Phillip Beaver

Citizen, Humankind

This conversation is closed.

Individually possessing the truth seems unworthy: understanding seems a nobler personal objective.

I once thought that by mastering the Word of God—studying the truth according to the Bible—my life would become its best. As time passed, the truth seemed unreachable: understanding became attractive.

For a trite example of understanding, everybody knows the sun doesn’t rise: Earth’s axial rotation reveals the sun in the morning and hides it in the evening. Yet, who’d debate Annie’s, “the sun’ll come up . . . tomorrow.”

It seems there are two quests for understanding: humankind’s ultimate quest and the individual’s lifetime quest. Humankind’s evolution involves over 100 billion humans and spans millions of years. Communications evolved—from motions; to grunts; to symbols; to language; to writing; to the world-wide web—perhaps during a million years. Considerations from before seem manifest in us. Yet humankind seems far from psychological maturity.

Society celebrates chronological age, but not psychological maturity. A person can enlist in armed services and vote at age 18; at age 21 legally consume alcohol in some societies; at age 25 enjoy cheaper auto insurance; and at age 63-68, retire. Age is rewarded, but almost no one promotes psychological maturity.

Quoting Professor Orlando Patterson, “Psychologically the ultimate human condition is to be liberated from all internal and external constraints in one's desire to realize one's self." We owe it to ourselves to want psychological maturity—to discover our preferences—to discover ourselves, understanding that the truth seems approachable yet perhaps unattainable.

Since we share uncertainty, we could understand each other, accepting that the truth knows no favorites.

General revision for clarification: 1/24/2012. See original statements, below.

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    Jan 13 2012: I've found that this path is much less about discovering truth in the world, and more about accepting yourself and the way things are.
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      Jan 14 2012: I appreciate your thoughts, especially, "accepting . . . the way things are." It warms me. Perhaps at one time I would have had that thought, but now I think "I don't know (the way things are)." If I could, I'd turn how your comment feels into a poem.
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        Jan 14 2012: I identify myself most commonly as a poet first, so I am honored by your response to this, but I would counter argue by saying it's not a problem of accepting the way things are that you have, rather I feel you might be getting caught up on WHY they are the way they are, and thus you can't accept them because you can't understand them. But there is a very key difference between acceptance and understanding.
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          Jan 14 2012: I am glad my appreciation was meaningful, and I hope a poem happens.

          Perhaps I have presented myself as more vulnerable than humble, which translates to you as un-accepting. While I could be wrong, I don't think I'm un-accepting.

          About why: I don't know that "Why?" is a valid question. For example, I have spent considerable energy on the G.W. Liebniz question, "Why is there something instead of nothing?" And I prefer to think the "Why?" may be a misleading question.

          If we reconsider my initial statement, my 80 year life span is part of humankind’s (some 80 x 100 billion, or) 8 trillion life-years. Yet it seems humankind slowly only approaches the truth—is not likely to conquer it; therefore, the best I can hope for is to contribute to understanding. The truth is not attainable.

          I hope this clarifies my point and we can debate its validity.
  • Jan 13 2012: Seeking truth and expressing truth is always worthwhile. TRUTH is powerful. You know it, when you utter it. Sometimes you know it, when you hear it. I believe there is a high correlation between truth and sanity/lies and insanity. Consider the people you know. I don't think there is anything more important in human relationships or in societies than truth. Truth works to achieve our positive goals. Truth is necessary for love.
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      Jan 13 2012: I appreciate your thoughts and instantly wanted to mimic them:

      Seeking understanding and expressing understanding is always worthwhile. Understanding is powerful. You know it, when you utter it. Sometimes you know it, when you hear it. I believe there is a high correlation between understanding and sanity/lies and insanity. Consider the people you know. I don't think there is anything more important in human relationships or in societies than understanding. Understanding works to achieve our positive goals. Understanding is necessary for love.
      • Jan 14 2012: So, Phillip, is this a form of plagiarism? Is this a form of flattery? Of course understanding is good. I would think that you would "understand" and acknowledge the importance of truth. I am puzzled that you do not. What good are communications that lack truth? Seems to me they are wasting people's time, energy and causing chaos. As I said elsewhere, I realize that living in freedom and truth requires courage, but the payoff is so huge that I am surprised you and others who may have experimented using truth in place of lies have not appreciated the value of truth in human life.
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          Jan 14 2012: The mimic is a literary art form and people are unlikely to mimic writing they do not appreciate. Also, I thought the result was meaningful or would not have shared it. By all means I did not lie when I wrote, "I appreciate your thoughts and instantly wanted to mimic them.”

          It seems to me we are using the phrase "the truth" with different meanings. It seems you are using it as integrity, whereas I am using it as reality. Understanding is necessary for integrity but reality merely is, regardless of the observer.

          I can't imagine how lies entered the conversation but am not among those who do not appreciate integrity in human life. I have written elsewhere in TED about the insufficiency of honesty (humankind needs integrity) and plan to create a TED conversation on that subject, but first wanted to have the present conversation: it seems the truth is unattainable but understanding is possible.

          I hope this helps.
      • Jan 16 2012: Thanks for your last few paragraphs.
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          Jan 16 2012: You are welcome, and thank you for meaningful dialogue.
      • Jan 17 2012: You are welcome. HAPPY TODAY.
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      Jan 14 2012: I would ask you to prove one truth in this world.
      • Jan 14 2012: One truth, Zacharia, is that you replied to a post I made in ted.com saying, "I would ask you to prove one truth in this world." That's the truth. Truth is everywhere for those who choose to behold it, express it, live it. Spend one day seekfinding truth, expressing truth only and just observe the results. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. Truth can become a habit that yields spectacular results. You have infinite choice at every moment of time. May as well choose truth. Sometimes it takes courage, but it always leads to success in accomplishing any or all of your positive goals. Best wishes.
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          Jan 14 2012: We can't know that for sure, though. There are thousands of cases of people that our societies put in mental hospitals because they believe that this is some alternate reality, but what if they are right? And even if you don't believe they are, you can't deny that the human brain is more than capable of warping whatever reality is. You and I think that I actually said that, but what if we're sitting next to each other in some padded room in straight jackets mumbling about philosophy? Our minds have shown to be able to do exactly that.
      • Jan 16 2012: "We can't know that for sure, though." You know. I know. I am assuming we are both truthseekers. Seek truth/Find truth

        Suppose reality is neutral.................

        May as well choose to focus on the positive. It's a free country.

        Zacharia, I feel okay about you and I reaching different conclusions on this topic. Happy Today.
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          Jan 16 2012: Fair enough, I guess until you've experienced insanity it's hard to doubt what we view as reality, thus I shall too leave this happily at an impasse. (By the way Gaithersburg is a lovely town, and it's convenient that you can just hop the red line all the way into DC isn't it?)
      • Jan 17 2012: Gaithersburg is pretty cool. There is a MARC train that is handy for going to the train station in DC during the weekdays or to the red line. I acknowledge that I am automobile-oriented when it comes to local transportation.
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    Jan 24 2012: Original:

    Individually acquiring the truth seems unworthy, but each person could work to achieve understanding.

    I thought that by mastering the Word of God—studying The Truth—my life would become its best. As time passed, the truth seemed unreachable and understanding became attractive. For a trite example, everybody knows the sun doesn’t rise: Earth’s axial rotation reveals the sun in the morning and hides it in the evening. It seems there are two quests for understanding: humankind’s ultimate quest and the individual’s lifetime quest.
    Humankind’s evolution involves over 100 billion humans and spans millions of years. Communications evolved—from motions; to grunts; to symbols; to language; to writing; to the world-wide web—perhaps during a million years. Everything from before seems manifest in us. Yet humankind seems far from psychological maturity.
    Society celebrates chronological age, but not psychological maturity. A person can enlist in armed services and vote at age 18. Age 21 permits legal consumption of alcohol in some societies. At age 25, auto insurance is cheaper. Retirement is expected at age 63-68. Age is rewarded, but almost no one promotes psychological maturity.
    Quoting Professor Orlando Patterson, “Psychologically the ultimate human condition is to be liberated from all internal and external constraints in one's desire to realize one's self." We owe it to ourselves to want psychological maturity—to discover our preferences—to discover ourselves, understanding that the truth seems barely approachable.
    Since we share humankind’s quest, we could understand each other, letting the truth take care of itself.
  • Jan 15 2012: Philip,

    I see you are a poet. Very well. I believe another poet summed up your attitudes quote succinctly when he wrote,

    Between the idea and the reality...
    Falls the shadow.

    -T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men.

    I am actually working on a short story right now that uses the light/shadow, knowledge/doubt metaphor as its underpinning philosophical statement, so I am inclined to agree with you. If you accept the premise that knowledge cannot exist without corresponding doubt, just as light cannot shine without producing a shadow, then the quest for truth necessarilty becomes an adventure to enjoy, not a goal to reach. How can I arrange my thoughts so that, when examined, they produce the least amount of shadow (doubt)?

    SEP
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      Jan 15 2012: I disagree that you need doubt to believe in the knowledge of existence, as I would define doubt as fear of uncertainty; as a lack of confirmed knowledge. At most I would say that doubt is merely a step we overcome on our way to knowledge, if indeed we are capable of achieving such a thing, not a shadow cast as a result of knowledge gained.
      • Jan 15 2012: Zacharia,

        The argument isn't that we 'need doubt to believe in the knowledge of existence' but that doubt arises within our knowledge of existence. That knowledge and doubt are different parts of the same construct, or different phenomena resulting from the same action (different interpretations if the same action?).

        Doubt is not the fear of uncertainty, just the acknowledgment of it.

        Think of it kind of like a business cycle. Growth leads to inefficiencies, which leads to stagnation and contraction, which compel innovation, which initiates growth. Forming mental constructs leads to excluded data, which leads to doubt, which leads to further study, which leads to reforming mental constructs, etc. Just as 'growth' and 'contraction' are simultaneously occuring phenomena within 'economy' so 'knowledge' and 'doubt' are simultaneously occuring (and reinforcing) phenomena within 'thought'.

        SEP
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          Jan 15 2012: Doubt only arises because our knowledge is incomplete, though. It does not necessarily come with knowledge, but arises when we lack it. If mental constructs have excluded data, then the construct is faulty and therefore isn't knowledge, but theory.
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        Jan 15 2012: Zach,

        Re "knowledge of existence," beware radical skepticism if you have not encountered it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radical_skepticism.

        I have a different view of "doubt," more like accepting uncertainty. As a child, I became fascinated with biographies (and in retirment returned to it, just finishing Ron Chernow's Washingtion). My school library had a sky blue shelf of them, and I learned to make my sequential selections by reading the first page and last page of the next candidate.

        As Protestant youth, I read the Bible as required but one day decided to apply my biograhy selection technique. The first page merely counfounded me. However, the last page contained an idea that created what I refer to as "precious doubt." At Revelation 22:18 I thought, "No god would be so weak as to threaten readers." It was not enough to prevent my indoctrination into Christianity, but pehaps that precious doubt empowered my salvation/damnation.

        Phil
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      Jan 15 2012: SEP, being called a poet may be the finest thing that has happened to my work, so thank you.

      I like your focus on doubt. Your thought "the least amount of shadow (doubt)" prompted one of my favorite endeavors: identifying, admitting, and solving self-contradiction. Perhaps doubt is essential to recognizing contradiction.

      In "knowledge cannot exist without corresponding doubt," I wonder about the word choice "knowledge," meaning "acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition." It seems to me knowledge leads to understanding and "understanding cannot exist without corresponding doubt." Thus, even though the case for the earth shaped like a globe seems iron-clad, there may be room for a smidgen of doubt. However, the case for no-god seems well worth doubt.

      Thus, the person who makes the leap of faith to a belief, for example, there is no god, has relied on knowledge without a doubt and thus is blind to understanding. In other words, if there is a being in control of everything, it seems a being the human mind cannot imagine.

      Some of my all time favorite writings are short stories. Chekhov's Rothschild's Fiddle and Faulkner's Barn Burning come to mind. I'm interest in your short story.

      Phil
      • Jan 15 2012: Philip,

        Perhaps 'understanding' is a better word choice than 'knowledge', but the premise is essentially the same.

        "..even though the case for the earth being round seems iron-clad.."

        Do not misunderstand me. I am not stating that each and every assertion needs to be qualified with doubt. Like you, I know the earth is round and do not philosophically or scientificaly challenge that. My position arises from the potential for falsification of the world by our senses. Not that a falsification necessarily occurs, but that it might. In short - its the acceptance that I am stuck inside my human head and unable to possess a different perspective.

        SEP
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          Jan 15 2012: SEP,

          Our thinking may be parallel. In your context, does "accept" relate to "believe." I especially get that impression from "stuck inside my human head and unable to possess a different perspective."

          I have an aversion to "I believe." The phrase translates to me as, "I am impatient to wait for discovery or sufficient evidence and therefore choose to believe." Believing seems counterproductive. For example, choosing to believe the earth was flat delayed Christian explorers for 1000 years, and all the while seafarers perceived a globe. Polytheist Vikings discovered the Americas 500 years before the Christians did.

          I don’t even want to say, “I believe in love,” for fear of encouraging a politician to justify marital infidelity—contradicting his/her vows. (Serious humor.)

          Phil
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    Jan 15 2012: I can agree with that Mr. Beaver, but how is it that we come by understanding without knowing the truth of something? Would that not then be conjecture rather than understanding?
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      Jan 15 2012: Mr. Wilson, please call me Phil.

      Staying with perhaps a basis of agreement, I understand that the usual responses to Liebniz’s puzzle include: because God willed things and life; chaos; the “why” is not valid; we don’t know; and humankind waits for more evidence (Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, 1981, pp 115 ff).

      One way to understand Liebniz’s question is to visit a museum of natural history, either physically or online. So informed (having worked for understanding), to avoid conjecture, an individual seems constrained to: “I don’t know.” Consequently, anything more seems to be speculation. Thus, God or no-god is speculative. And if God is speculated, any specification of the nature/definition of God is speculation about speculation, whether it is done by ancient humans (scripture), contemporaries, or future humans.

      Beyond speculation, humans exercise preferences. Thus, some choose, “I don’t know but prefer to think God—my God,” for personal reasons, such as comfort in the face of uncertainty. Good enough; and the “I don’t know” constraint seems to imply acceptance that another individual might prefer THEIR God or no god.

      This is not to trivialize the God question, but to understand it in a way that provides for peacefully discussing, debating, sharing, considering, and even appreciating personal quests for preferences --personal paths toward understanding--without demanding the truth.

      To persuade a part of humankind to understand the God question as a happily shared concern seems worthy.

      I hope to read your thoughts about this or another example you might suggest.

      Phil
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        Jan 15 2012: Please then call me Zach.
        So would you define understanding as the journey to truth; that journey being made up of a set of preferences derived from sensory interaction with the world around us (i.e. going to said museum of natural history)? If so I would probably be inclined to agree with you, but then how do we overcome the deceptions to our senses such as mental illness and illusion?
        • Jan 15 2012: Zach,

          "..how do we overcome the deceptions to our senses such as mental illness and illusion?"

          We don't.

          "Whatever philosophical standpoint one may adopt today, from every point of view the erroneousness of the world in which we think we live is the surest and firmest fact that we can lay eyes on... But whoever holds our thinking itself responsible for the falseness if the world.. whoever takes this world, along with space, time, form, movement, to be falsely inferred -- anyone like that would at least have ample reason to learn to be suspicious at long last of thinking. Wouldn't thinking have put over on us the biggest hoax yet? And what warrant would there be that it would not continue to do what it has always done?
          "In all seriousness: the innocence of our thinkers is somehow touching and evokes reverence, when today they still step before consciousness with the request that it give them honest answers.."
          - Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

          SEP
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          Jan 15 2012: Zach,

          TEDster Matthieu Miossec convinced me to stay with standard definitions of terms. As the noun, I am referencing primarily Item 4 in http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/understanding . As the verb Items 2, 10, and 12 apply for study.

          Now, returning to your question, I consider understanding as the journey to understanding . (Thanks to my friend Hugh Finklea for the verb then noun usage recognitions.) In some cases, the truth is discovered. For example, Earth is shaped like a globe. In other cases, the considerations are realized, as in the case of Leibniz’s question.

          When understanding equates to the truth, as in the Earth being like a globe, sensory perceptions have no standing, if they oppose they truth. Thus, preferences have no standing, and the flat-earth idea is merely a hobby or art form, much like Star-Wars expertise is merely art.

          Natural history museums don’t seem merely sensory experiences. They present the products of astronomy and paleontology, which employ discovery and understanding.

          How one interprets these products can be preferential; for example, genomist Francis Collins seems to interpret them as the mystery of Jesus Christ. I do not object to Collins’s choice, but for myself prefer the conclusion, “I know nothing about Jesus beyond the New Testament, which I do not understand.” As for my emotions, awe of reality seems sufficient; I see no need to enhance that awe with intellectual constructs, ancient or personal. (I think that is the point of the Gell-Mann talk.)

          I know nothing about mental illness, except that it is unfortunate.

          Phil
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        Jan 15 2012: Seth,
        If the surest and firmest fact of the world is that it's wrong, and that statement is a part of this world, then does that not fall into the paradox that this statement is also likely to be wrong by your own view of the world? And there are plenty of cases of paranoid delusions; paranoia of being incorrect does not ensure correctness. And though it may further push us in our path towards knowledge, it also hinders our mental capacity to accept the truth should we come across it. So if we want to achieve knowledge I would say that we do necessarily have to overcome these deceptions as well as our fear of being deceived, it's merely a matter of figuring out how.