The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Known Unknowns

At The Thinkers Podium, Bruce ponders pre-suppositionalism and a priori premisses.

…placing an argument a priori requires sound reasoning and the larger and more complex your body of a priori, the more validation it requires and the more likely it is to be invalidated. And of course you don’t want your a priori premise to be invalidated because anything a posteriori will also be invalidated.

This is standard application of logic to hypothesis making – pretty much the scientific method. You have an idea, come up with some ways of testing it and draw conclusions about the validity of the idea. Perfectly sound and reasonable.

However, if the nature of an a priori is such that it cannot be validated or invalidated, then logically, all a posteriori considerations can neither be fully validated or invalidated or substantiated, no matter how reasonable, unreasonable, appealing or preposterous the a priori hypothesis might be. An a priori is not invalid simply because it hasn’t been validated. Nor can one logically claim that because my unsubstantiated a priori is more ‘reasonable’ or rational than yours, my a posteriori conclusions are more valid than yours.

For example, leaving God and the Flying Spaghetti Monster aside, questions concerning the origin of the universe or the nature of consciousness are ultimately unanswerable in the sense of proven beyond all doubt. The fact that we are still asking them after millennia of human endeavour suggests that this is so – all sentient human beings ponder these unknowables and attempt to create some understanding of them. But answers to these questions are unknowable because they are beyond the purview of empirical, evidential processes. We cannot definitively explain the origin of the universe because we weren’t there to gather empirical evidence. Of course we can develop a priori hypotheses about it and apply the scientific method to them. This process may or may not lend some credence to our a priori hypothesis, but if it is ultimately unknowable, our embrace of the hypothesis will be influenced by other factors such as belief, faith, conditioning, experience, ideology or prejudice. But we still can’t validate or invalidate beyond reasonable doubt an a priori hypothesis about something which is unknowable.

There are eastern schools of thought which posit that consciousness is more than the sum of its sensual input, that consciousness is as primal to the universe as energy or matter. But again, this is essentially unknowable and un-testable by empirical analysis. How can we know if there is consciousness beyond our senses, if all we have to evaluate this hypothesis this is our senses?

Science is no more useful or definitive in testing the validity of unknowable a prioris than religious, spiritual, political, philosophical or ideological approaches. It comes down to personal choice. It is a matter of faith – be it in science, religion, philosophy, agnosticism, skepticism or atheism. It has always been thus. One may be inclined to one understanding or school of thought or another, but none of them can deliver the coup de grace to invalidate the unknowable.

Certainty that science or atheism provides the answer to say the origin of the universe*, or invalidates other a priori hypotheses about the unknowable is disingenuous and as much a matter of faith as Pastafarianism. The truly unknowable cannot be made known by empirical processes, no matter how determined we may be. Individually, we look for answers and find meaning in our own way.

*scientific understanding of the mechanics of the Big Bang, for example, still do not explain the origin of the Big Bang – something akin to asking ‘what was there before God?’

Filed under: Big Picture, Philosophy, Religion, Science

2 Responses

  1. Bruce says:

    Personally, my own epistemology is based heavily on radical constructivism, which doesn’t presuppose and particular metaphysic as a priori. At the base of it all, my a priori premise is that “reason is reasonable”, which I think is sufficiently self-evident.

    As a result, while all of these unknowables remain unknowable, at least I don’t have to know them except perhaps out of personal curiosity. I remain permenantly skeptical toward all other knowledge along the way.

  2. slim says:

    Cheers, Bruce.

    Skepticism is a healthy component of a genuine spirit of enquiry. Be skeptical toward all other knowledge, including skepticism, especially when it is used to sustain an ideological stance which is more correctly denialism.

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The Dog’s Bollocks

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