Re: JP Barlow, Ph.D, Social Engineering

Jeff Dee (
Fri, 27 Sep 1996 17:51:27 -0500

Crosby_M wrote:
> I guess I can understand that there is a meaningful distinction between
> what exists (ontology) and what we can know about what exists
> (epistemology). For example, I know that the Moon exists (unless it has
> somehow been destroyed since last night and I haven't heard about it
> yet) independently of my knowing it. But, these are sort of macro or
> constant facts. In more dynamic situations, I have trouble seeing what
> the use of ontology is - too many things we've never seen before have to
> pass through our perceptual filters, and our knowledge of them is so
> susceptible to distortion. (Although, if I were blind and was hit by a
> car I couldn't see while crossing the street, the existence of that car
> would quickly become more important to me than my perception of it.)

I think that the 'use' of ontology is as an understanding that somewhere
out there lies whatever actually exists in the universe, behaving according
to whatever rules it follows. Can we be certain about any of these
'facts'? Maybe not. But the less uncertain our knowledge is, the better
our predictions get. The only way to reduce the uncertainty of our
epistemology to keep tinkering with it to more closely match ontology.

> To make a long story short, I think I'm saying that, in most dynamic and
> novel situations, WE CANNOT 'SEE' THE FACTS DIRECTLY, only the portion
> of those facts that makes it through our sensors and pattern-matching
> routines. While those portions may still be 'facts' in some ontological
> sense, from a practical perspective they may amount to an illusion in
> the limited context with which we interpret them.

But the objective, then, should be to fight against that possibility. We
can enhance our senses artificially, and refine our pattern-matching
routines. That's what science is - a very refined system of pattern
matching, which helps us make our epistemology somewhat better than a
wild guess. There are degrees of uncertainty, and there are means of
reducing uncertainty. All I'm saying is that we should embrace those
methods, rather than assuming that any uncertain understanding is equally
useful. They're not. We can do better, and should.

> While I don't quite follow it, and it's probably easy to misuse, I think
> Ian Goddard's 'holistic logic' also makes this point that it's very
> difficult to identify a distinct fact apart from the environment in
> which it is embedded. Yes, a tree that falls in the forest does make a
> sound even if we are not there to hear it; but, how can that be a fact
> *for us* (except perhaps through some vague, holistic 'butterfly
> effect')?

Our ignorance of something doesn't stop it from being true. The burden is
on *us* to find out what is actually going on, whether we can do so
perfectly or not. Telling ourselves that 'reality' is only whatever we
happen to think it is at the moment is not helpful.

-Jeff Dee

"We tend to scoff at the beliefs of the ancients. But we can't scoff at
them personally, to their faces, and this is what annoys me." -Jack Handey