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Exactly what is “Truth”?


Doctordick
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Truth is a word used quite often with little thought as to exactly what is meant when we use it. In a rough sense, it is nothing more than a category to which we assign specific ideas, statements or explanations. What qualifies a particular specific idea for that assignment? Well first, I think we could get almost universal agreement that the idea must be consistent with all other ideas already assigned to that category. It is pretty well accepted that, if any idea is inconsistent with something already regarded as true, there is a major problem. So the first thing one can say is that everything held as true must be consistent with everything else held as true.

 

We are thus lead to assign the concept "truth" to a assemblage of ideas or concepts which are totally consistent with one another. Now clearly, this is not the total definition of truth as it implies a collection of ideas totally consistent with one another could be called truth. I can easily come up with a collection of ideas which are totally consistent with one another which no one here would accept as truth. What is missing from this definition?

 

What is missing is the idea that there is only one truth. That is, the truth must be consistent with every idea assigned the title "true". It cannot be a simple collection, it must be all encompassing. Thus it becomes evident that we are talking about a single complete structure. Well, I am of the opinion that our subconscious minds are already aware of this fact and have assigned a label to refer to it. That label is "reality"; reality is what is truly real. Reality must be totally consistent with itself (or rather, any explanation of reality, if it is to be regarded as true, must be totally consistent with itself).

 

We are thus led to the idea that the "truth" is what is totally consistent with reality. But, what is reality? Isn't it what we consider to be absolutely true? It seems we are going in circles here; but are we? I think we can break out of that circle by realizing that our experiences are the fundamental issue of truth.

 

At this point, the problem becomes a tad subtle. We can accept our experiences as real (in the same sense that we can accept our experiences as truth) only with regard to the actual nature of those experiences and not with regard to our explanations of those experiences: i.e., our interpretation or definitions of those experiences. The moment we assign characteristics to any of those experiences, we are constraining our understanding of those experiences to a model consistent with what we already believe to be true. This leads to a difficulty which seems almost impossible to resolve.

 

Most people will add to the concept of "truth" the idea that if something is really true, one will never come to learn it is false. If that idea is "true" then the truth can never change. If the truth can never change, then it is impossible to know as the possibility, no matter how slim, always exists that what you thought was true might be proved wrong. Most modern philosophers use that fact to curtail the search for truth as something unachievable. Thus implying the concept is useless.

 

Let me suggest that the concept is still useful. Instead of holding that the truth cannot change, let me instead put forth the idea that the truth must be totally consistent with what is known. If what is known changes, then the truth can change. Under this constraint, the truth becomes merely an accurate representation of what is known and need not be unchangeable.

 

This leads me to the rather strange definition that the truth is exactly what you believe to be true. I am fairly confident that the definition fulfills all usage common to any philosophical discussion. I would challenge anyone to prove that what he believes to be true is not true. The issue is, once he has proved something he believed to be true is not true, does he still think it is true?

 

There is a very important issue buried in that last observation. That is the fact that no one has any control at all over what he believes is true. That is why we have the word convinced. It follows that, if you wish to learn the truth, your only option is to search for flaws in the consistency of what you believe. When you find inconsistencies in your beliefs, it opens your mind to the fact that something you believe to be true must be false. If you never look for inconsistencies, you will never find them and thus, learning the truth will be absolutely beyond possibility.

 

Think about it -- Dick

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Truth defines reality in a way that is not subjective. For example, if I say dogs are better than cats this is subjective, so it is not a truth, but a subjective comparison. If I say smoking cigarettes will cause cancer, this is partially truth and partially false, since one can always find cases where this correlation did not apply.

 

Truth is closer to simplicity than it is to complexity. In other words, if truth is what is needed for humans to optimized themselves to reality, complexity would inhibit human evolution. Truth needs to be simple and closer to common sense such that all humans are better able to orientate themselves to reality.

 

If there is a polarization of opinion, neither orientation is truth. Both will contain part of the truth, which is why they exist. But neither will contain the entire truth. The whole truth is sort of an average of the two. In the situation of polarization, the fanticism is due to unconsciously sensing that this is not the entire truth. The potential between truth and partial truth is the fuel that drives the one-sided person.

 

Wisdom is closer to truth than is knowledge. Knowledge is always changing. What is truth today become obsolete tomorrow. But on the other hand, wisdom of age, for example, causes one to bring together a wide range of experiences, often connected to living many sides, into an orientation that is adaptive to what appear to be new situations. With every generation of teens, the books pile up with new insight. The grandparent has seen it all before and just laughs. Wisdom is more connected to 3-D thinking, that still works each generation.

 

Humans can market partial truth, as truth, for fun and profit. This is one of the limitations of knowledge and 2-D thought. If I can find a market share, by writing a book on an alien invasion, I might be able to put together a strong enough logical case, to make other believe this is truth. All I am really doing is stretching the truth for fun and profit. Truth is more obvious when there is nothing personal to gain, except the truth. That is why global warming is confusing. It involves money, resources, prestige, politics which, each by themself, are enough motivation to say anything as the truth.

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It follows that, if you wish to learn the truth, your only option is to search for flaws in the consistency of what you believe.

 

Quoted for truth!!!

 

Most modern philosophy is what I think of as anti-philosophy. Specifically on this subject, it is commonly held that knowledge is "justified true belief". Did they learn nothing through all those years of discussion?

 

1) Justified - Their meaning: Do you have a reason to believe it? Response: Justified according to who?

 

2)True - Their meaning: Have you seen it to be false so far? Response: Would you let yourself see it if it was? Have you been looking to make sure?

 

3)Belief - Their meaning: Do you believe it? Response: Trivial. Bringing it into the discussion indicates that the whole argument is anti-philosophy.

 

The whole purpose of that argument is to allow the person not yet exposed to philosophy to just ignore philosophy because it says just do what you always do.

 

That is totally wrong. Skepticism made the point that we can never be sure that something is true or not. Lehrer responded that if we reject all truth we can do nothing. No one famous really said it out loud (or if so it hasn't been recognized) but the result is clearly that we must look for any evidence that our beliefs could be false and if we find none only then accept what we believe as truth. EVEN IF it is emotionally painful to consider that our beliefs are false.

 

PS: You also touched on coherentism - which basically says that people naturally value beliefs by how well they logically go together with a larger set of beliefs.

 

Then you mentioned that not everyone seems to require the belief set to be complete. But there is a problem with wanting the belief set to be complete - all questions of why ultimately result in an infinite regress. It can never be complete. So there are infinite variations even when a person has the same core set of beliefs. It is useful to be able to recognize core beliefs in a variant belief set for communication issues.

 

But as far as what we should do, I believe the answer is minimalism. IE make your belief set as big as you can with the information provided and precise logical reasoning. But then add nothing else. Do not speculate, wonder etc or do anything else and add the results to your belief set under the label of probable or possible. Everything is what it is, and nothing more. This requires further fleshing out though.

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The word “truth” means what you define it to. No more, no less. It is better if we all define it to be the same thing, but it helps if you just define it as being one thing. So I have a problem with the definition of "truth" in the OP, what is it?

 

The definition of truth that I prefer is "anything that anyone thinks is true". Now that does not sound like a very good definition, but there is logic in this. The relevance is its relationship to the terms: observation, illusion, subjective, objective, belief and reality:

 

1. An observation is something that is experienced. It may be real or an illusion. The person observing it does not necessarily believe it to be real. But it is true that they observed it.

 

2. An illusion is something that is observed, but is not real. It may or may not be believed to be real by the observer. But, as above, it is true that they observed it.

 

3. A belief is something that is held to be real. It does not necessarily have to be observed, nor to be real. But it is true that they believe it.

 

4. The terms subjective and objective indicate how many people observe or believe something:

  • A subjective observation is something that is observed by one person. So if one person watches an illusionist who is apparently plucking coins out of thin air, it is true that they see him pluck coins out of thin air, but that does not mean that they believe it, nor that it is real. It can be (and in this case is) an illusion.
  • An objective observation is where a number of people observe the same thing. But no matter how many people see an illusionist pluck coins out of thin air, it still can be an illusion.
  • A subjective belief is something that one person believes is true. So if one person sees an illusionist plucking coins out of thin air, and believes it to be real, that is a subjective belief.
  • An objective belief is held by more than one person. So if a number of people see an illusionist pick coins out of thin air, and believe it to be real, that is an objective belief.

7. Reality is what exists, whether we observe it, or believe it, to be so or not.

 

So, by this definition, truth is a general term that encompasses observation, illusion, subjective, objective, belief and reality. All are forms of truth. Reality is absolute truth, and illusion is untruth (which is, never the less, a form of truth).

 

What do you think?

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Personally, I’m most comfortable with a definition of truth that can be mapped to a formal system, the sort defined by what Hofstadter termed in GEB “nomenclatural rules”. “Truth” in such a system is defined as a strings of characters from a finite or infinite character set, and is called a theorem. The system’s has collection of given theorems, which include rules for generating new theorems, which are themselves strings, called axioms.

 

I’m somewhat less comfortable with a definition of truth as an entity of which measurements can be made that agree well with formal systems: the “objectively verifiable reality” of mechanistic science; and the “territory” of which the formal system is a “map”.

 

I’m very little comfortable with a definition of truth deriving from intuitive attractive arguments: “common sense” truth.

 

My preference for the map over the territiory is reinforced by my “religious-like” belief (ie: one I cannot prove) that reality is fundamentally exactly such a system, ie: on a fundamental level, its states are theorems produced by a collection of nomenclatural rules acting upon a collection of theorems and themselves isomorphic to strings in a formal system.

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  • 3 weeks later...

It has been said that truth is the identification of some fact of reality and that reason is the only standard of truth (Ayn Rand). Thus truth is a type of dialectic positive relationship--between (1) consciousness (process of concept formation) and (2) reality. A true statement is always a tautology, a false statement always a contradiction. I think these ideas mesh well with OP comments of Doctordick.

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Thus truth is a type of dialectic positive relationship--between (1) consciousness (process of concept formation) and (2) reality.
This notion of truth pertains to a different realm from that of:
A true statement is always a tautology, a false statement always a contradiction.
and these two realms should not be confused.
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Truth = reality
C1ay, I couldn't agree with you more. That is exactly what I have in mind when I think about reality and/or truth. The issue is then, exactly what do we know that we can be confident is true or, in exactly the same vein, is real. Physics (the mother of all science so to speak) thinks they are explaining reality and at the same time consider “truth” to be outside their interest (a philosophical issue; that's why I am posting to the “metaphysics” forum). I hope you recognize that “What can we know of reality?”, is essentially the same question as “What is truth?” or, to be more exact, “What can we know of truth?”

 

Another rather strange philosophical conclusion can be reached down that same road. If you agree with Feynman that “mathematics is the distilled essence of logic” and also agree that “logic” is the only way one can analyze the truth, then mathematics is the only language within which one can confidently analyze reality.

 

Have fun -- Dick

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(a philosophical issue; that's why I am posting to the “metaphysics” forum).
Er... perhaps you meant to say the other way around? :) ;)

 

Apparently you are not making the distinction between metaphysical truth and logical truth. As Craig posted above, one may prove or disprove a theorem -- in a given formal system i. e. given a set of axioms and inference rules. Is it true or false that the sum of a triangle's angles is exactly [imath]\pi[/imath] radians? Is it true or false that a proton is full of quarks?

 

How do you prove each of these two statements? They are two quite different notions of truth, this is why I disagree with:

Another rather strange philosophical conclusion can be reached down that same road. If you agree with Feynman that “mathematics is the distilled essence of logic” and also agree that “logic” is the only way one can analyze the truth, then mathematics is the only language within which one can confidently analyze reality.
Feynman is not the only one to say that “mathematics is the distilled essence of logic” and there's no doubt that this is the modern conception of mathematics. Logic, however, can only analyse "truth" in the mathematical sense; it isn't enough to determine what is true or false about reality.
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C1ay, I couldn't agree with you more. That is exactly what I have in mind when I think about reality and/or truth. The issue is then, exactly what do we know that we can be confident is true or, in exactly the same vein, is real... I hope you recognize that “What can we know of reality?”, is essentially the same question as “What is truth?” or, to be more exact, “What can we know of truth?”.

 

The trouble with defining truth as equating to reality is that:

a) It makes one or other word "truth" and "reality" redundant.

:shade: It makes no allowance for subjective views.

 

The latter is a problem that is met in legal disputes. It is commonplace (I believe) for two witnesses to an event to provide markedly different accounts. Putting aside the possibility of deliberate lying, both may be telling the "truth" about what they observed, but both cannot be real. This is why I regard "trurth" as having a much more flexible, inexact, meaning than reality. If you equate truth with reality, what word do you use for the meaning that I have attributed to the word "truth" in #6 above?

 

Another rather strange philosophical conclusion can be reached down that same road. If you agree with Feynman that “mathematics is the distilled essence of logic” and also agree that “logic” is the only way one can analyze the truth, then mathematics is the only language within which one can confidently analyze reality.

 

I'm with "Q" on this. Also, I would suggest that this claim is overstated, and possibly fundamentally flawed:

a) Mathematics is reality neutral. It does not matter mathematically whether space-time is actually curved. The same equations apply whether "space-time" is a real entity or an abstract concept that has no direct relation to any real entity. Does space-time exist, is it real? I suggest that mathematics cannot answer this question. Do you say that it can and if so, how?

:) Even assuming that mathematics is suitable for the purpose of analysing reality, why is mathematics the only language fit for it? This does not follow. You have to show some flaw in all other forms of logic (e.g. verbal reasoning) to support this claim. Can you?

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Logic, however, can only analyse "truth" in the mathematical sense; it isn't enough to determine what is true or false about reality.
As logical systems are by nature deterministic, it might be that they cant deal with reality. This problem, known as the clinamen of Epicurus, was raised about 2200 years ago, and is still unresolved.
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As logical systems are by nature deterministic, it might be that they cant deal with reality.

 

Hi Ughaibu,

 

As I've indicated above, I agree that mathematics cannot distinguish betweeen reality and abstract concepts, but I cannot see that implies that all logical systems cannot deal with reality. Even if reality is not logical, that is a logical deduction.

 

This problem, known as the clinamen of Epicurus, was raised about 2200 years ago, and is still unresolved.

 

All I can find relating to the clinamen of Epicurus is the belief that there would be no contact between atoms without "clinamen", and so, "No collision would take place and no impact of atom upon atom would be created. Thus nature would never have created anything."

 

As far as I can see the theory that clinamen was responsible for interactions between atoms was abandoned many years ago, and does not form a part of modern physics. What remains unresolved about that?

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Er... perhaps you meant to say the other way around? :) ;)
No, I don't. You once again demonstrate that you do not grasp the essence of what I am doing.
Apparently you are not making the distinction between metaphysical truth and logical truth.
No, I am not. If you want to make such a distinction, you had better have a method by which the distinction can be resolved.
As Craig posted above, one may prove or disprove a theorem -- in a given formal system i. e. given a set of axioms and inference rules. Is it true or false that the sum of a triangle's angles is exactly [imath]pi[(imath] radians? Is it true or false that a proton is full of quarks?
The question rather is, do you know what you are talking about when you say that “a proton is full of quarks” or is the statement actually quite analogous to, “does Zeus have it in for me”?
How do you prove each of these two statements?
You can not prove something you do not understand. A proof is no more than a demonstration that the conclusion (what is being proved) is embedded in the axioms (the defined basis of the thoughts). Without a defined basis, you simply don't know what you are talking about.

 

That is exactly the essence of the problem I have solved. In your left hand you have something of which you have no understanding (it is simply something you don't understand: i.e., you don't have the slightest idea what is to be talked about). In your right hand, you have your expectations (something you think you understand: i.e., somehow you have achieved the idea that you know what you are talking about). How can you get from one to the other? Certainly it should be clear to you that you can; people do it all the time. The issue is, what can one say about the process?

Feynman is not the only one to say that “mathematics is the distilled essence of logic” and there's no doubt that this is the modern conception of mathematics. Logic, however, can only analyse "truth" in the mathematical sense; it isn't enough to determine what is true or false about reality.
It's nice to know that others have made the observation; I only heard Feynman say it. But of course, I have really had no interest in researching the issue.

 

Then, in your opinion, logic has nothing to do with “truth in the metaphysical sense” or did you mean it has nothing to do with “truth in the scientific sense”?

The trouble with defining truth as equating to reality is that:

a) It makes one or other word "truth" and "reality" redundant.

Well that doesn't bother me at all. English is chock full of redundant terms. And it apparently doesn't bother C1ay either so I don't appear to be totally alone in my view.
b) It makes no allowance for subjective views.
That seems to me to be no more than an assertion that you want to regard the “subjective views” as “truth”. Hardly a thing C1ay or I would consider essential.
The latter is a problem that is met in legal disputes. It is commonplace (I believe) for two witnesses to an event to provide markedly different accounts. Putting aside the possibility of deliberate lying, both may be telling the "truth" about what they observed, but both cannot be real.
I would agree with you if you replaced, “about what they observed” with “about what they think they observed”.
This is why I regard "truth" as having a much more flexible, inexact, meaning than reality. If you equate truth with reality, what word do you use for the meaning that I have attributed to the word "truth" in #6 above?
Well, I personally would refer to their “beliefs”. You are just being intellectually sloppy in an attempt to ignore (or bury) the fact that peoples beliefs can be false. Of course I realize that social "correctness" says peoples "beliefs" are not to be questioned but is such an approach really very objective?
I'm with "Q" on this. Also, I would suggest that this claim is overstated, and possibly fundamentally flawed:

a) Mathematics is reality neutral. It does not matter mathematically whether space-time is actually curved. The same equations apply whether "space-time" is a real entity or an abstract concept that has no direct relation to any real entity. Does space-time exist, is it real? I suggest that mathematics cannot answer this question. Do you say that it can and if so, how?

Your mind is clouded by the fact that you believe that what you know what you are talking about here is “real”. I can show quite clearly (via logic; except that you have to understand mathematics) how you have come to convince yourself of that delusion and that it is indeed a delusion.
b) Even assuming that mathematics is suitable for the purpose of analysing reality, why is mathematics the only language fit for it? This does not follow. You have to show some flaw in all other forms of logic (e.g. verbal reasoning) to support this claim. Can you?
The simple flaw in all other forms of logic is that they are limited to unbelievably tiny constructs. If you want a coherent picture of the entire universe, the number of steps in your logic very quickly exceed your mental abilities and no languages save mathematics can maintain logical coherence over the range required to analyze the universe.
As logical systems are by nature deterministic, it might be that they cant deal with reality. This problem, known as the clinamen of Epicurus, was raised about 2200 years ago, and is still unresolved.
So, being ignorant I googled “clinamen of Epicurus” and looked around at the results. The first, “Epicurus' Dilemma”, seemed to be as good as any of the others. They all seemed to be interested in “determinism vs indeterminism” a pair of common “beliefs” (which they discuss in a very surface way; no penetrating discussion which I could uncover).
Is the universe ruled by deterministic laws? What is the nature of time? These questions were formulated by the pre-Socratics at the very start of Western rationality. After more than twenty-five hundred years, they are still with us.
Very clearly because no one makes any effort to think the issue out. The first question to ask is, “we have in our left hand something of which we have utterly no understanding” and we have in our right hand “what we think is the way the universe (and people, remember, the universe is everything) works”, how can one get from one to the other? Absolutely everyone wants to discuss what they think without any consideration to the issue as to how it is possible to get there. And they complain that they can't resolve anything. Certainly they cannot; their arguments are all based on the assumption that they “know what they are talking about” which is pure self delusion.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus was the first to address a fundamental dilemma. As a follower of Democritus, he believed ...
And we can stop right there as “belief” has entered the room. Rational discussion of the problem is over!
Again and again, the greatest thinkers in Western tradition, such as Immanuel Kant, Alfred North Whitehead, and Martin Heidegger, felt that they had to make a tragic choice between an alienating science or an antiscientific philosophy.
Define a scientific philosophy! Isn't a scientific philosophy one which starts with no “beliefs”? Why is everyone so unwilling to start from there?

 

As long as they refuse to look at the issue I have raised, they will never, and I mean never, solve the problem which confronts them.

 

Have fun -- Dick

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