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The cash value of truth

However we grow up, no matter what environment we develop in, there are certain mental models we develop about the way the world works.

Eventually, like fish not noticing the water in which they swim, we take these models as being objective truth. We don’t question them. But question them we must.

The only cure for what ails you is to start getting over your delusions and start adjusting your mental models to come up with a more accurate understanding of reality.

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For me, the road to some form of ‘enlightenment’ here involves holding simultaneously two contradictory thoughts:

  • There is no objective reality
  • There is no ‘view from nowhere’

The first of these is straightforward: whether we’re talking about perception, belief systems, or mental models, there is no single one objective reality.

The second is more nuanced. Simply put, we still have to make a choice: we can’t fail to have perception, a belief system, or employ mental models. (Even ‘not believing’ is a belief system.)

The best approach I’ve come across to reconcile these two positions comes from Pragmatism.

Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that considers words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving, and action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Pragmatists contend that most philosophical topics—such as the nature of knowledge, language, concepts, meaning, belief, and science—are all best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes.

Wikipedia

William James, for example, talked about the “cash value” of truth which was a shorthand way of explaining that terms like real or true have no meaning outside of a specific environment.

One thing that makes me both roll my eyes and throw my hands up in despair is when I see people talking about their experience in a very narrow context, and try to use it as an appeal to some kind of transcendental ‘truth’.

What we all need to realise is that (i) our environment encourages us to see the world a particular way, (ii) we have to take a position in order to give us agency, but (iii) this does not give us any insight outside of our environment.

So perhaps Wittgenstein was right:

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.


This post is Day 72 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

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