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Old 12-04-2008, 11:28 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The pursuit of the ultimate truth

Since there's suddenly a new forum for philosophy, I will start with a relatively heavy topic - reality, how we percieve it and hopefully a discussion on how we should percieve it.


Starting with the basics - many years ago, I thought a lot about reality. I quickly realised there's likely two realities, one which is ultimately true no matter if we exist or not and then there's the one we percieve and believe in, the subjective reality.

The subjective reality can be just as "real" to some people as the ultimate one. Let's say for a moment that the following examples all take place in the subjective reality. A junkie could see Jesus and the event could make him come off the drugs. Can you then say that Jesus didn't appear and help him? A person could get healed from a serious disease by the appliance of shamanistic magic, much like placebo pills may help test subjects in medicinal research. Can you then say that the shamanistic magic didn't work?

If you ask these people, they will say that these things took place in reality. We might say that these events took place in their subjective reality and not our own. Still, we could argue here that all kinds of events that most of us percieve as superstitial or mythical or whatever could take place in a subjective reality and so perhaps you should respect whatever people believe in because you understand that to them, it's real even if it's not for you.

That was roughly my conclusion then, I thought the subjective reality was the most important.


After a while, I started thinking about ultimate reality which is what many of us are trying to figure out what is. Science is the pursuit of this universal truth, often through small steps at a time. I want my own subjective reality to closely reflect that of the ultimate reality, so I tend to believe in things that can be scientifically tested and proven. For that reason, I don't believe in ghosts and I don't believe in any religion and I basically percieve those kinds of beliefs to be a descent into subjective realities that removes you further from the truth. At least until they can be proven - then I'll believe in them.

Some years ago, I didn't think of subjective realities as such a bad thing, but now as I've gotten older, I think of the massive repercussions it has when there are so many people believing in different versions of this "truth". Wars, people being misled, people being mistreated etc. Also, I think many people are not aware of how "real" the subjective reality can be. Human minds are extremely good at associating and lifelike experiences with ghosts or religious beings (examples) can easily be created in a mind when the internal truth meets the external.


Nowadays as society is getting more and more englightened, I think it's important that we realize the human weakness for wanting to believe in stuff and become a bit more choosy with what we believe in on a personal level. We're easily tricked into believing stuff which most people would never think of as real. For example, A young girl might be scared if someone tells her she will see the ghost of a dead friend at midnight. We are impressionable.

I think that when you decide what system to believe in, it should be the one that we know most closely resembles the truth. At the moment, there is no good contender besides science because that's the only one actually dedicated to the pursuit of the ultimate truth. It is entirely objective and if there really is such a thing as "God", then science aims to find that out. Furthermore, if you think large scale that humanity would be better off believing in one thing because that will reduce suffering for everyone, the pursuit of science can even become the right choice from a moral point of view.

Any thoughts?
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Old 12-04-2008, 11:40 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Science can't explain reality, it can only describe it.
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Old 12-04-2008, 11:57 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Science can't explain reality, it can only describe it.
Well, yes - I agree. That's as good as we can get I guess, we're only humans after all. That doesn't mean it doesn't help us get closer to the truth, though.
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Old 12-04-2008, 12:57 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I think it does. If all we can do is create more and more complex representations to describe and make predictions but we can't actually model reality, then it seems like science leads us further away from the truth rather than closer to it.
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Old 12-04-2008, 01:36 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I think it does. If all we can do is create more and more complex representations to describe and make predictions but we can't actually model reality, then it seems like science leads us further away from the truth rather than closer to it.
Of course we can model reality. Modeling reality doesn't require the exactest impossible-to-attain-level knowledge of reality. In my work, I want to model the dispersal of flightless invertebrates in the arctic. Hopefully, that will help us predict how these arctic ecosystems may change in the future. By your argument, it sounds like there's not really any point in that because I am not able to say that one individual of this exact specie of mite will fall down at exactly this 1 by 1 millimetre area at this nanosecond of this day. Truth is that you don't need to know that exact detail in order to make fairly accurate predictions about the larger picture.

You don't need to know exactly how many stars there are in the universe to make some kind of model that explains it. For most purposes, the model might be sufficient and if for some reason you really need the tiniest level of accuracy, time and effort will get us closer and closer .. even though we may not get there entirely.
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Old 12-04-2008, 05:17 PM   #6 (permalink)
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but there's a difference between truth and accuracy. just because a model is accurate at making predictions doesn't mean it tells you what is actually happening, you build your own ignorance into your systems. i can build a system that says the sun will rise tomorrow morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that, etc. and it will be very accurate. but that doesn't mean that i know what the sun is, why it rises, what it means for it to rise, what the relation between the sun and the earth is, etc. it might be true, but it is only true in the context of my own ignorance. while it seems that we get closer to Truth as we decrease our ignorance, there is also the understanding that everything we understand about reality has to be translated from what it really is into what we can understand, and what we consider "reality" is really just a representation of our mind. thus, just because this representation gets more complex, it can never transcend its status as a representation, and as such can never actually bridge the gap between the contextual and the universal. so the ultimate truth of the human condition is paradoxically that we can never reach any ultimate truth. science operates on the opposite assumption, and hence leads us away from the ultimate truth.
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Old 12-04-2008, 05:51 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I think most scientists might agree with you on that except of course the notion that somehow science leads us away from the truth.

I mean, science wants to approximate truth. Let's say reality is a scenery and science is a painting of that scenery. The painting may not be as good as the true scenery, but the more work you can put into it and the more precise you can get, the more it will resemble it.

The idea that science removes us from the truth seems like a bit of a contradiction.


Anyways, as an attempt to not derail the point of this thread entirely, do you think science removes your subjective reality further from the truth than the major religions?
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Old 12-04-2008, 05:55 PM   #8 (permalink)
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i see religion and science as essentially the same, they're both just self-portraits of man.
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Old 12-04-2008, 06:28 PM   #9 (permalink)
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but there's a difference between truth and accuracy. just because a model is accurate at making predictions doesn't mean it tells you what is actually happening, you build your own ignorance into your systems. i can build a system that says the sun will rise tomorrow morning, and the morning after that, and the morning after that, etc. and it will be very accurate. but that doesn't mean that i know what the sun is, why it rises, what it means for it to rise, what the relation between the sun and the earth is, etc. it might be true, but it is only true in the context of my own ignorance. while it seems that we get closer to Truth as we decrease our ignorance, there is also the understanding that everything we understand about reality has to be translated from what it really is into what we can understand, and what we consider "reality" is really just a representation of our mind. thus, just because this representation gets more complex, it can never transcend its status as a representation, and as such can never actually bridge the gap between the contextual and the universal. so the ultimate truth of the human condition is paradoxically that we can never reach any ultimate truth. science operates on the opposite assumption, and hence leads us away from the ultimate truth.
I for the most part agree with that, except I disagree that science leads us away from the truth. I don't think science operates on a particular assumption or agenda - in fact, I think most scientists would acknowledge that we can never fully understand the world, we can only fill in gaps.

I think of this from an engineering/computer science perspective. If we consider reality to be the lowest level possible, then we can build higher level models of reality (representations). George Box's quote "All models are wrong, some models are useful" is relevant here. From that I understand that we can further refine our representation of the world as we gain more knowledge through science - our representations will become more and more low level and approach reality but never reach it.

At the end of the day our representation can never transcend its status as you said... it is still a model and a model is only an abstraction of reality. Perhaps in some contexts, a model will be more useful to us than reality as a model emphasizes important points and encourages clarity, but it will essentially always be wrong.
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Old 12-04-2008, 06:36 PM   #10 (permalink)
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how can a model get more and more low-level but never reach the bottom? it can only be because there is no bottom, and without a bottom every hierarchical knowledge scheme falls into the abyss. the clarity that the model encourages is a false clarity, a clarity that the mind attempts to filter reality through and thereby distorts it.
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