Friday, March 08, 2013

ill-fitting realities

"It doesn't matter whether it works for you. It works for me." Some thoughts are expected to differ because the thinkers differ. These thoughts are like shirts. Each thinker peruses the rack of various optional thoughts, picks one, tries it on, and finally integrates it into their ensemble. In broad terms the goal is to achieve a suitable fit for the shape and style of prior thoughts.

The name of this category is personal preference. From a pragmatic perspective, two of its essential characteristics are extremely limited: its range and its verification methods. Specifically, the range of personal preference is only the person, and the verification methods are only the person's mental "work". The personal preference of one human doesn't apply elsewhere, and the human is the one witness of it (firsthand). In effect personal preference entails an exceptionally narrow definition of applicability or truthfulness.

However, for any number of reasons, some commentators adore the category of personal preference (they personally prefer personal preference?). As often as possible, they lump inappropriate propositions into it, perhaps to avoid further discussion. "My proposition doesn't fit you? Then we'll treat it as a personal preference and move on."

Nevertheless, their botched classification will show up in practice. Regardless of how poorly it fits a particular human's preferences, it can also be verified repeatedly by impersonal methods. At this point, a reasonable pragmatist judges that the proposition isn't a "personal preference" but an ill-fitting reality. Its incidental discomfort to a human doesn't override the firm clues coming from the alternative methods of verification.

Many examples of ill-fitting realities are obvious and unavoidable. To complain about one is to make a joke, because everyone already knows it's futile to pretend that personal preference constantly affects the real motions of the rest of the universe. "The weather forecast we've been given is awful, in my opinion. I'd like to return it." "Of all the days for my car to have sudden engine trouble. This is unacceptable to me." "I collided with him as I danced carelessly. How dare he throw off my groove." (Of course some personal preferences, i.e. brain signals, eventually trigger bodily actions that in turn affect matter outside oneself, including actions as minimal as a change in facial expression.)

Not all ill-fitting realities are as easy to identify, but the level of abstraction is irrelevant to the underlying principle. Mystical propositions aren't exempt. It's reasonable to continue to demand methods of verification which are consistent, coherent, and feasible. Any proposition is truthful to the degree that its corresponding methods of verification yield sufficient results.

Furthermore, if the proposition is so insubstantial that it's more or less isolated from most realities of the universe, then personal preference could be the solitary remaining data-point behind it. Pragmatically speaking, such propositions are indeed personal preferences of scant meaningfulness. For instance, these conditions might hold for the mystical proposition of a singular unknown plan guiding the universe, namely "Fate". If every actual event is always in accordance with Fate, then Fate is pragmatically indistinguishable from Fate's logical opposite of nonexistence, namely "Not-Fate". Therefore the airy concept of Fate is untethered from earthy minutiae. The basis for accepting it is personal preference. If either Fate or Not-Fate fits someone's brain, they may wear it.

The conflict arises after the believer tries to attach more details to Fate. Once they do, Fate ceases to be compatible with every actual event...theoretically, at least. On the presumption that it's Fate for Marvin and Marcie to be in a romantic relationship, their breakup throws doubt on how well Fate corresponds to the reality of their broken relationship. On the presumption that it's Fate for Marvin or Marcie to work in factories that manufacture videotapes, their loss of employment throws doubt on how well Fate corresponds to the reality of their employment elsewhere (or unemployment). On the presumption that it's Fate for their children to earn incomes at around the 33% percentile of the working population, their children's income at around 80% throws doubt on how well Fate corresponds to the reality of their income. These or any other "violations" indicate that Not-Fate could be an ill-fitting reality...to those who feel that Fate fits them better.

The upshot is that generalizable propositions typically venture outside the tiny range of personal preference. It's not sensible to treat these like simple personal preferences, despite the all-too-human urge to quickly reject ill-fitting thoughts. "The idea works for me" doesn't even satisfy pragmatism's easy standard when "works" really means "matches my wishes" rather than means "matches ideas with proven correspondences to realities". In that case a pragmatist may reply that the speaker is under the mistaken impression that the idea works for them; future interactions with an ill-fitting reality could demonstrate in what way the impression turns out to be mistaken.

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