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

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue Sep 30 14:10:23 UTC 2008

Mike wrote (in the thread about mathematics in the natural sciences)

> Jef wrote:
>> Tell me, Human, how can any system, functioning exactly according to
>> its nature within its environment, be "wrong", other than with respect
>> to a particular (necessarily subjective) context from which to make
>> such an assessment?  Does it seem to you that "Truth" is somehow
>> diminished, when it is accepted as "merely" the best truth presently
>> known?

Yes, absolutely. Oops, er, I mean "provisionally accepted!"   :-)

We really should try to banish all sorts of capitalized "Truths"
and certainties from our discourse, not that Mike fails to make
an *extremely* valid point below, but simply because such
reifications too often give the wrong impression (IMO).

> Perhaps you have a much larger point in mind, but I'll add this
> response to the above;
> Within a particular context, the best approximation of truth may be
> verified as good enough.  If the same principle is applicable to a
> different context, I believe that principle has a greater measure of
> this property defined as truth.

Yes. My only quibble would be that we want refrain from
ever "defining" truth (or anything else outside math, for that matter). 

> If this principle can be used to correctly predict the situation in
> new contexts, this further measures the principle's approach to
> an ideal Truth.

I know what you're saying (I think), and I completely agree.
We find, for example, that in science a far more general rule
(such as Boyle's law) to be real progress on the road towards
that idealization which can never be reached: absolute certainty.

As Stathis was saying, any attempts to take actions (e.g. 
colonizing the solar system) should proceed without a 
moment's thought as to the accuracy, utility, or, if you will,
the truth of the heliocentric assumption.

> Since it is arguably impossible to have verified truth in absolutely
> every context, 

I agree with Jef's criticism of this. Why say "arguably"?
(Unless we tiresomely fall back to trying to make every
sentence perfect, an impossible task as Eternal Truth No. 2
makes clear: "Every statement must be further modified.")

On the other hand, what if you had said "Since it is impossible
to have verified truth..." we could have picked on the word
"impossible" too, and then gone on to criticize "absolutely
every context"!  No single word is immune to deconstruction,
which is why we must dance lightly over as many different
words and different phrases as we can.

Perhaps "Since nothing can be known for absolutely certain,
especially in all contexts..." would be safer and better.
Korzybski  pointed out the advantages of words like "not"
and "nothing" in places like this.

> we must accept that "best presently known truth" may only
> continue to approach the absolute (until disproved?).

Yes---although that probably could be said without using 
the word "truth" a second time, which compel's the readers
attention towards a difficult and problematic issue. But enough
terminological quibbles, sorry.

> I attempt to minimize confusion by treating "Truth" as an asymptotic
> limit to the maximum measurable 'truth'.

A *very* important point, yes! Because I'm a philosophic
realist, I don't really have any problem with us acting provisionally
as if there were an asymptotic limit to what we can know. We 
*should* continue to look at Ptolemaic theory as a right step 
towards more knowledge, more accurate maps of our universe,
towards what is correct, and so forth, and then look at the
Copernican, Tychoean, and Keplerian versions as wonderful
steps towards even greater understanding of the solar system
and its dynamics. Along the same road, we must further celebrate
Newton's breakthrough followed by Einstein's. Those who work
with planetary data (e.g. Mercury's) often feel transported by
the incredible accuracy of their predictions and their knowledge.

And when people dig up the Mayan ruins and can assign dates
with amazing prediction to innumerable things that we should
best think of as having actually occurred a thousand years ago,
we must feel thrilled, and must think that we *really have gotten

So where have we got? It's just as you say: we have progressed
along some road towards a sort of asymptotic limit, just as we have
in daily life (except for those we call crazy, who hear voices, whose
beliefs are extraordinary at odds with what the rest of us "know").
And if this were not a thread on what is "wrong" and what is
"truth", then it would have been ill-advised of me to put "know"
in quotes there.

> In that case, the absolute is not minimized because it is an
> ideal that may never be reached.

Yeah, only I'd go even a bit further and say "can never be
reached". But the key point is the concept "reached" as
if we were going somewhere. Indeed we are!


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