret, old chum, and the meaning of it is to live it, 'cause dying would be contrary to the point. The only certitude is Drostie, the only life is death; the world is wonders and literalism is for bores.

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Postby Yakk » Wed Mar 21, 2007 1:20 pm UTC

Of course, if you don't believe in the laws of contradiction, all of those proofs fall apart. As noted, proof by contradiction is cute, but it is a magic trick. I don't like the definition of truth that includes the contradiction axioms.

It is icky.

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Postby Drostie » Wed Mar 21, 2007 5:57 pm UTC

It is okay to believe in two contrary truths; you'll see them strewn throughout my last paragraph above. It is nonsensical to believe in two legitimately contradictory proofs.

For example, I might describe myself as an atheistic solipsistic pantheist. Those titles, while nominally contradictory, are only really contrary -- you don't expect someone who denies the existence of gods to affirm the notion that everything is divinity; much less someone who believes that he's the only thing to believe that everything else is god.

But, though you don't expect these things, no contradictions come up in the way that I execute that metaphor. So, life works.

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Postby Shadowfish » Wed Mar 21, 2007 6:09 pm UTC

Drostie, what is it about the universe that makes proof by condradiction work? Logic is a metaphor we use to understand the universe, there is nothing real about it.

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Postby Drostie » Wed Mar 21, 2007 6:19 pm UTC

Because the desmesne of maths is really just "anything that we can understand," and we cannot actually understand a self-contradictory thing. And the desmesne of physics is really just "all that we can mathematically model," so all physical models will have to incorporate noncontradiction into themselves.

It is possible that we'll run into a barrier where we say, "beyond this, we can't understand nature. Physics is hereafter dead." But I remain optimistic that this won't happen, because humans kick ass at understanding the world.

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Postby Shadowfish » Wed Mar 21, 2007 6:46 pm UTC

Right. 'Contradiction' is something that happens in human understanding of the universe, not in the universe. In my view, your proof does not show that universal truths exist, only that our way of understanding the universe requires that we pretend they exist.

Before we go any further, I think we need a definition of existance. Here's mine: Existance is a property that any physical thing has. A thing that exists is either matter and energy, or influences the way that these things behave.

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Postby OmenPigeon » Wed Mar 21, 2007 6:54 pm UTC

Shadowfish wrote:Before we go any further, I think we need a definition of existance. Here's mine: Existance is a property that any physical thing has. A thing that exists is either matter and energy, or influences the way that these things behave.


That definition also includes non-physical things. My emotions, for example, influence how I behave, but aren't physical. If that was an intended consequence of your definition, thats fine. Or you could argue that emotions aren't 'things' but just labels I attach to emergent phenomena of actual 'things': my brain, my hormones, etc. Or you could do something else. Just thought I should point that out.
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Postby Yakk » Wed Mar 21, 2007 7:02 pm UTC

I'm ok with it being impossible for X and not X to be both true at the same time, but I'm not ok with ((not X) imples false) implies X being considered "true" in general.

In effect, I refuse to assert that all statements are either true or false. Just because you can prove that the statement can't be false, doesn't mean you have proven it true.

The axiom or derivation rule ((~X)->F)->X is an attempt to state that all statements are either true or false. It is equivilent to the law of excluded middle: T<->(X or ~X).

When you remove that rule, and a few others, from logic you end up with a logic that has physical analogues. When this "constructive" logic says some statement is true, it also implicitly states "there is a method of physically demonstrating what it is that I am stating is true", because you can turn constructive proofs into constructive algorithms.

I trust a philosophy that when it says "X is true" it can actually produce a concrete example of X being true far more than a philosophy that cannot. Adding the law of excluded middle (or equivilents) to your logic turns you into a philosophy that cannot produce the beef.

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Postby Shadowfish » Wed Mar 21, 2007 9:57 pm UTC

That definition also includes non-physical things. My emotions, for example, influence how I behave, but aren't physical. If that was an intended consequence of your definition, thats fine. Or you could argue that emotions aren't 'things' but just labels I attach to emergent phenomena of actual 'things': my brain, my hormones, etc. Or you could do something else. Just thought I should point that out.


Good point, OmenPigeon. I think emotions exist, but only in the context of your body as neural impulses or hormones or whatever. Pretty much, I like the second possibility you gave.

In my system you can you can still talk about thoughts and emotions. The only difference is that you are talking about something that happens inside of an organism, helping it to understand and adapt to its environment. Language, words, philosophies, math, logic and physical laws are more complicated, but they work in a similar way.

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Postby Tchebu » Thu Mar 22, 2007 12:53 am UTC

Here's my reasoning about existence, which i find is quite precise and adequate. If anyone sees flaws in it please tell me.

Axiom 1: There is a characteristic called existence which can or cannot be attributed to an object. Any object is either existent or non existent (not both at the same time).
Axiom 2: All existing objects interact between each other. (I'm not sure about nonexistent objects...)
Conclusion 1: If an object interacts with an existent object it also exists.
Axiom 3: I exist.
Conclusion 2: I can only interact with existant objects, and only existent objects can interact with me, hense existence can be defined as "the ability to interact with me"

Note that concepts are clusters of information in my brain. This information has a materialistic nature, as it is encoded in physical processes in my brain. From this we can also assume that concepts exist if the matter (objects) in which the information constituting the concept is encoded exists (and can therefore eventually make their way to my brain). This obviously asumes that information cannot exist without a carrier.

Basically this is the same as what's been said before here, but i just thought i'd put it in a structured form. If anyone sees anything wrong with that, point it out. If not, then i suggest we use this as a reference for this discussion.

Icaruse
Posts: 23
Joined: Thu Feb 15, 2007 9:36 am UTC

Postby Icaruse » Thu Mar 22, 2007 3:59 am UTC

Axiom 2 is a little missleading. It sounds like you're saying "All existing objects can interact with all other existing objects." but from conclusions 1 and 2, you need also that "Nonexisting objects cannot interect with existing objects."

You're basically partitioning the set of all objects with the relation "interactability" that you assume to be an equivilence relation (i.e. is reflexive, symetric, and transitive). Thus, since you have assumed yourself to be in the partitioned area "existent," you can assert that anything you interact with is "existent" and anything it interacts with is also "existent."

As you mentioned, the problem is that you can only go any further than proving your plane of thought to be existent, because you can never know if, say, the image of a ball playing through you head is actually interacting with an object outside rather than just being a simulation inside the closed set of your plane of thought.


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