If you haven’t already, I urge you to check out the preludes to this: "On Evidence" and "The Risks in Sharing a World View". For those who, for some reason, want to leap straight in, be warned that this is my world view. It’s not intended to be linked to any school of philosophical thought. Even if it’s similar, this does not mean that I share all, or indeed any, of the tenets held by any school of thought.
My world view is relatively simple, although working it all through might make it seem complex.
First I will define some terms:
Thing: a very broad term, broad enough to encompass pretty much anything you can think of: object, being, process, thought, idea, concept, statement and so on.
True: consistent with reality. The nature of “True Things” varies a little with the category of Thing, but to the extent that they are True, they are consistent with reality. As True Things, objects, beings and processes exist in reality. To be a True Thing, a thought, idea or concept must both pertain to a Thing that is real and be correct in reference to that real Thing.
False: inconsistent with reality. As far as my world view is concerned, the category of “False Things” does not include objects, beings and processes. A False object, being or process would not by definition exist, so the set containing only these would be null. One can, however, have thoughts, ideas or concepts about objects, beings and processes that don’t exist.
Say I tell you that I have a pocket full of two and a half cent coins. I can clearly have the concept of a two and a half cent coin, and the idea of having a pocket full of them, but the two and a half cent coin doesn’t exist (to the best of our knowledge). This does not mean that I have a pocket full of False objects. The same sort of argument applies to beings and processes. (My house is not full of non-existent Hobbits and I don’t devote my waking hours to not teleporting.)
Neutral: independent of reality, neither True nor False. Again, this category does not include objects, beings and processes (see above).
True Thing: this term should be interpreted as either:
- an object, being and process that exists; or
- a reference to any thought, idea, concept or statement about an existent object, being or process that is consistent with the reality of that existent object, being or process (irrespective whether the thought, idea, concept or statement has yet to be formulated or will ever be formulated).
Examples: Me (somebody other than you wrote this, for ease of reference I’ll refer to that person as “me” – even if I am not a real being, I am the consequence of processes in your brain which is trying to put your experiences into some sort of context … and that’s a process that exists) and “In 14 quadrillion standard Earth years, the human race will be extinct” (along with the universe, most likely).
False Thing: this term should be interpreted as either:
- a reference to any thought, idea, concept or statement about a True Thing that is not consistent with the reality of that True Thing (irrespective whether the thought, idea, concept or statement has yet to be formulated or will ever be formulated); or
- a reference to any thought, idea, concept or statement about a non-existent Thing that implies that the non-existent Thing exists (irrespective whether the thought, idea, concept or statement has yet to be formulated or will ever be formulated).
Examples: “Germans come from a cave in Persia” and “Pixies exist”.
Neutral Things: this term should be interpreted as either:
- a reference to any thought, idea, concept or statement about a True Thing that is subjective - subject to opinion, definition or consensus (irrespective whether the thought, idea, concept or statement has yet to be formulated or will ever be formulated); or
- a reference to any thought, idea, concept or statement about a non-existent Thing that does not imply that the non-existent Thing exists (irrespective whether the thought, idea, concept or statement has yet to be formulated or will ever be formulated).
For example: “German is a harsh language” (opinion), “Wales is an element of the United Kingdom” (definition/consensus) and “Pixies are generally smaller than Elves” (description of non-existent Things).
A quick clarification: I don’t distinguish between a Thing that does not currently exist and a Thing that is simply not apparent to anyone. I also don’t distinguish between a Thing that actually exists right now and a potential Thing.
For example, black holes (for which there is mathematical and theoretical evidence) existed as True Things even when the most sophisticated of our ancestors were first putting stick to clay tablet about 8600 years ago. Equally, the aeroplane being a True Thing today was a potential True Thing 8600 years ago. Black holes and aeroplanes made out of jelly are False Things now, they have always been and will always be False Things. (Note: by this I mean black holes made out of jelly are False Things, I guess it's possible that in the future some ridiculously rich jelly manufacturer might try to prove me wrong, but it would take a lot of jelly - enough for me to be quite confident about my claim.)
As far as I am concerned, instantiating a False Thing (by imagining an aeroplane made from jelly or a jelly black hole, for example) does not set that False Thing apart from False Things that have not yet been instantiated. For example, up until this very moment you had probably never considered the possibility that Aztec priests used, as fascinators, small hummingbirds liberally coated in guacamole which were held in their hair with porcupine quills, nor that the hummingbirds would invariably revive from their avocado induced stupor at an inconvenient moment and that this was the most common cause of disruption to Aztec sacrifice rituals – I consider this to have been a False Thing even before I made it up.
The diagram below represents the “Set of All Things” in my world view.
A large proportion (and arguably almost all) of the Things in the “Set of All Things” are False. Imagine for a moment the notion that Napoleon Bonaparte was a Tyrannosaurus Rex who was born in Hampshire and invaded New Guinea in 1992. This, according to my exhaustive research on Wikipedia, is a False Thing (in that the statement is incorrect). There is essentially an infinite number of False Things. We could slightly massage the data about Napoleon to say that he was of a different species. We could say he was a beaver, or an ant, or two ants, or three ants and so on. Even on that single data point we could, if we had the time, imagine an infinite array of False Things associated with Napoleon Bonaparte.
You could argue that the regress involved with thinking about Napoleon Bonaparte as a number of ants resolves down to one False Thing "Napoleon Bonaparte was a colony of an unspecified number of ants". I would say, yes, you can do that but it just makes another False Thing to add to the list!
The “Set of True Things”, on the other hand, is limited in scope. Once one has settled on descriptive or indicative categories there tends to be only one variant of True Things. We might not know the exact detail that constitutes a True Thing, but we know that if there are a range of conflicting assertions, they cannot all be True. For example, we might know that Napoleon Bonaparte was born on an island, but not be sure which. What we can be sure of is that he was not born on Gibraltar, Crete, Ibiza, Corsica and Sicily. One of them, maybe. But not all of them. The “Set of True Things” is therefore a much smaller set than the “Set of False Things”.
The remainder of the Things in the “Set of All Things” fall into the “Set of Neutral Things”. There is also an essentially infinite number of potential Neutral Things. For example, we could say that Napoleon Bonaparte was less attractive than Horatio Nelson. We don’t necessarily need to compare these two against each other, there are approximately 50 quintillion (50x1018) comparisons we could make with people alive today, and more than 10 sextillion (10x1021) if we consider everyone who has ever lived.
But we are not limited to comparing people to people, we could make comparisons regarding the relative beauty of all individual ants who have ever lived giving us a ridiculous number of Neutral Things to consider. If we tried to compare all the ants alive right now, that would be about a nonillion comparisons (1030) and most ants only live for about one to three years, meaning there may have been as many as 50 million generations of ants that have ever been to compare (total of about 25x1042 comparisons). And that’s just one species of insect.
If we were able to make a snap decision on the relative attractiveness of ants within the space of a hundredth of a second, we would get through comparing all the ants that have existed up until today in a period equal to 50 sextillion times the accepted age of the universe (50x1021 x 14 billion years). That’s near enough to infinite for me!
(If we were just searching for the World’s Next Top Ant Model, looking for the prettiest ant right now while taking one hundredth of a second to look at each, we’d only take about 300 thousand years – a far more manageable project.)
That all said, I think the number of potential False Things is greater than the number of potential Neutral Things.
While the examples I’ve given may be trivial, they are hopefully illustrative. Just in case they are not, I’d like to emphasise the following:
- the number of True Things is vastly outnumbered by the combined number of False and Neutral Things
- False and Neutral Things will conflict with other Things (False, Neutral or True)
- True Things do not conflict with each other
At the risk of getting ahead of myself, I’d like to also point out that while I accept there are Things (including potential Things) that are objectively True, I am not saying that I know what those objectively True Things are.