Wednesday, April 30, 2014

the other kind of pluralism

A thorough philosophy is more than a canned set of axioms. It produces an influential mentality in its followers. and the mentality in turn affects their approach to various topics. For instance, in my case I'm compelled to be more careful about my terms. First, instead of writing "mind", I try to be more precise by writing either "brain" or "soul" depending on context. If I'm purely describing immediate mental experiences, I might choose unassuming words such as "thoughts" or "awareness". Second, when I'm writing generic observations I prefer "human" over "person", to reflect the humility of my species and thereby lessen bias. I may often minimize human capabilities, but my sole intent is to counteract presumptuous self-assurance and self-importance. It's not personal.

Third, I prefer to state opposition to "faith-beliefs" rather than "religions". The hair-splitting distinction is relevant because religions are so broadly defined in practice. Sometimes a religion has specific ideas and traditions that don't require faith in disproved/unproven assertions. Some of its followers may be as equally suspicious of such assertions as I am, especially if they characterize their religiosity as strictly limited, moderate, casual, or ethnic/cultural. Furthermore, just as not all religious dicta qualify as faith-beliefs, not all faith-beliefs are consistently categorized as religious. For example, whether or not someone says that they're affiliated with any religion, I'm still unimpressed by their faith-beliefs in destiny or cosmic consciousness.

Compared to the previous three, my fourth and last quirk is both subtler and much more pivotal. For nouns related to knowledge, I purposefully lean toward plural forms: "truths", "realities", "proofs", "judgments", "implications". Also, I typically pair the plural noun with a past action (participial adjective): "verified", "observed", "confirmed", "tested", "checked". My labored "past action pluralism" is no trivial accident. To the contrary, it repeats my central theme!

That theme is easier to describe by contrasting it with its more familiar and comforting opposite. When nouns related to knowledge are all singular all the time (and maybe capitalized too), then knowledge can be naturally unified. All those nouns become equivalent labels for one unique and comprehensive wad of stainless knowledge. To bypass the wrinkle of which noun is most appropriate, and to save time, I'll use the short name "IT". IT's value is its simple existence as the independent source of meaning. The accuracy/realism of a human's thought is narrowly defined as how well it conforms to IT. If humans disagree, then the relevant question is never how they reached their conflicting conclusions. Instead, the straightforward criterion is which (if any) of the conclusions doesn't clash with IT. IT isn't contingent on a context of ongoing human evaluation or effort. Essentially, thanks to IT, the work of knowledge is almost accomplished. The remaining requirement is to unconditionally accept every bit of IT. If universal IT doesn't answer a particular question, then the question itself is invalid or misguided. Obviously, given that IT is all knowledge, anything which isn't integrated in IT is surely incorrect. Of course, each differing philosophy could have its own highly restricted ways to identify, derive, analyze, and apply IT...and to sort genuine IT from imitations.

Now, I can express my philosophy's theme concisely: there is no IT. Or, stated differently, IT is a worthless fictional abstraction. Knowledge isn't a singular destination. It isn't a singular technique of measurement. Nevertheless, the absence of IT doesn't doom humans to untrustworthy thoughts and futile plans. Humans can act to probe for knowledge. That includes perception and thinking, because thinking is an action by the brain—which is the most natural explanation of why thinking correlates closely to observable physical activity within the brain, and why disturbing the brain profoundly disturbs the act of thinking. They may act in several ways and compare the results to increase their certainty. They may collaborate and/or argue. They may model their perceptions with mathematics.

Each of these numerous possible acts are small and occur inside discrete contexts, so the knowledge gained by each is also small and discrete. Perhaps knowledge of X is tentative and it's supported by scant human actions. Assuming Y is supported by an altogether separate set of actions, knowledge of Y might be a much less risky basis for future action than X. Therefore, combining X and Y into a homogeneous whole like IT is inappropriate.

Ultimately, when knowledge is divided up according to supporting actions, the more fitting form of expression is "past action pluralism". In place of The Truth, there are tested truths. In place of The Reality, there are observed realities. My current knowledge isn't a uniform monolith. It's a mosaic formed out of a multitude of knowledge pieces (presumably encoded by patterns of connections among nerve cells). My learning, logic, experimentation, speculation, etc. have contributed miscellaneous pieces and consequently removed others that no longer fit. Some pieces are firm and some are shaky. Some are opaque and some are transparent. Some I borrowed and some I made. To claim otherwise would be disingenuous.

No comments:

Post a Comment