Writing’s Shortcoming

One issue with being a highly text-based society is that writing tends to become minimalist and literal with time. By that I mean that writing/text, since it is static does not grow and change with time well. That is beneficial in some ways, less so in others.

It leads to some interesting problems, how does one “interpret” old texts? Were they potentially all metaphors at the time but, with their physical fossilization the images within have hardened into something “real”?

Then there is legal documents and rules, rules tend to start out as general, over reaching ideas I think. Consider the broad idea of “do unto others as you want done unto you.” Basically covers most right-or-wrong questions technically but, as time proceeds further somehow, that written idea is limited further and further. To the point that we have volumes and volumes of rules/laws to essentially expand that idea.

“Do not hurt others,” has to become you cannot use a knife or gun or other hand-held weapon to inflict physical/bodily damage upon another person. This then leads to fights over what is a person etc. etc. etc. Before writing though, with just a vocal based tradition, the elders/keepers of these traditions could actually reinterpret and retell stories according to their appropriate context leading to, in a way an expansiveness, broadness and flexibility that writing and text does not have.

What if this was part of the wisdom of Plato in disliking writing and finding it problematic while focusing on dialogue as the route to truth? In using dialogue it leads to truth while being constant, also being fluid in some ways.


Wisdom as Knowledge

This is a response to a comment on my post: Is Knowledge Really A Building Pt. 2

I ended the post with asking where we should go now after having found the idea of a building or web of knowledge somewhat problematic in my own understanding and then a person asked “What about wisdom?”

I am not entirely sure what the commentator meant so I will just take it as I interpret their comment.  As a place to go to sort out knowledge I certainly cannot disagree with wisdom being a sort of knowledge, even if my wisdom is limited from a lack of years.  The problem though, from how I understand empiricism, is still how do we know that a person’s wisdom is truly “knowledge” what is it based upon? How did it come to be known? Is it true? etc. etc.

So, in that way I do not know what about wisdom.

In another way though, I believe there is a way of understanding knowledge with wisdom.  Wisdom is the recognition that all knowledge that is scientifically approved or logically approved is only one way of seeing and understanding the world.  A wise person sees that qualifying everything that is “known” and trying to justify that it is “known” is a somewhat problematic position to be in because one is attempting to classify and logicize human experience.  Science and logic may be able to do a lot of things, explain a lot of things to us but, in the end, there is a missing part to the scientific account.  The experience itself.  Wisdom is a recognition of dearth of knowledge in scientific knowledge.

Wisdom recognizes that memories are going to inflict the present with their presumptions, emotions and images and in turn change how a person is going to deal with a situation.  Wisdom in this recognition also, I think, would have a general idea of the events that every human being is likely to go through and some of the basic sorts of experiences all humans have or will have.

So, that is a rough sketch of wisdom as I am coming to understand it and my response.

Is Knowledge Really A Building? Part 2

The web theory.  Think about it what you know is interconnected with a bunch of other things you know and they just continue to build all over from that.  Two questions arise, is there a starting point?  Are there places that this web holds on to?

The first question, can you just have a web with at least some sort of starting point?  You have to come to know something at first and what is that?  Maybe it is “I” you know yourself, somewhat similar to Descartes’ infamous quote.  I cannot just make a web appear, there has to be some sort of first place at which I begin this web, I also could need material for this web, what would that be?  This first question though is not quite as interesting to me and could possibly be skipped somehow.

The second question, is there a thing the web holds onto?  I don’t know about the rest of the world but the only things that float in space randomly are plants, stars and other things such as that.  I don’t find web’s just floating in mid-air; they have some sort of anchor.  What is that anchor going to be?  Can you just claim it to be the world?  I don’t think so since that is what we are trying to come to know anyway and it seems that a web anchored to the world would be entailing we don’t know a lot of it just enough to hold onto and then everything else is other knowledge.  Would the anchor(s) be senses and logic again? That sounds a lot like the old knowledge building we are trying to move out of.  Maybe the anchor is language? Language is constantly being accused of being vague, lying, etc. though, so I would assume that isn’t it for this philosophical web since we have to remain logical.

So now where do we go?

Explorations In Philosophy: Introduction

What I am taught about Philosophy:

Philosophy is only a few things.  Philosophy is a great stepping stone to being a lawyer, philosophy is good if you want to teach, philosophy is the ideas of a bunch of other, older, typically white, males.  Philosophy is studying various “branches” (ethics, epistemology, so on and so forth).  Studying these branches, if you stay in philosophy as an academic leads to you writing journal articles about what some other person’s ideas or arguments either say, would say, prove, disprove or could add to some other argument of some other person’s making.

I am told students who study philosophy are good at logic, reading, writing and synthesizing large and complicated ideas into much simpler ideas.  I am basically told that those who study philosophy are good human computers, nothing more.

This is what being a major in philosophy has in general tended to tell me.

I, on the other hand, believe that philosophy is focused on one thing and only this thing:
How shall I live?

This question, this is the point of philosophy, it’s not some random pseudo-scientific exploration of what “is” the real world, how do we “know” things and all the other questions that the ivory tower of philosophy likes to put effort into.

Now how in the world does one start this?

Is Knowledge Really A Building? Part 1

Is the metaphor that knowledge is a structure really the best way to look at knowledge?

Epistemology is the philosophical study of human knowledge.  This branch tries to define knowledge, figure out how someone knows something and most any other aspect involving “knowledge” normally in a sense of knowledge that humans can have or claim to have.  Assuming that one thinks that human knowledge does exist and is attainable, it seems that this knowledge is most often pictured as a sort of structure, with a foundation which is the fundamental beginnings of human knowledge and then a super-structure upon which the rest of an individual’s knowledge is hung.  My question is: is this really the best way to look at human knowledge?  Is this sort of structure really the only way human knowledge could work?  What are other possible ways to consider human knowledge and can it relay any insights to human knowledge?

First off, is this foundation-super-structure image really the best/only way to consider knowledge?  I do not believe so.  It seems to be that although certainly a useful metaphor, philosophy has ended up limiting itself too much with this foundation.  Using only this image would be akin to only using stone as the foundation for all of your buildings, but there are other materials with which to ground something: cement for example.  How would the building change with this simple change?  Would it change?  I do not think there would be a serious change in how knowledge is viewed if a new “material” were used as the foundation, but one does not know until it is tried.

Let us assume that the normal foundation material for this epistemological structure is stone and mortar.  This normal foundational material seems to be some sort of either sense data or knowledge which a philosopher thinks all humans are born with innately (i.e. a priori or a posteriori knowledge), usually a combination of the two, the one that is focused upon being the stone and then the other being the mortar.  To me, it makes sense to try “simpler” materials before one goes on to more “advanced” materials for a foundation.

So, the first type of foundation to look at is the pad stone, otherwise known as basically rocks at certain places to help hold the building up.  A fairly simple sort of foundation, now what are our rocks to be for this?  How about we try to build something with only sense data as our foundation, where do we end up then?  Seemingly, as Descartes, so famously brought up, this would be a very poor house of knowledge; it doesn’t take much to deceive the senses thus bringing the building crumbling down.  So that is out, how about reasoning maybe that can make a sturdier foundation.  Although sturdy this seems to lead to a very small house indeed, what can you do with simple reasoning and nothing else?  Come to conclusions of what is logically valid and invalid is about all really from what I can see.  Although this house is as strong as any could be, one cannot even stand up in it.  What could be another pad stone material?  Some other form of a priori knowledge it seems, something that is given to us besides just reasoning, again though, there is only so far you can go with a small amount of givens.  Again, Descartes tried this and he basically got to cogito ergo sum, the existence of God and a handful of other things, not much of a knowledge building still, at least not for me.  Or you can assume Plato’s forgotten ideals and then build from there, but that is a bit too simple really for this late-night thought experiment, so that will be left behind.  So, it appears that pad stones aren’t good enough of foundations for this house of knowledge we are trying to build.  On a side note, can you use this knowledge for the memory castle activity to help you remember a list?  That could be a fun mind-twister.

This next type of foundation is using timber and having it stuck into the ground.  What is our epistemological timber though?  Something that is fairly widespread, simple to work with and relatively cheap is what we are looking for as an analogue to this material.  How about language, language is certainly widespread, intuitive to work with and people like to talk (if you don’t believe this last one refer to any spoken conversation you’ve ever had AND every single piece of written material you’ve of read, including this, why else would I write so much about such a topic? Simply because I have thoughts I want to get out in the end).  Language also seems to just take care of itself and grow much like trees do, or at least did so it seems that this could be a good metaphorical wood with which to build a knowledge structure.  So you take language and stick it into the fertile soil of the human mind, hopefully you take care not to cut down every linguistic tree, keeping one or two for shade too.  This seems somewhat like language itself anyway, the hidden part of language is the part in the ground and then we have anything you ever say or share in some way with the world outside your mind, the rest of the wood not stuck in the ground.  Now what can we do with this?  Well, with language we can certainly get logic so we have that to help us put together our materials.  Language would also allow us to name things in the outside world, if we assume there is one (for without it we’d basically be stuck back in the same position as logic, thus failure).  The problem is that this is assuming we now have sense data to, so that we can see, feel, hear, touch, taste or in some other way sense this outside world which we can now name with language.  Logic, sense data and language now that is a bit too much to assume so quickly in this foundation I think.  So we are back to just language and it appears that we cannot do too much simply with language either.  I am not sure of any good wood analogues for now; maybe I’ll come up with some at a later date and continue trying to work with this.

So pad stones don’t work, nor do simple wooden foundations, we have already mentioned stone/stone and mortar foundations.  These seem to work, relatively well but it feels like something is missing.  I want to say there may be a more complicated material out there with which to build an epistemological building but I am not sure what it could be.  I will have to think about that further and do some more reading.  One thing that can be changed though for these “foundations” which isn’t the material is how deep the foundation goes.  Most of the foundations I’ve been dealing with I have been looking at in the “shallow” sense of a foundation, otherwise not a deep foundation like used for really tall or heavy structures.  These structures require a much deeper foundation in order to support them properly.  So how can we make these materials of epistemological foundations deeper?  It seems the quickest way to get deeper is to try to get to the subconscious level the a priori, internal, pre-logic, instinctive, intuitive level, usually this is considered mentally deeper, or I think so anyway.  So now, how do we build deep foundations with wood or the stone?  Pad-stones are by definition not deep foundations so they will not be considered.

It my opinion, the language timber with which I tried to build a foundation can already be considered a deep foundation due to the nature of how individuals learn a language so I guess when a new analogue has been imagined that will have to be revisited.

The final foundational material is stone and masonry (logic and sense data).  Now how do we make this a deep foundation?  It would seem that both of these are already deep insofar as we, as humans, cannot just turn off our perceptions and it generally seems to be agreed upon that humans are born with basic logic.  I cannot come up with a way to argue against the sense perceptions right away so I will have to drop that one.  So logic, maybe logic is where the shallowness of our foundation is.  The question still remains, how do I argue against this?  Some of the basic logical formulas do seem quite intuitive; I will have to ponder that some more too.

So it appears I am at a dead end for now on the epistemological structure.  Now to try a different angle, what is this idea of a structure is simply wrong and using this metaphor is hindering the human understanding of knowledge.  Maybe knowledge is more of a web, possibly an expanding room/horizon, a tree even, there are many more I am certain but let us explore the similarities and differences of these other metaphors.

Why Logic Works

Logic works for one reason and one reason only: it kept humans alive.

Logic is not inherently universal; it is not what the world operates on, at least in a way that we can be sure of.  Logic only works because it kept human beings alive in the world.

Question: Where is the law that says the entire universe has to follow logical principals?

A: In human minds with the limited point of view from a mind that uses logic.

Imagining a world that is not logical is parallel to imagining not existing: impossible for the human mind because logic and existence are two fully inherent facts of the human mind and human nature and we cannot operate without them.

This is not necessarily a negative fact, but it has to be acknowledged so we can know our own place as humans.  Our minds are infinitely complex computers, of a sort, which have a specific operating system: that of logic combined with illogical parts.  This computer has certain ways to input data: touch, sight, audio, taste and smell. Humans can only interpret the world through these things and the limitations of them, the human mind would probably be able to deal with more but our “peripheries” (senses) are limited in certain ways which limit what we can sense: probably due to limits of size.  If we were capable of interpreting more data we would need more brain power.

This data then has to be interpreted in some way.  Just receiving data without a viewpoint would make us cameras, mirrors: not beings.

I have no good way to prove these statements yet; working on it.

I have accepted these as near facts, this leads to some questions of mine such as why this specific way/logic? And why are we so curious as humans?

The first question is asked because there appears to be plenty of other animals that do not use the same sort of “operating system” as we do.  So why build a new one which is like ours?  The second comes from why in the world are humans the organisms that try to understand things like we do: why do we ask questions?  What about our operating system makes us ask the sorts of questions we do and even able to do it? Why is it we have it?

Once I happen to come up with a more solidified answer to my own questions, I’ll return.

On the Nature of Truth

Truth is an incredibly important thing our world.  Scientific truth, religious truth, objective truth(s); this thing is the basis for a lot of our lives in this world.  It basically helps to hold everything together.  Sadly though (for some), it is not actually accessible to us humans.

Truth in the idea we like to ascribe to it, i.e., universal is impossible for us actually approach and understand.  Every little piece of “data” we receive in the world comes from our senses meaning everything is interpreted and computed in our mind/brains.  These interpretations follow the rules of logic and rules-human thought- these interpretations apply patterns and rules to the world for us humans to function.  This computational ability is one part of what makes us essentially human, it also means that our minds run very much like the computers and machines which we have built.  Refer to cognitive sciences to see proof of our interpretation of everything in the world and applying patterns and rules to it in our minds.  One simpler example I can think of is Descartes’ example of a square tower in the distance appearing round.  Something else you could test yourself: just record yourself speaking normally, not announcing or trying to be extra clear, just speak like normal.  Use a program where you can see the sound waves and then try to find where the “words” are in the sound waves.  You will find the words do not actually exist in the world as things; they are interpreted when we hear them.  Other proof abounds, but I do not have enough interest in trying to pursue this further for now, do your own research.

As such, all of our scientific and evidential truths are interpretations, organizations and applications of our logic upon the world.  These things may work mathematical formulas to predict physical occurrences in the world (I am not claiming these things are wrong), but we cannot ever know with absolute and pure certainty that they are the actual truth.  These formulas and this evidence are simply the patterns we have found in the world that seem to work within the rest of our interpreted universe.  Hence, all of our truths in the world are actually logical truths.  Simply logical truths for how we see, understand and interpret the world NOT necessarily universal truths, we will never know those.  The best we can do is work off of what we can know, which is our logical truths.

This may just be a pointless bit of writing for readers, but this has been an important step in my personal development, as such I wrote about it.  Good luck sleeping tonight if your mind has been blown by this idea or if you want to try to find proof to argue against this statement.