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But when you swear that there's no truth, and who cares, how come you say it like you're right?


I've thought about this a great deal, and I have a neat little argument that bypasses solopism.

The worth of a scientific theory is its predictive power. Specifically, its ability to predict future observations not yet made.

It is not necessary to even refer to the concept of "reality" in order to make those predictions. If I'm living in the Matrix (or Plato's cave; the idea has been around for over 2000 years), that doesn't matter. The predictions still predict what I will observe, so they're useful.

Now, the best available theories operate AS IF there's an external objective reality, so I tend to assume its existence as a convenience. But really, I don't need a position on the nature of reality to use the theories.

There are an infinite number of "realities" in which I could be dreaming I'm a 3-dimensional hairless ape, but until some evidence to prefer one over the other shows up, Occam's razor suggests I stick with the simplest: the reality I appear to observe really is there.

In the end, though, it doesn't matter. Until you can suggest an experiment that could distinguish a "real" reality from a very good simulation, the question is moot. Both assumptions lead to the same observations, so they are scientifically indistinguishable.

You can say "the simulation we're living in acts like so", and I can say "the universe we live in acts like so". As long as we get the same answers, there's nothing to argue about.


So, if we put Ben Stein and Scott Adams together, do we get a whole creationist, or just a Moon Hoaxer?

Second that Eclectic. Speaking of Moon Hoaxers, I had a rousing conversation with one the other day... he essentially resorted to All Science is a Government Conspiracy and Religion, and I spent a few hours trying to explain that the fun thing about science is, that you can make predictions and observations. If your "science" reality always produces the correct results... and nothing else you try does... then why dither about?

It's like the folks who claim that God created the galaxies billions of light years away, and then created the light ALREADY ON ITS WAY to us to make the earth LOOK old. And created all the rocks OLD to TRICK us. And you have to think... if God wanted that bad for you to act like the earth was old... maybe you should act like the earth is old?


It's not worth getting upset at anything Scott Adams says. The chain-yanking part is the only thing serious he said.

He says this over and over again "I don't think any of this is actually true, but I know that you won't be able to resist getting upset about me saying it. Dance, monkey, dance" - That's pretty close to a direct quote.

Mr Dorfl

"(after all, how likely is it that our species would have survived if our perceptions bore no connection whatsoever to reality)..."

Nonono. If our perception has no connection whatsoever to reality, then there are no species. Because we percieve species. And if that has no connection to reality then there are no species. In fact, there is no our. Or reality. There is only me, and my perception, and the rest of you don't exist.

Now, how would scientists prove that this is the case, when they don't
exist, and neither does any proofs? :-)

Layne Winklebleck

Hi Greta

I think your critique of the Scott Adams quote rests on a literal interpretation of the word “no” in the statement “…if physicists someday demonstrate that our perception of reality has no connection to actual reality, which I consider likely, then evolution is just a point of view, albeit a useful one.”

If literally nothing we perceive, intuit, understand or theorize has any bearing at all to reality, yes, then we are in a solipsistic mess and we might as well throw in the thinking towel.

However, I had thought Adams was saying, to put a less literal definition on it, that it could someday become apparent that very basic assumptions we have made about the nature of reality are inaccurate, so that we then understand evolution in a different way, which means we would then realize, scientifically, that earlier views were points of view rather than indubitable. However unlikely you think that might be there is nothing illogical or solipsistic about it.


Its still the equivalent of saying, "If one day someone takes a picture of a real elf, we will have to drastically rethink our interpretations of the Lord of the Rings." Its a) irrelevant until such a time and b) meaningless in any context *other* than if it ever happened. Worse, you would still have to prove you where looking at a real elf, and not someone wearing Spock ears, or some manufactured creature that only "looks" like an elf, ala the Ob from the Banner of the Stars anime. Its an uninteresting and over used philosophical argument at best, until and unless such a shift does happen, at which point, scientists will **still** be telling Scott Adams to shut up and stop being an idiot, even as they scramble to figure out the actual rules they missed before.

David Marjanović

If literally nothing we perceive, intuit, understand or theorize has any bearing at all to reality, yes, then we are in a solipsistic mess

Then I am in a solipsistic mess.

David Marjanović

Ouch. All HTML gets removed. Strange. So, the cut sentence was supposed to be a blockquote, and "I am" was supposed to be in bold.

Really, why? This is a blog comment, not a plain-text e-mail!

Greta Christina

"Ouch. All HTML gets removed... Really, why? This is a blog comment, not a plain-text e-mail!"

Yeah. Sorry about that. Short answer: Because I did a poll of commenters a while back on the "HTML" versus "no HTML" question, and "no HTML" won. (It was close; but also nobody seemed to care all that much, so I opted for the status quo.)

Somewhat longer answer: If HTML is enabled, then URLs don't get automatically converted to live links. That makes "no HTML" a less friendly choice for people who are reasonably tech-savvy... but a more friendly choice for people who aren't.

I chose the latter. And my poll results supported it (or didn't care much one way or the other). Besides, at this point, it's what regular readers of my blog are used to.

But it's not set in stone. If I start getting a consistent hue and cry for HTML, I'll switch.

Sorry for the inconvenience. In the meantime: When in doubt, preview!


Yes, but when I preview, my previewed posts have paragraph breaks, and my final posts STILL come out as one long paragraph :-(


Thunder is the sound the gods make when they're bowling? And here I thought it was Borborygmus.

Yak Herder

Dear Greta,

Actually, Scott Adams IS presenting a real problem here, but not doing it very well. Let's run through the logic:
i)If all mental processes are actually physical processes generated out of biological evolution, then they are limited by the constraints of physical laws.
ii) Physical objects and processes lack 'intentionality': that is, they are not 'about' anything other than themselves (what is blood or a rock 'about'?). In particular, physical processes lack the quality of being true or false. You never find a 'false amoeba' or 'false gravity': it either exists or it doesn't.
iii) Therefore, to argue that human mental processes (e.g. believing in God, believing in atoms and gravity, believing in evolution) are either true or false (that they either accurately or inaccurately 'represent' the world outside) is to argue that human thought has something SPECIAL, something TRANSCENDENT to it, that ordinary physical processes lack. "They're just mechanical processes, but we, we have TRUTH". In other words, to argue that "Theory X is true" in some way that actually corresponds to the physical world outside is to argue that there is something METAPHYSICAL to human thought (including scientific thought) that sets it aside from the rest of creation.
iv) And that, my dear, sounds kinda religious to me. A little bit 'on the side of the angels', as the old evolutionary debate went...

Ultimately the philosophical consequence of evolutionary theory is this: human thought is simply one more tool for surviving, and it is very good at that. Human thoughts do not have to be 'true about the world' to be evolutinarily fit, any more than my fork has to be 'true of the pasta' in order to pick it up successfully. Indeed, a fork that did indeed mirror many of the qualities of pasta would be no good for eating pasta. So, science is simply a more functional tool for realising certain survival goals than religion, but that does not make it any the more 'true' in some kind of weird metaphysical way. Many modern adherents of the evolutionism (apparently like yourself) seem to like the idea that science MUST be 'true in a mtephysical sense' to be valid, but there's no logical reason why that should be so; indeed, many would argue that it simply comes from being infected with religion's way of thinking about things. They like it all to be 'true', but the genuine logic of scientific method not only does not require it, but should actually be kinda suspicious of it.

We're not special, we're just like the bugs. Scientists too.

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