Archive for August, 2012

Aliens? Aliens!

A few pieces of evidence regarding aliens:

  1. UFO sightings have been regularly reported and carefully recorded for decades.
  2. Similarly for crop circles.
  3. Similarly for abduction experiences.
  4. There are ancient artifacts could not have been constructed by the humans of the time. Who made them?[1]
  5. The Mexican government has admitted the existence of aliens, and former US government officials have claimed that the US government knows that aliens exist and is not telling anybody.

Of the first four items, each represents a large area of research, with numerous data points and theories. In each case, some of the data points have been debunked; some of them appear very difficult to debunk, with a variety of skeptical explanations definitively ruled out; and the vast majority are ambiguous.

Is there any piece of evidence that “puts the nail in the coffin” regarding aliens? Well, aliens have never landed in the middle of Times Square on a Monday afternoon.

But what does it take to really nail down a proposition? Presumably none of these individual data points are enough by themselves to nail down aliens. But there are millions of them. You can’t say that they’re all hoaxes. Well, you can, but at that point a certain razor needs to step in.

So I ask again, what does it take to really nail down a proposition? What standard of proof do we require? A lot of ideas are widely accepted and credible, on far less evidence than what we here have on offer. Academics accept the DSM, set theory, Martin Heidegger, and so forth, on far less evidence than what we have put forth here.

Infallible proof is talked about more often than it is actually obtained. Compared to the number of ideas that have been floated since the inception of knowledge, the number of ideas that have been truly “nailed down” is miniscule. (It seems like a larger proportion of the total ideas because we keep on teaching those same few ideas over and over to every person who goes through school.) And even those few ideas aren’t nailed down in an absolute sense.

I would put aliens in an epistemic position similar to that of dark matter. We can’t see dark matter, or aliens. But we can deduce, detective-style, that it’s hard to explain how the universe holds together without dark matter, or aliens. Note, not “impossible to explain,” but “hard to explain.” Which in the case of dark matter, is enough to make us believe.

Why do we feel differently about aliens? I think it’s not because the evidence isn’t good enough. It’s not a lack of evidence that makes us reluctant; it’s something else. What?

  1. The issue is important. If aliens are actually interacting with humans behind the curtains, that has huge implications for the future of humanity and our place in the universe. The more important something is, the more evidence we demand.
  2. Though there is no lack of evidence, all of the evidence is ambiguous. In some ways, a huge mass of ambiguous evidence is less convincing than a small amount of unambiguous evidence. Statistically speaking, a large amount of ambiguous evidence is probably no less weighty than a small amount of unambiguous evidence; but it’s less cognitively accessible.
  3. The idea is completely divergent from how we understand the world. Forget quantum physics; forget black holes and dark matter; forget evolving from apes; this is weird. A lot of people feel like aliens are somehow inconsistent with science. They aren’t; they don’t challenge materialism, reductionism, empiricism, or anything else. But there’s still this unshakeable feeling of, this is inconsistent with reality as I understand it. And it is.

[1] The “ancient aliens” argument has been criticized on the grounds that it is fallacious to infer from an unexplained phenomenon (artifacts that humans of the time could not have built) to the explanation of aliens. But it’s not so fallacious. We can safely say that things like statues and artistic landforms are made by sentient beings. If humans didn’t do it, some other sentient beings did. We know of no appropriate sentient beings, besides humans, that exist on Earth. If they’re not from Earth, they’re from somewhere else.

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Subjective and Objective Truth

I am better understanding the “dark night of the soul” that mathematics has been for me.

I think that truth needs to involve an element of fantasy. That sounds like a paradox; but I think that our fantasies are true.

If I visualize something so vividly that it feels at least as real to me as physical reality, what grounds do I say that physical reality is real, and the visualization is unreal?

Well, one ground would be that other people can’t see the visualization; but I’ll address that issue later.

Try it. Visualize a red triangle. Visualize it so strongly that it becomes as real as your own hand. Then visualize it so strongly that it’s more real than your hand. It can be done.

People regularly achieve this sort of transcendence of physical reality on the wings of pure faith. Think of the ascetics who deprive and punish their bodies for the sake of a belief. Think of the feminists, who have managed to make widely accepted a truth that has no evidence other than what people’s hearts tell them. Think of the mathematicians, who study a vast paradise of nonexistent and impossible objects. Think of the fiction writers, who live in an imaginary world of their own creation.

Fantasy, the truth that comes from inside us, is subjective truth. The truth that comes from examining the outside world, is objective truth.

Subjective truth is considered by many to be nonexistent. And indeed, I cannot assert the existence of subjective truth in the same way that I can assert that 2+2=4. The reason is that subjective truth is subjectively true; whereas objective truth is objectively true. But subjective truth is not objectively true. Similarly, objective truth is not subjectively true.

Objective truth can only be determined through the methods of empiricism. For subjective truth, the method is this: whatever you wish to be true, is true.

The nature of our experience at this nexus places great emphasis on objective truth. We are, in the ordinary course of things, absorbed in the shuffle of the physical world and its necessities. And this same emphasis on objectivity is reflected in our intellectual climate.

Subjective truth is hard to find, hard to notice, hard to hold onto. But it is better and more important than objective truth.

People have different subjective truths. I can see my own visualizations; you cannot. My passions are not your passions. My ideals are not your ideals.

There is therefore great paradox in trying to share one’s subjective truth. Subjective truth is not objectively true. What is true for me, may not be true for you. For the most part, therefore, we must have our own truth and let others have theirs. The problem of sharing truths is a hard one.

I cannot wish to share my truth with another, if for them it is falsehood. I can only wish to share it with them, if for them it is truth.

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