[ExI] What can be said to be "wrong", and what is "Truth"?

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Mon Oct 13 04:18:01 UTC 2008

Jef wrote (Sent: Thursday, October 02, 2008 9:48 AM)

> On Thu, Oct 2, 2008 at 9:13 AM, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:
>> Yet, when we, especially in the west, do stumble upon certain
>> kinds of "things which had been veiled", e.g., the speed of light,
>> should we really be blamed for claiming that we have advanced,
>> that we now have better maps, that the accuracy of our beliefs
>> is improved?
> It appears we're getting ever closer to mutual understanding of this
> point, but I'll offer a small but fundamentally significant
> correction:
> "Accuracy" is simply not meaningful, independent of context.
> I suppose this became second-nature to me during my decades in
> scientific instrumentation...

Certainly there are times in which the idea of accuracy is either
not applicable or is imprecise. Yet there are many cases in which
it is an extraordinarily useful concept and corresponds very well
to the actual relationship between things (of course, to the degree
which we are able to presume that we have knowledge about
such a relationship). It would be a futile waste of time, and 
really quite unnecessary, for example, to modify this claim with

    "A map showing Hawaii as part of the continental U.S. is 
    completely inaccurate---a map showing Hawaii as one or
    a set of islands relatively far from the rest of the U.S. is

> I've lost track of how many times a user
> would ask "but how accurate is this tool or technique?" and we would
> have to educate them to understand that we could guarantee precision,
> or repeatability, or any of several other metrics of measurement
> quality, but we could say nothing about "accuracy" which is always
> dependent on some reference standard (usually provided to the customer
> via some traceable government or scientific standards authority.)

Was this always the case? If so, then you may have sounded evasive
to your customers. In many such cases, I would assume, the reference
standard is assumed. For example, if I made a meter stick out of wood
and gave it to someone, he'd have every right to inquire as to whether
it was accurate. If I affirmed that the markings I'd made lined up pretty
closely with those of a standard, purchased meter stick, then I could
assert that "Yes, this is accurate". Presumably we would both know
that even a manufactured meter stick does not infinitely closely approximate
the standard meter 

> Similarly, coherence over any particular context says NOTHING about
> the accuracy of a belief, which belief might conceivably be subject to
> radical change with a single new observation that doesn't fit the
> previous model.

This is *always* in principle possible. However, as a matter of
practical necessity, I'm sure that you won't quibble with 

    "Some people have been to Hawaii"

I don't understand why you would hesitate to affirm that statement
as "accurate". 

> I'm sensitive to the appearance that I'm repeatedly harping on a few
> points which may appear to some to be insignificant or
> inconsequential...

Not at all.

In discussions like this, that's the norm!  (Or ought I have rather said

    "In a number of discussions resembling this, depending on 
    context in most cases, one should expect apparently trivial
    points to be pursued by some participants."

For me, as I am sure for you, complete accuracy is unattainable,
and one should measure the value of a statement by this ratio:

    overall accuracy (or, if you must, "accuracy in an apparently
    given context") divided by the number of words used.


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