Re: firing up the grill
- From: Alan Hope <usenet.identity@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 01 Jun 2008 19:24:01 +0200
Alan Hope <usenet.identity@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Right, then. History can all be proven.
The opposite of "nothing can be proven" is not "everything can be
Hyperbole is not precision, but if you think there is much from
history that can be "proven" then we may have differing views of what
proof consists of.
I believe we do. I think yours is probably such that nothing can be
proven, so it's all fair game for your imagination, your invention and
Certainly the existence of the statues on Mt. Rushmore can be
verified, at least we can go there and recognize that they are
perceptible to human beings. The reasons for WWI on the other hand
are no longer verifiable (if in fact they were ever accurately known).
They are known to the limited extent that such-and-such can be said to
be a reason for something else. It's a very complex picture, but
there's nothing unknowable about it.
What passes for proof in everyday life is not the same as real proof.
It is real proof, adequate to the situation. If my wife comes in to
find dinner on the table, it's in her interest to believe that I made
it. The alternative, which you're suggesting, involves re-inventing
the wheel every time you go out to the car. How could you ever cross a
road since you have no reason to believe a red light will stop the
traffic? How do you know not to eat broken glass without trying it
first? Are you satisfied that the sun will come up again in the
morning, based on past experience, or is every sunset the end of the
world for you?
In everyday life we accept our perception of a tree for example as
identical with its existence in objective reality even though we know
(or at least, should know) that the two are not necessarily the same.
But the two are the same, to all reasonable intent. The cases where
the perception did not match the reality are so few as to be
negligible. It would be madness to even take them into account,
because you would no longer be able to function.
The atomic view of a tree (mostly empty space with a few whizzing
particles here and there) is grossly different from what we perceive
But we don't experience a tree on an atomic level, so the question of
that view of the tree is quite irrelevant, unless we happen to be in a
classroom. A Frenchman's view of the tree is expressed through quite
different words than ours, but that's no reason for us to stop calling
it "tree" and eating its "fruit".
And science only attempts to create a model that is
aligned as correctly as possible with objective reality, in objective
reality it is possible that something else underlies the materiality
of a tree and the whizzing particles are no more than its distorted
That's of no consequence. It really doesn't matter. As far as we're
concerned, you can eat its fruit and you'd best not drive your car
into it. The objective reality of the tree is exactly as we experience
it, and any deeper realities needn't bother us. Unless we want to
understand, of course, but then the question has moved away from pear
trees and into knowledge.
Back to history, once an event occurs it is gone forever and all that
remains is whatever memories (mental or recorded) happen to have been
All right. Well, that's what we have to work with, and it makes no
sense to reject the study of history simply because a re-enactment
would have been better.
We cannot go back and listen to hear what Caesar said when
he was stabbed, the event no longer exists.
He said "Ouch".
We cannot go back and
listen to what Jesus actually said in the sermon on the mount, that
event no longer exists.
It's a fictional event to begin with.
For the purposes of everyday life, we accept Caesar as having said "Et
te Brute" or something of the sort as what we call fact.
I don't think anyone does. That's what Shakespeare wrote, but I don't
think there's any serious suggestion that he actually said it.
some do, and some don't. We have our individual proof thresholds.
You might accept some version of what Caesar said as fact, yet I might
not. Someone else might accept a particular version of what Jesus
said in the sermon on the mount as fact, yet perhaps neither of us
would find that to meet our requirements for factuality.
There are limits. Nobody should accept the reported words of fictional
characters as being real. And we need to operate on the level of the
possibilities of our knowledge: some things are indeed not able to be
determined. But that doesn't mean everything is. You only have to
prove the statements you actually make: I can write with absolute
accuracy of one of Churchill's broadcasts on the BBC, let's say, if I
stick to the who what when where why. I cannot know what was in his
mind, but as long as I don't pretend to know, that limitation on my
knowledge needn't concern anyone.
Many people accept evolution as fact, but I do not.
That's because you have too high a threshold of proof. If you were a
farmer you'd accept it as an everyday reality because you'd be using
it in your agriculture or husbandry.
You also don't accept it as fact because you don't want to, which
allows you to overlook the overwhelming evidence in its favour.
accept creationism as fact, but I do not, and I don't think you do
More important is the fact that as a theory, creationism doesn't work.
It can't be tested, it doesn't accord with the laws of the universe,
and it doesn't remotely explain the things we see and know. It's not a
position that can even be taken seriously enough to examine:
creationism doesn't even attempt to explain the facts.
Without direct access to objective reality we are all choosing a
particular version of things and believing it to be fact for the
purposes of everyday life. We are incorrect most of the time, even
though our beliefs allow us to function, correct or not.
We are not incorrect most of the time. If I boil my spaghetti for nine
minutes it will be ready. If I put my hand on the burner I will be
injured. If I run it under cold water the pain will be eased. We know
all of those and many more things enough to be able to rely on them
for our very survival. We're right almost all of the time, as
evidenced by our continued survival.
It is at the point where we forget the difference between fact and
belief that we risk getting into trouble: rancid debates,
inquisitions, religious wars and all manner of unpleasantness.
That's where you come in. You make pronouncements about things being
unknowable, but you're the first to bow down and worship the magic
when it comes, for example, to questions of how many bolts are in your
toolbox. While anyone here could come up with a perfectly plausible
explanation involving no magic, you of all people prefer to think it
was some kind of benign intelligence operating on the level of your
everyday life, but with the power to subvert the laws of physics.
And you've got the nerve to talk about the difference between belief
And by the way, the moment we walk out of sight of the statues on Mt
Rushmore we as individuals no longer know that they still exist, we
believe that they still exist because nothing contradicts our memory
of having perceived them.
No. We believe they exist because experience teaches us that such
structures have permanence, because we have reliable reports from
other people that they existed in our absence. Hive mind.
And ultimately, on a purely experiential level, what does it matter if
they don't exist after we've gone? Does Beethoven's Eroica still exist
after the pianist has gone home and I've left the theatre? We were
both there and experienced it, and I'm carrying the memory home with
me. What more existence does it really need?
"That's a fact", innit... good luck with that one.
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