False Facts and True Fictions: Two Metrics of Truthfulness (re: the Harris-Peterson talk)

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patrick
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False Facts and True Fictions: Two Metrics of Truthfulness (re: the Harris-Peterson talk)

Postby patrick » Thu Jun 01, 2017 4:36 am

So, Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson had a recent dispute about whether scientific fact should be subordinated to human truth (in its terminology, i.e. certain facts can or should be thought of as untrue), and it reminded of a distinction floating around between mythos and logos.

So basically, regarding the mythos|logos distinction, it's a way of evaluating truth by two separate aspects -- by how we relate to phenomena (mythos) and by the nature of phenomena itself (logos). So essentially, if we evaluate a statement by logos, we do so in a scientific way, the focus being on empirical reality, whereas if we evaluate a statement by mythos, we do so by its accordance with the human condition. Consider the word "hard," which we often use in a scientific sense to refer to the inherent quality of an object that makes it difficult to break. One might say a rock is literally hard and a test is metaphorically hard, but this is a scientifically-minded distinction. The way in which we relate to rocks and tests is analogous in that both are difficult to surmount, and it is this which gives rise to the word "hard" itself.

Mythos, though, doesn't just deal with the accumulation of our life experiences; it also taps into the organization of our brain itself. There's evidence to suggest that our ability to conceptualize things abstractly grew out of our ability to deal with them concretely. For example, if I say "I see the truth of the Pythagorean theorem," that's drawing upon the analogic relationship between "see" and "understand" that exists in how our brains are structured, and only by virtue of that does it become a part of how we relate to each. That this is not simply a quirk of Indo-European languages can be seen in the similarities and differences of the Chinese concept for "to understand," which is a compound of the lexemes loosely meaing "bright" and "white." For those not deeply familiar with Chinese logic, it uses concrete visual representations as analogs for abstract concepts, "bright white" being is a visual representation of what understanding essentially would look like.

So if we take this evolutionary aspect more generally, we can use it to interpret ancient rituals and myths (and indeed, it's called "mythos" because the dream-like notions of myths are the purest representation of how we relate to things). The serpent in the Garden of Eden is what was chosen to represent evil because our notions of problems in the abstract grew out of the concrete problem of snakes. The logical extension of successfully handling snakes in order to survive is successfully handling ALL snakes, and the way to go about doing this is to go from thinking about problems to the problem of problems itself. Similarly, the ritual of literal human sacrifice could be thought of as a precursor to the abstract idea that sacrificing oneself in the service of the Good is a key human truth.

Now, I brought up the Harris-Peterson talk because I think this conversation was a prime example of why we might consider mythos and logos as literal metrics of truthfulness. If you want to watch the talk itself, you can see it here, but it's basically just two hours of disputing the sense in Peterson saying things like "if the hydrogen bomb ends up wiping our the human race, then the proposition "the universe is best represented as subatomic particles" would still be true enough to create a hydrogen bomb, but it wouldn't be true enough to prevent us from dying." Now one might simply reject this usage of truth as being unconventional, but there are reasons to argue that this is how the word "true" ought to be used.

Just like "hard" and "see," the word "true" can't be de-coupled from the behaviors and neural structures that gave rise to it. And here it's useful to contrast the word "true" with that of "fact," for it calls to mind the question of how there can be truth in fiction. The word for "truth" has associations with "genuine" and "authentic" (universally across languages, it seems), but the word "fact" has associations with "deed" and "something actual." That is, we can often replace the word "true" with "genuine" (and by extension "false" with "fake"), but such isn't as true for "factual." And further, one can also be "true to oneself," that is, one can move towards what is most steadfast and timeless and we call that "truth." So if truth is what is to be sought, and false is what is to be avoided, then it follows that there is indeed sense using "truth" to caution us not against fictions but rather what is a mistake. And in that sense, truth can be understood as what is free of mistakes, not what is an account of the factual, of reality as it happens to be.

To give a few examples, you can take the perspective that any given person's suffering won't matter in a million years, but that's an false way of looking at things, false of course, because it's used to diminish the relevance of another's experience to your own when that perspective itself is only dimly relevant to your relatively short life. And if someone asks you about your day, you don't just give a factual account of every little thing that happened to you. That's partly for pragmatic reasons, but partly because the truth in your experience shines brighter in some areas and more dimly in others -- framing it as though each event had equal truth would be a false way of framing it. Finally, consider the Petersonian proverb to "clean your room" (which itself is a reformulation of the Biblical proverb to remove the beam in one's own eye before removing the mote in one's neighbor's). Ordinarily, because it uses "room" as an analog for the things that exist in immediate relationship to you and "clean" as an analog for rooting out the pathology of that domain, this statement would typically be considered to be less precisely stated than one using the analogs I've suggested, and thus less true. However, since cleaning one's room is a stronger and clearer prompt for action that, taken far enough, is the same behavioral idea that addresses the problem being cautioned against, in a very different sense it could be said to be more precisely stated. So since reformulating the idea in more abstract terms runs the risk of losing something true about the original statement, it's arguably truer in the more metaphorical/mythological form.

Now, that human truth is not objective truth should go without saying, but the fact that complete objectivity is not only inaccessible but not even centrally relevant to human experience should call into question the sense in insisting that scientific fact is necessarily true and timeless human truths are not really true.

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Re: False Facts and True Fictions: Two Metrics of Truthfulness (re: the Harris-Peterson talk)

Postby PaulSacramento » Thu Jun 01, 2017 12:01 pm

If you can agree upon what truth means then there is no point in debating what is truth.

Science is, of course, subject to human truth since it is OBSERVABLE by, you guessed it, humans.

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Re: False Facts and True Fictions: Two Metrics of Truthfulness (re: the Harris-Peterson talk)

Postby PaulSacramento » Thu Jun 01, 2017 12:02 pm

That these IS Truth is Objective.
What is truth MAY be subjective.
That is the difference and why Truth IS objective.

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Re: False Facts and True Fictions: Two Metrics of Truthfulness (re: the Harris-Peterson talk)

Postby patrick » Fri Jun 02, 2017 11:04 am

I mean, fair enough, though my focus was on distinguishing between statements framed in terms of intersubjective experience and statements framed in terms of (our attempts to describe) objective phenomena. You can lump all such into one category, but I think they often present competing frameworks.

One thing I thought this might help resolve, or at least shed light on, is the diminished valuing of the humanities relative to the sciences. Of course, I think part of the reason for this is that the humanities of higher education have become somewhat corrupted, but nevertheless I think the way people often think of things being true downplays the truth borne from of intersubjective experience relative to attempts at objective accounts.

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Re: False Facts and True Fictions: Two Metrics of Truthfulness (re: the Harris-Peterson talk)

Postby PaulSacramento » Fri Jun 02, 2017 11:18 am

Humanities have become "social justicefied".
The thing is that, if you follow the train of thought to its logical conclusion, humanities can NOT be reconciled with atheism of political correctness at least not logically (unless you do not follow it down to it's logical conclusion in which case you are being intellectually dishonest).
Science, on the other hand, has no issues with "absolute truth" and objectiveness, indeed, science couldn't exist without them as it's foundation, for obvious logical reasons.

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Re: False Facts and True Fictions: Two Metrics of Truthfulness (re: the Harris-Peterson talk)

Postby Philip » Fri Jun 02, 2017 6:12 pm

I think the way people often think of things being true downplays the truth borne from of intersubjective experience relative to attempts at objective accounts.


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Re: False Facts and True Fictions: Two Metrics of Truthfulness (re: the Harris-Peterson talk)

Postby patrick » Fri Jun 02, 2017 11:29 pm

Heh, I guess that's about as clear as mud, huh?

In other words, one can learn more about meaning and the human condition by studying the truth of people's experiences over the objective world. And further, if one looks at what is common across people's experiences, that would be intersubjective. But people typically don't do this. When they seek out the truth, they try to find it "out there," scientifically. But there is truth written within us as well.


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