Saturday, March 14, 2009

How we know

When setting out on a task like this, the first thing I try to do is clearly define an objective and method for accomplishing it. Previously I talked a bit about the actual objective, identifying and perpetuating good ideas, but ignored the problem of how to accomplish it. As it turns out, this is unsurprisingly a task easier said than done. I'll start off here then by working on the first part of this problem.

What exactly are good ideas? How can we tell the difference between good and bad ideas? How do we even know what if anything 'good' and 'bad' really are? For that matter, how do we really know anything? Starting from the ground up epistemologically speaking we can't even say that we really have a leg to stand on for sure. I do my best to use reason and evidence to determine what I do and do not believe, but as the entire process is entirely subjective, knowledge is, it seems, forever untransferrable directly and must be accepted or not by each individual based on unique sets of individually constructed standards which are themselves untransferrable knowledge due to subjectivity. For the sake of my own standards I will take for granted "cogito ergo sum" as relatively unfalsifiable but no more. Beyond that I will say that I believe that all we think we know, we simply believe to such an extent that we do not consider alternative possibilities, and the things we say we do not know but believe, we hold onto in spite of acknowledged alternative possibilities which we are aware of and yet disregard for our own subjective reasons.

Taking this standard of knowledge and belief as a starting point I believe I know what 'good' and 'bad' are, at least to me. My definition of good, is simply complexity. This may be a bit unorthodox, but at a very fundamental level this I believe, is the only thing that really matters. While somewhat separate from typically accepted 'good' characteristics of love, compassion, etc. it is I think more universally applicable as too much love or compassion, or love of or compassion for the wrong things or people can in fact lead to negative consequences as well as positive. Complexity, or 'interestingness' however I would argue, always leads to positive results as greater complexity allows for greater appreciation and understanding of that complexity and as such provides the potential for experiences which are greater in nature than those possible in an environment of lesser complexity. 'Bad' then is the lack of or reduction in complexity seemingly inherent in life and existance as a whole. Humans grow old, our ability to interact with, percieve and even comprehend the world around us lessens and eventually will come to an end entirely. Likewise the forces of entropy at work in the universe reduce complexity into simplicity, theoretically leading to the eventual total colapse of complexity and existance as we percieve it in our universe.

And so, in a very basic way that which is good is that which is complex, and that which is bad is that which is simple, flat, uniform, uninteresting, and so on. I would add to this that what really matters due to subjectivity is useful complexity or 'interestingness' as the purpose for my esteem for complexity itself is in it's capacity to be observed. A tree falling in the forrest with no one to hear it does not in fact make a sound in this case, and so useless, unappreciable complexity is not as 'good' as that complexity which is observable and appreciable, which from here on I will describe as interestingness.

Of note, it may be of some concern to consider the implications of this definition of good as it does in fact mean that even conventionally negative experiences such as suffering are themselves complex compared to the potentially more casually attractive state of neutral non-experience. This is a point I intend to explore more fully in the future. Is it better to feel pain than nothing at all? Is it not better to feel happy than sad? Is life always preferable to death? There is still a bit of groundwork to be laid before truly beginning into specific evaluation of circumstances, however this definition is perhaps the cornerstone upon which such evaluations in the future will rest.

TFTD: How interesting was your day today? How much more interesting would you like it to have been?

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