Category Archives: Hats

On Knowledge and Arbitration

Dear Father,

As you recall, the past few letters I have written have dealt with the nature of truth and the state of mind oftentimes required for weak children like myself to even consider such lofty notions. My fixation on the topic of truth is multi-faceted, stemming from my trials with my friend, my desire to find Sophie, and my hopes of seeing you. Truth is tied to all these things in a way nothing else is, for one must know the properties of truth before one can know that he has found it. But even more important, and more fundamental, is the question of knowledge. One has to know what knowing is before one can know whether or not something is true. Of course knowing that you know, and more importantly knowing what you know, is a subject that has plagued many a lover of Sophie, and being of amateur status it seems all but impossible that one such as myself would ever be able, single-handedly, to arrive at satisfactory answers to this question. I already attempted to define truth, and while my definition at the time seemed very satisfactory, my views on things true and things arbitrary has yielded little fruit in my battle with Doubt. The reason for this, as I have now discovered, is that Doubt doesn’t care much for truth; he cares for knowledge.

The definition of knowledge, much like truth, has been heavily contested over the ages, with famous lovers of Sophie knowing that their opponents’ definitions were wrong even though they could not satisfactorily articulate how they knew, or what knowing meant. There is a whole path on the way to Sophia dedicated to the study of knowledge, and a little walk along this road has alerted me to a number of things. The first is that a vast majority of the lovers of Sophie that pitched their tents on this road, including Plato the Most Versatile, are of the opinion, dare I say the knowledge, that things known must be true. Of course for younglings like myself such a statement is very confusing; if one can only know truth when one knows what knowing is, and in order to really know, the thing one claims to know must in fact be true, our dear friend One would inevitably be left in an infinite loop of ignorance. This definition, I have been told, was made in order to distinguish knowledge from opinions or beliefs, things that may not be true but hold the convictions of a number of people. Of course this means that truth is tied to knowledge as tightly as arbitration is tied to opinion, and while this definition satisfies me because it validates my nice arbitration concerning truth and arbitration, it does nothing to advance my quest. This is because, as I have said, Doubt does not quite care for how true something really is. He cares for how convinced you are that it is true, how highly on your personal knowledge scale your little belief ranks.

You see Father, the reason I have not yet been able to shake Doubt’s terrible claws from my shoulder is because I cannot claim to know the answers to the questions he asks me. Now in hindsight I believe I can be forgiven for mistaking this problem with the problem of truth. As you must have surmised from this entire quest, I am obsessed with truth. In order for me to accept something I must confirm it is true, and it is by these means that Doubt has been able to attack time and time again. And while the lovers of Sophie that line the roads of Epistemology would say that placing truth as a fundamental criterion for knowledge is noble, on days such as this, when Doubt seems more powerful than ever, their endorsements do little for me. Unlike a good chunk of your children I not only care a great deal about truth, I also have a very high standard for what can be termed truth. And honestly I am really starting to envy this good chunk of your children.

Take for example people I have met called Abductees. These are children of yours that assert that beings from beyond the stars have seized them and used them as subjects in strange experiments. Now, based on my statements on truth and arbitration, I would conservatively term such statements arbitrations. Barring verification, one cannot really say that these things are true. That, however, matters not to those that have put them forth. They know these things, as much as any man on earth can claim to know anything. We could find out tomorrow that their statements are false, that extra-terrestrial beings have not in fact been collecting our siblings and doing strange things to them, and their knowledge would be rendered hollow. This, however, would not change how much they believed them. At the time before verification they knew that these statements were true. They would have died for such beliefs, confident that they were right. Plato and his ilk would adamantly state that this level of conviction does not change the fact that they do not know, but for one like me, facing the deep voice of Doubt, such adamance is useless. The fact remains that for such people, wrong they may be, Doubt is no problem. He does not hang over their heads and bring their affairs to a grinding halt; he does not colour their every action with the shadow of uncertainty. Whether or not they are wrong, one must admit that they do not have the problem that I have, and on some days I feel as though I would not wish this problem on my worst enemies.

In spite of making this discovery however, my ‘nobility’, or perhaps my lack of ability, did not let me seek an easy out from the ramblings of my once little friend. Unfortunately I have been wearing the Hat of Unverified-Arbitration-is-not-Truth for far too long, and honestly I do not think I am ever going to be able to completely take it off. This state of mind appears to now be a fundamental state of my mind, and I fear only desperation the likes of which I have never felt before would push me to divest myself of this mode of thinking. Even faced with such desperation I get the feeling (no doubt inspired by Doubt) that in time my high standards for truth would soon come sneaking back into my head and I would once again relegate any statement to the land of arbitration. In an odd twist it seems the very thing which caused me to smile in the face of Doubt but a few weeks ago now brings me lower than I have been in quite the while.

My continued foray along the path of Episteme did not do much to help me. I happened upon a book by a more recent lover of Sophie called Bertrand Russell, and reading it has perhaps caused me more pain than my discovery on Doubt’s real desires. Now I know I promised to only focus on the works of the ancients Father, but this book was called “The Problems of Philosophy”; I felt it wise to read it. If there are any problems with my love for Sophia and my quest to find her, would it not be smart to discover them before I go too far?

In this book Russell, in a manner most calm, showed that almost all the little things that one claimed to know were nothing but bald-faced arbitrations. By doing nothing but observing a single table the man laid waste to all that I thought I knew, even issues not yet questioned by my friend. The questions he used to destroy my preconceptions were very similar to those often put forth by Doubt himself, and his major achievement lay not in asking them, but in showing that they had no real answers. He, in effect, took my personal arbitrations and extended them, growing their reach till they covered almost everything, including the very nature of the paper on which I write this letter. So sensible was his rhetoric that even questions Doubt asked me long ago, questions that I found easy to ignore, such as whether or not the sky is blue, returned, suddenly pressing and very important. Allow me to pat myself on the back for reading on, dear Father; I honestly do not know how I continued to indulge Mr Russell even with the rising amplitude of my friend’s voice.

Russell’s brutal attack on knowledge, and by extension truth, was apparently inspired by another fairly contemporary lover of Sophie, a Frenchman by the name Rene Descartes. Reading the means by which he arrived at his conclusion of universal arbitrariness, I think I can say that the Frenchman was perhaps as plagued by Doubt as I am. As legend would have it he locked himself in a room and decided to put to question everything he thought he knew, and the result was what I read before me that day. Nothing is known and so nothing can be known to be true. Everything we speak, however evident, is arbitration. The implications of such a worldview are staggering, Father, but luckily before I could descend into a pit of confusion most supreme Russell revealed the one thing Descartes had discovered to be true. It is a very famous statement, one I’d heard even as a child parading the halls of the House. It read: “I think therefore I am”.

A brief analysis reveals why this statement cannot be doubted. Regardless of how one views one’s existence, regardless of the countless questions and answers that Doubt can bring forth, the fact remains that because one is even thinking these questions, considering these answers, he must exist. One cannot doubt one’s existence. I think, therefore I am. This is the one thing Doubt cannot touch, the one thing Doubt cannot question. Apt, then, that the process by which the Frenchman arrived at this conclusion is often termed the “Method of Systematic Doubt”.

Now discovering that Doubt would never be able to question whether or not I exist is but a small victory. I still have to contend with the fact that everything else, if Russell and Descartes are to be believed, is open to question, that everything everyone says is nothing but arbitration no matter how hard one tries to verify it. Reading Russell’s book so far has not given me much confidence in the rest of my quest for Sophia, and honestly Father I am just about ready to give up. But Platocrates is getting really deep with his description of governments, and Augustine apparently smuggled some metaphysics into his Confessions, and I have been told by a stray lover that Russell has an optimistic message at the end of his book, and so I will continue. Fearing I will never find real truth, but knowing I can always be certain of my own existence, I will continue. Besides, soon I will take off whatever Hat(s) allowed me to reflect so deeply, and I would forget, albeit temporarily, about Russell’s words. I honestly cannot wait, dear Father, to look upon the world without the taint of universal arbitration.

With fatigue,

Your Prodigal Son

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

On Hearts, Hats and Minds

Dear Father,

In my last letter I attempted to define truth, to make the distinction between things that were true and things that were simply appealing. It was the latest in many attempts at permanently, or more effectively, silencing my companion, and while I may have declared victory as I finished the missive but a few weeks ago, I am sad to inform you that my triumph was rather short-lived.

You must not be surprised by this, dearest Father. As you know your children have very short memories. On a particularly busy day, attempting to recollect details of even routine and mundane tasks like breakfast can leave one pensive for minutes. While we are capable of displaying better skill with our memories when the situation demands it, we know that even the best of these memories is seldom a perfect record of events transpired. Our minds colour them with our personalities, focusing on the things that we deem important and pushing into irrelevancy things that we deem not. All but the very best of your children suffer from this, and oftentimes I am left wondering whether this flaw is by design, or whether it is a glitch in the otherwise perfect world you have made.

And so, not long after I had smugly agreed with Doubt as to the arbitrary nature of my rather long missive, my powerful convictions were all but wiped from my mind. I did not forget them entirely; my distinction between truth and arbitration remains an important one, if not to you or him, at least to me. I arrived at this distinction because of the pain and distrust Doubt has caused me since the day I met him; it is not one that would so easily go the way of my breakfast. Unfortunately, however, one of the side effects of the poor memories your children possess is that knowing in one’s mind that a thing is true does not always translate to knowing the same in one’s heart. Our short memories compel us to remember things by repetition; it is only by doing something over and over again that the strong (and still less than accurate) records we so desire may be formed and accumulated. And so while I may be able to reason wonderfully and come to great truths that would make gifted lovers of Sophie like Platocrates quite proud, the moment I turn from such musings to the mundane affectations of my life they are quickly forgotten, and Doubt is once again allowed to have his way with my mind.

It is at such moments I am reminded of how much I envy you, dearest Father. In much the same manner as Doubt is endemic to me and the rest of your children, he is foreign to you. Of course you must know of him, very well I dare say. But he does not possess you as he does me. This distinction, between knowing something and knowing of something, between knowing something in words but not in heart, is one that is very important, and unfortunately manifests itself in completely different ways in your children and yourself. After I had devised my new definitions for truth and arbitration, one can safely say that I knew of them, that I had the words in my mind. I could recall them with relative ease, and speak of them freely from memory. However, one cannot say that I knew them. I am far more intimate with Doubt, more comfortable with my old definitions of truth as that which makes sense or which feels right, than I am with the new and possibly more accurate distinctions between actual verified statements and simple arbitrations.

You can easily see why your children are really glaring statements of imperfection when placed alongside yourself. In order to know things, to remember them reflexively, we must learn them. We must train ourselves to see them in a certain way. And if these things are the wrong things, then we must spend time learning the right things and unlearning the wrong. Contrast this with yourself, Father, you that never has to learn anything. You know what you know. More importantly, the things you know are the right things and the things you know of are the “unright” ones. Because truth for you is a non-issue, your knowledge operates on a level far above ours. For example you know Sophia, very well in fact, in a way that no human ever will. But you must also know of not knowing Sophia, as the very act of knowing her is something that you made. You are always filled with certainty, but you know of Doubt, as once again Doubt’s very existence cannot be without your will. Very few of your children, both within the House and outside it, possess this skill, and when they do it is usually over a very small scope of trivial, lesser things. I cannot even count myself in their ranks, and so it should come as no surprise that Doubt is still fluttering about my head even after the bold discoveries listed in my last letter.

It seems to me that when I was uttering those statements, discovering those potential “truths”, I was of a certain mind. I, compelled by the pettiness of my companion, had temporarily discarded my normal way of thinking and had entered a new one, one that allowed me to view the world in a different manner and in so doing make different assumptions and arrive at different conclusions. There is a saying amongst your children that, to me, describes this perfectly: “Put your thinking cap on”. It is a statement that enjoins the listener to pause a moment and think deeply on an issue, to pull from his mind a rich vat of knowledge and reason and inspect it carefully so as to reach a desired conclusion. Perhaps then whenever your children think on things we would not normally consider, in ways that we would not normally use, we are putting our thinking hats on. (I personally consider hats to be much cooler than caps, hence the personalisation of the phrase). We are wearing these things over our heads that force us to consider the world from a certain perspective, to forget, temporarily, what we already know and consider more deeply the things we only know of. The thinking hat, in its various shapes and forms, changes the very nature of our minds. Unfortunately we do not – cannot – always wear these hats, and the moment we take them off the knowledge in our hearts, carefully cultivated and grown from years of reinforcement, takes hold of us once more.

It seems then that in order to unlearn wrong things and learn the right ones we must wear our thinking hats as often as possible, each hat suited for a different kind of inquiry. The Hat of Truth, for example, will allow me to consider what is true and what is not, as I did in my last letter, while the Hat of Reason may help me distil the pure nature of logic and reasoning from the all too common mixtures of fallacies…

Much as I felt at the end of my last letter, dearest Father, I very much like this conclusion. It is inevitable that whatever immediate victories I gain against Doubt would be short-lived, but by wearing my wonderful hats as often as possible it is not farfetched to believe that I may come to discern truths strong enough to dispel the pesky fellow. I may come to know in my heart, as much as in my mind, what is true and what is not, and by so doing make my triumphs more permanent.

Of course postulating on the nature of hats and truths implies that I must be wearing the Hat of Hats and the Hat of Truth at the same time, and while this imagery certainly calls the efficacy of this metaphor into question, I humbly request, dear Father, that you look the other way. I am but a little child in a strange forest, very far from home. Allow me, in this one case, to be a Small Arbiter, and to have my varied hats when I can.

With a thinking hat,

Your Prodigal Son

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: