Universal Statements and Permanence

In his work on the theory of time as conflict Julius Thomas Fraser (page 277, 2007) proposes, as a working definition, that we think of truth as an assertion that a belief is judged permanent. Furthermore, truth can be regarded as an assertion that a belief corresponds to reality. The latter corresponds to Tarski’s viewpoint. Fraser asks how can we judge that a belief has been judged permanent and therefore represents truth? Notions of permanence-likeness have evolved from the atemporal umwelt of existence at the speed of light, to the probabilistic atom, to the approximation of determinism in the physical world, to the slowly changing instruction for maintaining living processes, and to the nootemporal human umwelt. As there is no permanence, knowing what is believed to be true has been a perennial source of unresolved conflicts. His hypothetical conclusion is that the historical and evolutionary function of the search for truth has been the creation of conflicts, and through them, social, cultural, and personal change. This is a metaphysical claim that can shed some light on the intellectual heat generated by the issues of universal statements and their testing.

Just because a human agent articulates a statement as a universal statement does not mean it is actually or certainly true , i.e. universal. In logic a universal statement is claimed to be valid for a whole set at all times. For example “all men are mortal”, “the sun always rises”, “all SNC-Meteorites originate from Mars”.

An existential statement expresses the existence of at least one object, in a particular universe of discourse, which has a particular property. Again whether that object actually exists as we describe it may also be debatable at some level, e.g. “this is an SNC-Meteorite and not any other type”.

There can always be the possibility that universal claims are not actually universal, even though they are formulated as universal statements. Karl Popper proposed that the modus tollens is preferable to the modus ponens. The common example of the modus ponens is,

All men are mortal,

Socrates is a man

Therefore Socrates is mortal.

We believe this is true, but if we really think about it, it supplies very little new information content. It is a little brainer. Those that only seek highly probable beliefs have to forgo the search for rich information content. Rich, highly testable, content is surely a goal of science. If we look at another example:

All meteorites from Mars have an SNC composition

This meteorite has an SNC composition

Therefore this meteorite originated on Mars

the conclusion might be true if the first and second sentences are both true, there is however far more information content behind these conjectures and thus more doubt about what one can conclude. We cannot conclusively prove that in an infinite set SNC composition meteorites can only come from Mars.

Karl Popper proposed more humble goals from a logical perspective. The modus tollens is more appropriate than the modus ponens to test the conjecture. Thus,

If all meteorites from Mars have an SNC composition

and this meteorite does not

Then this meteorite does not originate from Mars.

We should make our conjectures falsifiable so that with the appropriate evidence we can potentially prove a statement wrong. If we cannot prove it wrong, at this point in time, it means our hypothesis is corroborated. The evidence is time-bound. The universal claim may be infinite. Any further tests we make still do not remove the conjectural nature of further inferences as they also are time-bound in testing.

The quest is to seek high information content knowledge, such knowledge is conjectural and improbable. If one’s goal is only for probable knowledge then you chance learning little more than your currently held dogma.

All statements of truth involve acts of faith, at the least falsifiability increases openness to intersubjective assessment rather than pouring excessive energy into defending the faith, furthermore Popper enshrines the primacy of the problem and the conjectural steps to solve such. We explore the world through conjecture and we explore our conjectures with logical inference. Too many publications obsess with replacing conjecture with some sort of logical bulwark (aka induction and abduction, which are conjectural anyway) against the uncertainties of existence rather than recognizing that humans, supported by memory and fantasy, project intentions to increasingly distant futures.

Fraser, J. T. Time and Time Again: Reports from a Boundary of the Universe, Brill, 2007



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