annotated excerpts from A&O notes on REALITY, KNOWLEDGE, and TRUTH


Summary & Update of “The Natural History of Truth,” a paper delivered at the 2009 Metanexus conference on consciousness, Beijing, 2009; posted July 14, 2017) 

( 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.

  • how well does an external “reality” match its internal “representation” ?? (“Knowledge is the conformity of the object and the intellect”  –Averroes (1126-1198) in Destructio Destructionum).   

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? 

    “The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths.” 

    (William James, in Context 8(11).


  • there may be different proportions of CORRESPONDENCE or COHERENCE in one’s 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.

Are you SKEPTICAL – read Gorgias, a radical skeptic

Are you overwhelmingly confident? read what Dostoyevski said