Epistemology

A World of Made Up Truths

Intro 

It is astonishing how sure we can be of our opinions. We very often act as if there was no other way to see the situation, as if there was no alternative – maybe equally valid belief. Interestingly, an aspect of positive psychology, the confidence-boosting side, is actively worsening this state of people being able to doubt themselves and their believes.

Even more astonishing however, is that confronted with facts and solid arguments to the contrary, the position of a supporter is only likely to get more entrenched – this is called the “backfire effect”. A related phenomenon is that the exact same experience might be seen or interpreted very differently by two individuals – in general confirming the beliefs they already hold, which is called “Confirmation Bias”.

Indeed, the opinions we have are generally not made up out of thin air but we believe them to be grounded in something or other. It is only troubling to find that these sources of information are far too often extremely selective and only seldomly genuinely broad and balanced.

Some pundits are talking about a “fact free political era” which Brexit and Trump have created. They state that they are shocked to see that there are apparently millions of people that believe that their country is short of a collapsing, when it is still the most powerful country on earth. This is precisely why I think that people have to get a better picture of understanding where their truths come from – also the democrats.


Where Knowledge Comes From

“How do you know that?” In practical terms we answer such a question by referencing to a source of information or knowledge that we trust. We say “I have read it this book” or “I have seen it by myself”. These different sources we generally attach differing reliability to. There is for example a great difference in credibility between saying that something has been observed by oneself or that another person has related it to you. Equally there is a whole different layer of prestige if the source of knowledge is a prestigious University or a famous intellectual.

Most people however will not look into this deeper layer and really investigate the reliability or understand its relative significance. In most discussions where a reference of a source is requested whatever answer is given does suffice. Additionally, while we sometimes remember or tacitly connect a certain knowledge to something, the source of the information is generally forgotten. This is of huge benefit to right-wing media which spreads rumors, which we could at first reject but after being confronted with the same thing again, tacitly accept as a given, also because the source of this knowledge has been forgotten.


A Short History of Epistomology

On an absolute level however, the question of how do you know is addressed by epistemology, which is a philosophical field. This field has really only gotten serious when the shift from dogma to philosophical inquiry and scientific observation happened. The major contestant in the ensuing controversy were the Empiricists under Hume and Locke and the Rationalists under Spinoza and Descartes.

The former were arguing that all knowledge was only due to experience and that this was the truth which was to be contended with. The issues connected with this are that things not always are what they seem to be. The most famous and always referred to evidence of this is optical illusions. For me personally that is misleading because it creates the picture that there are such illusions in everything. We can as easily be deceived by our ears and smell. Maybe however we judge them as inherently less accurate and therfore leave them on the side.

The latter maintained that only rational reflection and logical dissection could really get one to the truth. In connection with this did Descartes develop his famous “Deus Malignus” thought experiment. He argued that there could be a demon who deceives our perceptions at all times. An obvious shortcoming to this is however the idea of where these inputs that then can rationally be operated on come from. After all even a rationalist has at one point to go beyond his comfort zone of the”Cogito ergo sum”.

This discussion is now agreed upon to have been come to a close when Kant proposed his Critical Philosophy, which maintains that first need experiential input which we then need to reflect on critically. The much touted “critical thinking” most likely has been named in connection with this. Here the Hegelian synthesis between the two opposing ideas is established – and comes to a premature close. This will be the general close of the discussion in high-school philosophy.

Interestingly, in “The Art of Thinking Clearly” by Rolf Dobelli many mental fallacies are pointed out, which similarly to the optical illusions make our mental perceptions skewed. It is therefore I would claim permissible to say that the depiction of the mental realm as completely devoid of inaccuracies that our perceptions are is grossly exaggerated.


Constructivism

Thus criticism is not as such without possible faults either. Furthermore, this methodology is lacking a critical element namely how this truth is then actually applied and how it manifests in the mind. It is thus that I would formulate the significance of Constructivism.

It could be seen as a framework in which truth or knowledge functions, rather than as a completely separate epistemological school. (As has been pointed out to me long ago, it is technically not counted as such because it does not actually maintain that there is a reality or a method of inquiring about reality.)

Constructivism maintains, in broad terms, that what we call reality is actually deeply relative, ie. whatever we believe is reality is a construct of the mind. There is an interpretation going on of what we perceive and we embed this into our understanding of the world, which is nonetheless not the world itself – but our viewpoint of it.

This realization comes when we understand how our biases, differences of perception, viewpoint-relevant character traits (such as our wish to pacify or inquire) are understood as glasses through which we perceive the world. That concepts are constructs is can be illustrated by inconsistencies between pictures that we have of ourselves, what a good person is or what honor is, and that of the next person.

Also it must be maintained that there are overarching concepts between groups, such as conspiracy theorists or even the worldviews of rappers in their ‘hoods. These are a collective construct of which the world is full of. A very powerful collective construct is money, as Yufal Harari has pointed out in his TED-talk.

 

brain_constructs_reality
the constructs are inside

The concrete framework in time in which this plays out in practice is that we tell ourselves stories about what is going on. We fit what we understand into narratives, which are generally of an archetypical nature: There is some enemy which needs to be overcome, a prize or a goal that is all that matters, an epic struggle between contestants, etc. These are of course only the typical form which the narratives take, especially when they are not properly reflected upon. That is to say that our overall process of things is generally incorporated or tacitly depicted as a simple story of a fight between good and evil or right and wrong. The right and the good generally being oneself, while the evil and the wrong being the person in front of one.

A powerful example of narratives has been the presidential election in the US, which has already been told in the opening paragraph.  Half of the voters of both political parties in this contested US presidential election are certain that the other candidate would spell ruin and misery for the country – and potentially for the rest of the world.


Experentialism

Taking now Constructivism as an essential piece that explains how truth actually works in the mind, there is nonetheless the need to alter what the “truth generating” system is that is outside of the mind. The closest approximation to this, and what seems to me to be completely compatible with Constructivism is Experentialism.

Constructivism in some formulation, after all would allow for a certain kind of a certain kind of objective or transcendental truth. One could argue that we might think in constructs but that these only blur or hide a real truth that is “out there”. This is exactly the part where Experentialism comes into play.

This school of thought has been formulated in “Metaphors We Live By” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson and maintains that there is no actual truth “out there” in the world but rather all truth is embodied and imaginative. In contrast to Kant’s transcendental truth and Plato’s ideas that span everything, Experentialism claims that these concepts are based on the biological human body and brought forth by the mind.

Experentialism can be seen as the psycholinguistic underpinning of Constructivism as it explains it on the level of categories and concepts. Perceived reality on the level of categories is not out there but made up by humans – they are human categories after all and as such grounded in human experience. A more detailed discussion of how this process of conceptualization could actually work can be read in point 2.5 of this paper.

What is important to point out, both for Experentialism as well as Constructivism, is that maintaining the position that perceived reality is constructed and that there is no reality out there thus not exclude the possibility of a “reality out there”. In that sense not all is relative or subjective and can be taken to be somewhat true.

For Experientialist will not allow  and the traditional epistomological school of objectivism share a common ground, called basic realism, which demands, among other aspects, the following: They maintain “the existence of a real world, both external to human beings and including the reality of human experience  [as well as] the existence of stable knowledge of the external world” through the scientific process. [page 5 – Women, Fire and Dangerous Things by George Lakoff]



Practical Implications

Thinking about epistemology is neither only a philosophical exercise nor a means of self-investigation. It has considerable consequences to one of the, if not the most important, things that personal and professional effort is aiming towards: Happiness. Our happiness is undoubtedly connected to, if not outright dependent on the things which happen around us. However, epistemologically it is more correct to say that happiness is connected to or dependent on the way we experience the outside world and how we make sense of this experience.

Reflections on constructivism and the way we gain our knowledge can make us aware of the narratives that we tell ourselves about who we are, what the trajectory of the world is right now and what the glance from that person who just passed one meant. It is in a way a reflectory tool to take a step back and try to figure out if what I have just thought is a simplistic conception of things and whether I need a more complex one.

Thus on the individual level practical constructivism is all about the narratives we tell ourselves about who we are or whether we are happy, or should be. As this mental construct is extremely consequential to the way future events happen. For, our conceptions determine or at least shape our (re)actions. Whereas on the societal or human scale it is important for considerations of how other people can become happy.


Going into Action

Being aware of the constructivist nature of how we make sense of the world however, we also have to realize that from the several truths that there are we can go on to devise models of action. After all, we do not (always – and certainly not everybody) try to understand the world as an end in itself.

Knowledge is power, in other words, knowledge can help us make better informed decisions. Thus, knowledge in itself is not power but having figured out how to best put knowledge into application that is power. Thus it is not only about the knowledge in itself but also about what we do with it. We want knowledge because it can help us to operate in the world and what is so critical to understand is that, according to constructivism, there are several kinds of understanding – even from the same data-set and even within a person.

For example person might seem distressed to one person but angry to another. The gap between two possible distinct reactions to this input will make a significant difference. All of these ways of seeing it are accurate, or at least accurate in varying degrees.


Correctness of Models

What is then the next insight is that sometimes, and maybe quite often, it is best not to take the most accurate depiction one can muster to devise a course of action based on it. Thinking of all the different aspects of an issues might end up hindering and preventing the view on the core one. Nevertheless, it is essential not to oversimplify the thing at hand.

After all, thought is always an abstraction and a simplification of what is going on. Our brains are not able to handle more and thus only try to detect the patterns that exist. Indeed the most accurate model would be the thing itself which is not particularly useful to us. It is only important to not get confused with the patterns and to correctly identify the most important ones.

Basically it comes down to what purpose the said knowledge shall serve and how much time one has. After that the maxim, “as simple as can be, but complex enough”, applies. This framework for looking at an issue maintains that something is correct if it is actionable and if it serves a purpose. What the purpose actually is of course is embedded within the construct or narrative one has conjured up before. As this purpose is what it all shall lead to, it is important that it has well been thought over – otherwise this model will not be worth much.

 

reality_construct
another way for saying – what is useful

 

A powerful way to think about this is that we can never gain a 100% accurate model of the world outside, which would not even be desirable. This exact accuracy can be thought of as the amplitude in a mathematical function – it can never be touched. On the other hand just by naming a concept we already have more than 0 complexity. In between the two extremes we can come up with models.

To find the “right” model we have to determine how much complexity is appropriate to the situation. For example is it important in the positive discourse on Trump and Brexit to go beyond the mere notion that these voters are somehow stupid, justified by their lesser average level of education, and include the anti-establishment sentiments that are (justifiably) heartly felt within the population. A more accurate model might add more pieces to the puzzle.

What is important however, is that it remains actionable which means that only the most critical aspects are part of the picture. It is no use to identify each voters intentions nor the specific problems in one county. The big pattern most be grasped and  yet it must not become overloaden with information which only help to confuse. The question thus is, where along this function of complexity do we need to place our model?

Simplicity and Complexity of Concepts.png
where is the sweetspot of as simple as possible and yet complex enough

How to Deal with Constructed Reality

What has been discussed until now are only static ideas and concepts to understand reality. They are in themselves however not a guideline for how to deal with it. A sequence of action which is informed by a construct understanding might then look something like the following:

  1. Identify the issue
  2. Learn about it through different sources
  3. Check the reliability and the source of knowledge
  4. Understand the different perspectives
  5. Follow the narratives that they follow from
  6. Take a step back and realize the complexity
  7. Check for your own aspirations and wishes
  8. Come up with a “just right” model of the issue
  9. Find a suitable way of action
  10. Act on it, continually consulting the model

This is of course an ideal way of looking at an issue and cannot be applied all the time. However, it can on the one hand be used as a guideline for the really important issues and on the other hand be rough sketch that can overall be applied to almost any issue.


Useful Lessons from other Sources

Furthermore I have found what Isaac Lidsky, a blind CEO of a construction company, had to say about living with construct-awareness in his TED-talk very useful. Some of them might be a bit general but they are very powerful, especially in the light of dealing with a mentally-created reality :

  • You are the creator of your reality!
  • Recognize your assumptions and see beyond your fears!
  • Hold yourself accountable for what you do!
  • Harness your internal strength, silence your internal critic!
  • Accept your strengths and weaknesses!
  • Open your heart to the bountiful blessings – all of them!

Also Jamie Smart’s book “Clarity” seems to me to be pointing into the direction of trying to help people to operate while construct aware. It talk extensively about how we all too often take emotions and concepts about other people as absolute. By making us take a step back, he surfaces, that these emotions are not actually somehow “out there” and arising without our influence but that they are actually created by ourselves as part of a constructed reality.



A Deeper Structure

These observations above have seemed obvious to me for a long time now, while certain implications of it have developed during this time. One of the consequences of constructivism, in fact one that confused me from the beginning was whether there actually is something like a reality underneath our constructs.

Now, the scientific process make me believe that there is a reality. Most certainly there is a physical one on which we can do experiments which will lead to the same outcome. In this way I have to agree with Experentialism – there certainly is an underlying thing one can get at through inquiry.

The formulations used so far, and generally also what I have read from Experentialism and similar schools of thought is that there are unequivocal things, especially in physics and chemistry, that are like they are – period. What I have started to wonder however is whether there is actually something like a hidden paradigm or a hidden structure that reveals itself in several forms and not so exactly as in the hard sciences.

To me such a hidden structure is the developmental stages through which human beings and also adults pass. These stages have proven to be close to identical, or at least revealing certain paradigms, which have been rigorously tested throughout cultures and generations. A detailed account can be found here.

comparative_developmental-stages

This idea of an actual hidden cosmological structure takes its legitimacy from “Basic Realism” that has been mentioned beforehand. Structures like these point to what a hidden structure in the world. The process of identifying this structure is one of trial and error and of ever closer and ever more detailed approximation. A stance might be that this actual physical reality is too tacit to come to concretely.

The most convincing approximation to date, to me,  has been in Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, of which the aformentioned Developmental Stages is a part. This model itself and the models and theories that have been developed through it are most concrete and well-informed non-physically evident structure in existence that I have come upon.

blog_pattern-reality
gray lines represent actual reality – other lines approximations

This contemplation springs forth from the desire to understand what existence is all about – the desire to understand life. Interestingly, going really deep on this issue might not be very helpful to one’s actual day to day reality. This has been a striking insight to me, to see how unconnected living a rich and purposeful life might actually be from understand the structures that are embedded within it. And furthermore how our personal human truths about our lives might actually be very far from this closest approximation to the workings of the cosmos.

All of these models of approximation concepts have relative truth not absolute one. What is important for me to point out is that I do not think that even that hidden structure is the absolute truth in that sense. It is a different layer. Just like depicted in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. The hidden structure is just a model which we are converging to which, as I have pointed out, might have little to do, with actionable truths that we maintain ourselves.


Summary

All in all, the model of truth that has been laid out here runs as follows:

  • What we believe to be reality is a anthropomorphic mental construct of which everybody has his or her own.
  • We have to be sure of our believes to operate in the world – but must never forget that they are relative and can, and should be improved upon.
  • There is no objective truth outside. However, there can may be a “basic reality”.
  • There are ways to deal with this understanding effectively, among others taking as truth what is most useful.
  • There could be a higher hidden structure in the world nonetheless.

To conclude, even this model is only as “correct” as it is helpful. And for plenty of people it might not prove to be. Nonetheless, it is the best approximation to the hidden structure that I have been able to muster.

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Essay: How Do You Know That?

With the rise of social media new sources of knowledge have emerged such as Youtube and Twitter.
These content-providers have often been criticized for being one-sided and spreading rumors rather than facts.
In dealing wisely with this issue it seems like it is necessary to become more aware of how we get to know what we know.
In this essay will contrasted how knowledge from books tends to be more accurate but also less relevant,
while knowledge from direct experience tends to be less representative of the world at large but more helpful for everyday life.

On the one hand, knowledge attained from books is overall more validated but less helpful.
Most authors of non-fiction books base their assumptions on the findings and ideas of other people.
In academic writing especially it is important to cite and thereby give evidence for one’s own believes.
However, books tend to be very general, which is only natural because they try to cover a lot of topics normally and cannot get into every detail.
It follows that what is written in a book might not very applicable to one’s own concrete experience which can potentially deviate to a large extent from the abstract knowledge in the book.

On the other hand, direct experience generally makes for more useful knowledge but one that often is not true for everybody.
As human beings take in information all the time, they are very likely to take in the most relevant concrete information to whatever they pay attention to.
This will often be their immediate problems either at work or in one’s private life.
Dealing with the immediate problem at hand will inherently also generate a certain tacit knowledge about it.
Nevertheless, people are biased in their experience due to their selective attention of the world.
For example, depending on your social class one is very likely to make experiences that individuals in a different class do not.

All in all, one must not discharge either or indeed any source of information.
However, as different wells of knowledge provide different kinds of experiences with relevance to different issues,
it is crtical to be aware of where the information did come from.
In this way one is able to better determine whether the information is important to the issue at hand.

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Was ist der Mensch?

Schon immer haben wir Probleme gehabt die Spezies Mensch wissenschaftlich zu betiteln. Biologisch gesehen ist er der homo errectus, wirtschaftlich der homo oeconomicus, philosophisch, je nachdem welchem Lager man angehört der homo colossus und/oder der homo unicus. Man sieht, allein den Menschen zu benennen ist ein schwieriges Unterfangen. Was aber macht den Menschen aus? Was macht ihn besonders und was hat ihn befähigt diesen Wohlstand, der es mir zum Beispiel gerade ermöglicht mich der Muße des Philosophierens hinzugeben, zu schaffen? Meines Erachtens sind es vor allem zwei Charateristika die den Menschen erfassen und die ihn zu dem machen was er ist.

Dafür fange ich mit der Theologie an und stelle folgende These auf: Der Mensch ist im Grunde seines Wesens unperfekt. Das schließlich unterscheidet ihn vom Gott. Als perfekt kann er nur gelten als Teil des Universums, als Fragment eines größeren Ganzen. Und doch scheinen wir, oder zumindest die meisten von uns unperfekten Geschöpfen, uns der Suche nach der Perfektion regelrecht verschrieben zu haben. Die konsequente “Selbstoptimierung”, welches als Ziel ein, teils persönliches, teil gesellschaftliches Ideal hat,  ist uns quasi in die Gene geschrieben. Der Wunsch immer noch stärker, noch schöner und noch optmierter zu werden, dieses Streben nach einem “dort”, das ohne Zweifel besser ist als das “hier” beseelt unser ganzes Leben. Der Mensch hat niemals genug, weder an Macht, Geld oder Anerkennung. In gewisser Hinsicht ist es vielleicht genau dieses Streben, dieses endlose Verlangen was uns nicht nur dorthin gebracht hat wo wir sind, sondern was uns auch unsere Zukunft sichern wird.

Um es von der theologisch-spirituellen auf die soziobiopsychologisch und auch ökonomische Ebene zu legen würde man den einleitenden Satz wahrscheinlich so umformen: Der Mensch, als einzelner, ist im Grunde seines Wesens unperfekt. “Unperfekt” dieses Mal im Sinne von “unzureichend”. Der Mensch ist schließlich das “soziale Tier” und  das ist was uns auszeichnet. Es ist nicht wozu man als Einzelner imstande ist oder was man in seinem Leben für sich selbst geschaffen hat was zählt. Diese Aussage beschreiben Dinge wie Macht oder Anerkennung: Nur durch die Zusprache Anderer erhält man Macht und nur weil andere Menschen jemanden bewundern erhält man Anerkennung, alleine wäre das nicht mögich. Genausogut wäre ohne andere Menschen auch das Gefühl der Liebe nicht möglich. Beziehungsweise Gefühle generell und damit sowohl unsere Glücklichkeit als auch unsere Trauer oder Wut hängen so gut wie ausschließlich von anderen Menschen ab. Man ist nicht grundlos traurig oder grundlos wütend. Man ist wütend auf jemanden und traurig weil etwas passiert ist was man mit einer Person verbindet.

Auch die Wirtschaft sowohl, der Kommunismus als auch der Kapitalismus basiert auf der Kooperation von Menschen. Alleine sind wir als Mensch nicht wer wir sind – unzureichend – unperfekt. Wir können nur als mehrere Menschen soziobiopsychologische und ökonomischen Zusammenänge schaffen, in dem wir Teil eines größeren Ganzens sind. Theologisch und auch weltlich kann man also vom homo imperfectus sprechen.

Und hier sieht man auch die zweite und vielleicht wichtigste Eigenschaft des Menschen: Er schafft sich seine Wirklichkeit selbst. Dadurch, dass wir uns auf eine gewisse  Artbezeichnen verändert sich unsere Realität. Und weil wir uns durch unser Verhalten uns dieser Realität anpassen wird diese Realität auch bekräftigt. Natürlich gibt es so etwas wie eine physische Realität aber worauf es wirklich ankommt, also auch wie diese Dinge in der Realität bewertet werden und wie man sie denkt, das obliegt ganz und gar dem Geist und der Fantasie jedes Einzelnen. Was gut und was schlecht ist, was richtig und was falsch ist – das alles sind Dinge, die wir uns ausdenken. Und die Art wie wir uns unsere Wirklichkeit erschaffen funktioniert in der einen oder anderen Form immer durch Geschichten oder Narrative. Wie Dinge für uns Sinn machen ist durch Erzählungen. Das ist sicherlich der Zeit geschuldet als wir noch als Höhlenmenschen die Wildnis unsicher gemacht haben.

Zwei dieser Narrative misst Yuval Noah Harari ein Historiker, der diese Möglichkeit sich Narrative zu erzählen als Erklärung für den Aufstieg des Menschens annimmt, ganz besonders viel Bedeutung bei: Einerseits die Geschichte eines (strafenden) Gottes, wodurch es möglich war Moral und Ethik in Gesellschaften einführen konnte, und andererseits die Geschichte des Wertes von bedruckten Papierscheinen aka money. Schließlich sind beides, so meint er, nur so real wie wir sie machen. Diese simple Mechanik, Narrative zu erzählen können wir auch bei uns selbst beobachten, in unseren Rechtfertigungen und Erklärungen. Wir sind in diesen Narrativen immer “der Gute”, die anderen wenn sie uns gerade verärgert haben sollten oder mit uns in einer Form des Wettbewerbs stehen, “die Bösen”.

In diesem Sinne wäre es richtig vom homo narrativus zu sprechen.

Diese beiden Eigenschaften, die grundlegende Nicht-Perfektion und das unendliche Streben sie zu überkommen sowie die Möglichkeit sich Narrative zu erzählen um zu erklären warum Dinge so sind wie sie sind und diese auch zu hinterfragen, sind es was für mich den Menschen ausmachen.

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Von der Gewissheit

Impulszitat:

“Exaktheit und Gewissheit sind falsche Ideale. Sie sind unerreichbar und deshalb höchst irreführend, wenn man sich an ihnen unkritisch orientiert. Das Streben nach Exaktheit entspricht dem Streben nach Gewissheit; und auf beides sollte man verzichten.”

– Karl Popper: Ausgangspunkte. Meine intellektuelle Entwicklung. München 2004 S. 28

 

 

Bei Zitaten muss man furchtbar aufpassen, dass man nicht nur die Worte sondern auch deren Bedeutung versteht, die sie übermitteln sollen. Wenn Popper also, wie in diesem Zitat, von “Gewissheit” spricht, so meint er nicht etwa eine Überzeugung oder einen Glauben, so wie man sich sicher ist, dass eine bestimmte Weltanschauung die richtige sei oder dass Gott existiert. Vielmehr spricht er, so scheint es mir, von einer Art von “absolutem Wissen” – also von einem Verständnis nach einem Umstand der unumstößlich, ergo nicht mit einem Gegenbeweis zu widerlegen, ist.

Und hier hat Popper natürlich Recht, würde ich meinen (wenn auch nicht mit “absoluter Gewissheit”), dass wir nichts verifizieren können, weil es, zumindest theoretisch, immer die Möglichkeit gibt, dass es falsifiziert werden könnte. Wie etwa bei dem berühmten Beispiel, wo man schließt, dass alle Schwäne weiß wären, nachdem man 250 gesehen hatte, nur um herauszufinden, dass der 251. schwarz ist. Eine viel weitreichendere Analogie zu diesem eher simplistisch-demonstrativem Beispiel ist die folgende Überlegung: Man stelle sich vor, dass plötzlich, “aus heiterem Himmel”, im wahrsten Sinne des Wortes, die Materie an sich, “kippen” könnte, somit grundlegend verändert wäre und alles Leben ausgelöscht wird. Zwar haben wir keine empirische Evidenz dafür, dass so etwas jemals passiert, aber auch keine dagegen. Etwas mit “absoluter Gewissheit” zu wissen ist dahingehend problematisch, weil unser gesamtes Wissen schließlich auf empirischer Evidenz beruht, die per definitionem ungewiss ist.

Aber doch sind wir uns, vor allem in unserem alltäglichen Leben, vieler Sachen sicher, ja fast absolut sicher. So zum Beispiel, sind wir uns sicher dass wenn wir einen Fuß vor den anderen setzen immer noch das Gleichgewicht halten zu können, oder, dass wir beim Autofahren nicht plötzlich, aus ungeklärten Gründen, auf die andere Bahn lenken und frontal mit einem anderen Fahrzeug zusammenstoßen, oder dass jemand im Gegenverkehr etwas derartiges tut.

Laut Poppers These jedoch sind all diese Gewissheiten, oder besser unbewussten Überzeugungen, alle nicht absolut und doch behandeln wir sie so.

Dieses Handhaben von Gewissheiten geht natürlich noch weit über unser alltägliches Leben hinaus. So ist das zitierte “Streben nach Gewissheit” vor allem in den Wissenschaften zu finden, wo es darum geht Dinge und Sachlagen genau und exakt zu testen und zu beschreiben. Und gerade bei der vermeintlichen “Königsdisziplin” der Naturwissenschaften, der (theoretischen) Physik, mussten wir uns die Wahrheit von Poppers Theorem im weiteren Sinne eingestehen, schließlich sagt die Quantenmechanik ganz klar, dass wir selbst bei den Aufenthaltsorten von Atompartikeln nur noch von Wahrscheinlichkeiten sprechen können.

Und doch ist Gewissheit, oder besser das Streben nach Gewissheit, so würde ich meinen, ein Grundfundament der menschlichen mentalen Natur: Schon in jungen Jahren, wollen wir Menschen Dinge begreifen und verstehen. Unsere Neugier ist dann im Allgemeinen nicht damit gestillt, dass wir Dinge “so irgendwie” wissen, sondern, dass wir das “mit Sicherheit” tun.

 

Wenn wir uns also nicht einmal mehr beim Stoff der Materie exakt sein können, so müssen wir uns doch vollkommen geschlagen geben, nicht wahr? Das, würde ich meinen, ist die gängige Kurzschlussreaktion. Aber was würde denn so ein extremer Standpunkt, der “absoluten Ungewissheit”, bedeuten?

Wenn alles ungewiss wäre, und wir die Welt auch so verstehen würden, steckten wir im Leben fest und könnten uns nie auf Relevantes konzentrieren oder sinnvolles leisten. Wir kämen nicht über das Grundlegendste hinaus. Denn würde man Poppers Axiom todernst nehmen, käme man schon bei den einfachsten Überzeugungen, wie etwa, dass diese Worte mit denen ich hier schreibe wirklich diese Bedeutung haben, die ich ihnen gebe, ins Grübeln. Genauso wäre es unmöglich sinnhaft zu handeln wenn man sich “absolut ungewiss” wäre ob denn nicht im nächsten Moment die Welt untergeht, wie im Szenario, das die Welt kippen würde.

 

Aber das war auch nicht Poppers Plädoyer. Er wollte keinenfalls für einen Standpunkt der absoluten Ungewissheit im praktischen und wissenschaftlichen Leben argumentieren – eher das Gegenteil: Denn es ging Popper vor allem darum, dass man bei wissenschaftlichen Debatten und auch bei anderen Arten des Fragens und Handelns auf eine ideelle Form der Sicherheit hofft, die das praktische Handeln und die nützlichen theoretischen Schlüsse unterbindet. Würden wir zum Beispiel jede Ethik-Debatte schon mit der Frage beginnen, was denn eigentlich “gut” sei und was schlecht, kämen wir nie darüber hinaus, weil  man doch keine absolute Sicherheit hätte.

Gerade deswegen sollten wir vielmehr versuchen Sicherheiten nicht als absolut sondern in den gegebenen Umständen als “entsprechend relativ” zu sehen – also uns im besonderen Fall sicher genug zu sein. Geht es beispielsweise um die Frage ob man für eine Autofahrt eine Stunde oder eine Stunde und zwei Minuten braucht, braucht man weniger Sicherheit als ob die Berechnungen für den Flugwinkel eines Raumschiffs korrekt sind.

Alles in allem aber sollte man vor allem keinem irreführendem Ideal hinterhereifern und sich noch um einige Promillpunkte mehr versichern, dass etwas richtig ist, wenn man schon längst an den Konsequenzen dessen, was man mit so unbedingter Sicherheit wissen wollte, hätte arbeiten können. Natürlich ist es wichtig, dass man sich auf bestimmte Dinge und Sachverhalte verlassen kann, wie zum Beispiel den Abmessungen des Brettes aus dem man einen Schrank machen möchte, aber wenn man zehn Minuten lang nur abmisst ob es nun 62,51 oder doch 62, 52 Centimeter sind, kann man nicht wirklich von “Nutzen”, ganz zu schweigen von “Effizienz”, sprechen. Ein etwas frappierendes Beispiel wäre auch wie man Küstenlinien misst. So ist beispielsweise Norwegen berühmt seine Fjorde, die sich fraktalsartig in das Landesinnere erstrecken. Wenn man diese genau abmessen würde, käme man auf enorm große Zahl für die Meterlänge der Küste. Diese wiederum könnten sogar problematisch irreführend sein, wenn man, das nur wissen wollte um zu berechnen, wie lange es denn dauern würde die gesamte Küste abzufahren.

 

Bei dem einleitenden Zitat geht es, meines Erachtens nach, Popper wirklich um diesem praktischen Nutzen, dem einen die Gewissheit um einem bestimmten Sachverhalt geben kann. Und je genauer man versucht etwas zu wissen, desto geringer ist der praktische Nutzen, absoluter Gewissheit hinterherzujagen, macht so einfach keinen Sinn.

Wenn nun Popper sagt, dass Exaktheit “höchst irreführend” ist, quasi eine Illusion, dann könnte man schließen, dass das ganze Leben eine Illusion ist. Denn schließlich gehen wir (weitgehend unbewusst) davon aus, dass uns gewisse Dinge gewiss sind und gewiss sein können – was ja nicht stimmt. Ich würde meinen, dass kommt einer westlichen Analogie zur buddhistischen Lehre, als der Welt als ein Traum, nahe. Im spirituellen Osten ist man der Überzeugung, dass alles um einen herum nicht wirklich ist, beziehungsweise, dass alles was man erlebt nicht so ist wie es scheint. Und genauso wie es nicht stimmt, dass etwas gewiss sein kann, so sind auch unsere Sinne und Emotionen getäuscht durch das Erleben und Empfinden. Auch wenn man hier von zwei verschiedenen Welten, nämlich der alltäglich/wissenschaftlichen und der spirtiuellen redet, nimmt man hier in beiden Fällen eine Perspektive ein, die dem Leben das Absolute und in gewisser Weise auch das Unausweichliche aberkennen.
Dennoch würde ich sagen, dass selbst wenn das Leben eine Illusion ist, dass diese Illusion nicht nur eine schöne, sondern auch eine gute und wichtige für unser Denken und Handeln ist. Wie bereits erwähnt wären wir ohne eine Art der Sicherheit des Wissens, auch wenn sie nicht absolut ist, paralysiert zu handeln und zu denken. Erst dadurch, dass wir uns auf etwas verlassen können, ist es uns möglich überhaupt irgendetwas zu tun. Schlussendlich sollte man sich nur von Zeit zu Zeit daran erinnern, dass unser Leben doch um einiges mehr relativ ist als absolut – vor allem bei den Dingen die wirklich wichtig sind.

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On Philosophy

“Everybody can be a philosopher.” A remark that hard-core scientists often arrogantly make in order to point out that philosophy is not a science. But even more than stating that it is not a science it also makes it seem worth-less because “of everybody can do it, what’s the point?” (Along the lines of the capitalistic view that the value of a thing is high if there is little of it.)

However  just as anybody who can read can write, the writings of most people are not really paid attention to. Here is where quality comes in, a property that scientists despise due to its proposed fuzziness. Quantitative measures is what it should be all about, they say.

In George Lakoff’s book “Women Fire and Dangerous Things” this objectivism is extremely criticized. There are no abstract transcendental categories and thus there is no abstract cold reason.Experientialism as proposed by Lakoff and Johnson, acknowledges that facts can be scientifically proven and they accept a sort of basic realism. But that goes only so far, because after all cognition is embodied.

For me that is cognitive science saying that philosophy is not just a kind of pseudo-science, because after all science is not so imperfect either.


 

In today’s high-tech world philosophers seems to be out of date and out of connection with the real world. But I believe that quite the contrary is philosophy’s job and it is also quite unlike what many modern philosophers today actually do.

21st Century Philosophy is, more than any other discipline, concerned with the challenges facing humanity spanning from climate change to AI takeovers and others. Nick Bostrom is maybe the best example of such a philosopher. Head of the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford, the professor writes books and gives frequent talks about the things that concern him – and should concern us too.


 

In popular terms philosophizing is often equaled with “artsy thinking“.  And personally I like this idea, because I love “artsy thinking” and thus like to call this pondering philosophy.

Much of what I wish to write here on this blog will actually be some kind of artsy thinking. Ideas and speculations roam around in my mind constantly. There are those of a more serious nature, which keep coming back and I feel obliged to write down in some notebook. A happy few of this selection I wish to post here.

In this sense I hope you will enjoy them and share my delight in them.