OH NOES! I had promised myself not to go into that again. But i seem to have been incepted with a way to put the issue that is SO cool.
So, again, about the non-existence of truth. The heaviest evidence in the case is that believing in truth makes you silly.
To prove that i offer an example. A guy who thinks too much of himself wrote that he was tired of all the unneeded complication over the concept of «truth» and that he would single-handedly overcome the 24 centuries of discussion regarding the subject. His argument (and i copy-paste) is that:
“truth is what makes the future less surprising”.
Even if it does sound sensible on a first read (or maybe, even if it does sound sensible taken along with esr’s boastfulness) the argument is utterly foolish for the following reasons: 1) his arguments still depends on a reality, the reality of the future, so his arguments is still just as messy as any proposition that truth is reality. And 2) the future is by definition the things that we have not met yet, so according to esr, truth is impossible to check, except if you have a crystal ball.
And to top it all he goes on long and long about how you must “unpack as predictions” all claims, just after he insulated his own claim against all such predictions.
The way he wants potential listeners to take his claims is obvious enough. He wants you to think in lines of “if i drop this glass to the ground it will break, and i know that «glass breaks» beforehand, no matter Derrida, no matter Wittgenstein, it is true“. But to just lay down and accept this attitude is a HUGE mistake: My sister’s stupid dog does know that too! It is not because we can focus on what we know that we are more flexible than dogs, it is because we can focus on what we don’t know.
All the simple-truth adepts, no matter how much they will preach to you about science taking hypothesis as temporary, what they want to do is to push focus towards the known. Even if they themselves can’t see it. They are forever and irremediably on the side of Thomas Khun’s Paradigm — they are enemies of Khun’s Revolution, of the change in understanding. To make it terribly clear — they are unwitting enemies of the freedom of thought!
To be fair, much much latter on esr adds in the comments:
“The actual goal was to show that (1) theory-building is motivated behavior, and (2) doing confirmation theory before epistemology or ontology is a simpler way to bootstrap your way to a sound naturalistic philosophy than reversing that order as is normally done.”
As for the second claim, i do like his hands-on approach, but how can we claim that “confirmation theory” falls outside epistemology? It sounds more like a red-neck crashing a PhD thesis defence and saying they are all wrong: You might like the attitude, but most likely the newcomer does not know what he is talking about. esr does not feel like doing his epistemology homework. No problem, but then why does he want to talk epistemology at all? Prove to me that you can make “confirmation theory” without any notion of reality — simplistic word riddles are not enough — and then i will respect your arguments.
And that theory-building is motivated, while i would agree with, i take it to go against his own thesis — it unpacks as «don’t look at the content of the claim, look at what the claimant wants of you with the act of claiming».
As counsel goes, this is actually a good one. Pay attention not only to the claim, but to the act of making a claim. This simple habit alone will reveal upon your eyes the folly of beliefs.
In fact, i present as an “unpack-able prediction” that every simple-truth-defender will cast some kind of fog to confuse you as regards the fact that every “truth” must be a “claim” first. Granted, this is a bit counter-intuitive, but it is not so hard if you allow it to sink in: For example, a stone is not true (or truth), a stone is just a stone, what alone can be truth is a claim that someone makes about the stone.
Therefore, the existence of truth is a part of the theory of language. This is messy, for Robin-Hanson types (as in Moldbug’s description: lots of CPU, no RAM). Language is full of exceptions and relativeness, so to base epistemology on language and then base science on epistemology just sounds bad to them.
Whether they like it or not, that’s how things go. In fact, a different form of this argument, that says that “reason has nothing to do with reality. Instead, it’s rooted in communication”, has just popped up in the interwebs. Basically Jonah Lehrer says that from a psychology point of view arguments seem to be focused on convincing others — even when in utter contrast with the world around us. Although amazon reviews indicate the guy is not the best researcher around (nor am i, as i am judging someone by the amazon reviews), his sources seem pretty decent.
But obviously, i feel inclined to ask: And is this news? That truth is a property of language is self-evident to me. And this guy Pyrrho was on to it already. And if arguments are convincing devices more than platonic entities, where does that lead us? I won’t dig much onto that today, but let’s just drop these two: “Occam Razor” and “Method over Content”.
Pyrrhonism is the uncredited father of all our contemporary science and philosophy. Instead of the deserved praise, it receives campaign after campaign of attempted refutation. Descartes already went at it, and esr and Yudkowsky can rant all they want, they are not gonna change anything. A big fat lot more subtlety would be needed, and even then… Things are like they are. There is no truth.
Even that phrase is not truth, as there is this eternal source of confusion inside the heads of the likes of esr that is called truth. But it is not on the world around me, i can say that! The phrase there is no truth is so beautiful it makes an example out of itself! Nice.
What it all boils down to is: When you ask simple-truthers “where does your truth comes from?” or “how can you know truth?” they have no answer. Every single source of knowledge that has been proposed to date, every last one of ’em, have been proved unreliable. The “unpacked content” of this is not that we do not trust any knowledge, but that the reliance on any knowledge is a risk that must be weighted with caution.
But in fact i suppose the problem runs even deeper. If a given knowledge K was truth, then it would be truth for a given reason R, but this would in turn require a reason R2 for R. An authority A does not end the recursion, because it would still have a reason RA, only that would be opaque, which does not make a difference. Then truth must either be self-evident or be non-existent. But it is perfectly easy to find truths that are self-evident but are nevertheless utterly flawed — the likes of which abound in the history of human knowledge coff flat earth coff coff self-identity coff discourse on method. Thus it is necessarily impossible to decide about truth. Truth is Undecidable.
Saying that in spite of it we can still keep our thinking of «truth» is just wishful thinking. Does it make any difference that esr or Yudkowsky believe on that crap? None whatsoever.
It is different to not know the answer to a problem and to know that an answer must necessarily not exist. If you can prove that a mathematical problem is impossible, this is as good as a demonstration. Fernando Sabino ascribes to his father the saying that what has no solution is solved. Truth fits on that category: Every single possible source of truth has bee proved unreliable. Truth has been proved to be a question without an answer. Therefore, we must live by opinion. And that is all right.
[Edit: Finally found out how to say “undecidable” in English, so i simplified the ending a little, or formalized it.]