Monday, December 11, 2006

Truth Seeking as Contradiction Resolution

For a while, this is all I've had:

  • Questions are worth asking.
  • Every mode of understanding is worth acknowledging.
The first one should be relatively clear. The second I realized first — by "mode of understanding" I mean intuition, experience, and reason. There may be more or less modes — maybe I should include emotion, or combine experience and intuition, I'm not sure. The principle is the important part.

Today I realized there's an assumption I've been making unconsciously:
  • Actions and beliefs requires justification.
This assumption is revealed when I ask "But why are questions worth asking?", only to produce: "Without answers, we cannot justify action or belief." What if this assumption is false?

I think I've misunderstood justification. In Jain epistemology, they recognize every truth claim as coupled with a perspective; making it silly to talk about the truth claim apart from the perspective. If we look at each mode of understanding as representing a perspective, the issue is no longer justification. Each of the Jain blind men gathered around the elephant has a justification — their perspective is the justification.
  • The man by the leg says the elephant is a pillar.
  • The man by the ear says the elephant is a fan.
In the same way:
  • My intuition says there is hope for all things.
  • My experience shows that some things are hopeless.
Since all these claims are justified, the question turns to resolving the contradictions. We understand how contradictory kinesthetic perspectives fit together in the case of the elephant, but I don't know how different "understanding perspectives" might fit together. Can we formulate a similar principle? Maybe the the modes of understanding have well-defined relationships to each other in the same way spatial perspectives do.

Without a general principle to resolve the contradictions, what should I do? The same thing the blind men do: discuss. They discuss because there is a contradiction, and act/believe when they have a resolution.

So now I have two axioms and a consequence:
  • Every mode of understanding is worth acknowledging.
  • Contradictions are worth resolving.
  • Questions are worth asking.
Truth (as far as we can understand it) can be defined negatively as noncontradiction. Now when I ask "Are these things important: compassion/love/selflessness, truth/trust/honesty, and passion?", and my intuition and experience say yes, while my rationality has no way of saying anything — there's a truth there.

At first it seems strange to see truth seeking as contradiction resolution, but I think it's just because I was distracted by justification and failed to realize that each mode of understanding is already justified in itself.


Jason LaPorte said...

I love looking at how you ontologize the world, since the way you and I look at things are so different, but the methods by which we reason seem so similar. It's like using the same algorithm on different graphs.

Anyway, a couple things: first, I would say that emotion should be included in your modes of understanding, and that intuition should be merged into it. The two means by which we find answers seem to be either reasoning or feeling, and when you have an "intuition" about something seems to fall into the "feeling" category.

Of course, I think I come to this since while you reason about your surrounds, I feel them out. However, I think they are both active sorts of things, as opposed to passive experience.

The question in my mind at this point, is whether experience can also incorporate reasoning and feeling. I suppose that depends on whether we are really acting or if we are observing with the deception that we're acting. It's things like that that keep me up at night.

Regardless, I'd like to take you on a time machine to something I found from last March in one of my notebook:

"[Kyle and I] then argued about nondeterminism [and free will]. Kyle thinks there are two parts to free will -- freedom to choose something, and the justification for that choice. In nondeterminism, freedom is allowed, but justification cannot be. Thus, he thinks free will cannot exist in a nondeterministic world. I see justification... is unnecessary for free will, since choices seem to be able to be made even if one neglects rationality (for example, by going on intution. "Well, why did you do that?" "I... just felt like I had to." duhhr, that's not good enough). Thus, in contrast, I see that a nondeterministic world would allow free will, though it seems there would need to be some interesting algorithm to allow it to be coherent."

You probably remember the conversation better than I do, but as I recall I had to come up with some sort of space-partitioning algorithm that defined the physical laws of the universe to allow consciousnesses, outside of the universe, to act on an ever-increasing set of perceptions. I don't remember much beyond that, though; or even what my funny little algorithm looked like.

Anyway, just thought you might find that interesting.

Finally, this also ties back into a post you wrote some time ago about how one defines truth. I couldn't find it for the life of me, but it's interesting to cognitively combine this post with that one. Further outlines your reasoning a bit, by an additional step.

Kyle said...

"The two means by which we find answers seem to be either reasoning or feeling..." I considered describing this dichotomy as "not understanding why" versus "pretending to understanding why" :) When I say experience — it is certainly the fodder of reason, but they seem separate. You can reason about abstractions without experience, or simply "refer" to experience (analogical reasoning doesn't quite fit the standard "reasoning" category).

"some sort of space-partitioning algorithm that..." I do remember this! I remember feeling like it might resolve problems, but that it seemed really weird and complicated. I'll ask professor Fahey about the freedom versus justification thing again, he explained it more clearly to me than I did to you. Maybe if we start from there with the space-partitioning stuff in mind we can figure it out.

"a post you wrote some time ago about how one defines truth" If you find it, let me know — I'm still working on that :) "Noncontradiction of different judgements/modes of understanding" seems like it's in the right direction, at least.