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Thread: Truth-commitment: the basis of all rational communication

  1. #1

    Truth-commitment: the basis of all rational communication

    The incident depicted in the videos below is a couple years old but I happened to stumble across it just today:

    Video 1:



    Video 2:



    In Video 1, we see an individual using the simple act of screaming to disrupt some kind of political gathering. The participants of the gathering are pretty aggressive in their response, although they do not resort to physical violence (on review, I see that one woman does bonk her over the head with a flag but it doesn't seem to have been a strong hit). In Video 2, we see the entire gathering devolve into an animalistic showdown where the disruptive individual is surrounded and harried with animal-like screams, grunts, clucks and so on.

    This incident, besides being somewhere between appalling and hilarious, is actually quite instructive. I spoke with a friend recently who explained to me that we should not settle for the truth in political discussions because the other side is not going to settle for the truth, either. The explanation he gave is a lot like the way lawyers choose numbers for court settlement negotiations. Each side chooses their "fantasy number" and then a series of negotiations occurs that resembles the game of chicken (from game-theory). Each side is trying to convince the other that they are "more than willing" to go back to court and fight the battle to the finish in trial, while demanding some unreasonably high (or low) number for settling. In political discussion, the analogy goes, we have to start by aiming "well past" the truth so that, when all is said and done, something like the truth will actually emerge. Otherwise, the other side will dominate the narrative and the truth will be suppressed. History will be revised by the victors and our descendants will fail to learn from our mistakes.

    This seems reasonable at first blush and it is the general line of thinking behind the "Crossfire" format TV news interviews that became popular with cable news channels in the 1990's. This format continues to be the dominant style of "balanced" news reporting to this day. However reasonable this approach might seem to be, it does not and cannot lead to communication (to each other or the anchors, let alone the viewers). Just like the game-of-chicken played by lawyers during settlement negotiations, no factual picture of the truth is produced by either side of the dispute and any attempt at synthesizing stories from both sides is doomed to failure. The respective positions are so contradictory as to be unintelligible, either separately or combined, to a disinterested third party trying to make an objective assessment of the facts in the dispute.

    In the limit, this game-of-chicken approach to truth is guaranteed to devolve to the clucking, screeching and harrying seen in the videos linked above. Although it rarely devolves to this extreme on television, the Crossfire-format news interviews regularly devolve to little more than shouting matches, each side trying to blank out the other side's words so that the viewer simply will not be able to hear them, and vice-versa. It's just auditory jamming.

    I biology, the field of signalling theory deals with the question of communication between animals, many of whom often have conflicting interests. Signalling in the animal world might sometimes be honest but its purpose is never honesty, or truth-as-such. The subject of human philosophy, by contrast, is supposed to be about the search for truth... even if truth cannot be attained, then philosophy is supposed to be the field that tackles this reality. But in order for it to even be possible to arrive at truth-as-such in the course of a discussion between two or more individuals, animalistic competitiveness like we see in nature must be absent. In short, any "game-theoretic" approach to truth is guaranteed to fail to attain truth because the competitive interests of the participants in the "discussion" will color everything they say, all the facts they present, the way they respond to one another's points, and so on. In short, the "Crossfire" approach of pitting two participants who are each trying to shift public opinion into a debate with one another is guaranteed to fail to produce rational communication and will fail to produce facts and arguments that move each other's beliefs (or the beliefs of spectators) closer to truth-as-such.

    I am using the term "truth-commitment" to refer to some undefinable stance within the individual of complete commitment to attaining truth. If I have truth-commitment and you have truth-commitment then, even if we start a discussion with very different beliefs and have access to very different facts, by the end of the discussion, we should have moved much closer to each other's point-of-view. When I see your facts, this will change my perspective to be closer to yours (because I have truth-commitment). And vice-versa. When I hear your well thought-out reasons based on good principles of logical reasoning, this will change my perspective to be closer to yours. And vice-versa. Therefore, individuals with truth-commitment only need to be able to share facts (including bias-detection in the set of available facts) and good arguments with one another. As long as information and reasons can spread evenly and quickly in the group, individuals in the group will tend to quickly converge on a very similar set of beliefs.

    Of course, it is possible to jettison truth-commitment at any point and it is also possible to fake truth-commitment, that is, attempt to dupe others who are actually truth-committed into mistakenly believing you are also truth-committed when you are not. These kinds of one-sided game-theoretic discussions -- where one side is genuinely seeking truth-as-such, and the other side is simply seeking to persuade -- are a complex topic and would require a separate thread unto themselves. Suffice it to say that the broad choice is between animal-like signalling -- where honesty is only present if it happens to be useful for the aims and ends of the participant -- and rational communication. Rational communication is possible only when all participants to a discussion share truth-commitment. Otherwise, it's just clucking and screeching disguised as rational discussion by virtue of the use of dictionary words strung together into valid grammatical forms. A donkey's bray conveys as much meaningful information.
    Last edited by ClaytonB; 11-30-2019 at 12:34 AM.



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  3. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by ClaytonB View Post
    I am using the term "truth-commitment" to refer to some undefinable stance within the individual of complete commitment to attaining truth. If I have truth-commitment and you have truth-commitment then, even if we start a discussion with very different beliefs and have access to very different facts, by the end of the discussion, we should have moved much closer to each other's point-of-view.
    That assumes that both sides start equally distant from the truth.
    That is not always the case.
    Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

    Robert Heinlein

    Give a man an inch and right away he thinks he's a ruler

    Groucho Marx

    I love mankindÖitís people I canít stand.

    Linus, from the Peanuts comic

    You cannot have liberty without morality and morality without faith

    Alexis de Torqueville

    Those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
    Those who learn from the past are condemned to watch everybody else repeat it

    A Zero Hedge comment

  4. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Swordsmyth View Post
    That assumes that both sides start equally distant from the truth.
    That is not always the case.
    I don't think that matters to my point. Imagine a flat sheet of paper. At the center is a point labeled "T" for "Truth". Now, imagine two other points A, and B, anywhere else on the page, representing my opinion and your opinion. If I draw an arrow from A to T and you draw an arrow from B to T and we each proceed in the direction of T, we will necessarily draw closer to each other's points-of-view. This is the case even if I am closer to T than you are, or vice-versa. Lest anyone mistakenly conclude they are already at T, we can be sure that the only one who is at T is God himself.

    The trouble comes when I try to gauge how far you are from the truth and then construct an argument and frame the facts in a way that I think "overshoots" to the other side of T, thus supposedly "speeding" your approach to T. What happens in this case is that you, too, will try to gauge my distance from T and construct arguments and facts that "overshoot" to the other side of T in order to speed my approach to T. Instead of converging on T, we begin circling it. I don't know if this geometric analogy is the origin of the term "spin" but it's an apt description of what happens when we try to involve game-theory in discussions of truth, rather than just setting our compass due North and holding course.

  5. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by ClaytonB View Post
    I don't think that matters to my point. Imagine a flat sheet of paper. At the center is a point labeled "T" for "Truth". Now, imagine two other points A, and B, anywhere else on the page, representing my opinion and your opinion. If I draw an arrow from A to T and you draw an arrow from B to T and we each proceed in the direction of T, we will necessarily draw closer to each other's points-of-view. This is the case even if I am closer to T than you are, or vice-versa. Lest anyone mistakenly conclude they are already at T, we can be sure that the only one who is at T is God himself.

    The trouble comes when I try to gauge how far you are from the truth and then construct an argument and frame the facts in a way that I think "overshoots" to the other side of T, thus supposedly "speeding" your approach to T. What happens in this case is that you, too, will try to gauge my distance from T and construct arguments and facts that "overshoot" to the other side of T in order to speed my approach to T. Instead of converging on T, we begin circling it. I don't know if this geometric analogy is the origin of the term "spin" but it's an apt description of what happens when we try to involve game-theory in discussions of truth, rather than just setting our compass due North and holding course.
    I agree.
    It's just that many people take the general point you are making and attempt to use it to claim that both sides must always move an equal amount towards eachother and I wanted to point out that that isn't correct.
    I didn't think you were one of those people though.
    Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig.

    Robert Heinlein

    Give a man an inch and right away he thinks he's a ruler

    Groucho Marx

    I love mankindÖitís people I canít stand.

    Linus, from the Peanuts comic

    You cannot have liberty without morality and morality without faith

    Alexis de Torqueville

    Those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.
    Those who learn from the past are condemned to watch everybody else repeat it

    A Zero Hedge comment

  6. #5
    It's just that many people take the general point you are making and attempt to use it to claim that both sides must always move an equal amount towards eachother and I wanted to point out that that isn't correct.
    I didn't think you were one of those people though.
    Absolutely. If I am closer to the truth than you are, then it follows that your beliefs are going to have to undergo more transformation than mine will. It can be emotionally difficult to have to process this reality for anyone who finds themselves holding a lot of beliefs that are very far from the truth. But it's possible for the determined individual to overcome this emotional hurdle through persistence.

    The (sadly widespread) view you are mentioning is "ideological egalitarianism" or, lilterally, equivocation -- all voices are equal with all others. But the very people who assert this most vehemently also tend to have very emotional and deeply-felt opposition to other, very specific ideas. For example, SJWs often expression deeply-felt opposition to neo-nazism. I share their opposition to neo-nazism (or any other flavor of nazism), but there is an important difference between me and the ideological egalitarian SJW -- I assert that the neo-nazis views are categorically false, whereas the SJW begins by asserting that "all voices are equal", then proceeds to have a nervous breakdown when the neo-nazis exercise their (supposedly equal) voices. This nervous breakdown is the inevitable result of trying to hold a logical impossibility to be the case -- that the voices of everyone are equal ("everyone" presumably includes neo-nazis) and the views of neo-nazis are objectively false. The rational perspective is that voices that assert falsehood are not equal to voices that assert truth (in respect to the specific assertions being made). Thus, all views and all voices are not equal. It is no mystery why the SJWs balk at rationalism, however, since a thorough-going commitment to rationalism and fact-based reasoning would eventually compel them to re-examine their own deeply-felt beliefs. This would cause a cascading meltdown in their social network which is based on groupthink enforced by collective shunning, rather than on rational thinking. The prospect of losing one's entire peer-group is terrifying to any normal human being. And so the system of control-and-feelings-based argumentation goes on...

  7. #6
    @ClaytonB Now I owe ya three +reps. This is very well put and important. I wish more people in this world, including on rpf, understood the value of truth over fake "winning."

    The geometric analogy was useful too. If we look at the flat plain of ideaspace here in America, we can see two massive objects - the political parties - which warp ideaspace like gravitational bodies and draw people into them. In the search for truth, we need to find a way to navigate around and away from those.

    Another thought occurs to me, what Ron Paul did was a bit like a gravitational slingshot.
    Amash>Trump

    ΟΥ ΓΑΡ ЄCΤΙΝ ЄξΟΥCΙΑ ЄΙ ΜΗ ΥΠΟ ΘЄΟΥ

    "Patriotism should come from loving thy neighbor, not from worshiping graven images" - Ironman77

    "ideas have the potential of being more powerful than any army....The concept of personal sovereignty was pulled screaming from the ether into this reality by the force of men believing in a self evident truth, that men are meant to be free." - The Northbreather

    "Trump is the security blanket of aggrieved white men aged 18-60." - Pinoy

  8. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Swordsmyth View Post
    I agree.
    It's just that many people take the general point you are making and attempt to use it to claim that both sides must always move an equal amount towards eachother and I wanted to point out that that isn't correct.
    I didn't think you were one of those people though.
    It makes no difference at all how close to the truth you are, Dan Akyroyd. You still chase people away from it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Swordsmyth View Post
    I don't really care if I happen to be wrong about your positions, you are wrong about mine.
    Quote Originally Posted by Swordsmyth View Post
    I didn't vote for Trump.
    A POX ON BOTH YOUR PARTIES



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