Knowledge is Sanity

If there be Truth, then might we know it. So then might there be also such a thing as falsehood – as, i.e., failing to understand and agree with Truth: to know it. No Truth, no possibility of falsehood or error. All human cognition then presupposes that there is indeed Truth; for all of it proceeds according to decisions, to operations of assent or dissent, yes or no to this or that notion. All of it works to ascertain whether propositions are true, or are not. If there be no Truth, this operation cannot but be chaotic noise, through and through; noise, NB, that cannot coherently asseverate its own noisiness.

You can’t believe that you’ve erred unless you believe that you might have done otherwise. To think anything at all, then, is implicitly to presuppose the existence of the Truth.

“There is no Truth” falsifies itself. So is there Truth. And this has a number of interesting consequences. For, given Truth, so far then as we believe any falsehood, we are to that extent improperly ordered to what is Real. We are to that precise extent literally insane.

A false belief is manifest corporeally as a disorder of the central nervous system. It is a physiological illness.

False belief is a disease of the mind, and of its body.

Insanity is no problem until it becomes a problem. A false belief that is to our present circumstances inapposite is nowise going to conflict with anything that matters to us, will not have any opportunity to disorder our acts in respect to our concrete predicaments, and so will not discomfit those of us who are not too troubled by merely logical inconsistencies between credible propositions (regardless of their relevance to the practice of life as we now engage in it). I can, e.g., navigate by the stars whether or not I credit the Copernican hypothesis.

But in the limit – which is only to say, sooner or later – reality bites. All false beliefs eventually meet their comeuppance, in their conflict with life as lived. Not, to be sure, in the life of every mind that believes them, but in the society of such minds. Disagreement with the Copernican hypothesis is for those whose lives it concretely touches, such as astronomers and astronauts, an unwise act. So by extension is it somewhat unwise for the people who support and succor them, and depend upon their findings for their own: the rest of us.

Reality edits falsehood.

Or can; the preponderantly sane can learn from their errors. Offered a red pill, they take it; and then the scales begin to fall from before their eyes, one by one.

The preponderantly insane tend rather to double down on their commitments to their fantasies. They resist red pills with all their might. When mugged by events, they question reality, rather than their models. They cope with the mugging by casting about for someone they can blame for having perpetrated the mugging intentionally, and specifically against them. That way they can tell themselves that the mugging represented a willful distortion and abrogation of the specious world presented to them by their precious false models.

I have seen liberals of both sorts – preponderantly sane and preponderantly insane – since the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency. A few have begun to wonder, carefully, “what have I failed to understand?” Having realized that they have got something badly wrong, they have begun to wonder what else they might have missed.

Most have however responded to the cognitive dissonance between their ideas and the manifest reality of history by fleeing even deeper into their cherished delusions.

It’s a lousy tactic. Delusions are a poor basis for the coordination of acts. So the insane suffer adverse selection pressure. Reality edits falsehood.

41 thoughts on “Knowledge is Sanity

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  3. That quip at the end –

    “Delusions are a poor basis for the coordination of acts. So the insane suffer adverse selection pressure.”

    Spicy. I love it.

    This post really hit home. I am certain that we all, as dissidents, agree that an inward skepticism is invaluable. It’s likely how most of us ended up here. That being said, I struggle with the question of degree: can we be too quick to cast away models and systems of understanding when they seem to fail? How great a folly is it to be overly aggressive or imprecise in our skepticism? I fear that the revolutionary spirit and all its constituent ills are a manifestation of this very problem, which gives me pause.

    • “[C]an we be too quick to cast away models and systems of understanding when they seem to fail?”

      Yes, modernity itself has been too quick to throw away traditional knowledge. This is the point.

      “How great a folly is it to be overly aggressive or imprecise in our skepticism?”

      You might call it the definition of folly. I don’t see any real difference between over-skepticism, over-forgetfulness, and ignorance.

      This is why the aim should never be skepticism for its own sake, but the positive goal of Truth. When faced with particularly treacherous philosophical waters, as we are today, it’s best to fall back on what has proven immune to “adverse selection pressure” for millennia, what has proven its positive relationship to Reality, namely, the traditional wisdom found in the classics, scripture in particular.

  4. Cases in point include the logically self-defeating modern policies of (1) limiting births and (2) explicitly attacking tradition (in universities for example). In terms of selection, these constitute negative checks on genes and culture, respectively. A flourishing society is one of strong families and strong traditions–which aren’t afraid to pass themselves on. This particular truth has been known for thousands of years and can be found in any major religion, but its negation has been taken as dogma by modern liberalism.

    I think you are right to call this insanity.

  5. Herr Mick: Don’t worry. Reaction revolts against the Modern, to be sure. But Reaction – especially orthospherean Reaction – is not revolutionary. It is rerevolutionary. And that is to say that it is volutionary.

    Skepticism about skepticism – which is the Reactionary attitude to Modernity – is tantamount to good faith with the Good, the True, the Beautiful, the Real.

    Samuel: You write:

    This is why the aim should never be skepticism for its own sake, but the positive goal of Truth.

    Aye, just so. The traditional thinker is skeptical of his grasp of the Truth; the modern is skeptical that there is a Truth to be grasped. The modern refutes himself. Why do so few of them notice? How can they be so stupid?

    • Kristor, am I just crazy or am I right to conclude that certain individuals embrace the notion that ‘there is no truth’ *without even realizing it*?

      • Oh, I think that happens, for sure. What’s more, we are all prone to do it. One can’t sin except by an implicit rejection of God, ergo of Truth. We all sin; all hold some erroneous beliefs; are none of us quite wholly sane, clean and right in heart and mind. It’s a terrible predicament.

        The Traditional mind responds to this situation by turning his skepticism inward, upon himself and his powers of right apprehension. He mortifies his flesh, even if only by the hard and risky work of learning. The Modern mind responds by turning his skepticism outward, on creatures and their Creator. This excuses his sins (assuaging his guilty conscience, which is perfectly aware of his defects) by calling them something else than sin.

      • Wow! That is a great response to a question I purposely stated in very vague terms! Not for any sinister purposes, mind you; but because I didn’t want to give any concrete examples that I myself have observed, *since* they often involve very vague and subtle disagreements that lead me to the conclusion at length.

        I agree very much, sir! I also do very well know that I myself am susceptible to the same folly. Lord help us!

      • I just realized that I didn’t respond to your suggestion that the preponderantly insane mind embraces the notion that there is no truth *without even realizing that he is doing so.* Yes. The more you reject Truth, the more do you retreat into a fantasy world of your own construction, built according to the “devices and desires of our own hearts” that Cranmer notices in the Book of Common Prayer. And when you are immersed in that fantasy world, your rejection of the real world seems like mere common sense. The real world then appears to you as a fantasy; indeed, a wicked fantasy, that could fool only an idiot. This is why Democrats can think of themselves fairly honestly as the reality based party, and of their adversaries as deluded wicked idiots.

        Your immersion in that fantasy world can become so strong that you simply cannot get out – cannot see that there might be such a thing as an out. This is what happens more and more to the preponderantly insane. It is how the mad are immured in their madness, and likewise the damned frozen forever in Hell. The mad, hellish world they apprehend seems to them the only real world. They *do not even realize* that they are rejecting anything else, because to them there *just is* nothing else. They believe that their hell is all that there is.

        What an appalling vision. God save them.

      • I would venture to say most intellectuals fall into the *without-even-realizing-it* category. Try telling a self-styled philosopher that you are a complete relativist or nihilist. He’ll probably look at you like you’re a bit crazy.

        On the other hand, if you ask him if he is a moral realist or believes in absolute truth he will deny it. As if we all inhabited some twilight world where there isn’t exactly truth but there sort of is.

        It’s pretty typical these days to treat the question of truth as if it was some obscure, technical question that has no real impact on life. (But of course it does, and history will bear this out.) The current consensus seems to be that “the question of absolute truth is unknowable or irrelevant.” Maybe it’s not an outright denial but it IS a conscious turning away.

      • Yeah, it is all too easy to elide from a sophisticated epistemological skepticism into a sloppy, comfortable rejection of the project of knowledge, properly so called – or therefore of discerning the right, and then enacting it. It is all too easy to fall from “we see now through a glass darkly” to “we see nothing at all.”

        Falling away from the narrow path and taking any of the many downward tangents is easier than climbing it.

  6. I am not questioning whether truth is real but can we really prove the existence of truth convincingly by saying the statement “there is no truth” falsifies itself? Doesn’t this simply demonstrate a logical result based on the rules of language? Isn’t truth much more grand and mysterious than this? Language relies on words with definitions and definitions by definition are limited. But if we agree that God is truth how can we rely on a limited language to prove this?

    • Your questions betray a nominalist presupposition that language, logic, terms, and rules do not truly refer to realities. Whether or not they do is precisely what is at issue between Modernists and Traditional Realists. Language and the human mind are both blunt instruments, to be sure; and they do not capture the fullness of the realities they denote, instead only denoting them. A peach is far more than “peach.” But that does not mean linguistic instruments are not efficacious – that they are not in fact instruments at all, but rather nothing more than stumbling blocks set to confuse the wits. It does not mean that “peach” cannot denote a real peach. The map is not the territory. That does not mean there are no maps; nor a fortiori does it indicate that there is no territory.

      … can we really prove the existence of truth convincingly by saying the statement “there is no truth” falsifies itself?

      Yes. With such arguments, we can convince minds that are not determined to some other, false conclusion than the one to which it irresistibly compels any honest intellect.

      The bottom line is that if we cannot prove such things with language, then we cannot prove that we cannot prove such things with language. The notion that language is specious is itself, by its own account, a wholly specious notion. It is devoid of meaning.

      All that said, yes: in the encounter with Truth himself, concepts fall away. When we raise our eyes from the topo map that led us to the mountain, and look at the mountain itself, no map is then needed to find it, and all maps pale to insignificance in comparison to what they signify.

    • As a former logic teacher maybe I should take a crack at this.

      “[C]an we really prove the existence of truth convincingly by saying the statement ‘there is no truth’ falsifies itself? Doesn’t this simply demonstrate a logical result based on the rules of language?”

      Your discomfort here may stem from a perceived analogy with the Liar Paradox. “This statement is false,” it seems, can be neither true nor false without falling into contradiction. This paradox was used by contemporaries of Aristotle to throw doubt on the Laws of Noncontradiction and Excluded Middle, and thus on the project of Logic wholesale.

      There’s a class of fallacies in logic called “fallacies of presumption.” Begging the question, false dichotomy, circular logic, and any situation where you’re somehow sneaking in your conclusion counts as this. It shouldn’t be controversial that the Liar Paradox is such a fallacy, but modern confusion has made it so. Aristotle himself rightly dismisses this entire class of verbal paradoxes in Sophistical Refutations 180b1-7 as a kind of false dichotomy. (I.e. not true/false but true/”false”). Thus the Liar’s statement is “true” in a relative sense (relative to itself), but false absolutely since it is self-contradictory.

      But the statement “There is no truth” commits no such fallacy of presumption. It is simply false and can be proven so quite easily. If it is true then it is false. If it is false, then the statement “There is truth” becomes true, and there is no contradiction.

      This sort of reasoning is non-trivial. Its applications are manifold. On the surface Godel’s Theorem looks like the Liar Paradox. It proves that no formal logical system can be both complete and consistent by translating “This statement cannot be proven within Russell’s system of logic,” into the language Russell’s logic. If the statement can be proven, then it can’t. But unlike the Liar Paradox, and as with the statement “There is no truth”, Godel soundly concludes that the statement simply cannot be proven in Russell’s system. This has been called the most important logical discovery of the 20th century, and it has given rise to whole new branches of mathematics, including Turing’s theories of computation, theories of algorithmic complexity, etc. If you want to deny that such reasoning is possible then you are not only denying God but the logical foundations of much of modern mathematics and science.

      • This is a good and edifying post. I’ll have to bookmark it. Thanks, Mr. Thomsen, for your learned insights.

    • He is these rules. He made this clear in Job.

      We might (for the sake of our own intellectual tidiness and clarity) say equivalently that these rules are elements of the Nature of God; John refers to them in their integral unity as the Logos, and the Old Testament writers called him Memra: both terms mean “Word.”

    • Because the intellectual given is perfected reasoning and the denial thereof is an absolutely perfected reasoning crushed under the mad mediated mob of “universal equality,” i.e., Satan’s anti-Creation.

    • There are those who deny God… Deny their Father. And there are those who deny God ever existed… Deny that their Father ever existed. The former are in relative rebellion. The latter are absolutely diabolical.

    • Thanks for the compliment Terry. I wouldn’t want to pretend my comments on the matter are authoritative. Admittedly I only paraphrase those whom I understand as the truly authoritative. (Let me know if you need citations.)

      I think Kristor’s comments so far suffice to answer Winston’s question, but maybe coming at it from another angle might help make it clear.

      If one does not believe in moral truth, one does not believe in God. Belief in God, properly understood, requires belief in moral truth.

      So when you doubt the existence of moral truth (and this is not a strawman, it’s essentially the whole of modern “ethical theory” in academia) you necessarily doubt God. It’s as simple as that.

      God does not depend on this line of reasoning, but our belief in God does.

      • Right. I was trying to articulate that I do believe in God and moral truth. I just do not find logical proofs of either convincing because God is infinite and eternal and language (and I suspect logic too) can’t be.

      • Winston, I don’t mean to call your faith into question. I apologize if it seemed that I was.

        I think Aquinas gave a reasonable explanation for how it might be possible to demonstrate God’s existence even without grasping His full, infinite nature:

        “From effects not proportionate to the cause no perfect knowledge of that cause can be obtained. Yet from every effect the existence of the cause can be clearly demonstrated, and so we can demonstrate the existence of God from His effects; though from them we cannot perfectly know God as He is in His essence.” (Summa Theologica, I, Q. 2, Art. 2, R.3)

      • In perfect alignment with what Aquinas there says, but extending as it were infinitely: one of the rather startling implications of Gödel’s demonstration that no finite logical calculus can prove all the true statements it is capable of expressing is that there must therefore be an infinitely deep stack of such calculi, each of which is capable of demonstrating all the truths expressible in its subsidiaries, and of which any that we might be capable must be near the arithmetic bottom limit. No matter how high we were to climb in the stack, we’d still be near the bottom. But even from the bottom, we can see that the stack of calculi above it must be infinite.

        So the whole system of logic – and the system of languages or calculi that express it – are *not finite.* They are infinite. And just as there can be only one eternal one, so can there be only one infinite one. The infinitely large set of logical calculi coterminates on infinity simpliciter.

        The finite and temporal then – limits that subsume the whole range of the various limits to our intellects – logically imply the infinite and the eternal. There can be no finity or time except in virtue of the priority of the entire infinite and eternal stack of calculi. Is there a thing? There must then be all things; so must there be God.

        We need the whole shooting match in order to obtain any part of it.

        From the fact of any particular thing, then, we may – nay, must – infer the infinite and eternal God; this, despite our own incapacity to encompass infinity, or eternity, or God. We can point to the mountain; we cannot enclose it. But that we cannot enclose it does not mean that we cannot point to it, or, aye, climb.

      • Kristor, your comment about stacked calculi finally articulates a thought I’ve had but haven’t yet bothered to work out. I think your statement is very much in the spirit that Godel, a Platonist and theist, intended his result to be understood.

        Another thought I’ve been trying articulate, and which may amount to the same insight, is that if reality is indeed almost certainly a “simulation” in the way Frank Tipler has suggested, this would likewise imply an infinite stack of such nested simulations. (The “almost certainly” here comes from the fact that since our own reality does or will support many sub-realities, it is more likely that we are in a sub-reality than in base reality. This argument only becomes stronger the more fundamental the reality, since each reality must be more complex than the one it “simulates” and thus capable of harboring still more realities.)

        This needs to be better articulated. I may develop it into a future blog post.

        By the way, on the topic of nihilism vs. moral realism, I’ve just posted a meditation on the subject, inspired by the present post and discussion, to my blog:

      • A simulation is an implementation of some systematic assemblage of logical calculi. A function in such a calculus – such as multiplication or integration – is after all an algorithm, a recipe for an act of an intellect. Calculi of the logical stack must be more complex and competent than their subsidiaries, in order to encompass enough terms to demonstrate the propositions that under the simpler terms of those subsidiaries are evidently true but not demonstrable, and thus to complete those subsidiaries.

        The whole stack must be complete in order for any calculus thereof to be completed – in order, that is to say, for any portion of it to be real. Such is Divine omniscience, and Providence.

        Providence is a projection operator, operating on the Divine Ideas; i.e., thinking, and so thinging: enacting thoughts as things. So is Creation. We could say that Providence and Creation are the outworkings of God’s omniscient knowledge of how things work out, given the character of the eternal Logos. The Divine knowledge of the creaturely happening and the creaturely happening are one operation, with two valences, two poles: one creaturely, the other Divine.

        It is fitting therefore that we should characterize that operation as a simulation – not in any pejorative sense of that word, but rather as connoting simility, or perhaps similitation: the procedure whereby creaturely things are fitted to the Divine and by imitation become his simulacra, his “image, form, representation, portrait.” Perhaps the Latin root of simulation would be better, so as to forestall its ugly connotations in modern English usage: simulationem.

      • This line of reasoning seems to me valid and deeply significant. Kristor, do you have any books or articles to suggest that you are paraphrasing, whether yours or anyone else’s?

      • I am afraid not; this is all stuff that I have stumbled upon myself. I feel sure that others have, as well; indeed, considering the metaphysics of classical Christian theism, it could hardly be otherwise. All I have done is recapitulate classical Christian theism in a new mode – which, again, seems as though it must be quite ancient.

        I have never yet failed to find things I thought I had newly discovered present in texts more than 500 years old. But I have not yet read any other authors who have tied Gödel to eternity and theology. Nor am I anywhere near ready to write a book about the subject, which looms over me with quite an intimidating weight.

        I can however say that what got me started down this path was reading The Freedom of the Will, by JR Lucas. His brilliance is so fierce it burns. I came away from every session with him both thrilled at what he had taught me and chagrined at my own philosophical ineptitude. Lucas uses the Incompleteness Theorem to demonstrate the existence of God. Only Anselm’s argument is stronger, in my opinion. I was staggered, elated. And that was when I began to think seriously – as it were, concretely – of ideas as the fundamental reals, the way Plato did, and indeed then, as being the most concrete beings, as operators – as agents (which, of course is how the pagan Greeks and the Hebrews had understood the gods and angels – “Sing in me, Muse …”). Once I had navigated that intellectual sea change, I turned back to Anselm again and understood for the first time the crushing power of his Ontological Argument.

        Lucas does not dwell on the stack of logistical calculi, or (as I recall) discuss its infinity, or its eternity. But the stack is straightforwardly implicit in Gödel’s argument; it is a corollary. Not that I have penciled out the logic, but I see it. One could use the stack to demonstrate the existence of God; I believe the form of that argument may be seen in my comments above. But the Gödelian argument Lucas proposes is much simpler, and stronger. Briefly: as no consistent logical calculus is complete, so by precisely that same token no formal naturalistic account of nature is completable; Nature cannot explain Nature, even in principle. So much, then, for atheism (and “scientific” determinism – this being the main concern of the book (Lucas tosses off the Gödelian argument against the logical sufficiency of naturalistic atheism in passing, a mere step in his case for freedom)); so, theism (and freedom).

        This is not to say that no Theory of Everything is possible; but it is to say that no TOE that we can cognize under the terms of a consistent finite logical calculus can suffice to demonstrate that TOE. Only infinite omniscience is sufficient to that demonstration. We find that there is, in fact, everything, and that, given the Principle of Sufficient Reason, it must have a TOE, whether or not we are competent to understand it (viz., your quote above from ST I); ergo God.

        This is yet a third way of demonstrating the existence of God from Gödel’s discovery. We have the argument from the infinity of the Gödelian stack, the Lucasian argument from the formal incompletability of any finite TOE, and the Leibnizian argument from the necessity of what must under Gödel be an infinite TOE if there is to be an everything in the first place.

        I have trouble thinking about this stuff for very long at one spell. I grow too excited to sit still, and must get up and walk back and forth, humming a Te Deum. This has just now happened, so I will stop.

  7. What specifically are you referencing in the book of Job? This conversation makes me think of Isaiah 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

    • At the conclusion of Job, YHWH responds to Job’s arguments (and, implicitly, those of his human interlocutors) by pointing out that he himself is the source of all things – including arguments – and is not therefore bound by them, or answerable to them, but vice versa.

      The verse you notice from Isaiah makes an equivalent point.

      • First of all, thank you Kristor and Samuel W. Thomsen for taking the time to write such thoughtful responses. I hope you don’t take my questions as argumentative. My intent is to more fully understand your position.

      • You are welcome; my thanks too to Mr. Thomsen.

        I should add, Winston, that my remark about the nominalism I saw presupposed by your comment above was not intended as a personal evaluation. It was not about you in particular, but about the habits of thought common to almost all Westerners today. Nominalism is deeply embedded in modernity, and so in the minds of all whom it has educated – including mine. Our chthonic tendency is to think of our concepts as making no contact with reals; and this is implicitly to think that concepts are not real. The realism of all traditional cultures by contrast takes concepts as the most real items of what exists. This Platonic relation of Word to Thing is exemplified in the Prologue to John’s Gospel: In the beginning – i.e., prior to every thing whatever – there was the Word.

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