Knowledge and certainty

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by elumin8, Jun 29, 2013.

  1. elumin8

    elumin8 Mumbo Jumbo

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    Product warning first: While I'm interested in philosophy and I have read in the area, I'm by no means and expert and if I say dumb things be gentle with me.

    How certain can we be that what we think we know is really true?

    My personal position is that I suspect that there is very little that I can be absolutely certain of. I'm not even absolutely certain of my last sentence. It's not as simple as being absolutely clueless or absolutely certain either. There is a sliding scale of probability (in my mind) that certain assertions I make may be true. I would say, for example, that the fundamentalist Christian conception of God has quite a low probability of being true. (let's say less than 10%). I could still be wrong which would be a shame.

    OTOH, I'm relatively sure an external world really exists. (Over 95%) But I can always think of loopholes, possibilities that could make me wrong. In fact for me 'I could be wrong' is a centrepiece of my approach to life and other people. There's a downside to this: I find claims to absolute certainty in other people irritating. I fight this tendency constantly.

    This is the internet. I'm sure we've all seen people who believe passionately in patently absurd things. How do we feel about claims to certainty?
     
  2. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    I never assume that anyone is wrong about any claim they make, unless it's something like a mathematical truth or a socially accepted truth (like the sky is blue and humans have rights).

    But I generally think that if someone never questions and reevaluate what they 'know' it is less likely to be true. The hanging on to a sett of beliefs that are unquestionable seems to be a symptom of needing the world to be constant if not a certain way(like overly harsh or romantic).

    But since I go the opposite way it's doomed to cause friction, and being on the opposite side, who am I to judge.
     
  3. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    Certainty was ruled out by Heisenberg. :)
     
  4. radarmark

    radarmark Quaker-in-the-Making

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    Pretty good, add Hume (who disproved induction as certain) and Godel (who disproved math was certain) and all you have left is deductive logic. Those truths are called tautologies and, by definition say nothing about the world (they have no empirical content). Basic arithmetic (per Godel) and obstensive definitions (per Wittgenstein) are, in the end deductive logic, hence certain but lacking empirical content.

    Knowledge is made up of guessing possibilities (in the future) and calculating probabilities (for the past). Elumin8 has it right, all merely probability theory.
     
  5. elumin8

    elumin8 Mumbo Jumbo

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    Some will claim revelation from the divine as a way to certain knowledge but I think this is problematic. We have so many contradictory claims of revelation that there is a possibility that even your own revelation may be in error, interpreted incorrectly or self delusion that we cannot accept it as certain.
     
  6. Paladin

    Paladin Purchased Bewilderment

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    I wonder if this is the reason why silence is considered sacred. Even acknowledging that a divine revelation is possible, it can also be a convenient cover for a simple case of intuitive or heuristically derived thinking. If I remember correctly, wasn't there a doctrine of "near enemies" in Buddhist scripture, in which a virtue or virtuous facade masks an ego driven agenda? I may be misremembering however, sure wish Vaj was still around. :)
     
  7. elumin8

    elumin8 Mumbo Jumbo

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    I think you're right. 'If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him' and all that.
     
  8. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.
     
  9. Paladin

    Paladin Purchased Bewilderment

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    Yep. I was thinking about verse 56 as well. ;)
     
  10. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    What is Verse 56. Please enlighten an ignorant.
     
  11. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    Tao Te Ching?
     
  12. Paladin

    Paladin Purchased Bewilderment

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    Sorry, I thought you might be familiar with the Tao Te Jing since you quoted it. ACOT has it pegged though. :)
     
  13. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    Well I thought I knew you Paladin, typical Paladin quote.
     
  14. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    That is probably as far as I know Tao Te Jing, but I respect it (for me hinduism and buddhism are enough). Thanks ACOT though I do not wholly agree with verse 56. Basically I am not at the highest state of man and really do not want to be there. I am happy to be a common bloke. I (my country) has adversaries (Pakistan and China). I cannot keep my mouth shut (Otherwise I would not be posting my views in forums). I am not very sharp or bright. Though I have no problems and am one with the dust of earth ('advaita' too tells me that). 'Advaita' tells me not to disregard the apparent reality though it may not be the same as the ultimate reality. I will run if I see a rogue elephant. Two realities of Adi Sankara.
     
  15. Paladin

    Paladin Purchased Bewilderment

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    It sounds like you have cultivated a healthy sense of who you are and how you move through your world. I respect, and enjoy that in you. For me, the verse speaks to a very specific context in which to remain silent, using bare attention simply to be without things like speculation or even worse, certainty, to view the world and beyond. I think, perhaps that after over a half century of living the only real conclusion I can reach about reality, about the great "isness" of being is that I have no cognitive clue. Having said that however, there is still left to me a certain awe, a certain "sense" of something that is at once greater than me, but which in some way I am an integral part. Perhaps it is that sense of the great immensity that for me transcends (in the true sense of the word) religion, philosophy and even science and mathematics.
    So, from that perspective, I think the verse is not so different from the mandates of other faiths, including both Zen and Advaita Vedanta.
     
  16. radarmark

    radarmark Quaker-in-the-Making

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    "Though I have no problems and am one with the dust of earth ('advaita' too tells me that). 'Advaita' tells me not to disregard the apparent reality though it may not be the same as the ultimate reality. I will run if I see a rogue elephant. Two realities of Adi Sankara."

    Gorgeous! I, too, do not know if apparent and ultimate reality (if there is either) are the same or different. Funny, the Rishis, Mahavir, and Buddha (in various places) each teach the unreality and reality of the world. And the unreality and reality of time. Therefore, as I see it, "neti neti" ain't half bad!
     
  17. Paladin

    Paladin Purchased Bewilderment

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    There is an old Zen story that for me, captures the essence of the point between conventional and ultimate reality. I'm not sure of its origin, but it goes something like this:

    An ambitious monk in search of enlightenment traveled to the foot of a great mountain on which, it was said, lived a great saint. On the twisting trail leading up the mountain, the monk happened upon an old man burdened with a heavy load of sticks for kindling. The monk recognized the old man as a great Bodisattva, and asked of him what enlightenment was. The old man smiled and threw down his burden. Upon witnessing this, the monk was immediately enlightened. Now that he had seen the ultimate reality, the monk inquired again of the old man about what he should do now in light of his experience. Silently, the old mad shouldered his burden, and proceeded down the mountain.

    Joseph Campbell expresses it this way:

    • “Running through the field of time is this energy which is the one energy that is putting itself into all these forms. By identifying with that one energy, you are at the same time identified with the forms coming and going. If you see the two modes—involvement and the still point within you, samsara and nirvāṇa—as separate from each other, you are in a dualistic position. But when you realize that the two are one, you can hold to your still point while engaging. It’s the same world experienced in two different ways. You can experience both ways at once.”

      Excerpt From: Campbell, Joseph. “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2011-08-01.
     
  18. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    If I am on the same sheet of music...and i find with you guys I am often not, as I can only understand a portion of what you speak of and even that is not with any certainty... but for me the contemplation was why not live in the oneness, shut this out, the thought of moving to a monastary and just being...and absorbing....but I figure I must be in a dualistic 3d for a reason and might as well experience it since it is available.

    As actors on the stage of the observer we are playing comedia, traveling off on our tangents all the while making decisions to move the performance back to the script and enjoy it while it happens.
     
  19. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    Some people do. But I have obligations to fulfill (dharma), so I desist.
     
  20. radarmark

    radarmark Quaker-in-the-Making

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    "the Grateful Dead is the antidote for civilization” – Joseph Campbell at a party after his first show.
     

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