What do we REALLY know?

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Gary Wassner, Aug 22, 2008.

  1. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    If certainty is an estimate of possible outcomes or states, what is the catalyst between holding a certainty and deciding on it?

    If "certainty" delineates the differences in outcomes of a given action/thought/belief, then in situations where two or more possible outcomes are equally as certain (or equally preferable), we run into difficulties. Can we declare certainty that something is uncertain? (the truth is that there is no truth?)

    I think we can fault your theory on its own merits, as it self negates in situations of equal probability in the outcome of the set.

    Given that "certainty" describes a situation of probable outcomes between two or more things/situation/etc, declaring uncertainty as a certainty is a process of self-negation in the set if the two results are mutually exclusive. In a sense, this is declaring an equivocation. How can we be certain that the equivocation itself is warranted, necessary, required, or even certain? How can we be certain that the factors allowing for equivocation are, in fact, equivocal?

    There must be something that pushes an individual to declare certainty in favour of one outcome versus another, even if that certainty is decided to be the uncertain.

    Consider Pascal's Wager. The Wager is set up on a basic set of four possible outcomes from two choices. But in reality we have three basic options: Theism; Atheism; Agnosticism/Fence-Sitting. If we allow that all other hair-splitting definitions fall basically into these three outcomes (god exists, god doesn't exist, there is no answer), and we use the method of determining certainty you describe, we're left with: God Exists = God Does Not Exist = There Is No Answer.

    The outcome set is entirely equivocal. But that's not (normally) an acceptable "certainty." Certitude would require that one answer/outcome/situation be declared victor. So if this set is "true," then the actual answer to Pascal's Wager is to choose "There Is No Answer" because it holds both "God Exists" and "God Does Not Exist" to be true, simultaneously, and thereby takes full advantage of all possible outcomes of either set. Yet, these "certainties" (theism/atheism) are mutually exclusive.

    In any case, the underlying question is: what, in a situation of equal/equivocal "certainties," acts as catalyst for the declaration of a primary certainty? What allows for the decision of certainty?
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2008
  2. falcon57

    falcon57 Registered User

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    Fung: You misunderstood me. Certainty as i meant it is assigning probability 1 to a certain outcome. It has
    not much to do whether you decide to do it. Droping the egg 10 meters is just a waste and creates a mess with
    certainty, I think I would rather cook and eat the egg. Any way probabilty 1 is an exception most outcomes have
    less than one but more then zero. And we are not generally risk avoiders, sometimes our motto is: No risk, no
    fun.
    Also i do not agree that there are three choices about god: Those that applaud, Those who boo, and those that
    don't care. It is important for us as individuals to assess those groups and our standing, but it doesn't say
    anything about the thing itself. Replace god by say a nuclear plant. Then those groups will also exist, but
    the decision whether to build one or not is very complicated and often biased and poorly understood. I think we asses god very indivdually.
     
  3. falcon57

    falcon57 Registered User

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    I think i was unclear about my terms, so let me try to abolish any certainty you might have about certainty;-)
    It makes only sense to talk about an outcome when the thing we are contemplating can/could be repeated. So
    implicitly we have a notion of time and a notion of nature when we asses all possible outcomes.

    When we contemplate states eg. god exists/doesn't exist/undecided we have only states themselves and time
    doesn't exist. We cannot make an experiment and learn by it we can only asses the states and we do that poorly
    because we have only go and we have no clue about before and after.
     
  4. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    OK, fair enough. Though my question stands -- what is the catalyst for the decision?

    What we think of as "deciding" on probabilities, outcomes, or states in a situation where any number of results are possible -- regardless of the type of set -- is often only a function of the question itself. Nothing is done to challenge the drive for the decision; it's cyclical logic.

    "Will the egg break if we drop it from 10 metres?" There is a high degree of specifity in the question itself, which provides the data necessary to determine the result. The option of results (break, no break) frame the basis of the question, and the content is given parameters of height and implied contextual situation. An egg dropped from 10 metres above the surface of the earth will provide an average with two extremes where the answer can be said to be "certain." An egg dropped from 10 metres above the surface of the moon will result in a very different circumstance, if we abuse the only degree of uncertainty in the question -- context. Or, we can choose to focus on the field of exceptions, in the grey area of the threshold for the earth-bound egg. In the fuzzy grey statistical line, there is no certainty because the contextual details become secondary to innumerable minute factors -- or what we might call "Chance."

    So how does one decide for certain in the grey area? We're offered two extremes of break and no break. Or, like with the God question, do we just agnosticize and go with Option C? In this way, all such sets are questions of "state" in various levels of repetition, whether objective or otherwise.

    Which is just a way of saying -- this approach based on outcomes creates certainty by asking certain questions that predict certain answers. The fuzzy line in the centre only works as an example because its the only exception in the set, but is seen as reducing the question to minutiae. It's not precisely that, though, because the big "state" questions are the exact same questions, just with all assumed context removed. In a context-less argument there are no specifics to argue, no measurable events, and delineated differences, so the question appears bigger. But really, it too is minutiae amongst a relativistically larger set. It's just been inflated.

    And if the question predicts the answer, it wasn't really a question at all. That's the only reason it can be "certain." The outcome was known all along. And the middle -- the undefined, uncertain superposition, if you will -- is the constant true state with all things being equal, but is the least "stable" or preferable.

    So what, then, is behind the decision that allows for certainty at all? Certainty, too, is a "state," after all...
     
  5. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    If I pray to God every morning to allow me to live each day and wake up the next morning, does that give me the same confidence to claim that I'm certain God is listening and doing what I ask?
     
  6. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    I'd say it returns the same confidence that God is not listening and not doing what you ask, depending on decision you made before you ever asked the question.

    "Live v. Die" as a prayer operates amongst the widest of terms. Contextually, if you allow that God "works in mysterious ways" and/or "has a plan" as part of the parameters of the question (assumed definition of God), then the end result of the "Live v. Die" outcome remains arbitrary. The answer is prescribed by the question -- God will do as God will do.

    You asking for the Live-outcome is immaterial to the equation. The fact that you're asking and the answer would appear to be in the affirmative is only added weight to the assumption that God might do as You will ask. The certainty about God, though, has nothing to do with the "evidence." Belief in God carries with it the implication that God's choice about your mortality overrides your own, so the outcome is meaningless in determining certainty. It only has anything to do with the underlying drive to receive affirmation in the first place. So certainty here is a question of state arrived at before one asks the question.

    And a question that predicts the answer still isn't really a question at all. It's a certainty.

    If we assume that the question "please allow me to live today, and wake up tomorrow so that I may live the next day" is a common concern amongst the entirety of the living population, the actual odds of this coming true or not hold to many other variables, but, the chance of the answer returning in the affirmative -- across the entire population -- probably averages out to 50/50... So, we're back at Chance.

    Life itself is then a flux state, with two outcomes at polar extremes, and the entire centre is a grey area. Another superposition, where both outcome remains possible at all times. However, there is a decision that has been made that one state is true, while the other is false. Yet the false outcome still remains as a possibility.

    The certainty comes from the underlying decision, not from the evidence that informs the questions.
     
  7. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    Confirmation bias always figures into our assessment of things. But you miss my point here. We assume that there are 'laws of nature' that govern our environment, and from them we derive degrees of certainty with regard to daily occurrences. But what are laws of nature really? Things we rely upon? So gravity is God and the egg will crack when it hits the ground. But we might as well call it God's will that makes it crack, and support our determination by the evidence that we pray to God daily and ask him to maintain order and stability in our world. What makes gravity necessary? what makes it real? It's reliability?
     
  8. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    No, only the observation and experience of it makes it real. And we know it isn't reliable. The "laws of nature" are actually averages, and cumulative effects of still smaller and smaller forces. What we call the "laws" end up breaking down as we approach the smallest known possible size within our realm of existence (Planck's Length), the maximum temperature/speed (Light), the lowest temperature/speed (zero kelvin).

    Couple that with other observed forces in nature, such as Dark Matter/Inflation, and we actually see a repelling force. Anti-gravity, if you will. So now we have two established poles on a continuum, and again the grey area in the middle where the reduction of the thing to its constituent parts reveals the true nature of the thing to be only the average result of still smaller forces.

    Gravity isn't necessary. It's certainty is only derived by context -- and again, it's only certain because the question itself provides the possibility for the answer. As with my previous ramble, when you change the context and put the egg on the moon, the answer change. Change context further still to Phobos, and the answer is different again. Put the egg at the universe's Boundary, and its diffeent yet again. The "certainty" is only certain insofar as the context is defined. The question provides the answer.

    Or another way of saying it: How we approach the question defines how we understand the answer.

    Take this argument as an example. The question is: Can we ever be entirely certain? We've already defined two answers from the question itself. Yes you can/No you can't. Option C (the superposition) allows both to be true, but is paradoxically what we would call "uncertainty" provided we allow the definition of "certainty" to define the answer. If we change the way we ask the question, and define "certainty" as an average value of two extremes on a continuum, rather than a specific Yes/No value, then Option C reveals itself as the true answer. We can be certain of uncertainty.

    But it's just nonsense. Word play. It does nothing to address the real, underlying element of the question. What possible need is there to ever be "certain" of anything but uncertainty? I'll take the average and be fine with that.

    What do you want us to be certain of?
     
  9. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    What do I want?? Ha. I'm not certain of anything, including who 'I' am when I type this answer.

    Does it matter? No. Not in the slightest. We all pretty much manage to get by anyway. But I find what we presume to be so interesting.....
     
  10. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Which I guess is what I'm saying. All certainties -- beyond self-answering questions -- are presumptions. Presumptions are roughly equivalent to stereotyped knowledge. That which generally holds to be "true." There's nothing wrong with presumtpions -- they're simply how we operate. Without generalized, stereotyped knowledge, we couldn't operate. It's just how we function physiologically.
     
  11. falcon57

    falcon57 Registered User

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    Fung declaring certainties to be roughly to be presumptions sounds wrong to me. Let me explain
    with the the egg example: I looked at the set of outcomes with the presumption that all experiments
    are done on earth. With this presumption and the presumption that the egg is not somehow armored
    or slowed down I looked at the set of all possible outcomes and decided that the vast majority
    of the outcomes where the egg breaks is enough for me to be certain that the egg breaks.

    So the first step in reaching certainty is looking at all posiblities and this is very dependent
    on which presumptions you take into account.

    As you pointed out earlier the process of deciding whether something is certain is the second step
    in reaching certainty. If you want to be REALLY certain, then one set off possibilities must be
    infinite and the other finite, so the probabilty is exactly 1 for one of the alternatives. For normal
    certainty a vast majority of one alternative seems sufficient. But be warned, we are prone to
    'cheating' we simply declare sometimes some possibilties to be non existant/do not count as in
    the two alternatives god exists/god doesn't exist proves.

    By declaring one choice for void you are a theist or an atheist (decision). By altering the presumptions
    other religions become possible (first step)
     
  12. WyrvenGuard

    WyrvenGuard I Has Good Writing

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    i have

    i KNOW that I have 5 fingers on each hand. i KNOW that I'm at work right now ;)
     
  13. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    As Wittgenstein said, if you know for certain that's your hand in front of you, then the discussion is over. But for him, that's where it begins....
     
  14. Fung Koo

    Fung Koo >:|Angry Beaver|: <

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    Falcon -- you're using a sort of statistical model here, right? You're more or less saying that in the egg-drop situation, a standard curve will be produced. A very steep curve, no doubt. The mean of the curve will approach infinity (Chance) at a certain height where break/no break can be said to "uncertain." The statistical derivaton from the mean will likewise be a fairly small value, with the majority of cases falling within one derivation. But the two ends of the curve will not be returns to absolute 0, but will instead be limits, approaching infinity. Over infinite trials, there is always the possibility that for some reason the egg doesn't break no matter how high to drop it from (or that it will break regardless of how low you drop it from).

    So, is it accurate to say that a return value of 0.00002 or 0.00098 is sufficient as it is close enough to 0 and 1 to be said to be certain? In other words, are you allowing a statistical margin of error to exist within your definition of "certainty"?
     
  15. Gary Wassner

    Gary Wassner GemQuest

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    But how do you even know that it's your hand dropping the egg? Or that what you're seeing is in fact an egg at all? The formula may be consistent in the end, but the elements that precede it may not be.
     
  16. WyrvenGuard

    WyrvenGuard I Has Good Writing

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    how do you know that gravity really exists?
     
  17. Seak

    Seak and I like to party.

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    Not to add to what we know, but more to look at what we don't know. I think this goes for most people, that we need to see something before we believe it, but why? Our eyes can be tricked just as easily as anything else.

    On the basis of what do we know, I think it goes back to beliefs. Where do you stand in the universe?

    Most of what we know are theories, like the theory of gravity. But this theory has also gotten us into space and to the moon.
     
  18. Aurian

    Aurian Dragon Lady

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    Are you trying to tell us that we are all brains in vats?
     
  19. Seak

    Seak and I like to party.

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    I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is so little we actually do know and that it's more about where you stand.

    PhD's are the same as everyone else, they've just studied more about a topic. But they're the same people that keep reversing their opinions about "what is true". Each one disproves the next. People used to think the world was flat and that was common "knowledge". Now we know the world isn't flat right? or do we? Or are we just as naive as everyone else in our history?

    I stand by religion because it can be proven in a different way.
     
  20. falcon57

    falcon57 Registered User

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    Fung: Let's put the egg example away for the moment and play a game! I let you pick a natural number then I
    pick randomly a natural number. You win when I pick the same number as you did otherwise I win. Of course
    your chances are slim playing only once therefore we play for an arbitrary long period of time. I won't
    bother you with a proof, but you always loose. You even loose when I let you pick not just one number but a
    really huge number of numbers. You still loose. In this game I am REALLY certain to win, even when nothing
    stops me from picking your number, it just won't happen.

    The second game that I propose you is that you can pick either even or odd, then I pick a randomly a natural
    number. You win if the number is that what you chose. The second game is 'fair' you have a 50% chance to win.

    The third game is I let you pick a number samller than 10'000 and then I pick randomly a number also below
    10'000. You win if I pick the same number as you did otherwise I win. I have a roughly 99.99% chance to
    win.

    Actually they are competing models for what happens to an egg in earths gravity: The first two state that
    there are infinite possible outcomes, while the third takes only a finite number of outcomes into account.
    It is even difficult falsify those models, you would need an egg surviving a 10 meter drop to rule out model
    one. What is fascinating about model one is the fact that even though in some outcomes the egg survives
    but it is certain that it won't happen, if it happens anyway then the model was not appropriate.

    Gary: In those games there is no mention of eggs but neither tomatoes, melons or coconuts. The "eggishness"
    has been spririted away by declaring them unessential for the model. Basically I did the same as the
    as the theist/atheist, I simply say the "eggishness" doesn't count. You can't be certain of real objects,
    they just are. It makes no sense to be certain of an egg, but it makes sense to be certain/not certain
    of what happens to an egg dropping from 10 meters.