Thursday, May 31, 2007

An Alternative to Truth

This is something I had on another site since 2006, but since it was hardly ever accessed there, I thought, why not post it here as well so there would be another place from which people could choose not to read it!

Investigative Strategy and Assumptive Differences - Reliability versus True or False

The noted philosopher and logician, Bertrand Russell, at age 92, wrote that reason had its limitations. "Beware of rational argument," he reminded us; "you need only one false premise in order to prove anything you please by logic." Leading me to an illustration of how, when it comes to investigative strategies, the rational parts of our brain are more prone to error than we might have suspected:

Take for example this version of the liar paradox (also a subject of Russell's writings), which was ascribed to the ancient Greek, Epimenides the Cretan, who said that, ’All Cretans are liars.’ We have here a statement that seemingly cannot, by traditional logic, be judged either true or false. Can it be true if this Cretan is not a liar, yet can it then be false if this Cretan is not lying?

But instead of just reading that statement, imagine that you actually met Epimenides, and he said to you personally: "All Cretans are liars." Your first reaction might be to wonder why, being a Cretan, would he say that, even if he thought it was true. And secondly, does he mean all Cretans always lie, or that no Cretan always tells the truth, or no Cretan ever tells the truth?

Your "emotional" and intuitive brain areas are thus examining signals reflecting the degree of probability that the statement is or is not reliable, as reliability is the key concept here. In a face to face encounter, these parts of the brain will automatically consider multiple scenarios, such as the speaker's motives, rather than operate from a presumption that the statement will be either true or false. It's the "rational" brain's assumption that things have to be one or the other that creates the apparent paradox.

"Paradox" has been defined as an assertion that is essentially self-contradictory, though based on a valid deduction from acceptable premises. And of course there's no paradox if Epimenides is simply lying about being a liar. Or if he is simply wrong and doesn't see the contradiction implicit in his also being a Cretan. But because we can't make a valid deduction without having more evidence available, we will intuitively treat the statement as unreliable, yet not necessarily know why, or know how to resolve the apparent contradictions.

Clearly, an assumptive premise that a thing is either true or false would be the flaw in this process, and without the input from the rest of the brain that the statement may be deliberately deceptive, for example, the rational brain, given that initial premise, would have a harder time realizing that this additional aspect of assessing "reliability" can be in fact the key to the problem.

The inference to be drawn here is that a "true or false" assessment alone is not sufficient as part of a successful investigative strategy. It is reliability that we are seeking through these strategies, and the concepts of "true" and "reliable" are not interchangeable. Truth is a part of the reliability assessment, but the main component is the degree of predictability involved. The brain is essentially a predictor of consequences, and the reliability of these predictions is more important to it than assessments of whether they are simply right or wrong.

Aphorism for thought: We might find more truth in a search for reliability, than find reliability in a search for the truth.

As to the paradox per se, here's its simplest form: "This sentence is false." Is it true? If so, it's false. Is it false? If so, it's true. My own solution: It's not necessary that it's either, especially if it's both. Because it's simply true that it's false. Or not so simply.
Because it's not false that it's true.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Do We Muse In Multiple?

I read an article in Scientific American (6-2007) concerning "The Traveler's Dilemma" and the application of game theory to its solution, and found it of value as an an exercise in showing that the form of logic used by game theorists is - at least in this case - less than careful in guarding against false premises, as the assumptions behind the premises involved were themselves based on an inaccurate assessment of actual human behavior.

And to me, the greatest error in these predictions appeared to stem from a belief or assumption that human brains calculate from one or two premises or inferences that are complimentary and follow a linear or at best bilinear logical process to a hierarchy of possible/probable solutions.

We may receive that impression through awareness of a stream of consciousness that seems to rise from a single source or result from a common analytical process. But more than likely we are seeing elements from several thought trains as they intersect with our consciousness for a variety of monitoring purposes. And what we don't see is the final arbitration process in the emotional and otherwise unconscious brain areas.

Because it's fairly clear, in my view, that our brains operate from multiple suppositions, some complimentary and some antagonistic, and the "logical" processes follow multilinear and complex routes in both competitive and cooperative fashions to "solve" the same or different aspects of the same or different immediate problems. Survival needs for the here and now have not permitted us the luxury of doing one thing at a time, so to speak.

Why would I presume the above to be true, or at least highly probable? To me that's not the right question, as it's clear from recent brain-imaging experiments alone that there's more than one "module" of the mind acting at the same time to address the same given problem, but with different strategic parameters. But intuition should have told us that, if nothing else. The real question is the extent to which this is happening.

I would speculate this extent involves the need the brain has - and that certain individual's brains may develop - for the number of multiple processes that most efficiently deal with what have been the most urgent and pressing needs for solutions through each species' evolutionary "experience."

Perhaps the more deceptive and therefor dangerous the environment, the more need for separate "modules" and/or biological "algorithms" to operate concurrently to overcome these dangers and form a consensus as to the most trustworthy paths to take in each instance. But as we may find there are limits to the efficacy of decisions made by committee, there are doubtless limitations to these processes in each species' nervous systems and brains for the same general reasons.

Factoring in what scientists have now observed about the brain's structure, it would appear a viable proposition that any biological systems which could have developed such a multiple "algorithmic" mechanism would have gained a distinct competitive advantage. And because we're becoming more and more aware that the progress of evolution is fueled as much by need as by happy accident, what is both possible and valuable to that progression might well be probable.

2-20-2008: I regard the following item as offering a modicum of support for the above speculative musings:

Nature Reviews Neuroscience
March 2008 Volume 9 Number 3

"There is a growing consensus that different types of memory are mediated by multiple distinct systems, but how these 'multiple memory systems' are organized in the brain is still a topic of debate. Nature Reviews Neuroscience presents a series of articles that discuss recent findings and controversies regarding the neural substrates of different memory systems and their components, drawing on data from neuropsychological, cognitive, neuroimaging and animal studies."

I wish I had access to the complete series, but as of now, I don't.