How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

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anonymous66
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How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by anonymous66 » February 12th, 2020, 3:44 pm

I've been reading Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos, and I find his arguments to be compelling.

I take it that radical skepticism is untenable- we just can't get much done as radical skeptics.

We also rightly say that young earth creationism, and other religious ideas and pseudoscience are not just unpopular- but false (the earth is demonstrably older than 5,000 years old, for example).

Also, the reason that science is so useful is because it is discovering truths- good theories correspond to what is the case. The theory of evolution is not just a useful, popular theory, it is true- it corresponds to what is the case.

We are biological organisms that evolved over billions of years from one-celled organisms to rational beings who can acknowledge that we are fallible and make self-corrections when we discover mistakes in our thinking.

How is it possible that we can trust our faculties? (We do have to trust them when we do science).

It seems to me we only have a few options.

1. Accept radical skepticism- don't accept evolution, for example, as actually being true- accept is as a useful theory. Don't make or accept any claims of knowledge.
2. Accept some form of coherentism- accept that what really matters is not the truth of any idea, concept or theory, but rather the coherence of that theory. (This appears to require some from of appeal to popularity as well).
3. Accept some form of theism- just accept that "God made us this way"- Accept that God just created us with the ability for self-correction- God gave us the ability to know.
4. Look for some other reason to accept the reality that we can and do know things (things like the fact that evolution is a valid theory- we know it does actually correspond to what is the case).

I reject 1, 2, and 3 and am interested in 4.

I'm committed to the idea that evolution is a reality, but how do we keep the reality of evolution from undermining our ability to know?

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by Terrapin Station » February 12th, 2020, 5:22 pm

There's no good reason to not trust your faculties, ceteris paribus.

One popular argument for idealism or representationalism is that studies of our perceptual faculties--how our eyes, ears, etc. and brain works with respect to our senses suggest that what we're aware of is always simply a mental representation or model; we're not directly aware of the world.

The problem with this conclusion, in context, is that if the conclusion is correct, then it completely pulls the rug out from how we got to the conclusion in the first place. In other words, if we're always simply aware of a mental representation or model, then we have no basis for saying that we were able to observe eyes, ears, brains, etc. and determine how they work--we can only achieve that if we can be directly aware of things in the world. Otherwise there's no grounds for saying that what we thought we were observing isn't just an imaginative mental fantasy. So we can't use this to attempt to justify the claim that we're always simply aware of a mental representation or model.

Similar approaches work for all other attempts to justify idealism or representationalism.

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by Terrapin Station » February 12th, 2020, 5:29 pm

A simpler, kind of evergreen way to look at it is this: we have no grounds for saying that anything is an illusion if we don't have a means of determining that the illusion was mistaken because such and such was actually what was going on. So "everything is an illusion" can't work. There's no way to get there if you don't have some non-illusory information. The non-illusory information is necessary to determine that some specific thing is an illusion.

For example, if you have no way of determining that there's actually no water puddle in the middle of the baking-hot road ahead, then you have no grounds for saying the appearance of water in the road is an illusion. You need to have correct information--which means you need to be able to get at how things really are, in at least a limited arena, to enable saying that some perception or phenomenon is an illusion.

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by Prof Bulani » February 12th, 2020, 6:41 pm

Organisms that accurately perceive their external environment can more effectively navigate their environment and therefore survive. Organisms that fail to accurately perceive their environment don't survive. Evolution selects for organisms with accurate perception.
"The purpose of life is to survive and replicate" - Erik von Markovik

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by Pantagruel » February 12th, 2020, 7:05 pm

Prof Bulani wrote:
February 12th, 2020, 6:41 pm
Organisms that accurately perceive their external environment can more effectively navigate their environment and therefore survive. Organisms that fail to accurately perceive their environment don't survive. Evolution selects for organisms with accurate perception.
Yes, Sartre says (with Marx) that praxis outstrips knowledge in its efficacy. We learn through our experimental interaction with the environment, that's a fact. Knowledge is a latecomer to the game.

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by Cats » February 13th, 2020, 3:22 am

Prof Bulani wrote:
February 12th, 2020, 6:41 pm
Organisms that accurately perceive their external environment can more effectively navigate their environment and therefore survive. Organisms that fail to accurately perceive their environment don't survive. Evolution selects for organisms with accurate perception.
This logic only works if you believe in the evolution theory and OP seems conflicted.

That's a joke. I don't know how to answer this question but it's interesting. Being open-minded to skepticism provides opportunity for creative thinking but accepting rigorously tested theoretical knowledge as truth and building off of it is often more productive. And if we're being honest about our own fallibility then we have to acknowledge that radical skepticism isn't going to align us any closer to the truth.

But the task of philosophy is often re-examining historic presuppositions which is a type of radical skepticism. Our faculties deceive us constantly and we collectively accept false narratives as truth all the time--if accurately perceiving the external environment is essential for survival then it seems like this is an important question. How much of our emotional & physical reaction to loneliness is based on biology vs environmental or cultural assumptions about how much time we should be spending around other people? CBT works as a therapy because challenging how an individual perceives their problem is often enough to give them the tools to overcome it.

I haven't read the book yet but I'm interested in it. I think it's healthy for scientific theories to be challenged now and then, and if it survives the testing then it only becomes stronger. The scientific community as much as the religious community can become possessed by their ideas.

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by anonymous66 » February 13th, 2020, 10:40 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
February 12th, 2020, 5:22 pm
There's no good reason to not trust your faculties, ceteris paribus.
If we accept the reality of evolution- then it seems there are good reasons not to trust our faculties. Evolution is the mechanism by which genes are passed down from one generation to the next- through the process of natural selection. Evolution is "concerned" with passing those genes on, not with ensuring that any organism can create an accurate representation of reality. The qualities that get passed on to the next generation are just those that are "good enough" to allow the organism to survive (witness the odd path of the laryngeal nerve in mammals- including giraffes and humans). Our faculties are suspect- we are fallible. There is plenty of evidence that organisms (including humans) are susceptible to a variety of illusions. Sticks look bent in water. Beetles can't tell the difference between a possible mate and a beer bottle ( https://www.livescience.com/16331-disc ... -sex.html )

Optical illusions:
https://visme.co/blog/best-optical-illusions/
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10 ... 66/full

And of course, how do we know that the beliefs we have as humans aren't just false beliefs that happen to be an evolutionary adaption to help us survive? Vs beliefs that align with reality.
A lion approaches a man to eat him. The man believes the lion is cuddley and the best way to pet him is to run away. The man has been selected in evolutionary terms because he survived using false beliefs.

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by anonymous66 » February 13th, 2020, 10:42 am

Cats wrote:
February 13th, 2020, 3:22 am
I haven't read the book yet but I'm interested in it. I think it's healthy for scientific theories to be challenged now and then, and if it survives the testing then it only becomes stronger. The scientific community as much as the religious community can become possessed by their ideas.
What scientific theory do you imagine is being challenged?

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by Terrapin Station » February 13th, 2020, 10:49 am

anonymous66 wrote:
February 13th, 2020, 10:40 am
Terrapin Station wrote:
February 12th, 2020, 5:22 pm
There's no good reason to not trust your faculties, ceteris paribus.
If we accept the reality of evolution- then it seems there are good reasons not to trust our faculties. Evolution is the mechanism by which genes are passed down from one generation to the next- through the process of natural selection. Evolution is "concerned" with passing those genes on, not with ensuring that any organism can create an accurate representation of reality. The qualities that get passed on to the next generation are just those that are "good enough" to allow the organism to survive (witness the odd path of the laryngeal nerve in mammals- including giraffes and humans). Our faculties are suspect- we are fallible. There is plenty of evidence that organisms (including humans) are susceptible to a variety of illusions. Sticks look bent in water. Beetles can't tell the difference between a possible mate and a beer bottle ( https://www.livescience.com/16331-disc ... -sex.html )

Optical illusions:
https://visme.co/blog/best-optical-illusions/
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10 ... 66/full

And of course, how do we know that the beliefs we have as humans aren't just false beliefs that happen to be an evolutionary adaption to help us survive? Vs beliefs that align with reality.
A lion approaches a man to eat him. The man believes the lion is cuddley and the best way to pet him is to run away. The man has been selected in evolutionary terms because he survived using false beliefs.
If you can't believe your faculties, then how would we have any access to information about the world that allows us to discover anything about evolution? The notion that evolution could tell us that we can't trust our faculties undermines the notion that we were able to discover anything about evolution in the first place.

No one is saying there are no optical illusions. Hence the "ceteris paribus" clause in my comment. However, we'd have zero grounds for saying that anything is an optical illusion if we can't trust our faculties to know what's really occurring contra the illusion. The mere fact that we can parse some things as an illusion contra what's really going on undermines the notion that we can't trust our faculties period.

Hence, there's no good reason to believe that we can't trust our faculties, ceteris paribus.

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by anonymous66 » February 13th, 2020, 10:54 am

Prof Bulani wrote:
February 12th, 2020, 6:41 pm
Organisms that accurately perceive their external environment can more effectively navigate their environment and therefore survive. Organisms that fail to accurately perceive their environment don't survive. Evolution selects for organisms with accurate perception.
I'm operating under the assumption that evolution is not "concerned" with ensuring that organisms can accurately perceive their environment- it is "concerned" with passing genes on to the next generation.

And we have plenty of evidence that organisms are flawed. See my response to Terrapin Station.

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by Prof Bulani » February 13th, 2020, 11:20 am

anonymous66 wrote:
February 13th, 2020, 10:54 am
Prof Bulani wrote:
February 12th, 2020, 6:41 pm
Organisms that accurately perceive their external environment can more effectively navigate their environment and therefore survive. Organisms that fail to accurately perceive their environment don't survive. Evolution selects for organisms with accurate perception.
I'm operating under the assumption that evolution is not "concerned" with ensuring that organisms can accurately perceive their environment- it is "concerned" with passing genes on to the next generation.

And we have plenty of evidence that organisms are flawed. See my response to Terrapin Station.
Evolution isn't concerned with anything. If an organism acquires a trait that allows it to more effectively navigate it's external environment, that organism will be more successful at survival than an organism that doesn't. An essential component to environment navigation is environment detection. If you are willing to argue that environment detection is irrelevant to organism survival, I'd be happy to hear those arguments.
"The purpose of life is to survive and replicate" - Erik von Markovik

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by anonymous66 » February 13th, 2020, 11:35 am

@Prof Bulani
It seems we disagree as to the nature and/or definition of evolution. I've never seen a description or definition of evolution that includes anything about "accurate perception".

We'll need to agree on the nature of evolution before we can continue.

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by anonymous66 » February 13th, 2020, 11:47 am

Terrapin Station wrote:
February 13th, 2020, 10:49 am
anonymous66 wrote:
February 13th, 2020, 10:40 am


If we accept the reality of evolution- then it seems there are good reasons not to trust our faculties. Evolution is the mechanism by which genes are passed down from one generation to the next- through the process of natural selection. Evolution is "concerned" with passing those genes on, not with ensuring that any organism can create an accurate representation of reality. The qualities that get passed on to the next generation are just those that are "good enough" to allow the organism to survive (witness the odd path of the laryngeal nerve in mammals- including giraffes and humans). Our faculties are suspect- we are fallible. There is plenty of evidence that organisms (including humans) are susceptible to a variety of illusions. Sticks look bent in water. Beetles can't tell the difference between a possible mate and a beer bottle ( https://www.livescience.com/16331-disc ... -sex.html )

Optical illusions:
https://visme.co/blog/best-optical-illusions/
https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10 ... 66/full

And of course, how do we know that the beliefs we have as humans aren't just false beliefs that happen to be an evolutionary adaption to help us survive? Vs beliefs that align with reality.

If you can't believe your faculties, then how would we have any access to information about the world that allows us to discover anything about evolution? The notion that evolution could tell us that we can't trust our faculties undermines the notion that we were able to discover anything about evolution in the first place.

No one is saying there are no optical illusions. Hence the "ceteris paribus" clause in my comment. However, we'd have zero grounds for saying that anything is an optical illusion if we can't trust our faculties to know what's really occurring contra the illusion. The mere fact that we can parse some things as an illusion contra what's really going on undermines the notion that we can't trust our faculties period.

Hence, there's no good reason to believe that we can't trust our faculties, ceteris paribus.
Let me try this.
1. Evolution is an accurate description of reality
2. Because of the nature of evolution- the organisms that survive are those that just have those qualities that ensure their survival. We have plenty of evidence that organisms are fallible. (if God exists and he is a designer, then he is terrible at his job).
3. We can trust our faculties.
4. The fact that both (a) evolution is true and (b) we can trust our faculties is a mystery that deserves an answer.

It seems to me that you deny premise 4.
It seems to me that you believe we ought to just trust our faculties and ignore the mystery of how it is that we have reliable faculties.

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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by Pattern-chaser » February 13th, 2020, 11:49 am

Prof Bulani wrote:
February 12th, 2020, 6:41 pm
Organisms that accurately perceive their external environment can more effectively navigate their environment and therefore survive. Organisms that fail to accurately perceive their environment don't survive. Evolution selects for organisms with accurate perception.
Evolution selects for organisms with the abilities necessary to survive. Accurate perception is not necessarily such an ability, although it might be.... You seem fond of drawing conclusions without justifying them first. 🤔
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Re: How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?

Post by Steve3007 » February 13th, 2020, 1:00 pm

How is it that We Can Trust Our Faculties?
As far as I'm concerned, the word "trust" doesn't mean much unless we answer the question: "trust to do what?". If I ask somebody "can I rely on you?" or "can I trust you?" I suspect they'll probably ask me that question. If I don't answer, then they can't answer.

I may have missed it, but I didn't see that in the OP. The answer obviously defines whether or not we can trust our faculties. I've found by experience that I can generally trust my faculties to predict what my faculties will tell me next, at least enough to get me through the day.

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