Illusive Mind

The Unquestionable should be questioned

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Too Many Possibilities?


Thanks for the comment by Richard to my previous post.

It is refreshing to see other thinkers asking the same sorts of questions, as evidenced in your post, So many Possibilities… , albeit in a more sophisticated way than myself.

Richard says that Some might equate metaphysical possibility with what people can imagine or conceive of. But conceivability merely tells us about the limits of human cognition, and doesn't necessarily imply anything deeper about the possible nature of reality. I think this is quite right. You might suppose that it is a recurring flaw in human thinking. The way we interact with reality suggests that we think the way things are is the way things are and that is the way they will also be, even though the whole of history is a testament to the notion that all we can expect from the future is uncertainty and change.

It is a testament to the idea that it is possible that our cognitive abilities might expand, that it is possible that everything that has happened until this moment will have no bearing on the next. But still, we grasp onto the idea that we have uncovered truths that cannot be recovered, that we have somehow made progress in unravelling the shroud over reality.

Why should this be so? Because knowledge is constructed by eliminating possibility. If all explanations were possible and equally valid, then the law of gravity, the theory of relativity, and the whole body of logic would be lost among other possibilities attempting to explain the world away. It is metaphysically possible and logically possible that the red ball just so happens to move when the white ball hits it, but that it is not causally contingent. However we suppose that if we repeat the test a thousand times under the same conditions then we can accept causality as a best explanation and deny an alternative possibility.

Once you see that physical possibility and logical possibility are simply ‘best explanations’ we invented to be consistent with our method of thinking, the world starts to unravel. Why? Because all that is left is an idea of metaphysical possibility that is beyond our thinking, beyond our imagination or our conceptual grasp. In this context we can start to see how tenuous the idea of truth really is.

“Is it true that the red ball moved because of the white ball?” All explanations are possible, thus this is reduced to something more along the lines of “Is the best explanation that the red ball moved because of the white ball?” And this is laughable, because what constitutes a best explanation si subjective. It is subject to the person assessing the explanations’ thinking and context. If this persons knows this, and knows that the “best explanation” is simply that which is most consistent with our thinking and it is possible that the ‘true explanation’ lies in a metaphysical possibility beyond our grasp then there is no best explanation.

Truth like knowledge can only be constructed with a framework of strict limitations and boundaries.

1.Suppose an explanation that is beyond our ken is not a good one.
2.Suppose an explanation that violates other laws of physics is not a good one, unless it improves on an existing law.
3.Suppose an explanation that cannot be tested or observed is not a good one.

Within this framework we can come up with knowledge and truth. Within the framework of arithmetic it is a undeniable fact that “1+1=2”, but as take away that framework and it becomes meaningless. There is meaningless abound when you consider that in the face of the possibility of possibility we have no good reason for accepting any limitations as true, or best explanation.

Richard said “I think it might be standard practice for philosophers to take logical impossibility as being genuinely (metaphysically) impossible”. I think this is quite right and applicable to academics of every field and discipline. In light of the fabrication of truth and knowledge there life’s work becomes a deck of cards sustained by a faith in some kind of realism and logic and the denial of what is possible. This is why some philosophers cannot accept that 1+1=2 could ever not be a universal and mind independent truth.

The argument has been, that this kind of scepticism is worthless, because it would inhibit knowledge and if accepted would lead everyone into a depressing solipsism. So the question then becomes, do we forget all this and “appeal to a pragmatic justification of some sort.”

Well I think that what following this line of thought actually does is open our minds considerably and could only further advance the cognitive capabilities of human beings by shedding previous conceptual limitations. The pitfall many fall into is in thinking that if something is “not true” it must be “false” this is binary thinking at its best, a product of classical logic.

But what if you accept the third category? The unknown.

Is it true that the red ball moved because of the white ball? No.
Is it false that the red ball moved because of the white ball? No.
It is unknown. We can come up with myriad explanations, but the “truth” in some objective reality is not as of yet accessible to us. All we have is the limitations of our thought which we impose and indeed construct for us our reality. A reality that is in fact a representation formed by our sensuous receptors.

So now we can know that we know nothing. How can we know this? We can’t. That is why it is Fortasse. This theory itself cannot be regarded as true because that would be self-contradictory (even though that is of course possible) and fall into the common relativist trap.

So perhaps we don’t really know anything and all we have is possibilities and we choose those explanations that have a greater explanatory power for their pragmatic function in assisting us in the development of possible knowledge.

So now, aren’t we left right back where we started? To some extent yes, but we have heaved off a giant conceptual limitation, with more to follow. If you have made it this far then you are on your way to open your mind and have it be free from inherited restriction.

If you have not, then you have questions and counterexamples. Excellent, write comments, this is apart of dialectical thinking, and I think Relativism of this kind can only be accepted as possible through this process, it is hard to accept a logical proof for the proof of the absurdity of proof.

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Blogger Illusive Mind said...

I've noted that the writing here has been hard to read, so I've enlarged and brightened the font, please let me know if there are any further difficulties.

11/21/2004 12:15:00 AM  

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