Sunday, May 30, 2010

Is There Objective Truth?

If there is no objective truth, why seek it?
If there is objective truth, where did it come from, and why is it static?
If there is objective truth, those who hold that my truth can be different than yours would be following folly. 
If there is no objective truth, what can we know?  Wouldn't the very statement be self defeating.  In other words we couldn't know whether or not there was no objective truth.


Bernardo said...

I once took a two-year epistemology course that addresses these kinds of questions. What can we know? How can we know it? What does it mean to say we "know" something... in mathematics? In science? In philosophy? In linguistics?

In engineering, we make models of how the world works, and we use these models to make things work the way we want. Given that we WANT something, the goal is to basically manipulate the world into giving us what we want. Any model that allows us to do this better than previous models is, by this criterion, better than previous models.

But models are only approximations, analogies. They are not "truth".

There is probably an answer to "What is the universe like?" that is more correct than other answers. But we don't know what that answer is. All we can do is make models and then decide which model works best. When you look at the universe through the lens of your preferred model, it makes things make more sense in terms of each other, and gives you methods and predictions that help you deal with what life throws at you.

I have picked a model that is my current favorite; It makes me feel like I can understand what I want to understand, and do certain things to exploit certain mechanisms to get what I want. You have picked a model that is your current favorite; It makes you feel like you can understand what you want to understand, and do certain things to exploit certain mechanisms to get what you want.

You ask; Which model is closer to the truth? I ask; Can we tell? And; Does it matter?

Randy Kirk said...

You make models and some of them work and some blow up. In our model if someone follows it, nobody blows up. I'm not so worried about scientists making rockets that might blow up. I'm very worried about scientists making decisions about marriage and evil and determinism, and might makes right, and such. When these things blow up, the chaos is dramatic and heartbreaking.

Bernardo said...

Scientists don't make decisions about these things. Scientists just do the best you can do to show the consequences of one action versus of another. Sure, there's always a risk that some relevant factor will be left out, but science (which really just means TRYING things, seeing whether they work, and then using the observations to refine your understanding and then using that understanding to figure out how we can do things better) is the best way to explore which factors are relevant.

Take one example. Same-sex marriage. You claim that it is detrimental to the well-being of people in societies that allow it. I claim that it is not: I claim that NOT allowing it is unjustly detrimental to the happiness of people. There are two ways you can settle this. One is to say "I have this book of exaggerated ancient stories edited by a power-hungry committe, and it says that homosexuality is bad". Another is to actually go out into the world and SEE whether same-sex marriage has caused any detriment. Do you really not see how the second way is the best way to figure things out and optimize them?

Yes, experimentation brings risks, and using observations to make change brings risks. But the only way to improve humanity is to do SOMEthing! There exists injustice, and we must choose between doing SOMEthing and doing nothing. I say, we should do something. And if all we can do is essentially trial-and-error, so be it, as long as we learn from it.

I'm sure you've thought of America as an "experiment" in some context. What would have happened if, in 1773 or so, the founding fathers and other revolutionaries-to-be had thought "Nah, that'd be too risky!"?

Randy Kirk said...

The founding fathers were quite aware that the system would work and had a passionate belief in the efficacy of what they were proposing. They had this passion, because what they were proposing was founded upon the Bible and the ethical system therein.

They were not "experimenting" on humans in some kind of Frankensteinion laboratory. Today we have those who destroy labs that experiment on rats, but think it is quite natural and normal to experiment on humans.