I can’t think of a better way of beginning an exercise in Cartesian doubt than with the sentiments of the René Descartes himself:
‘I am alone and, at long last, I will devote myself seriously and freely to this general overturning of my beliefs’
It seems to me that a reasonable place to begin an enquiry of this nature would be where the constructive portion of Descartes enquiry ended – That being with an examination of the notion of ‘truth’.
When I consider the term ‘truth’, I am left with the impression that there is no such thing as a half-truth. ‘Truth’ is of itself an absolute term and any mitigation or addition of qualifiers a mere equivocation! However when I refer to this or that as being ‘true’ or ‘false’, tacitly what I am saying is that X contains more or less of what I conceive to be right or wrong as regards my own conception of X.
It seems that ‘truth’ is a term that requires further definition. So let the term Absolute-truth represent the general understanding of the term ‘truth’. While Tacit-truth will represent the concept of ‘truth’ as is practically applied by me.
Tacit-truth as already describes, is simply a subjective measure of the relative degree of truth that exists in X given the information at hand. If X was previously considered to be ‘false’, should more information form part of ones conception of X, it may now be considered ‘true’. Furthermore, additional information may again show that X was indeed false. This process can, with the continuous input of information, continue ad infinitum.
Tacit-truth seems to be at all times in a state of duality. A thing may be true now or then, but that is no reason to expect it to be true in five minutes time.
Absolute-truth as opposed to Tacit-truth appears to be binary in nature. A thing may be either ‘true’ or ‘1’, alternatively it may be ‘false’ or ‘0’. And when we consider that anything that exists must be to some extent true, we are simply describing a state of existence and non-existence. If X is found to be ‘true’, then there is no possible dataset that could change X so as to be ‘false’.
As a result of this need to consider existence as whole, so as to ascertain the truth of any matter, Absolute-truth is intractable in nature. This characteristic is an interesting one and the implications as regards our analysis are worth examining.
It comes down to a question of computing power. If we were able to take a supposition, place it into a computer with infinite computing power and then program it to derive an absolute answer. That computer would, if information is limitless in quantity and variance, never return an answer; or if information is limited, the computer would become trapped in an infinite loop wherein:
The computer (I.C.) solves for Absolute-truth (A.T.), then must again solve for A.T. taking into account the new data created as a result of the I.C.’s attempt to solve for A.T. at the previous datum, ad infinitum.
This might be a good time to summarise the characteristics of these two terms:
- Is practical; and
- contains at all times the potential for two states; and
- it’s state alternates with a variance in information; and
- it is the tacit application of the general concept of ‘truth’; and finally
- it’s origin seems to biological.
- Is speculative; and
- remains constant regardless of quantity/variance of data; and
- it is intractable in nature; and
- represents our common perception of truth; and finally
- has a social, philosophical and theological origin.
With the table above in mind, I look at the world around me for a moment. I can see the interior of a train. There is an empty Woodstock can rolling around on the carriage floor. To one side of me I can see a mature aged couple dressed up for the horse races. To the other side I can see two young kids fondling one another and kissing, the boy has mousy brown hair and the girl’s hair is red. In this scene I see no application or necessity for the concept of Absolute-truth. It may be true or false that this scene is playing out, but there is no way of knowing this or anything else in absolute terms. The absolute-truth of the situation can have no effect on this situation, nor any other and is in this sense merely a definition.
Though as I sit here with my leg quietly falling asleep and an empty can of bourbon now resting against my boot. One possible application for Absolute-truth remains. There is one mode of enquiry that could save this notion from being relegated to the position of a mere tautology. One that examines the propagation of infinite regresses.
An infinite thread
It must be accepted that with sufficient computing power, virtual reality will become indistinguishable reality. This technology should also have the ability to run simulations within these virtual environments. It must also be granted that should any man be in a position where he may play God; there is no reason to imagine that he would not.
Given this, there is a possibility that I and everything around me is part of a simulation, taking place in a reality, the qualities of which have been obfuscated from me. There is no reason why this supra reality could not itself be nested within another greater reality, the characteristics of which it too is obfuscated ad infinitum.
What we have described here is an infinite regress. Not at all dissimilar to the infinite regress that shatters the heart of most metaphysical discourse. As can be seen, if we are to find ourselves in ‘Simulation 3’, there is no way for us to perceive any characteristics of the simulation in which we are nested within, namely ‘Simulation 2’. Nor can any other simulation layer perceive anything of any other strata, except that for which it is the direct creator of.
We as mere components of that simulation, may have been designed by the creator in ‘Simulation 2’, not capable of perceiving any aspect of a supra simulation. But all simulations may too be equally blind to some form of ultimate reality which has instantiated this infinite set. The only commonality being a thread which reaches down from that ultimate reality. That being the expanse of infinity, within which all of these simulations do extend.
The sentiment of this view of reality are expressed by Jean Baudrillard as he paraphrases James Elkins,
‘The symbol of a living dispersion, the ideal spider, which spins its web and is simultaneously spun by its web. Or better still, I am not the spider who weaves the web. I am the web itself, streaming off in all directions with no centre and no self that I can call my own.’
May another thread from that ultimate reality, which reaches down through that infinite regress be Absolute-truth? In that reality which defies all cognition, could there be such things as I know not? Surely that must be assumed to be so. Could infinity be in that place more than just a precept, but a pragmatic device, by which they have loosed this web of existence through a mechanism not at all exotic to them? Or are they all blind giants, which drift in a void and on occasion collide, we being the result of such fiery conflagrations.
Now we see the limits of our perceptions and our understanding. Beyond which we must rely on the art of wild speculation and decent into one or another hyperbolic spiral. Here Absolute-truth is shattered and though it may exist somewhere, perhaps amidst the drifting giants, it cannot be said to exist as anything more than a definition here.
David Deutsch, 2012. Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World (Penguin Press Science). Edition. Penguin Books.
David Deutsch, 1998. The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes–and Its Implications. First Edition Edition. Penguin Books.
Jean Baudrillard, 2009. Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? (SB-The French List). Edition. Seagull Books.
Rene Descartes, 1999. Meditations and Other Metaphysical Writings (Penguin Classics). Edition. Penguin Classics.