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Posts Tagged ‘truth’

There is truth.   Truth exists.  There is a truth to this existence, this universe.   We might lack the language or the pictorial tools or the right theory and models, but there is truth.

What is this truth?  what is truth?

Things exist, we exist, there is a speed of light, the square root of two is irrational, the halting problem is undecidable, there are abstract and real relations between abstract and real things.

The truth is a something that, yes, has a correspondence to the facts.  That is not the end of it though (despite the pragmatic claims of some!).   The truth has a correspondence to the facts because it is true!   The facts HAVE to line up against a truth.   The truth exists outside of specific events or objects.   A number has an existence, if even only as an idea, and it has relations to other things.  And the description of that number and those relations ARE truth.  A computer program has its truth whether you run the program or not.  If you were to run it it would halt or not halt, that potential is in the computer program from the beginning, it doesn’t arise from it’s execution.

On Proof and not Proof but Use

We can prove these truths and many more.  We can prove through English words or through mathematical symbolism or computer programs.   Our proofs, put into these formats, can and are often wrong and set to be revised over and over until there are no holes.   No matter how fragile a proof and the act of providing proof the truth is still not diminished.  It is still there, whether we know it or not and whether we can account for it or not.  And the truth begs proof.  It begs to be known in its fullness and to be trusted as truth to build up to other truths.

BUT!

Proof isn’t always possible – in fact we’ve learned from issues in computability and incompleteness – that complete provability of all truth is impossible.   This beautiful truth itself further ensures that the truth will always beckon us and will never be extinguished through an endless assault.  There is always more to learn.

The unprovable truths we can still know and use.  We can use them without knowing they are true.  We do this all the time, all day long.   How many of us know the truth of how physics works? or how are computers do what they do?   and does that prevent their use – the implementation of that truth towards more truth?

Why?

Why defend truth?  Why publish an essay exalting truth and championing the search for truth? Does the truth need such a defense?

Being creatures with intelligence – that is, senses and a nervous system capable of advanced pattern recognition – our ultimate survival depends on figuring out what’s true and what isn’t.   If too many vessels (people!) for the gene code chase falsehoods the gene code isn’t likely to survive too many generations.   Life, and existence itself, depends on the conflict between entropy and shape, chaos and order, stillness and motion, signal and noise.  The truth is the abstract idea that arises from this conflict and life is the real, tangible thing born from that truth.  We learn truths – which processing of this thing into that thing that keep us alive, we live to learn these things. In a completely entropic existence there is nothing.   Without motion there is nothing.   In total chaos there is nothing.   It is the slightest change towards shape, order and signal that we find the seeds of truth and the whole truth itself.  The shaping of entropy is the truth.   Life is embodiment of truth forming.

So I can’t avoid defending the truth.  I’m defending life.  My life.  In defending it, I’m living it.  And you, in whatever ways you live, are defending the truth and your relation to other things.  If I’m alive I must seek and promote truth.   While death isn’t false, chasing falsehood leads to death or rather non existence.   Could there ever be truth to a statement like “I live falsely” or “I sought the false.”   There’s nothing to seek.  Falsehood is easy, it’s everywhere.  It’s everything that isn’t the truth.  To seek it is to exert no effort (to never grow) and to never gain – falsity has no value.  Living means growing, growing requires effort, only the truth, learning of the truth demands effort.

How do we best express and ask about truth?

There’s a great deal of literature on the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics to describe the world.  There’s also a great deal of literature, and growing by the day, suggesting that mathematics isn’t the language of the way the universe works.   Both views I find to be rather limited.   Mathematics and doing math is about certain rigor in describing things and their relations.   It’s about forming and reforming ways to observe and question ideas, objectives, motion, features…. It’s about drawing a complete picture and all the reasons it should and shouldn’t be so.   Being this way, this wonderful thing we call mathematics, there is no way mathematics couldn’t be effective at truth expression.   Ok, for those that want to nit pick, I put “computation” in with mathematics.  Describing (writing) computer programs and talking about their features and functions and observing their behavior is doing math, it is mathematics.

Art has very similar qualities.   Art doesn’t reduce beyond what should be reduced.   It is the thing itself.  It asks questions by shifting perspectives and patterns.  It produces struggle.  Math and art are extremely hard to separate when done to their fullest.  Both completely ask the question and refuse to leave it at that.   Both have aspects of immediate impression but also have a very subtle slow reveal.  Both require both the artist and the audience, the mathematician and the student – there is a tangible, necessary part of the truth that comes directly from the interaction between the parties, not simply the artifacts or results themselves.

Other ways of expressing and thinking are valuable and interesting.  That is, biology and sociology and political science, and so on….. these are all extremely practical implementations or executions of sub aspects of the truth and truth expression.  They are NOT the most fundamental nor the most fruitful overall.   Practiced poorly and they lead to falsehoods or at best mild distractions from the truth.  Practiced well and they very much improve the mathematics and art we do.

What does any of this get us?  What value is there in this essay?

This I cannot claim anything more about than what I have above.   For example, I don’t know how to specifically tell someone that the truth of square root of 2 is irrational has x,y,z value to them.  It certainly led to a fruitful exploration and exposition of a great deal of logic and mathematical thinking that led to computation and and and.   But that doesn’t even come close to explaining value or what talking about its value today, in this essay, matters.

My only claim would be that truth matters and if there is any truth in this essay then this essay matters.  How that matter comes to fruition I don’t know.   That it comes to any more fruition than my pounding out this essay after synthesizing many a conversation and many books on the subject and writing some computer programs and doing math is probably just a very nice consequence.

The truth’s purpose is itself, that it is true.

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Happy 2010.  After several lengthy discussions over the holidays with my Mom I thought it might be interesting to generate an online Mother/Son debate to discuss the Big Issues in life.  Note: This post is the first time my mom will have heard of this idea but I suspect she’ll embrace this and start producing her viewpoints within 24 hours 😉

The Mother Son Debates will illuminate the differences in values, ideas, hopes and approaches to life between my mom and I.  Perhaps in putting these thoughts out there we might learn more about our respective generations, our social networks and the contexts of our own value formations.  We might also change some of our own view points in the process.  Oh, and yes, we’ll have a lot of fun!

Topics We’ll Debate:

  • Health Care Reform – why reform? who should pay? what’s the end result we want?
  • Free Will – do we have free will?
  • God – current concept of God? is there a God?
  • Education – what works? what doesn’t?
  • Designer Genetics – should we design our children?  redesign ourselves?
  • Technology Enhanced Human Biology – cyborgs? intelligence enhancers?
  • Determinism – is it all determined?
  • Global Warming – is it real? does it matter?
  • Human Rights – what are human rights?
  • Universal Truth – are there any universal truths?
  • Personal Responsibility – who’s responsible for everything?
  • War and Peace – is there a positive to war? is war necessary? is there an acceptable cost of war?
  • Generational Shifts – does every generation think the incoming generation has great challenges? eroding values? is not ready to take on the challenges? is the older generation a has been? old ideas? outdated? technophobic?

First topic will be Health Care Reform, as I know that will get my mom into the debate! 😉

The format is simple.  We’ll start with a one paragraph statement of our positions in one blog post.  The debate will happen via comments and follow on blog posts.  Everyone is free to join in the discussion.

Quoting old dead white guys is allowed but is greatly frowned upon.

About Donna Smith, My Mom:

Photo by Robin HollandDonna Smith is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Colorado College with a degree in history. Her journalism career includes work as a stringer for NEWSWEEK magazine. She has been honored by the Associated Press Managing Editors with 15 regional awards from 2004-2006 and by the Inland Press Association’s top honor in 2006 for community-based journalism. Since 2007, she has co-chaired the Progressive Democrats of America’s national “Healthcare Not Warfare” campaign, and she has so far spoken in 41 states and the District of Columbia about single-payer healthcare reform.

Donna continues an active writing and speaking career, and now blogs and writes op-ed pieces about the health care crisis. She also is the founder of American Patients United, a non-profit group educating citizens about health care reform on the national level. She also works as a national single-payer health care advocate and community organizer for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee. Donna and Larry now live in Washington, DC, and they have six children and 14 grandchildren.

About Me

You can ready the far-less-impressive-for-the purposes-of-intellectual-debate background in the About Russell tab of this blog.

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Here’s my top 10 most pressing questions in life.

  1. Can you be satisfied and functional AND integrate the idea that there is no universal meaning?
  2. Is ignorance bliss?
  3. How long will it take for us to give up on free will?  will we ever do that?
  4. Will technology take over for athletic skill in all sports? if it does, will we enjoy it all the same?
  5. What’s the next big thing after the Internet?  will we recognize it when it happens?
  6. If there is a formal limit to knowledge, is there a point in knowing anything at all?  see question. 2
  7. why do people assume “intelligence” in the human sense is a better strategy?  the dinosaurs survived hundreds of millions of years without this “intelligence”.  or did they?
  8. If the universe expands to the point where observers on earth cannot observe any other object in the universe that isn’t on earth or near to it, will observers consider our scientific theories myth?  or will we beat that unobservable future with technology?
  9. Can you have thoughts without language (verbal or other symbolism)?
  10. What is time? no, really.  what is it?

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In yet another confounding of the same sitatuion we see played out over and over in thousands of published studies, Seed gives us a report on how moral decisions are contextual.

“No, the results did not surprise us,” says Lindenberg. “What surprised us was the size of the effect.”

This is not unlike the findings from last week’s feature on social conformity we found on CNN.  What’s different is the more sound conclusions from these researchers.

It’s not that good people turned bad, either. One goal simply surpassed another in importance. In the case of the mailbox, the desire for cash superceded the desire to behave appropriately, because others already hadn’t. “People are not bad. People are just subject to social influence,” Lindenberg says. An effective tip for crime prevention is to be aware of norm violations on all fronts. After all, says Lindenberg, “Even old grandmothers would do this.”

Values are contingent and contextual.  Ain’t no good and evil, bad and good.  Only situations and consequences.

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Alexandra Penney is featured on CNN today.

Public reaction to her reaction to having her “life savings” wiped by the Madoff situation surprised her.

This is a great example of how the rules we all play by are specific to our own contexts/situations in life.

In reading the CNN piece and Penney’s writing you might say:

  • God, she still has a lot of money
  • Why would anyone fall for Madoff
  • Madoff isn’t in jail?!
  • Why do ponzi schemes work?
  • What a whiner
  • Madoff should rot in hell

Penney seems to be really offended. The justice seems to be really light on Madoff.  Madoff seems to have really had a lot of people who trusted him.

Our perceptions of that reality are 100% dependent on our own history.  We will almost always be surprised by others reactions in such conflicting contexts.

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Though the book, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, is over a decade old it is back on the front table and topshelves again because of the movie version.

In short: this is a fantastic book. You should READ it before seeing the movie.

Writing a review of the book poses a challenge because of how the story develops and the content of the story.  To write to0 much about the story itself would destroy some of the experience of reading it.

It’s a mere 200ish pages, reads in probably a long night of reading or over a period of 3 or 4 nights before you go to sleep.

Yes, it is a love story and crime story and a slice of history piece.  It has all the trimmings of lost love, failed dreams, shame, moral dilemmas and truth seeking.  It is not remarkable in style or story arc or character development.  The Reader startles you in the conclusions it doesn’t draw.

What a sad story, I thought for so long. Not that I now think it was happy.  But I think it is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever.

– page 217, The Reader

I brought to it my world view and in that context I found a sympathetic story to my belief that we are not objective, autonomous humans capable of rising above the environments and realities of our own situations.  Truth is contingent on context.  Our justice systems, historical accounts, and romantic relationships can’t escape this fact.

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So, in a moment only Tony Robbins could love, I was doing my early morning stretches when my wife read the following:

Few things could be more dangerous than letting your children fall into the trap of believing what they do doesn’t matter. Teach them that there are consequences of their actions. Teach them that even small decisions and actions consistently made, have far-reaching effects.

But wait; didn’t we just go over a news article on Google that reported that a teacher was axed because she told the 7 year olds that Santa doesn’t exist? Teaching that in a school, no less. What is the world coming to? Oh-no, Batman, another liberal chop at family traditions and faith-based holidays. It wasn’t on CNN.com or Time.com, Reuters, the washingtonpost.com or wsj.com. Should I believe it? What should I do?

What are the consequences of the Santa thing? I certainly enjoyed it growing up. And we all have heard, “What was good enough for me is damn good enough for…” Oh, wait a minute. That was called upon by my parents concerning values that they wanted me to have….that weren’t true, good, or right. You know, buying GM cars that started on fire, racism, bigotry, sexism in business, education and even dictums on whom to marry.

Hummm… seems there is just one more set of conflict of beliefs. What we do is a testament of our values. We thus value the stuff of our traditions more than we value the truth or all that other stuff we teach in school. …We could use this relational logic to teach intelligent design in schools, maybe a course in Wicca and another in Karma for Tots at the YMCA or JCC.

Should we really be surprised that people go postal or freak out in less dramatic fashion when these ‘absolute’ rules from our parents, teachers, and representatives change?

My sister’s response: “Well as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone (another stellar admonishment that the end justifies the means…) why not have Santa, the Easter Bunny and a Virgin Mary?”

Besides that, consequences are complicated even if they are universal. Myths are fun and simple and that is what we need today so we don’t have to deal with the antecedents that result in foreclosure, bankruptcy, layoffs, SEC fraud and bailouts.

Considering the need for fun and distractions, you might consider a small but compact 22 cal pistol as a gift for your child or perhaps some Mary Jane that isn’t a shoe.

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