Friday, 27 July 2012

My World View - Part 2

Being labelled Part 2, you might be assuming that this article should be preceded by a Part 1.  We don’t want anyone to be rushing around making any wild, unjustified assumptions so I’ll confirm up front that, yes, there was a Part 1.  Here.


Recapping very briefly, there is a “Set of All Things” (where Thing is defined broadly) in which there are the subsets: the “Set of True Things”, the “Set of False Things” and the “Set of Neutral Things”.  The “Set of True Things” is far smaller than either of the other two sets.

True Things don’t conflict with other True Things.  False and Neutral Things can conflict with each other, and with True Things.

I also mentioned that I can’t necessarily know which Things are True and that my world view is an intellectual construct consisting of thoughts, ideas and concepts about Things.

As individuals we all divide the “Set of All Things” is into the “Set of Things Held to be True” and everything else (that is the “Set of Things Not Held to be True”), as illustrated below:

Over the years I have come to realise that some effort is necessary to make crystal clear something that should be reasonably obvious.  If I seem to be labouring the obvious, please accept my humble apologies.

Look carefully at the diagram.  You will see a yellow circle representing the “Set of Things Held to be True”.  Outside that circle, is the remainder of the “Set of All Things” which is labelled the “Set of Things Not Held to be True”.

There is no “Set of Things Held to be False”.

There is no “Set of Things Held to be Not True”.

A question that often comes up concerns default positions or presuppositions.  Let me try to make this as clear as possible:

Nothing ends up in my “Set of Things Held to be True” by default.  Before I add a Thing to this set, I need to be convinced that I am justified in holding this new Thing to be True.

Nothing that has wormed its way into my “Set of Things Held to be True” is sacrosanct.  If I am given reason to doubt that a Thing is True, then it gets removed.

Once I hold certain things to be True, I reach a situation as illustrated in the diagram below:

Note that I hold to be True (or “believe”) some Things that are True, some Things that are False and some Things that are Neutral.  The remainder of things I simply do not hold to be True (in other words, I don’t believe them).

Despite my efforts above, you may still be thinking to yourself … “Are you saying that you don’t hold some Things to be False?  Really, I mean, really?”

Well, yes, really, I don’t.  Let me explain by example.  Say that Trudy turns up and tells me that new research reveals that Napoleon Bonaparte was a monkey.  Now I think this assertion is a False Thing, but should I really go to the effort of actively believing that Napoleon Bonaparte was not a monkey?  I don’t think so.  I put as much effort into this claim as I would to the assertion that Napoleon Bonaparte was a tit-mouse, or a small piece of cheese, or a mortal avatar of the Grand Pixie.  I simply withhold belief.

Note that I don’t need justification to withhold belief (to not hold something to be True).  But let’s say Trudy is insistent and desperately wants me to accept her assertion, do I have any justification for such an acceptance?

When I look at her claim, and my existing “Set of Things Held to be True”, I find that I don’t.  An Emperor of France who was a monkey would conflict with many Things I hold to be True.

But let’s say I was particularly ignorant about history and not able to use the internet.  If all I held to be True about Napoleon Bonaparte was that he was hairy and short, that he lived in a tree, that he had a prehensile tail and that he was fond of bananas, then I might be willing to accept that he was a monkey.  The reason for this is that the new Thing presented by Trudy would correlate with all the other Things I hold to be True on this subject.

Correlation is the tool I use to work out whether I should hold a new Thing to be True.  Correlation is particularly useful as the number of Things you hold to be True increases.  If I know 100 Things pertaining (directly or indirectly) to Napoleon Bonaparte, and all of them correlated with the assertion that he was a monkey, then I would be justified in thinking that “Napoleon Bonaparte was a monkey” is a True Thing.  However, if only 96 of those Things correlated with that assertion and 4 of them conflicted with it, then I would need to reconsider.

The protection against erroneously holding False Things to be True is the fact that it is only True Things that always correlate.  If two Things do not correlate then, at most, only one of them can be True.  This allows me to “falsify” a Thing, to show that I should not hold that Thing to be True.

I have to be careful, of course, since if I held “Napoleon Bonaparte had a prehensile tail” to be True, this would correlate with “Napoleon Bonaparte was a monkey”.  I am aware that some of the Things I hold to be True are, in fact, not True.  I don’t know which they are, or I would do something about it, but experience tells me I occasionally trip over “facts” which conflict with new, more authoritative and well-supported “facts”.

Therefore, when I hold a Thing to be True, I only do so probatively.  This means I only hold the Thing to True tentatively, but when I am tentatively holding something to be True, I can use it as evidence in assessing whether other Things should be probatively held to be True.

When I do stumble over a more authoritative and well-supported fact (or set of facts) that shows that a Thing I am probatively holding to be True is not True then I consider this Thing to be falsified so, figuratively, I take that Thing out of the “Set of Things Held to be True” and toss it into the “Set of Things Not Held to be True”.  This could be a gallery of contemporary paintings of Napoleon Bonaparte, which cumulatively demonstrate that he did not have a prehensile tail – or perhaps an autopsy report, or a DNA sample.

Similarly, when I notice that a Thing in my “Set of Things Held to be True” is inconsistent with the majority of other Things in my “Set of Things Held to be True”, then I will remove it.  I might already know that a friend of mine is related to Napoleon Bonaparte (through an obscure cousin of the latter).  I also know that humans and other species can’t interbreed and that humans don’t have prehensile tails.  The idea Napoleon Bonaparte had a prehensile tail is not consistent with these facts, all of which I hold to be True.

I try not to assimilate new Things that are inconsistent with Things that are currently held to be True, but it does happen.  Generally, I’ll first perform the step of working out which Things are more reliable: those I currently hold to be True or the new ones.  I’ll clean up my “Set of Things Held to be True” accordingly, and then assimilate the new Things as appropriate.

So, in short, while I don’t put effort into actively holding False Things to be False, I do put effort into an attempt to align my “Set of Things Held to be True” more closely with the “Set of True Things”.  The picture below illustrates:



During discussions, I might take a position that “Assertion X is False”.  I take this to be rather different to realigning my world view to create a new set, the “Set of Things Held to be False”.  Instead, it is just adding a new probatively True Thing to the “Set of Things Held to be True” – in this case the notion that “Assertion X is False”.

When pushed frequently on a Thing I do not hold to be True, I might get a stronger sense of where that Thing is objectively, but even if I suspect a Thing is probably in the “Set of False Things”, I still don’t realign my world view.

As an atheist, my world view can be illustrated as in the following picture which should make clear how I categorise the following:

  • the Christian god
  • the Muslim god
  • the Jewish god
  • the Hindu gods
  • the divinity of the Buddha
  • Santa
  • ghosts
  • aliens that visit Earth to abduct and probe random humans
  • the Easter Bunny
  • pixies
  • faeries
  • satanic or Brothers Grimm variety witches 

I don't waste effort actively holding Things to be False unnecessarily.

My view on magical beings is an example of this in action.  I’ve put in Ganesh as a god I don’t hold to be True, but Ganesh is only one of an estimated 330 million gods associated with Hinduism.  It’d be far too much effort to hold each of these gods to be False, along with all of the various types of magical creatures.

You could say that I am eucamenical when it comes to the treatment of gods and other magical beings.  Including your god and any other magical beings you might hold to be True.

In my world view, it seems rather bizarre that one should pick a single icon from the limited range I have illustrated in the “Set of False Things Not Held to be True” and place it into the “Set of True Things” on the basis of a book that is internally inconsistent or the testimony of enthusiastic people who are extremely vague about exactly what it is they believe.

Penultimately, please don't expect special treatment for your pet icon unless you can bring me some evidence that fits in with all the existing facts to hand. If you can bring such evidence, I promise you that I will take you seriously. If you can't, you should seriously consider giving up kidding yourself.

To wrap things up, here are my “presuppositions” together with my process for rationalising my “Set of Things Held to be True”:

  • True Things do not conflict with other True Things
  • False and Neutral Things will conflict with each other and with True Things
  • the number of True Things is vastly outnumbered by the combined number of False and Neutral Things
  • All Things in my “Set of Things Held to be True” are held to be True probatively
  • I will remove a Thing from my “Set of Things Held to be True” if I discover that it conflicts with the majority of Things in my “Set of Things Held to be True”
  • I will remove a Thing from my “Set of Things Held to be True” if it conflicts with a new Thing, where that new Thing is authoritative, well-supported and well correlated with the Things in my “Set of Things Held to be True”
  • I will add a Thing to my “Set of Things Held to be True” if it does not conflict with Things already in that set

1 comment:

  1. Hi neo!
    I must say, this is exactly the type of thing I love to think about. I have found that it is extremely important to spell out exactly how one goes about determining whether or not to consider something true. Far to often we just assume that we know things.

    I respect the way you think about this, and I look forward to reading more of your posts soon.

    -Josh the Searcher


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