I made a flip comment in Matt Stover's Star Wars fiction forum to the effect that I didn't care for philosophers in general -- they worked with language and I don't think much of language as a tool in the Search For Truth ... so he asked me to back it up. I'm not done but there's enough here that I thought I'd share. And speaking of Jack Handy:
Who named the Mustang Cobra? Horses hate snakes ...
I believe I'm close to having AI War back from Bantam. I'll let you all know. Maybe for Christmas. Also, I want to publicly acknowledge the work Everett Kaiser's done proofing DR and TF ... his thoroughness is exhausting, remarkable, and slowing me down in getting the books out the door; but the books will be much better for it. I've had professional proofreaders who were no better.
My posts on Matt's forum:
Arguing in language that language is insufficient to the task is sort of a chump's game, but I'll do it anyway, since it's what I've got to work with.
This is going to take a few posts to get through, and I don't have time to write it all at once, so I'll start by laying the foundations of what I think I know.
First, all representational systems are incomplete. Science, math, any human language: incomplete. More, not capable of completion. Goedel. This doesn't mean that a given formal system can't be broadly useful, merely that there's inherent fuzziness in the system: a place where that system stops. (And it's important to be clear that I don't mean a place where the sysem isn't finished: I mean a place where it can't be finished.)
Second, the universe is fuzzy. This is the principle lesson of quantum mechanics. You can skip all the sci-fi stuff about the observer effect -- which isn't as weird as it seems; it just means that the universe is entangled in interesting ways, and the old trope about the need for an intelligent observer to resolve indeterminancy is apparently untrue -- but what is true is that quantum mechanics imposes a hard limit on the degree to which the universe is knowable. It introduces graininess into the observable -- fuzz.
Third, chaos is real. Almost all systems in the real world are non-deterministic and can't be predicted.
Fourth, even systems that are deterministic -- a tiny subset of the universe of systems -- are not necessarily predictable: for complex deterministic systems it can take more time to model and predict than the process takes to run. In a complex always-on system it's likely that you can't take an initial state, make a prediction, and be complete before the system has moved past the point that you predicted to.
Fifth, though capable of rationality, humans are not rational in their drives or desires.
People are capable of knowing the world through two means, reason and experience. You can take things like intuition and lump them under reason for the purpose of this discussion; something you know (and we assume this knowing to be accurate) without knowing exactly how you know it. Doesn't mean some processing didn't take place.
Experience is what's happened to you. I'm not interested in the argument about whether there's a real world out there external to your experience; water is wet, stones are hard, walk in front of a bus and stop bothering me. Maybe our senses are feeding us the Matrix; give me a test and I'll discuss it. Until then, the world is out there and we're all part of it.
The problem with experience is that no one has the same suite of them. This is due to two well-known principles:
1. Shit happens
2. You are unique ... just like everyone else.
The problem with reason is that experience is the subject matter of reason. Now, a valid experience is reading a book -- that's pretty discrete. Same words for every person who comes to it. But the text hits each reader differently because each reader is different -- unique makeup filtered through unique experiences. The lessons one person derives from reading Rush Limbaugh's "The Way Things Ought To Be" can be very different from the lessons I derived -- which were that Limbaugh is a mediocre thinker and not overwhelmingly honest. (Same way I feel about Michael Moore, to play both sides of that fence, though I'm more prone to agreeing with Moore's conclusions than Limbaugh's.)
On the two means people have for knowing the world, reason and experience -- experience diverges and therefore reason, working with the stuff of experience, diverges ...
... and all formal systems are fuzzy, and English or German or Chinese or French or whatever are all substantially worse than fuzzy, and the universe is both fuzzy and chaotic, and even systems that can be modeled, often can't be modeled in real time (meaning no feedback possible), or even in useful time (meaning no results at all possible before the generated results are useless.) People can know the world only through experience and by applying reason to their experience: but everyone has different experiences.
Matt responded with:
I'm right with you on the fundamental fuzziness of reality -- which is exactly what makes mathematics (for example) useful for some flavors of truth, but not for others. Attempting precision modeling of something inherently imprecise strikes me as being akin to picking up lint with a needle. Sure, you get some, here and there, with effort -- but if you want to get it all, it's much more efficient (and useful) to use other lint.
Before you go on, you might want to define just exactly what flavor of truth you're talking about. Are you a Pythagorean ("The universe is number") on this? Or a Platonist ("What we perceive is is a distorted image of the Universal Ideal"). Math = Truth guys usually fall into one of those two broad camps . . . though I'm sure there may be others. Are you talking about "truth claims" in the technical sense, of statements regarding verifiable fact?
Because the Pursuit of Truth seems to break down into two broad categories: the Search for Fact, and the Search for Meaning. I'm talking about the latter, and I suspect you're talking about the former.
And I responded:
I'm not a Pythagorean; the universe isn't number. I think that number theory is a kind of map, and that what the Incompleteness Theorem says is that the map isn't the thing. Not shocking, but worth noting.
I'm also not a Platonist. The error of the map occurs here too; Plato (or Socrates, channeled, whatever) assert that there's a universal ideal, a thing that exists independently of the real world, and that the real world is a reflection or ghost of that. Maybe, but we're back in Matrix-land now: give me a test. Until someone can, I call bullshit.
"Attempting precision modeling of something inherently imprecise strikes me as being akin to picking up lint with a needle."
Which is why there's statistics in the next post, when I get to it. We can't know any one thing in its entirety: but we can know approximations. The question becomes, how useful is the approximation? The Drake equation is an example of a good approach in one such area: How well do we know Elements A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and so on, in a given area: and multiplying them one upon the other we come up with Statement one, which says AxBxCxDxExFxG = a Probability of .85: Statement One is 85% likely to be true. That's both useful and true within the limits of what we can know.
How you apply that to an individual -- how you produce a Probable Truth (or Probable Fact) that's useable by individuals in their search for meaning, is a much more difficult question, but it's the one modern philosophers should be struggling with. Maybe someone out there is?
"Because the Pursuit of Truth seems to break down into two broad categories: the Search for Fact, and the Search for Meaning. I'm talking about the latter, and I suspect you're talking about the former."
Sure, we're back to the experience/reason dichotomy: is your Search for Meaning divorced from the Facts that surround you? If it is then any answer that makes you feel good suffices. Enough food, entertainment, orgasms, healthy bowel movements, call it a philosophy and move on.
There are only two root reasons to ever do anything: to enjoy yourself, and to help other people enjoy themselves. (Enjoy has to be defined pretty broadly here, and if I knew a better word I'd use it. Maybe "fulfill.")
The first is trivial; if your Meaning of Life can be defined in that context you're no better than an animal. (Though there are plenty of humans who could usefully confine themselves to that.) The second is as complex as it gets and is the place where an accurate set of Facts is essential.
That's all for now. I have the feeling I'm veering toward serious-drunks-in-college territory here, but as I've never had this conversation in public that I can recall, here it is. More as I write it.