"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

On uncertainty

Another response to Matt, drawn from his comments here.

In my opinion, the defining feature of life is its uncertainty.

I empathize with this idea of uncertainty. I believe we all need a good dose of it to have a healthy outlook on life, but let me play devils advocate if I may. Where do we draw the line with our uncertainty? It is one thing to be uncertain about the creation of the universe, but it is quite another to be uncertain about the our perception of reality as revealed by our senses. Where does one draw the line? One could easily make the argument that since our perceptions are really nothing more than electrical charges bouncing around in the tissue between our ears, then how can we trust the reality they reveal to us? You are left with a strictly uncertain view of life. But for most of us that is nonsense. We come to trust our senses and accept that what they reveal to us really is true. How far then can we we take a more trusting outlook? How much of reality can we really discover? What have we discovered in 5,000 years of somewhat recorded human history? Of that, what can be trusted when held up against the light of recent human findings?

What we need to be careful of is that in this search for truth, we don't simply find what we are looking for. That is one of the main reasons I keep seeking opinions different than my own.

When we were children we believed what we were told to believe. As we grow into adults we gradually realize that we are not all playing from the same sheet of music. We were all told many different stories. Some of us react with anger to this realization, others with denial, but in the end we all seem to think it's important to try and make sense of it. Should we be certain of our findings? I'm not so sure. Am I certain of my position? I don't know that I can say yes to that. At the same time though, I'm staking my life on the assumption that it's truth. Is that certainty?

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. (I'm replying here first, as I really need to think about your previous post - so don't worry, I'm not ignoring it).

One could easily make the argument that since our perceptions are really nothing more than electrical charges bouncing around in the tissue between our ears, then how can we trust the reality they reveal to us?

One of the greatest English-speaking philosophers, David Hume, looked at this very issue – he suggested that although we’ve grown accustomed to relying on our senses, we really have no rational reason for doing so. The assumption that our perceptions correspond to an external world is purely intuitive. However, he argues that as this intuition has served us well so far, it makes sense to continue to trust in it, at least until we’re presented with concrete evidence that it’s wrong.

What we need to be careful of is that in this search for truth, we don't simply find what we are looking for.

I completely agree about this. There’s very little, if anything, in my life that I’m completely sure about. I think this kind of scepticism, the willingness to question everything, is an extremely healthy attitude in people, as it encourages tolerance and open-mindedness while discouraging dogma and fanaticism. However, scepticism is very different from nihilism or cynicism. I may not be certain that my loved ones exist (to take an extreme example), but they still mean an incredible amount to me.

Besides, even if none of this means anything, we’re still better off assuming that it does, as life is far richer and more rewarding if we do so.

3:20 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

I’m going to have to look into Mr. Hume. I haven’t looked him up from your link over at Tom’s yet. But I’ll get to it.

”Besides, even if none of this means anything, we’re still better off assuming that it does, as life is far richer and more rewarding if we do so.”

If there truly was no meaning, then why would we be better off pretending that there was? Would it not be more reasonable to conclude that if acting as if there was meaning leads to a fuller, richer life, then perhaps there really is a such thing as meaning. Perhaps people really do have inherent attributes. Perhaps beauty, love and joy are real, not just felt sensations but real attributes worthy of the reactions we give to them. In that case our fuller and richer life truly WOULD be fuller and richer, not just an illusion.

4:02 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Hmmmm... It seems to let me comment here, but not on the next post. Strange.

If you recently switched over it might just be a few bugs in the system which they need to iron out.

It might be worth putting up a new post and seeing whether that works.

11:46 AM

 

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