Beemer (dr_tectonic) wrote,
Beemer
dr_tectonic

Analog Truth

So how come I'm still running around half-frantic even though I got my Christmas shopping done early? Ah well. At least we're past the solstice, so now I get more sunlight in my day.

I borrowed a philosophy book from Jen & Nick the other day. Usually philosophy makes me want to tear my hair out, but this book is actually very interesting. I think it might be because the book isn't trying to convince me of anything; it just says, "here's what Kant believed, and here's the reasoning behind it," which means that I can then say, "Aha! And here and here are the spots where he's smoking crack," and figure out what to keep and what to toss.

I might post some summaries of various philosophical concepts and my responses to them, because I find that I'm thinking about a lot of these kinds of things lately, but if I do, I'll be sure to hide them carefully behind cuts, so as not to inflict my ramblings upon the innocent.

For example, I think that many problems in philosophy arise because "truth" means one thing when we're talking about abstract concepts and another when we're talking about the real world. In the world of pattern, which is sort of like Plato's "forms", statements are either true, false, or poorly-formed. You don't have things that are "mostly true" the way you do in the physical world.

Consider the statements "all triangles have angles that sum to 180 degrees" and "all mothers are women". The first statement is always true (as long as we're talking about Euclidean space); it's not like you can find one particular triangle that it doesn't hold for if you just look long enough. But for the second, well, everything is much messier. What about animals? Isn't a mare with a foal a mother? Okay, we say, what we really meant was "all mothers are female". But what about species that divide things up differently? Bees have queens, workers, and drones; which one is "female", and why? Is it ovaries that matter? Or the womb? What about seahorses? What about fish that change sexes under environmental stress?

Okay, maybe fish gender is irrelevant for philosophical discussions. Maybe we only care about humans. But even though the vast majority of humans fall into one of two sexual categories, there's a non-zero number that don't. Consider a woman who bears a child, then sexually transitions to male, including sex-change surgery. Is s/he a "mother"? Is s/he a "woman"? What about a similar person a few decades from now who gets gene therapy to replace X chromosomes with Ys? Science fiction, yes, but near-future, not far-future.

Anyway, the point is, when we talk about things in the real world (as opposed to purely abstract things), I think it makes sense to talk about truth being an analog and continuous value, not a discrete and boolean one. Things in the real world are more or less true, but never wholly so. We can be very sure something is or isn't true -- but not certain. Ivory soap is as pure as our truth can get.

Okay, I just rambled a whole bunch more than I intended to. Summary: I have this idea that abstract truth is boolean and real-world truth is floating-point. I think that might be philosophically interesting, and I might explore it more. Probably not a new idea, but as best I can tell from the book, none of the big philosophers has ever dealt with it.

For now, though, the truth is that I need to get to bed.

...As soon as I fold the laundry.
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