Re: virus: KMO quotes Plato

Jason McVean (
Wed, 23 Oct 96 20:00:36 MDT

David McFadzean wrote:
> On a related note, Jason McVean wrote:
> >I thought the
> >assertion was not that there is some truth but it is never
> >known precisely (although it can be approximated), rather that
> >there simply is no such thing as truth?
> Here's an analogy I find useful: Say that objective reality is a
> person and our model (theory, description, belief) about reality
> is a portrait of that person. There is no end to the number of
> different portraits that can be created: pencil sketch, oil painting,
> bronze bust, chalk drawing, marble statue, photograph, short story,
> X-ray picture, home video, artfully arranged vials of bodily fluids,
> caricature, mug shot, JPEG, 3-D computer model, Myers-Briggs type,
> etc., etc. They can be more or less accurate (an X-ray of the person
> is certainly more accurate than a drawing of a totally different person)
> and they can be more or less useful depending on the task at hand
> (a mug shot is more useful than a painting if you want to find the
> person, but a painting is more useful if you want to decorate your
> house). But which portrait is the True one? I hope you can see how
> the question doesn't even make sense, no matter how skillful and talented
> the artist, no matter what materials are used, a portrait can never
> become the portrayed. And the same is true of our models, beliefs
> and theories.

I like the analogy. I think we may have discussed it at a rave
sometime. Still, the point remains that, in your analogy, while
we may never be able to fully describe it, there is some
underlying objective reality that all of the portraits are
approximating. This is qualitatively different from the assertion
that there is no objective reality.

To say that there is no objective reality means that we have no
basis on which to judge the accuracy a desciption. Suppose
someone claims Billy-Bob is 100 km tall, I am justified in say
that person is wrong (or not as accurate as the person who
estimates his height to be 5'11") if B-B has an objective
height. If he doesn't, I am forced to say that both estimates are
equally true, or equally false, or more to the point, equally

Yes, I could say that Billy felt like he was 2 inches tall when
his teacher was yelling at him or that he looked down on people that
who were over seven feet tall because he was a heightist but I'm
not talking about the same thing as I was in the paragraph
above. In these examples, the distinction is clear but what if I
claim that Judaism is better that Islam? Then it isn't so obvious
what I'm really talking about. Am I expressing an opinion? Am I
claiming that Jewish fashions are more practical for every day
chores? Or maybe I'm saying that average life span is longer for
Jewish folks. I think that's the sort of confusion that leads many
people to say things like there's no absolute truth or no objective

(I suspect there is another argument/philosophical movement that
argues against the existance of objective reality that isn't
being represented here. Is this true?)

What does this have to do with memetics? I suspect that the meme
that Billy is 5'11" is ultimately going to be much more
useful than the one that says he is 100 km tall. This is because
it is a better approximation of objective reality. In other
words, truth and usefulness are correlated.


Dept. of Physics and Astronomy University of Calgary

"And it would have worked if it weren't for those meddling kids."