Truth and the Methodology of Validation

How do we know that something is true?  What is truth?  Can we even determine truth?  If truth doesn’t already sound like a weird word, oh baby you’re in for a ride.  

The Definition of Truth

In order to determine what truth is, we must know what it’s used for; why it’s useful.  Humans make claims; claims which may reflect material reality, and claims which do not.   “The car is red,” is valid or true if the car is actually red.  We really don’t care what the car isn’t except as a means to tell us what it is.  So, at its most useful level, truth is a property which describes a statement’s conformity to material reality.  “I didn’t knock the vase over,” is true if the means by which the vase was knocked over wasn’t indeed a result of your physical interaction with it; it’s the correspondence of a statement to its material-reality counterpart.

Is truth attainable? 

On the topic of material-reality counterparts, people often cite the inability of humans to communicate meaning; is your meaning the same as mine? Is your ‘car’ the same as my ‘car’? Is your ‘red’ the same as my ‘red?’  Let’s note a few following facts:

  • The communication of meaning is necessarily attainable [see syllogism 1],
  • Your red isn’t necessarily my red.  Color-blindness is a direct example of a disconnect between someone’s experience of color and material reality.  However, the act of observing the material world (whether properly or improperly) doesn’t change it - even though the color-blind observe color improperly, the physical properties of color remain the same.
  • If observation of the material world was in discord with reality, a) reason and the scientific method would be impossible, and b) we wouldn’t be as successful evolutionarily as a result.  Further, see syllogism [2].

[1] Proposition: communication is a valid method of relaying meaning. 

  1. I am communicating to you through this language. 
  2. This language contains meaning. 
  3. Language is a method of communication.  
  4. Communication is a valid method of relaying meaning. 

[2] Proposition: the senses act as an accurate mechanism to determine material properties of matter.

  1. Communication is a valid method of relaying meaning.
  2. Communication is wholly reliant on the senses.
  3. Communication requires the determination of material properties of matter (e.g. frequency or patterns of sound).
  4. The senses act as an accurate mechanism for determining material properties of matter.

So, because truth is the conformity of a statement to material reality, and the senses are a valid method of determining the material properties of matter, the senses are a valid mechanism of determining truth.  And this is why “eye-witnesses” are so valuable to the judicial system; it’s first-hand evidence that supports a claim. 

  1. Truth is the conformity of a statement to material reality.
  2. The senses are a valid mechanism of determining the material properties of matter.
  3. The senses are a valid mechanism of determining truth. 

Perceptual Illusions

We know that observation can validly determine truth.  Physiologically, sensory input is filtered by the brain and can sometimes interfere with with the perception of sense data.  Our brain makes certain assumptions given certain contexts.  The photo below is an example of that (example 1) - based purely on sight, the floor of the hall slopes down and up.  If you were to step into this doorway, you’d be remiss, and start planning your path about the obstacles.  Fortunately, evolution has considered this, and has given a way for us to confirm sensory data: by using other sensory data.  You observe the weird elevation changes in the floor, but the illusion disappears once you go up to the illusion and touch it.  So here, we have a disconnect between our eye-sight processing and reality which is accounted for by touch.  

Example 1

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 (Left/Top) (LINK - u/themactastic25) Shows a confusing floor tile layout which appears to slope down and up - which exemplifies the perception filter of our brains.

 (Right/Bottom) (LINK - u/themactastic25) This is the same hallway from the opposite angle

 False Conclusions

Is this error the fault of our eyes, or the fault of our brains?  This filtering mechanism is a process that the brain performs to interpret sensory data.  It is used for many reasons, but primarily it allows us to respond quickly to attack.  And thus, the illusion is a result of false unconscious conclusions from the brain - the eyes interpret nothing.

Similar to the above, people often conflate these two concepts: conclusion and sensory input.  For example, “my eyes tell me the earth is flat!”  Your eyes don’t tell you the earth is flat; your eyes tell you that the earth appears flat.  More specifically, your eyes tell you that from point a on the horizon to point b, the change is elevation is very small - actually approximating distant relative elevations.  It cannot then be used to justify the conclusion, “the earth is flat.”  And the earth isn’t flat - at least not based on this data, just that the earth may be flat. 

Methods of Validation

So we know that we can determine truth and that the senses are a valid way to determine what is true.  Does this mean we need to test every claim?  That we need to leave our desks to test our theories once they are proclaimed?  That would be kind of crazy if you think about it.  It would be impossible to test every theory as it's announced, not to mention that many of them are wrong.  How can we determine the possibility of a claim before experimenting with it?

Logic, Truth, and Possibility

Because truth is a statement's conformity to material reality, and material reality is logically consistent, truth is logically consistent.  So the answer to the above is simple: the claims which are logically inconsistent are impossible

In a comment from the "Foundation of Metaphysics" blog post, therealbradster cited the Dawkins Omnipotence Paradox in that omnipotence is itself a logically inconsistent property:

"[If] a creator is all-powerful, can that creator bring into existence a rock so heavy that even the creator cannot lift it? If yes, then the creator is not all-powerful, as they cannot lift said rock. If no, then there is a logical check on the creator's power as they cannot complete the assigned task, and [therefore] if follows that the creator is not all-powerful."

So because omnipotence is a logically inconsistent property, any claim that relies on omnipotence is an impossible claim; and such a claim is false.  Let's go back to the vase example from above.  "I didn't break the vase, God broke the vase; it was meant to be!"  Now, regardless of where you lie religiously, no one could believe such a claim; clearly, god didn't break the vase.  But how do we know that god didn't break the vase?  If god in this example is omnipotent (as he is), and we know that such a god can't exist, we know that the claim is false. 

Occam's Razor and Plausibility

What about statements that are possible?  Do we have to run outside and test all the possible theories?  The answer is probably not.  When things are possible, they may or may not be plausible.  Plausibility isn't a matter of category, e.g. possible or impossible, but more of a likelihood.  It becomes especially evident that, given our substantial imaginations, humans can often create complexity where complexity need not exist.  It is often the case that the simplest answer is the best; this is Occam's razor, of two contradictory claims, the simplest is often the best. 

Let's again revisit the vase example.  "I didn't break the vase, it was a bird!  Flew right through the window!"  Is it possible that this statement is true?  Well, birds aren't logically inconsistent, and bird do fly.  So it certainly is possible - but is it plausible?  Do we need to keep the window open for a month to see if it happens again?  Well, you could, but we need only apply Occam's Razor.  Which is more likely:

  • A bird happens to fly through a window (for which there is no screen), just happens to bump into the vase (which may not lie in the flight path), and then just happens to fly back outside, leaving no other evidence.
  • Timmy accidentally bumped into the vase.

It's pretty easy to see that the second is far simpler, and almost certainly the case.  Should you punish Timmy for knocking over the vase?  This is a complex question, that will be answered in a future blog post.  But did he do it?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Timmy knocked over the vase.

Conclusion

Truth is a statement's conformity to material reality.  A statement is true if it corresponds to material reality, and false if it does not.  Truth is attainable, and sensory evidence determines truth.  Because material reality is logically consistent, truth must also be logically consistent.  We can determine if claims are possible by analyzing their conformity to logic.  We can determine if claims are plausible by comparing their simplicity with similar claims.  Furthermore, this post will precede several other posts which will discuss ethics, positive ethics, and society.  Check out the links below for the posts I've made in the past: