Saturday, May 20, 2006

Absolute Certainty

Not much time for anything this week, so it'll be another oldie-but-goodie:

Amongst the more frequently encountered snippets of philosophomoric nonsense on the net is the contention that "you can't know anything with certainty" or that "certainty is impossible". This text condenses my standard-answers to this contention to save on typing- and re-typing-time every time someone makes that claim.

Caution: if you hold that contention, this text is going to hurt you. You have been warned.

Prolog

There are people out there, that are not human. I don't mean that in the biological sense: these people have human DNA, for example, and they were born to human mothers -- but there's something inside that they're lacking:

These people aren't self-aware. They operate entirely on the basis of mechanisms and automatisms and trained reflexes - you provide them with a certain stimulus and they're going to give you the proper response, but all the while there is "nobody at home", there's no awareness or appreciation of the stimulus and the response.

These people are simply members of a community of mutually positively re-inforcing trainers -- all of them establishing programs in each other without ever being aware of the fact that there is programming going on. Robots, if you will, or puppets. I'd be tempted to say "well-trained monkeys", but this might be unfair towards the monkeys: As it turns out, it is quite difficult to establish whether or not monkeys are self-aware or not, while it is rather easy to find out for a person. I will describe this in a moment.

Such people can very easily be members of a human society. They could comprise a large part, or even a majority of such a society. Most people spend most of their time on trained paths, so it would't be all too obvious whether a certain particular person ever has any original thoughts or not. Whether they only produce reactions or whether they also produce intrinsic actions themselves.

They all would claim, of course, that they're self-aware. But that would only be a trained response, of course, just like all other responses they'd ever give you. You give them the stimulus, and they were trained to insist that they're self-aware - just as they were trained to respond in some other way to some other stimulus.

It is my contention, that the vast majority of people, maybe 95% or so, are in fact functionally puppets.

First Certainty ...

The shortest complete sentence in the English language is "I am"[1]. This sentence asserts the existence of the speaker. Of course it doesn't need to be physically spoken: just formulating it in your head means that you assert your own existence. In other words: the notion "I am" (even if expressed without English language or without language at all) asserts the existence of the entity that formulated the notion.

This is also the simplest possible formulation of an instance of absolutely certain knowledge. There can not be doubt about my own existence even for a moment, since any such doubt would require someone or something that holds the doubt. I am willing to entertain the notion of my own nonexistence for a moment, but entertaining it already requires someone that entertains it.

Note: this is NOT "I think, therefore I am" or similar nonsense: as soon as you have the first word of that sentence ("I ..."), you can skip the whole middle part and immediately conclude the last word: "I ... am." For if there is an "I" to be considered at all, then it must necessarily "am"[2].

There are many times in a day when you don't think -- but you don't cease being at these times.[3]

And since the only thing that can possibly "am" is "I", the two words "I" and "am" demand each other. They are not independent concepts, but really only two expressions of the same underlying concept, namely the existence of the speaker. Expressed once as a noun, "I", a thing, something that "is"; and once as a verb, "am", a process, something that "happens".

The very fact that I formulated the notion of "I am" makes it true - a claim that proves its own truth: It couldn't have been formulated without something or somebody that formulated it.

Note that I make no claims (here, yet[4]) what I am or who I am or where I am or similar things -- but that I am is known to me with absolute, 100% certainty.

This piece of absolute knowledge is also the first piece of knowledge a self-aware being can hold -- for it is this knowledge that makes someone a self-aware being: The knowledge of your own existence. Anybody who doesn't hold this piece of knowledge is not self-aware.

Epilog

Whenever someone claims "absolute certainty is impossible" the obvious reply is of course "are you absolutely certain about that?"[5]. The notion of the impossibility of certainty is in such blatant, immediate self-contradiction, that it comes at no surprize that it is uttered only by puppets - by beings that string words together without any kind of appreciation for the meaning behind the words they utter.

If you went into this text holding this religious belief in the impossibility of absolute certainty then, of course, holding the knowledge of your own existence now does not make you a self-aware being -- for it is only some more data, presented to you from the outside, stored in you for later retrieval upon presentation with the appropriate stimulus. For this knowledge to make you a self-aware being, you'd have to discover the fact of your own existence for yourself - it has to be your original thought.

This is why this text hurt you: I have effectively cut off the simplest way for you to become a self-aware being. There's other ways, of course, but the most elegant is now blocked to you. I am not even going to hint at the second-simplest, since it is not in my interest to keep you a puppet forever...


[1] Together with "I do"
[2] This yields another immediate test for sentience: anybody who thinks "I think therefore I am" is meaningful, smart, deep or useful is NOT self-aware.
[3] You know exactly what I meant when I typed that sentence. You can either chose to define all terms such as to convey this meaning that you already understand or you can choose to define them such as to obscure it. In the latter case you're simply a liar, as your desire is obscuration of what you already know to be true.
[4] It is very easy to make such claims later and be absolutely certain about them. However these are more advanced steps and anybody who isn't even self-aware certainly has no chance of grasping any of these.
[5] Either you proclaim that you are, which is in self-contradiction with your claim (proving conclusively the lack of self-awareness on your part) or otherwise you admit to some doubt, i.e. admit the possiblity that certainty might be possible, thereby proving that you are a liar because you proclaimed something impossible that you do hold possible.

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1 Comments:

At 8:26 PM, Blogger Eternity said...

There are people that act like automatoms and some other half as an automatom, and there is some others that react and seems to be alive.
Every time I re-encounter an automatom from long time without seeing him, I realize how little advance he has in everything he said. And they ussually speak scant words, or they just have a speech made to order, and they repeat it as many times as they could.
I guess you are right with your commentaries. But those critters, are they able to became not automatoms ? I often see them cheated at work, at home, everywhere, and they keep on being the same , no matter what.

 

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