A&O – TRUTH and KNOWLEDGE (07-17-2017)








how do we come to have more-or-less confidence in the validity of a belief?


There are two modes of knowing, through argument and experience.  Argument brings conclusions and compels us to concede them,but does not cause certainty nor remove the doubts in order that the mind may remain at rest in truth, unless this is provided by experience  (Roger Bacon, 1268)






The NATURAL HISTORY of TRUTH is an integrative approach to knowledge 

in harmony with DEEP ETHOLOGY [see Greenberg (2009) presentation from the annual MetaNexus Conference; MORE]


“TRUTH, as conceived by most professional philosophers, is static and final, perfect and eternal; in religious terminology, it may be identified with God’s thoughts, and with those thoughts which, as rational beings, we share with God” (Russell 1945:820).    BUT . . . are we rational beings? [more]


TRUTH involves CONFIDENCE IN A BELIEF.   HIGH confidence implies the belief is a valid representation of REALITY … so there is another can of worms: what is REAL? see New Scientist special issue Sept 29, 2012

  • Reality: The definition  Features > Special Issue pp34-35   Even trying to define what we mean by “reality” is fraught with difficulty
  • Reality: The bedrock of it all  Features > Special Issue p36   Can we explain reality purely in terms of matter and energy, asks Valerie Jamieson
  • Reality: Is matter real?  Features > Special Issue pp37-46   It’s relatively easy to demonstrate what physical reality isn’t. It is much harder to work out what it is
  • Reality: Is everything made of numbers?  Features > Special Issue pp38-39   Dig deep enough into the fabric of reality and you eventually hit a seam of pure mathematics, says Amanda Gefter
  • Reality: A universe of information  Features > Special Issue p41   What we call reality might actually be the output of a program running on a cosmos-sized quantum computer, says Michael Brooks
  • Reality: How does consciousness fit in?  Features > Special Issue pp42-43   Some theories hold that reality and consciousness are one and the same. Is the universe really all inside your head, asks Michael Brooks
  • Reality: How can we know it exists?  Features > Special Issue p45  Proving whether or not reality is an illusion is surprisingly difficult
  • Reality: The future  Features > Special Issuep47   It’s possible that we live in fundamental reality. Future beings almost certainly won’t, says Richard Webb





Should we distinguish (capital R) “Reality” … a physical/metaphysical theoretical concept  OR  (small r) “reality” … the practical world in which we exist and to which we must adapt as organisms?  Does our capacity for technological exploitation of physical principles that as organisms we are unprepared to understand make that a moot case?


Framed in more biological terms, “truth” represents the best approximation of reality.  “Reality” can never be known directly because whatever we are concerned with–pay attention to–is transformed by the nature of the biological organs that have evolved, largely in response to our need for information about our environment.   Idealized beliefs are constructions of the mind, hypothetical constructs that represents the unattainable endpoint of a continuum of confidence.  (in fact, the creating of the mental construct, “ideal,” may be the most efficient way for the brain to function).   Beliefs can be imbued with progressively more confidence by a process of successive approximations based on direct or circumstantial evidence.  Since beliefs are the basis for present or future adaptive action in the real world — their quality affects biological fitness.   Influences on that quality include the validity of perceptions and their representation in the mind; ultimately the integrative actions of the brain.


Successive approximations are what Claude Bernard addresses in his “Study …(“Men of science learn every day from experience; by experience they constantly correct their scientific ideas, their theories; rectify them, bring them into harmony with more and more facts, and so come nearer and nearer to the truth. – Claude Bernard, Introduction. 1865/ 1957. Pg 12.)



So, what is our truth? 

We are all artists in so far as we all try to communicate the ineffable.  If by disposition we will not or can not go beyond the boundaries set only by what is shared with others, ignoring (or neglecting) our uniqueness and the desire to express (and share) it, this is not an issue.   But if we are seeking the “truth of who we are” the project will be endless. (And as biologists, we can make an excellent case for having better knowledge of untapped implicit resources and potential as well as our capacity for expression and other kinds of action.)  

 So let’s assume we are deeply moved by a motivation “to know and to be known.”  We also assume (along with many others) that creativity involves the availability of implicit and explicit knowledge to each other.  That is, we know we must penetrate beneath conscious awareness to the underlying layers of consciousness which inform it.  (and as biologists we know that a preoccupation with rationality, an expression of the highest levels of consciousness, actually impairs access to the layers beneath — to who we “really” are before the rationalizations and accommodations of reason can distort our view.  This view grew with Freud who believed that dreams emerged from the deepest levels and represented primal impulses that were then distorted in their telling as accommodations to civilized society)  

So, peeling away the layers or at least navigating them so we can see what lies beneath the surface — like the horizons of an anthropologist

[existential aside: our most creative ideas are like dreams, like the present moment, “melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming,” (to adapt William James to our meaning).

 If  we could capture those earliest impulses we would be close to the deepest pool of meaning and in many ways our most authentic self, the one closest to our evolutionary legacy as expressed in the present world … the fountainhead from which springs our manifest selves, the selves we present to the world, sometimes at great cost.  (This raises the idea of MASKS, click HERE for a blogpost)  


And so we are brought to issues AUTHENTICITY.   















































Truth by experimentation: when science and art embrace “positivism”

 “[Claude] Bernard (“Study of Experimental Method” 1865) and [Emile] Zola (“The Experimental Novel” 1880) were no exceptions. Bernard emulates positivism in his philosophy of the sciences [3]. He states that in order to obtain truth, sciences must use experimentation in order to determine the causes and workings of nature:

Men of science learn every day from experience; by experience they constantly correct their scientific ideas, their theories; rectify them, bring them into harmony with more and more facts, and so come nearer and nearer to the truth.Bernard, “Introduction…  

(Pascale Rabideau’s  essay,  University of Guelph)









































A RELATED TOPIC is the sense that some people experience of the absolute truth of a belief: this feeling is often ecstatic and might occur in the context of a seizure

[what Dostoyevski said]




CORRESPONDENCE ( When the facts and the proposition are identical –Bertrand Russell in The Problems of Philosophy).  It is based on “reality testing”  — something the organism does continually –how else can we act confidently in our environments?  Unfortunately, between the workings of our sensory apparatus (detecting only biologically relevant information) and our brains (processing received information in a fragmentary manner at best), there are always gaps.


COHERENCE (“the quality or state of logical or orderly relationship of parts;” leading to a “united” or “orderly” whole. ) It is based on “narrative integration”  — it provides order.  We need order.  In fact, our very being (and its constitutional mandate to maintain stability through homeostasis) may be a rare local artifact, emerged by chance in chaos, an otherwise global disorder).   Pathology is a disproportion of ordinarily ordered relationships, but so is beauty! Although it is often recognizable only by its association with order, its reference to it.  Indeed, if a new “truth” is not coherent in the context of our “prior truths” it may be found thereby invalid (Wm James: “The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths.”).  We walk the boundary between order and disorder, exploit that ephemeral, protean, thin, ecotone.

  • does the internal “representation “fit” with all preceding and collateral representations?  (More onnotes:///85257F020066BD1F/E972592203C877EF8525676B005DED2D/8D4CF65172E8841E85256E4200794DD7 COHERENCE)
  • predominance of CORRESPONDENCE or COHERENCE in personality?  Sir Francis Bacon’s view of ants and spider
  • CORRESPONDENCE and COHERENCE are related to more-or-less familiar or unique experiences: A GRADUAL ACCUMULATION  of experience –repeated familiar perceptions or experiences — can establish more confident CORRESPONDENCES — but a relatively unique perception or experience may necessitate a reconfiguration of how these phenomena relate to each other, their COHERENCE.    A “mass of apperceptions” makes  few cognitive demands and assimilates additional experiences easily depending on their similarity … less familiar experiences must be accommodated, a process that is more demanding and may even evoke consciousness to help effect the conciliation.  In the view of  Johann Friedric Hebert (d. 1841) the boundary from non-conscious to conscious awareness can be crossed when sufficient non-conscious “pressure” is exerted.



In fact (it seems to me) BOTH functions are RECIPROCALLY related to our experiences of the world and converge (by consilience?) on “TRUTH. ”  BOTH processes occur in respectively specialized areas of central nervous system to give us CONFIDENCE in our BELIEFS and in our ACTIONS that are based on those beliefs.

Correspondence and Coherence ordinarily operate in lockstep — correspondence is primarily associated with the senses and coherence with understanding : And as Kant said, “The senses cannot think. The understanding cannot see.”  (in the Critique of Pure Reason, cited by Wechsler 1978:2)


IN OTHER WORDS, A belief is “true” if it possesses both CORRESPONDENCE with reality and COHERENCE with other beliefs.  These elements of belief are also highly specialized functions of cognition with specific representations in the human brain.

















































Summary from a Forum

about the biology of truth
















































 CONFIDENCE is what we seek — confidence in the veracity of our beliefs — are we sufficiently confident in the truth of a belief to bet our lives?? (“I just had my brakes fixed”) to bet out immortal souls??  —


When a scientist has a belief based on observations, its consistency with related beliefs based on other observations is an indication of the confidence we may have in its possible “truth.”  Joachim states that “Truth in its essential nature is that systematic coherence which is the character of a significant whole.”  Of this whole, the fact of correspondence is “at most a symptom of truth” (HH Joachim 1906/1939 quoted by Agnes Arbor in The Mind and the Eye, Cambridge University Press 1954 p.70).

The muddling of the aspects of “truths” (correspondence and coherence) is a principal cause for uncertainty about knowledge:  BOTH correspondences and coherence are needed (as Roger Bacon observed) “That the mind may remain at rest.”   Indeed, there appears to be a reciprocal relationship between the truths of correspondence and coherence: 




Truth and Intelligence, validity, and reliability. 

These “forms” of truth are, in fact, viewed as the dual function of intelligence by Sternberg People’s beliefs have some measure of validity (external correspondences) and reliability (internal coherence).  A more intelligent, adaptive person has achieved more external correspondence and internal coherence in his or her knowledge based and belief structures.  People think unintelligently to the extent to which they make errors in achieving external correspondence or internal coherence.” (p.1031) Rbt J. Sternberg 1997.  “The Concept of intelligence and its role in lifelong learning and success.” Amer Psychol., 52(10):1030-1037.






If a man shall begin in certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties.”   (Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning, Bk 1).


“. . . every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished” (Wordsworth)            



Truth a cultural phenomenon?


“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them understand something clearly at last, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”  — Max Planck




isn’t “ART a LIE” (Picasso) and TRUTH simply BEAUTY?


(click for answer)


OK, then, what is more TRUE THAN TRUTH?


(Click for Answer)


Truth evolves?


some ideas need to be consistent with others in order to regarded as true (coherence) — sometimes that consistency cannot be clearly seen — ideas cannot be taken seriously if they are appear to be premature or unique [more on premature ideas]


 “The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths.”   (William James, in Context 8(11). .


objective truth?

“We see things not as they are, but as we are”





subjective truth?

The Allure of Phenomenology:


For a 2014 presentation at a Virginia Tech sponsored conference on college teaching the UT Phenomenology of Education Research Team introduced the “phenomenological “twist” developed from Merleau-Ponty’s comments in introducing his Phenomenology of Perception:  

“Probably the chief gain from phenomenology is to have united extreme subjectivism and extreme objectivism in its notion of the world of rationality.” 

Like the two strands of a DNA molecule, these themes (subjectivism and objectivism) twist around each other resembling the primal spiral helix.

“Rationality is precisely proportioned to the experiences in which it is disclosed.  To say that there exists rationality is to say that perspectives blend, perceptions confirm each other, a meaning emerges. … the phenomenological world is not pure being, but the sense which is revealed where the paths of my various experiences intersect, and also where my own and other people’s intersect and engage each other like gears.”

 “Philosophy is not the reflection of a pre-existing truth, but, like art, the act of bringing truth into being.” … “We witness every minute the miracle of related experience, and yet nobody knows better than we do how this miracle is worked, for we are ourselves this network of relationships” 

(Merleau-Ponty 1945; Phenomenology of Perception. Preface, Trans 1958.  Publ 1962 by Routledge & Kegan Paul, NYC)                             




fragmentary truth?

The Allure of Phenomenology:



We can “fill in the gaps” (interpolate) or extend likely trends (extrapolate).  (see A&O notes on FILLING IN)

[Consciousness itself is a series of fragments: Consciousness seems continuous but is a series of frames, of “stills,” of “snapshots.”   Oliver Sacks called this cinematic vision.  In his “post-encephalitic patients, when they were “awakened,” and especially overexcited, by taking the drug L-DOPA, “they sometimes “described extraordinary ‘standstills,’ sometimes hours long, in which not only visual flow was arrested, but the stream of movement, of action, of thought itself.”]  [more]


So ordinarily, experience seems seamless.  There are two principal ways gaps are filled: one is between the points experienced (interpolation) and the other extends out from the last known experience into the future (extrapolation


The Allure of Ambiguity

Are you SKEPTICAL? click here
























“A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world.  But on the other hand, in a universe divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger.  His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land (Camus, Albert. 1942. Le Mythe de Sisyphe translated by Justin O’Brien in 1955.)

Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones. (Bertrand Russell 18721970 Unpopular Essays (1950) Outline of Intellectual Rubbish)




























































The “spirituality” of “truth” … is based on its presumed “eternal” quality –a “law of nature” that is in effect at all times throughout the universe.  Hypotheses and theories can be viewed as stepping stones to a final “factual” belief.   https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/surg/article/view/1208/1807


A spiritual experience can be viewed as “becoming one with the truth one seeks”

One’s brain is likely responsible for the sense of truth:  as reality tests (correspondence and coherence) are conducted throughout the nervous system and integrated into a unitary belief, a portion of the brain is activated which appears to but the “seal” on truthfulness of the belief:  Competing beliefs can be suppressed and the “last belief standing” can be counted on to guide adaptive actions in a dangerous world.

The cerebral site is associated with “hypergnosia” — an overwhelming sense of truth that provides a vivid sense of order.
















































































At Lake Scugog























Glossary of terms in A&O



In life as in dreams, it appears we make the best of incomplete data.  The dreams of deepest sleep represet the brain’s best effort to make sense of random activity:  The “activation-synthesis hypothesis of the dream process” was proposed by JA Hobson and RW McCarley in the mid 1970’s (1977).[i]   The sleeping brain is not passive.  There are countless activities coordinated that have nothing to do with awake consciousness. These are mostly lower brain functions, but many of them activate (co-activate) higher brain functions (amygdala, hippocampus, limbic system in general) in an essentially random manner, and upon waking, we try to interpret these fleeting snips of information into a coherent story.   Hobson speculates that it is part of the brain’s ‘inexorable quest for meaning’ –at least the in the higher brain structures.  According to Hobson, “Dreaming may be our most creative conscious state, one in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces novel configurations of information: new ideas. While many or even most of these ideas may be nonsensical, if even a few of its fanciful products are truly useful, our dream time will not have been wasted.”   [read more about ”The Uses of Ambiguity”]   [more about dreams and dreamings]

The AIM Model of Dreaming

Thanks to modern advances in brain imaging and the ability to monitor brain activity, researchers now understand more about the sleep-wake cycle, the different stages of sleep, and the different states of consciousness.

The more recent version of the activation-synthesis theory is known as the AIM model, standing for activation, input-output gating, and modulation. This newer model tries to capture what happens in the brain-mind space as consciousness changes through waking, non-REM, and REM sleep states.

A Word From Verywell

The reasons and meaning behind dreaming have fascinated philosophers and researchers for centuries. Activation-synthesis theory added an important dimension to our understanding of why we dream and stressed the important of neural activity during sleep. As new technology emerges for studying the brain and sleep processes, researchers will continue to make new advances in our understanding of why we dream, states of consciousness, and the possible meaning behind our dreams. 


Hobson, JA. REM sleep and dreaming: Towards a theory of protoconsciousness. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2010; 10(11): 803–13. 

Hobson, JA & McCarley, RW. The brain as a dream-state generator: An activation-synthesis hypothesis of the dream process. American Journal of Psychiatry. 1977; 134: 1335-1348.

Hobson, JA. The Dreaming Brain. New York: Basic Books; 1988.

Hobson, JA. Consciousness. New York: Scientific American Library; 1999.







error  bias




truth & beauty

higher Truth ? art, myth

DEEP ethology

fragmentary reality



[i] Hobson, JA & McCarley, RW. The brain as a dream-state generator: An activation-synthesis hypothesis of the dream process. American Journal of Psychiatry. 1977; 134: 1335-1348.