May 10, 2005

On the edge

On www.edge.org, a while ago, a very interesting question was suggested for its contributors: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Well, what do you think?

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6 Comments:

Blogger Corollarius said...

I believe that human curiosity will never be satisfied. I believe people will always have questions, regardless of the amount of explanations we accumulate. But I don’t know why. I don’t know how to prove it or how to conceive a proof. The only one I could think of is something like: if there are infinite objects of knowledge, and we start our process of discovery with number 1, then number 2, then 3…, then there are going to be always objects of knowledge to be discovered. This proto-proof, however, assumes what we are asking, so is a non-starter. Another possibility is to say that, since everything changes, answers will be very revisable. But if assuming that “knowledge” is linked somehow to truth, and that if it is true then it is platonically fixed, what we know should be (to certain extent) immune to change. If all the objects of our knowledge are changing, and what once was a correct explanation could always be shown to be false, then I think it is better to say that we didn’t know in the first place. “All men by nature desire to know”—said Aristotle. I think it is true, and that it will be true as long as there will be human beings. Yet, I don’t know why.

5/10/2005 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Ignacio Prado said...

The gap between Analytic and Continental philosophers will be closed. The former will learn that writing Anal-ytic prose is not a virtue in itself. The latter will learn that writing inContinent-al prose is not an expression of wisdom.

5/10/2005 03:10:00 PM  
Blogger Winston said...

Since I've been reading a lot of philosophy of mind lately, materialism has been on my mind: the thesis that physical things alone are enough to create consciousness. I believe materialism is true but I don't think it's been "proved", despite all the arguments for it.

It just doesn't seem necessary that reproductively successful complicated behavior requires consciousness. If it's not necessary, then why do we (and apparently many other animals) have it? I can't wrap my head around the idea that little atoms bouncing around together can become conscious.

I realize that the reason why it doesn't seem necessary may well be that my imagination is leading me astray, or that my understanding of consciousness is limited. That's fair enough -- I just can't prove to myself that materialism true. But I still believe it.

5/10/2005 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Existence, identity, and consciousness.

There is no proof of any of these. Yet none of these can be rationally questioned or denied. They are the preconditions of proof. Each is implicit in every moment of one's conscious existence. All one need do is open one's eyes.

One cannot prove that existence exists, for any such (non-question begging) proof would require a premise drawn from outside of existence. Consciousness can not be proved, for any such proof would require that one step outside of consciousness. Neither can the Law of Identity be proved: the fundamental law of logical proof is the Law of Non-Contradiction (A cannot be non-A), which is a corollary of the Law of Identity (A is A). Hence, any demand for proof of the Law of Identity implicitly presupposes one's acceptance of the very law one is calling into question.

So, if we can't prove existence, identity, or consciousness, how do we know they're true? The answer is that they are the self-evident, primary, inescapable facts that are the base of all cognition; they are not subject to proof, as the very concepts of "truth" and "proof" presuppose them. They are inescapable insofar as they must be used in any attempt to deny them. (This is what Aristotle called "re-affirmation through denial.") Without existence and consciousness there is nothing to prove and no one to prove it. Without identity logic has no foundation (and no purpose since there is nothing to prove).

5/12/2005 01:07:00 AM  
Blogger Ignacio Prado said...

Hi Charles,

I am interested in seeing if you could elaborate on some of these points, as they are very interesting, but I find them a bit obscure.

For example:

The answer is that they are the self-evident, primary, inescapable facts that are the base of all cognition.

Does that mean these are a priori, by which I mean that they are not justified by any given perceptual experience? For example, I may have learned how to add "2+2=4" by seeing certain numbers in a book when I was three, but what justifies my believing that proposition is independent of any experience that I have ever had (as opposed to justying the belief that "there is a cat on the mat," which does require adducing a perceptual experience).

You mentioned in Philosophy of Mind this semester that you did not think any siginificant principles of knowledge are "hard-wired" into us.

If not from perception and not from our innate constitution, where do we get these organizing concepts of thought, especially if they are, as you say, presupposed by all thinking yet not provable by thinking?

I am also a little bit confused about what you mean by "law of identity." "A is A" strikes me as a formal principle. It says that insofar as something falls under the concept "A," we must treat it as an A.

I do not think anyone denies this; I think what they might deny is that entities, as opposed to entities as viewed under the aspect of a concept, are incapable of instantiating contradictory properties at the same time (the most common scientific examples are quanta).

Certainly I have often thought myself to be incredibly funny and clever on an occasion, but then been told by others later that I came off as a bore and an ass--was I not, on these occasions, instantiating contradictory or at least contrary properties?

Perhaps these are not "real properties," or their relational aspect makes them problematic, but I wonder exactly what kind of work this law of identity is supposed to do in helping us sort through these cases.

Also, how does the activity of proof presuppose existence? I think can I prove that the following is true:

(1) If Bambi is a deer, then Bambi had a mother.

But does this presuppose the existence of Bambi or his mother?

I think you may mean something different by the presupposition of existence than I am indicating here. What do you mean, exactly? Could you give some examples (or apply them to the above)?

5/13/2005 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger jean-pierre said...

<"What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" Well, what do you think?>

I have believed that the best or most truthful of philosophies and religions have taught us that we are capable of living together in harmony, or knowing ourselves, of respecting and even loving each other, including people of different races, levels of intelligence, religions and cultures. I know this to be true on an heuristic level, but have had difficulty proving it on a rational, other than a priori way of knowing.

6/05/2005 12:58:00 PM  

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