Today the Stoic quote I read was:
“A person who doesn’t know what the universe is, doesn’t know where they are. A person who doesn’t know their purpose in life doesn’t know who they are or what the universe is. A person who doesn’t know any one of these things doesn’t know why they are here. So what to make of people who seek or avoid the praise of those who have no knowledge of where or who they are?”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.52
At first I found this disheartening, I don’t know what the universe is, I don’t know what my purpose in life is, I don’t know why I’m here. It seems that then, my opinion or praise is worth less than nothing in relation to others. I know what dear Marcus is trying to say here, he is trying to get us to stop caring about what others think about us as they are likely just as lost, but I also needed to write my first reaction. It could be the insecurities inside me but I think I’m just still not sure of what truth is. This is important to me, I needed to arrive at what I considered truth, to then base my understanding of the universe, myself and my role in life.
This led me down a path of trying to figure out what truth meant to me. Was is arrived at empirically or through reason? Or was it pragmatic? I spent a few hours trying to pick at different aspects of this. I believe in the more pragmatic side of truth. I don’t think we can arrive at knowledge just through our experiences and flawed senses. A CCTV camera has huge amounts of data fed to it every second, yet no cameras are starting to develop consciousness or tell us what things are. In the same way, reason is meaningless without context, the worlds' most complicated computer algorithm capable of solving every problem we have is useless without some data input into it. A blend of the two is needed, sometimes one more than the other. Apply a machine learning algorithm (logic) to image data (collected via senses) and now you start to figure out what things are, and infer on what they might be doing. That’s currently my belief in how we arrive at truth, however that doesn’t answer what truth is. An occipital stroke victim may have an irregular reconstruction of the visual world; however because the eyes are functional, their brain may take this “false” reconstruction and accept it as correct for that person. Now imagine everyone else suddenly had a stroke in the exact same spot. Is what we all percieve now the truth? How can we tell that we are viewing the world through flawed senses? I don’t believe we can in that setting. Maybe we could take pictures with cameras to see what the correct version of the world is, but would we then not accept it as another measure of the world, similar to looking at our universe through ultrasound and xray cameras. It’s not what you see, yet it’s there. But you are the one that measures it.
“Truth, as any dictionary will tell you, is a property of certain of our ideas. It means their ‘agreement’, as falsity means their disagreement, with ‘reality’. Pragmatists and intellectualists both accept this definition as a matter of course. They begin to quarrel only after the question is raised as to what may precisely be meant by the term ‘agreement’, and what by the term ‘reality’, when reality is taken as something for our ideas to agree with.”
William James, Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth, Lecture 6
Yet it seems impossible to function without making millions of leaps of faith, and assuming what we sense as correct. So it seems that we measure things in relation to us, in order for us to progress in this world, whatever it may be.
“Man is the measure of all things: of the things that are, that they are, of the things that are not, that they are not.”
Protagoras, c.490 BCE - c.420 BCE
This reflection is more of a detour/derailing. I haven’t adressed the Stoic lesson above, and I don’t think I will for a while.