We are not Truth Machines

Truth_machineHumans are not truth machines.  We are machines/organisms composed of many practical problem solving components/modules.  Actually, many of these modules often work against each other.

Our brains are not built to crank out truth.  Instead, our brains are geared to produce desired results — results that secure survival and successful reproduction.

And if truth must be sacrificed for these supports for reproductive success, then the brain joyfully obliges !  See my post on the “Tooth Fairy“.

Disciplining parts of our mind to produce some measure of truth is then no easy matter.  But we must take care.  Our mind is geared toward practical skills to keep us alive, if we ignore them for the sake of some truth which ignores our survival, we can suffer.    (Reality bites !)

30 Comments

Filed under Consciousness, Philosophy & Religion

30 responses to “We are not Truth Machines

  1. Im curious, do you think truth is an absolute? Is it a fixed thing or does it morph depending on our knowledge?

  2. My working definition of “truth” is: “the best approximation to reality”.
    What is yours TitforTat?
    Question for you TitforTat: Is your question a pre-evangelism probe? Remember, I am an ex-Christian. Have you read my “Author” tab and my deconversion stuff?)

  3. I usually dislike using the word “truth”, I prefer “fact”. I’m only interested in the facts about reality, I want to know what actually is, what is factually true and reliable, claims about “ultimate truth” and the like are usually a bunch of nonsensical woo.

    Unfortunately for theists, that’s ultimately all their claims turn out to be. They try to balance personal comfort and fact and when the facts turn out to be uncomfortable, they are rejected. Then they take their fact-lite version of reality, mixed in with a bunch of feel-good nonsense, and declare it to be “truth”.

    Whether they like it or not, the most uncomfortable fact is still a fact and the most comforting lie is still a lie. How we feel about reality doesn’t change reality one whit.

  4. My question was just that, a question. I am not probing anything other than curiosity.

    I think fact holds the same as truth, and they are both limited. With new knowledge, new truths or facts emerge. Its in a constant flux.

    My working definition of “truth” is: “the best approximation to reality”.(Sabios)

    Pretty good definition. Now what kind of reality do you live in lol.

  5. @TitforTat: Well, actually, I have more to say about “Truth” and your question inspired me, so I will write a brief post. Though I have not thought it out well, I will enjoy the attempt.
    Thanx.

  6. I read an article that seems to coincide with this:
    http://www.physorg.com/news149345120.html

    Our minds are geared for assessing the world around us and making decisions based on our understanding. To me, this seems more like the results you’re referring to. Our gut level reactions control immediate needs and wants and, thus, our brain works to facilitate these needs in the best manner possible.

    When we get to truth, however, there is the need for careful consideration of many points of view. Our unconscious minds are fantastic for deciding based on our point of view, but it takes higher order thinking to bring into account the desires and viewpoints of people we don’t even know.

    Personal truths, even, aren’t necessarily wants, they’re an understanding of how we look at the world. Having a reaction to things based on an unconscious analysis is a far cry from understanding the processes and filters that our mind puts on our decisions and how we look at the world. To clearly see these things, again, it requires a careful analysis of our decisions from an outside perspective. This, again, is a function of higher order thinking.

  7. The problem is, there’s no such thing as a “personal truth” when we’re talking about objective reality. Something is either true or it is not true, one’s desires and feelings don’t enter into it. What you’re really talking about is the lengths some will go to for personal comfort, often at the expense of truth, just because they don’t want to face the reality that might not make them happy. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of respect for people like that.

  8. @BS (I love writing that.)
    Hey, I have three questions for you:

    1) I am trying to understand logical fallacies a little better.
    During a debate, what sort of fallacy is the following statement considered?

    I don’t have a lot of respect for people like that

    I love this clickable Taxonomies of Fallacies.
    According to this taxonomy, I’m guessing it is a red herring, probably a genetic fallacy and possibly an Appeal to Misleading Authority. What do you think?

    2) Do you think skeptics should try to avoid logical fallacies when they can?

    3) Do you think skeptics should be quick to admit fallacies in their own debates if they are uncovered? But if the point of a discussion is to win, then I guess using fallacies is fair game. Why stay reasonable when you can win with emotions, eh !

    Like I said, I am still trying to figure this stuff out.
    Thank you.

  9. There is such a thing as personal truth. Personal truths are things that are objectively real about ourselves. Someone who has themselves convinced that they are selfless while, at the same time, always using people to get ahead would be deluding themselves about that particular personal truth.

    The term is applicable, as I was referencing a psychology study showing that our minds are excellent at coming to the best possible solutions for things. I discounted the effect this has on coming to truth, both in general and for ourselves.

  10. I think you mean subjectively real, which is an oxymoron. Something is either real or it is not. Believing in something that is not real, no matter how hard you believe it, remains unreal.

    I will agree with you entirely that our minds are very good at coming up with explanations, we are pattern-seeing animals, that’s why we look up and see things in the clouds, but that doesn’t make the explanations that we come up with necessarily true or valid and I reject any explanation, no matter how strongly believed, if it does not represent an accurate view of factual reality.

  11. 1) It’s not really a fallacy, it’s an opinion. A fallacy requires that one be attempting to state something as defensible or as a fact that cannot be defended as such. Everyone has opinions and, in the case of respect, respect is something that is earned, not simply granted, so it’s entirely irrelevant to the question at hand.

    2) When making arguments, sure. Otherwise, skeptics are just as liable to use them as everyone else, we’re only human. It’s the logical evaluation of arguments, ours and others, that allows us to find logical fallacies and strengthen our arguments.

    3) Usually, it’s only the skeptics that do admit they make mistakes, when is the last time you saw a theist in a debate admit that their belief system is wrong?

  12. The problem with that is when you get to things that aren’t concrete.

    The entire point of the post focuses on abstractions. Abstractions aren’t pinned down, straight-laced facts, they’re called abstractions because their meanings are ethereal and subject to interpretation.

    The way we see the world is very real to us. Color blind people have a very different perception on what color is. If you put on infrared goggles, you’re seeing the world as it is, albeit from yet another point of view. None of those takes on how the world looks are wrong, they’re simply different than the majority of how people see things.

    It directly follows that people will have different outlooks on much more abstract principles than how things look. It’s not some hippy “everyone has equally valid ways of looking at things, man” perspective, either. There are certainly more valid senses of morality than others. Serial killers have obviously flawed senses of morality.

    However, there is a certain amount of leeway that society provides for personal views of things, such as morality.

    As a specific example, people may have drastically differing opinions on what is proper to wear, there is societal leeway for a great deal of attire, from rather revealing to full Amish regalia. Of course there’s a limit to how revealing clothes can be, but, as I mentioned, society places caps on things, but allows for a great deal of leeway.

    Reality is quite subjective when it comes down to abstract concepts, that’s why they’re abstract.

  13. This reminds me of when I was in high school and this girl told another girl that she would hit her if she didn’t shut up. The second girl asked if that was a threat and the first girl said “it’s not a threat, it’s a promise.” All the while, I couldn’t help but think, “How does that even make sense? The two aren’t mutually exclusive.”

    In like manner, your opinion is your opinion, but when you express things like “I don’t have a lot of respect for people like that” in an argument, your opinion is also a logical fallacy.

    In addition to the fallacies mentioned, it’s also an ad hominem attack, as you’re clearly inferring that the other person is not worthy of respect for holding their opinion.

  14. Hardly because respecting someone is not necessary for a debate to occur. I’ve debated plenty of creationists and I’ll be real honest, I didn’t respect any of them before the debate started, having done my share of research on them prior and I had no respect for them, even less if it was possible, afterwards. Yet the debate went on and we talked about demonstrable evidence… well, I did, they have none, we talked about logic and reason… okay, I talked about logic and reason, they just did a lot of wild hand-waving faith-talk, etc.

    Respect has nothing whatsoever to do with the outcome of a debate, there’s nothing fallacious about it in any way, shape or form unless you start making claims about the other individual, saying they are inherently unrespectable, which is certainly not something that I did.

  15. @Janus
    The problem is, even if someone is colorblind, that doesn’t mean that the world really is lacking in red and green (or whatever particular colorblindness they happen to have), the problem is with their perception, it is faulty and doesn’t affect factual reality at all. There is only one common reality that we all share and it isn’t affected whatsoever by bizarre, illogical, irrational, subjective ideas about it. The ultimate goal of science and rational thinking is to get as close to an accurate view of what the world that we all share actually is, not to invent illusions that try to turn it into something we might wish that it was.

    None of your examples, from clothing to morality, have anything whatsoever to do with reality, wearing a suit and tie doesn’t make the world any different than if you wear a pink tutu. You’re arguing a difference of opinion, which is certainly valid, not a difference of reality.

    Saying you get to pick your clothing is an entirely different matter than the Texas school board deciding it can determine the age of the universe with a vote.

  16. Really? The world is colored exactly how we see it?

    Insects, different animals, certain people all see the world differently. Our eyes merely pick up certain wavelengths of light. The fact that the sky looks blue to you or me doesn’t make it blue. It makes it the default standard since the majority of people agree on the fact that it is blue.

    Telling me that I’m arguing a difference of opinion when I’m talking about abstraction is you conceding the point. If it comes down to a matter of opinion, then it is not cut and dry.

    Besides, since when do I ever say that everything is up for vote? You’re falling into exactly what I said people do that is wrong. Just because certain things are up to interpretation doesn’t mean everything is. I’m an engineer, I’m totally with you that there is a definite range when the universe was created and 6000 years doesn’t fall within that. I know that when I heat a certain section of a material of certain properties, the rest of the material will reach that heat at x time. These are static.

    However, you’re incredibly dismissive of the idea that there are things that are up for interpretation. You think the way you see things is the way they’re meant to be seen? Do you honestly believe that everything is meant to be seen any particular way? Our view of the range of electromagnetic radiation is no more valid than anything else’s. It’s how we see things, so, therefore, that’s what we define as normal, nothing more. The same thing goes for any abstract concept where people can actually dispute. When facts are brought in that pin something down, then those take precedence. However, I will defy you to bring me hard facts that define what morality or love are. Until you can do that, you will defer to people’s interpretation, because that is all you have.

    If you attempt to derail this debate one more time, I’m done. While I’m convinced that you are only able to keep this going by bringing up irrelevancies that are completely off point and/or prove my point, I’m still hopeful that you actually have something useful to say.

  17. I suppose using terms like “visible spectrum” is very humanocentric, but we do understand what things are colored like, even on non-human-visible wavelengths. The fact that someone cannot see color doesn’t make those colors objectively vanish any more than someone who is a synesthete makes colors sound like flavors. We can demonstrate that these people’s perception is wrong due to a miswiring in their brains, what they see is an inaccurate picture of the actual reality.

    What you’re arguing isn’t an abstraction, it’s an opinion. So long as that opinion doesn’t affect anyone else, you’re more than welcome to hold it. But when you start claiming that your opinion actually changes factual reality. If you look up and think the sky is orange polka-dots and we know for a fact that the sky is not orange polka-dots, then you are just wrong. Reality is not up for a vote, what is… is. You don’t get to decide all on your lonesome that you don’t like how reality is and you’re going to decide it’s going to be another way.

    You keep bringing up love and morality, which have nothing whatsoever to do with objective reality. They are, however, very easy to understand. Morality is an entirely human-derived system of social interaction, it comes from within and is most often derived from rational self-interest and empathy. Love, on the other hand, is a complex electro-chemical reaction in the brain that helps us to form long-lasting connections to others, it’s likely a similar function to what makes animals fight to defend their young and keeps animal family groups together. There’s nothing magical or mystical about it whatsoever.

    By the way, nobody declared you god of the debate, if you don’t want to continue debating, don’t. You don’t get to define the rules and tell people what they can and cannot do or say. Personally, I’m still waiting for you to have something useful to say, you’ve failed utterly so far, maybe you’ll actually give it a shot.

  18. Reality is simply a series of observable phenomena. The wonderful thing about science is that these observations can be reproduced and studied by nearly everyone.

    If someone truly sees the sky as orange polka-dots, that’s their reality. It’s not changing any facts, for them, it simply is. Again, insects don’t see the sky as blue because their visible spectrum is completely different than ours.

    The fact that we see the sky to be a certain color doesn’t mean that it is, it simply means that when light is refracted from nitrogen molecules in the sky, our eyes see that light as blue. If someone’s optical nerve is different, they might see something different. That doesn’t make them wrong any more than other animals that see other wavelengths are wrong.

    Your comment of objective reality was a response to my bringing up the concept of individual reality, namely, how each one of us sees the world. You claimed that didn’t exist. I think it’s very clear that it does. Everyone has their own take on personal relationships, interactions, and what have you.

    I’m not saying that gravity or the speed of light changes for everyone. Not everything is open to interpretation. You pulled that out of thin air and started arguing me on it, why, I’ll never know. However, a great deal of our daily lives are based on abstract concepts that are very much open to interpretation.

    Just because we can boil love down to chemical signals, doesn’t mean that we feel it the same. Brain chemistry is incredibly different from person to person. That’s why medicines have different instances of side effects in different people.

    Morality being a necessity for social interaction doesn’t make it any more simple. People don’t simply do whatever they want, but only reign themselves in when they think they might get caught. There are people like that, and they’re widely regarded as jerks. It’s a much more complicated social situation than you make it out to be.

    In any case, nowhere do I mention that they are mystical or magical, simply that they are a fundamental part of our existence and they are open to interpretation, whether we like it or not.

    Finally, no, nobody declared me god of anything. However, if we’re going to have a back and forth, you can’t just make stuff up and put those words in my mouth, it doesn’t work that way. It’s painfully obvious that you’re content to just pretend like I’m saying whatever nonsense you want me to be saying, even though I’m being rather explicit. No matter how specific I get with a point, you make up something out of left field, like how love and morality aren’t mystical. What do I do with that? That has nothing to do with anything.

  19. Sorry, but you’re wrong. Reality exists outside of us. Long before humanity evolved on this rock, there was reality. Long before there was any life anywhere to observe anything, there was reality. Reality has an objective, factual existence beyond any observation. It existed before we came, it’ll exist long after we’re gone.

    The problem is, we know that the sky is blue and we know *WHY* the sky is blue and it has nothing whatsoever to do with people’s ability to see it as such, it has to do with the light scattering effects of the atmosphere. Again, it would be blue even if there were no observers around. About as far as you can go to make it subjective is that we’ve named the particular visible wavelength “blue”. However, that doesn’t affect the Rayleigh scattering that makes it that color. If there’s an alien world out there somewhere with the same atmospheric content and the same main sequence star, but has never had any life, their sky is blue too.

    I never said that people may not see the world differently, I said that how they saw the world doesn’t affect how the world actually is. There is one factual, objective reality, period. If, due to your particular brain wiring, you experience that reality in a manner inconsistent with how that reality actually is, you are not changing reality, you are simply experiencing it in a faulty manner. The whole idea that everyone can have their own personal “version” of reality simply isn’t factually so, it’s just not a defensible position to take. The same goes for how we “feel” love or other emotions. Just because the experience varies from individual to individual doesn’t change the fact that all of it boils down to the same basic electro-chemical reactions in the brain. Because we understand those reactions, at least in a very basic sense, we can usually determine who has proper brain function and who has abnormal brain function and treat them accordingly.

    Morality, as I said before, is primarily enlightened self-interest. Of course people reign themselves in, they don’t want to get caught and punished by the society in which they live for doing things that society has deemed unacceptable. Societies vary widely across distance and time as to what is unacceptable, what you can do in one place, you very well may not be able to do in another. That’s why moralities change as you move around the planet and evolve over time.

    Granted, you didn’t say anything about magical and mystical and I apologize for jumping to the conclusion that’s where you were headed, but in my experience that’s the invariable next step to someone who begins as you did and I was trying to head it off at the pass. If that’s not where you were going, again I apologize. Perhaps if you were a little more clear about your ultimate conclusion, such things wouldn’t happen.

    This isn’t a formal debate. If you’d like to have one, we could certainly arrange one, this is just a back and forth in the comments section of someone’s blog. If we choose to keep responding, we do. If we don’t, we don’t. There are no winners or losers, in the end it really doesn’t matter. However, I still don’t see where you’re going, especially since it’s clear that what happens inside the brains of various individuals do not affect the objective reality going on outside of their heads. Is there somewhere specific you’re heading with this or are you just trying to make some vague solipsist-style argument?

  20. There is one factual, objective reality, period.(Bitchspot)

    If I didnt know better I would have said you were a Fundie. Ah, the people and there absolutes. Who knows maybe your G-d.

  21. I’m done, you can stop pretending to be smart now.

    Oh wait, here’s a website for kids! How fun!

  22. Yes, run, run, run. You can’t defend your views so head for the hills. Can’t say I am surprised in any way.

  23. So are you saying there isn’t one factual, objective reality, period? That’s what *ALL* of human experience points to, it’s how every one of us lives our lives, if you think differently, please demonstrate objectively and rationally that it is so.

    Otherwise, you can be yet another person who cannot back up their words.

  24. Oh, I’m not going anywhere.

    I’m just not debating with someone who is convinced that the sky is blue, despite the fact that we only see it that way because our eyes only pick up certain wavelengths.

    I’m also not debating because those links I provided prove my point, showing that there are creatures that detect a broader spectrum of light than we do and they certainly don’t see things the same as humans.

    Obviously, if you’re going to stick your fingers in your ears and refuse to even acknowledge sources and call that winning, you’re not really much for debating.

    Leaving an argument with the same opinion you had originally despite overwhelming evidence isn’t winning, it’s being obtuse. Apparently, you’re unaware of the difference.

  25. bitchspot

    Because its as simple as this. You cannot or do not know everything about the world/universe and its mechanisms, so you are always working from a limited perspective. Until that time, which wont happen in your lifetime, you cant know the actual facts. So with that said, have fun thinking you can.

  26. Bingo. We don’t even know why gravity works.

    While that may sound innocuous, since we can still detect it and make reasonable assumptions about it, we are clueless about a fundamental component on how the universe even exists.

    Who cares if the sky looks blue to us, we can’t even comprehend what’s keeping us on this planet. We’re getting closer and closer to figuring it out, but that’s the beauty of being human.

    Our reality is not determined. Every so often, a Newton or an Einstein comes along and tells us that what we knew was all wrong.

    The humility to accept that we probably don’t know a fraction of a percent of anything at all is important. Correction, it’s essential to our existence as humans. We don’t have claws, fangs, speed, flight, or endurance. We have intelligence and the ability to comprehend the world around us. That’s how we evolve, and you better believe we’re evolving.

    Any organism needs to constantly evolve to survive and we’re no different. The closed minded people who know everything and are firm in their belief that there is one way to look at things? They’re obsolete. If humanity is going to keep progressing, we need to always keep that nagging assumption that we’re wrong about everything close to our chest.

  27. No, we don’t, but just because we don’t know doesn’t mean we can’t know and it doesn’t give you license to just make something up. We can only deal with the limits of our current knowledge and work toward increasing that knowledge through rational inquiry and objective reasoning.

    However, not knowing how gravity works doesn’t mean you can simply invent an explanation because you don’t like not knowing. That’s essentially what’s been suggested here.

  28. Wow, you guys really are going at it. Time well spent? In honor of your “conversation”, I have posted a memory you brought back for me — the hour of the monkey. Thank you.

  29. this post.. and the more-so the convo that follows addresses so much for me…. should have read this before trying to talk with Cyphus.

  30. Glad it helped.

    (1) BTW, in case you could not tell, Cephus & Bitchspot are the same person.

    (2) Here is my story on “The Hour of the Monkey

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