John Sowa wrote:
But I'd like to clarify the
point. I believe that Peirce's theory of signs provides a unifying
methodology for viewing the many different perspectives that one can have on
anything. But some of those perspectives may be incompatible, and therefore,
it might not be possible to believe all of them at the same time.
As an example, consider the
various kinds of "optical illusions", which can be interpreted in
different, mutually exclusive ways, but not at the same time.
If we all think about the
same illusion (I suggest the pretty young woman / old worn woman) we can more
precisely discuss illusions – a very interesting topic in terms of
But for any of those
illusions, there is a consistent way of interpreting and describing the
underlying figure that creates those illusions. That description, which
explains how the illusion arises, subsumes both, but in a way that destroys
both illusions -- i.e., from that point of view, it is not possible to
"see" either illusion, although it enables one to see how other
observers could "see" one or another of the illusory views.
In the Young/Old
illusion, I can choose to see either one at a given time, and can focus on that
one alone to preserve its interpretation in my mind. I assume everyone
else has the same ability to choose either one, but not both at the same time. So
there are at least some illusions where you can consciously choose to perceive
a specific point of view. I think this is a human capability which allows
us to communicate by understanding each other’s point of view at least
some of the time.
I believe that many of the
conflicting views that intelligent people hold arise from a process of seeing
one side an illusion.
But it's not always possible
to know that one is seeing the world through an illusion. Sometimes the
illusion has a large grain of truth in it, and many people may agree that it is
It is even possible that
whole societies may believe in the illusion for years or even centuries.
Agreed – the Greeks
and Romans had their many gods and assistant gods; each major religion has some
widely believed set of assertions; scientists have a politically correct set of
beliefs. I mostly agree with you on that, except for the “not
always possible to know”. I think that everything we see is an
illusion. To go a step further, I think the only thing we can see is
illusory, as created actively by our own construction of reality as we
experience it. In other words, we create our own illusions, as in the
parable of the cave (Aristotle? Plato?) for EVERYTHING we experience. So
it is always possible to know that we are experiencing reality only indirectly,
through our illusions.
For example, from our
current knowledge of chemistry, we can view the theory of phlogiston as a kind
of illusion that had considerable predictive power. Joseph Priestley, who
was the first or one of the first chemists to discover oxygen, called it
Following is Priestley's
report of his attempt to understand what happens in his experiments with
different kinds of "airs":
From our perspective,
we can think of Priestley as an intelligent person who is struggling to rid
himself of an illusion. He realized that his earlier view that air is a
single substance was wrong. But he still retained the view that burning
is a process of releasing phlogiston into the air and that burning stops when
the air can no longer absorb any more phlogiston.
Things burn more brightly in
"dephlogisticated air" because it is a "purer" kind of air
that can absorb more phlogiston.
The scientific method
enables scientists to rid themselves of various illusions over time, but we
have no idea how many more illusions remain (or will be invented) as time goes
If I’m right in my own illusions, there is a nearly infinite
number of illusions, all composed of combinations of our previously formed
illusions. As long as we keep in mind that we see illusions from a
consistent frame of mind, and that we can change our frame of mind at the cost
of some deeper illusions, we can practice science.
Recently, (I don’t remember where I read it) there was a web
article on how mice can learn a new behavior more efficiently if they have
already been trained in the component behaviors of the new one. So the
illusions can be compounded without any limit known at this time. Sort of
like software developed bottom up.