# Agrippa's Trilemma, self-referencing stuff, identity

My grandfather was taking me out to dinner again. He’s old and retired, a former geologist, and he acts like a cornball most of the time. He pushes the crosswalk button as many times as he can before the light changes, likes to swing a cane in some special way (which he once tried to teach me), and takes a little longer to decide his order when an attractive waitress is taking it down. For as long as I can remember, this has been my grandfather.

However, many people have told me that he was once a competent professional. I’ve seen pictures of him as a young man, and he looks like one of the whiz kids, like a man who knows what he’s doing. On the Kodachrome slides his hair is cut short, in the style of the times, and he’s always wearing a nice suit. There’s determination in his eyes, but innocence also.

My first question is the classic, and boring, question of identity. Are these the same people, old grandpa and young grandpa? More importantly, am I the same person as younger me? Is there a quick and easy way to do this?

``````At the restaurant we met a friend, a schoolteacher. The place was busy, so we got to talking while we waited for our food, and then as we waited longer we got to arguing. As this schoolteacher was years ago in charge of a lunchtime philosophy class at her high-school, I had tried to introduce my recent difficulties in amateur philosophy with self-referencing definitions and the Münchhausen Trilemma.
``````

“See, if I say ‘The truth is what works’, and then I ask whether that statement is itself true, what criteria can I use? It’s circular logic if I say ‘(The truth is what works) is true because it is what works’. And that’s bad because if we accept that then any self-supporting truth definition is to be considered true, even nonsensical ones like ‘All statements beginning with the letter A are true.’ It’s a paradox if I say that it’s untrue for the same reason. If I say that ‘the truth is what works’ is a definition and therefore has no truth value, then you could again define truth to be anything. The same goes for deciding how to decide, it’s so damned frustrating it makes my head explode.”

That’s the gist of what I was trying to get across anyway. My grandfather was baffled. In his defense, I was fairly baffled myself when trying to find the words to tell the problem in the first place, so the mumbo-jumbo I spewed was probably pretty incomprehensible. I have definitely cleaned it up as much as I could for the gentle reader’s benefit.

``````Now, we were not arguing yet. Our teacher friend first told me how horrible some of the students at her school were, particularly those in that philosophy class I mentioned. She then used that opportunity to segue into the subjects of corporal punishment and the failure of our school system due to a lack of power in teacher's hands. This is where it became an argument. The verbal volleys exchanged are mostly irrelevant. What's important is that at one point she said something along the lines of “You don't know what I know so your arguments cannot sway me.”
``````

To what degree do two people need shared experiences to be able to agree on something? Is it enough just to be living in the same universe? Do we also need to be working with the same rules of reasoning, deciding, truth? Do we also need to know all of the information that originally lead us to the positions we held before coming to agree? Or just some of that information? Is there a systematic way by which information can be shared in an ideal way to produce agreement (least effort, highest opinion stability, and best preservation truth)?

If all truth is absolutely relative and subjective, why then do we have discussions? To what degree is reality shared between people?

Is it possible to show someone operating on a different rule-set that they should be using yours? If I believe that the truth is whatever is most manly, what avenues do you have to show me I’m wrong?

in response to the OP, i would argue the following positions (though i won’t bother unless someone disagrees):

at some level all truth is self-referencing and arbitrary: “the truth is what works” is, in fact, a definition - the question is not whether the definition is true, but rather does the definition work?

the question of whether or not your grandfather is the same person he once was is a largely semantic one that can go either way. it depends upon your purposes in seeking an answer (that is, the answer will be what works with regards to those purposes). again, this is a function of arbitrary and self-referencing definitions, which we must agree upon, which means we must have similar purposes in posing the question.

objectivity is possible only insofar as there is intersubjectivity - to say that all truth is subjective is an oversimplified statement for that reason. shared experiences and consensus are essential ingredients in the process of arriving at truths - that doesn’t make any two people who agree with each other correct, it is more complicated than that - but one of the central aims of, for example, empirical science, is to generate consensus, and i think there is a reason for that - a certain amount of agreement is necessary to establish facts, otherwise everything will seem to be relative - and agreement, on some level, usually requires shared experiences - even if all we are agreeing upon is that truth is subjective and relative

or something

How do you identify a person?
Apply the method to your young and old grandpa, and you get the answer.

Personally, I identify myself with the awareness, sometime.
And the awareness seems to have no personal identify.
It doesn’t seems to have time, either.
In other words, I don’t know if I’m the same person as I was small or not.
And I’m not concerned about it.

If I identify myself with body, personality, and and other aspects, there are similarities and differences in each aspect.
Again, I don’t know if I’m the same person. To certain degree, yes. In some aspects, no.
And I don’t care much, Who cares? Why?

The evaluation of “true”/“false” or anything is based of arbitrary reference/perspective you choose.
So, it can be seen as subjective.
If some people agree on using the same reference/perspective, it’s now shared.
If many people think that certain reference/perspective is shared, it might be considered as a common sense.
For religious nuts, religious reference/perspective may become the absolute frame of reference (even it contradicts itself…)

As for the paradoxes, I found that many of them used loosely defined notion that can be taken in different ways. And it may create the confusion/contradiction.
Also, in self-referencing paradox, the evaluation presented in the statement may not be applicable to the statement itself, creating the appearance of the problem.
There are other cases we are seeing complex structure projected in a flattened form and thus creating the illusion of contradiction.
In most cases, inspecting the precise definition/perspective and also applicability/condition (not usually mentioned in the statement) can reveal the structure and the reason why it appears to be contradicting.

I do think there are many things that can be pretty tough to communicate unless both share the same (or pretty similar) experiences.

If some of key elements cannot be communicated, both may not share the same conclusion, evidently.

I don’t discuss for the sake of “truth”. And I do discuss because others think and see things differently. If we all think in the same way, I don;t need to talk.

And “relative/subjective” doesn’t mean we have totally different experiences.
So, I do think lots of things are shareable.
What degree? I don’t know. It depends on the situation.

You can often trick others to use your rule, if you wanted and if you know how to do.
But anything you do may have the consequences and reaction from others.

Generally, you will be unhappy person if you hope/try to force your own screwed rule upon others.
Although some people love to be told, there are many who don’t like it at all.

I can encourage in believing and acting upon that idea, intensely. And the person will find out by himself … probably … hopefully.
If not, at least he is living in the way he believes and he should be happy, and manly.

Hi upf, I more or less agree with your third paragraph, but the first two just don’t present any satisfactory solutions. Sure you can say “at some level all truth is self-referencing and arbitrary”, but if you’re claiming that that statement is true then at some level it too is self-referencing and arbitrary, which means that unless I happen to start with the same fundamental beliefs as you, there is no compelling reason for me to believe it.

How do you change something in that so that reasoning and consensus are possible? Is there any way to make my reasoning self-consistent but also non-arbitrary?

You say that objectivity is possible only if there is intersubjectivity. What about if we start with different rules for interpreting the shared information and experience? Is there no possibility of consensus from such a starting point?

There’s a couple of ways to explore this. The first and most literal is the physical. Old grandpa, if he’s older than young grandpa by any more than seven years or so, contains very little of young grandpa’s components within him. Teeth perhaps, an internal prosthesis maybe, but certainly no ‘living’ flesh.

Ergo, old grandpa is not younger grandpa.

Looking at it continuity-wise, then yes, old grandpa is young grandpa, because they have both consistantly occupied the exact same location in space and time, as time has passed.

However, both of these perspectives are unfulfilling, because mind/body divide semantics aside, we do not really referrence our feeling of self-hood to spacetime or physicality. If I have a leg amputated, I do not feel, in myself, imediately any difference - I do not suddenly lose a corresponding portion of my memory, or say, a selection of habits - in proportion to the loss of body mass.

So then it falls to the invisible, the intangible, the pattern of ‘me’. Is that the same as it once was…? Exploring that is much more difficult. Even with a pocket-sized MRI.

Thought-experiment time. My son is seven, having just started primary school last year. I remember my time in primary school, not well, but enough to remember that my teacher’s name was Mrs. Digby, my best friend was called David and I had spazzy hair. Now say back in the 70’s, some mad social scientist with a colossal attention span had spent a year filming and otherwise documenting my life during that year. Then, tomorrow, he kidnaps me, dresses me in short-pants and a natty school blazer and woofs me off back in time to the mid seventies, and Mrs. Digby’s class. Hits me with a shrink ray, so I’ll fit in, and stuffs actual 7 year old me (plied with anti-paradox pills to maintain temporal consistency) into the broom closet for a month. Then he gets out his camera, and waits.

Do you think I could duplicate, as [pattern-wise] a forty year old adult, the behaviour of the seven year old boy I once was…? Duplicate his way of seeing, of being…? Would the two pieces of film footage resemble each other…?

I don’t think so.

Obviously, there is a huge disconnect between me as I am now, and me as a child - but even between ‘selves’ at a lesser divide in time I think the disconnect would persist, pre-marriage me, and post ten-years-plus married me are very different people, though I remember that me much more clearly.

With the colour chart above, you can see how colours are related, the stages and blendings they went through as they traversed the spectrum from blue to green and red through to purple, but if you pick two specific colours, far enough apart, and put them side by side, they are no longer the same.

If you define the self as precisely what it is now, then no. If you define the self as roughly what it is now, then yes. If you don’t define the self, then the question is not applicalbe. To the monist, there’s just stuff. Your Grandpa isn’t anymore your Grandpa than he is dirt. If you believe your Grandpa has an immortal soul, then your Grandpa will always be your Grandpa.

What’s wrong with circular logic? Everything in the universe is circular. The chicken came from the egg, the egg came from the chicken.

I currently define objective as what’s real/verifiable for all subjects. Some things seem to be more real/verifiable than others. For example, the table appears small is only real for people of my size, the table appears to have four legs is real for everyone. However, there might be entities in other dimensions who can’t percieve the table at all. The table wouldn’t be real/verifiable for them. If a man was permanently cross eyed, the table would appear to have 8 legs to his eyes, but 4 legs to the rest of his senses. I don’t think it’s an either/or, I think there’s degrees of objectivity (real/verifiable). Some things are only real/verifiable to one man, like the z rays and moths living in my head. Only truths of reason (logic, mathematics) are objective for all people and for all time, truths of fact (5 senses, science) might be true for a certain amount of people, for a certain amount of time.

I think so. If two people see, hear, smell, taste and touch the same things, then some people may know (memory/inference)more about some of those things than others. However, if people perceive (senses) things as being fundamentally different, then there’s no basis for communication. A survivalist can teach another person how to survive, but even if they could communicate, he can’t teach a lion how to survive. In the main, a survivalists skills are of no use to a lion.

I did spend some time thinking about the whole “beliefs about forming beliefs” bit, but I stopped because a: it made my head hurt and b: nothing clever came to mind.

With the “truth is what works” and etc. I kept wanting to add " - within a given context." at the end, otherwise it seemed to mean nothing. Whether that helps it or not, I don’t know. Truth itself is very tricky. 2x2=4 is true in a way that “Fibre is a valuable nutritional requirement” is not. True truths should come with as few "yes but"s as possible.

Agreement is the endpoint of a persuasive process, and persuasion is a function of language. If the concept/belief being presented by the persuadee is unintuitive, hence alien to the previous experience of the one being persuaded, [or vice-versa] and not backed up by plain and undisputable fact - “Scientists have found that in case A, then X - and here’s the data, and wow isn’t that just fucking amazing…” or equally overwhelming authority “I am Bono/God/Your Father/The president/Donald Trump - so you’d better damn well believe me when I tell you…” etc. - then it must be couched in terms/steps that are familliar to the previous experience of the one being persuaded - leading them toward taking the last final leap across the divide from what they already know to be ‘true’ and what you are saying is [also] true by themselves - discovering the ‘truth’ to what you say under their own steam, rather than just submitting to your brow-beating alone. Agreement is most times an “Ah now I getcha” moment of minature eureaka, and persuasion an almost educative action.

It also must be remembered that persuasion is a two step process, first you must convince your audience that you are sincere, and worthy of being believed, or possessed of sufficient authority to be believed, and only then must you press the veracity of your claim.

Which is why framing, analogy, rhetoric and contextualization are hugely important tools.

to thezeus18:

I think “Nah” makes good on-target points about perspective, context, and definition. Not to imply anyone else didn’t make good points.

It seems you are talking about big “T” Truth here, not empirical or theoretical truth.

“All correct reasoning is a grand system of tautologies, but only God can make direct use of that fact.” -Herbert Simon

I think this is different from the Truth question, and that “what works” is the answer, though I’d change that to “what is predictive.” Now you have objective, empirical tests within practical time frames.

“Predictive:” explain, predict, win, solve, decide, organize, build, fix, run things with success above random chance.

It’s possible to agree for entirely different reasons, but generally I find it’s a waste of time to seek concensus without agreement on process.

I assert that the only thing that is predictive above random chance is logic, including in the “cause and effect” real-world sense. Again, empirical tests, practical time frames.

If that’s true, and somone wants to make something work, then they have no choice but to accept that process with respect to “what works.”

Otherwise I think it’s a waste of time unless you have access and entitlement for reprogramming.

With all that in mind, I revisit:

Is the testing what makes logic work? Nope, cause and effect is independent of human tests. So, I would say that the same process would have the best chance of applying to issues that have no good test.

Taking that a step further, since most of our reasoning is done subconsciously, and humans being so programmable, I think practice with such tests is good youthful training. I think to notice the lack of such training on occasion.

Punishment, power in “hands,” as in “upper-hand,” as in looking up at the bigger teacher, as maybe happened to her in her youth. Appeal to self as authority. Classic symptoms of NPD.

But she was probably just having a bad day, hasn’t been given the tools to do the job (not including hitting kids), and wasn’t this just after you engaged her about big “T” Truth? Maybe that scared her off.

In terms of debate, “knowing what she knows” also adds up to investment in the issue and attending issues, like investment in her profession, which lessens objectivity, which is overriding in reasoning. OTOH, you presumably attended school, so you are well-familiar with the context, and your additional outside experience would provide a more objective POV which could inform her. So, at least, she’s a lousy debater in this instance to make this objection.

if your primary epistemic concern is wether or not statements are true, then i think you’re missing the point vis a vis what to believe - the question of how to describe things is a seperate question from what statements can be called true.

and i think these are primarily questions of language - we can easily conceptualize ways in which your grandfather is both the same person he was and ways in which he is a different person - the only question left is which description best suits our purposes?

youre making it sound a lot more complicated than it is - how to think and how to think about how to think are the same question - and you’re right that not all self-consistent beliefs should be believed, but don’t assume that the only criteria with which we have to judge beliefs is their self-consistency - we have beliefs for all sorts of reasons - among other things we have beliefs because those beliefs work for us, sometimes even when they aren’t self-consistent, and there is practical value in that - that practical value is just as important as self-consistency to determining what we should believe, as well as what we believe we should believe, and so on.

i’m not quite sure what you’re asking - the question seems like a normative one - “how do we get people to agree” - that’s different from how do we decide what’s true, tho they are both intersubjective processes - in any case, if there is shared experience, then there is possibility of consensus - we can always change the rules by which we interpret information and experience.

i don’t know if i’m even addressing the question you’re trying to ask . . .