Recently I’m bothered by insomnia. There is no one else but me to blame. However one night I encountered a video about Falsifiability by teachphilosophy on Youtube. I made some comments and to my surprise techphilosophy replied nicely with a lot of constructive discussions. This kind of experience is very rare on internet. I exchanged more comments with him/her and clearly he/she has deep philosophy background and my thoughts are much less sophisticated and scattered. “less sophisticated” in my opinion may or may not be a bad thing but “scattered” definitely is. So I hope I can do a better job with this blog post than the comments I have on Youtube.
First, if you are not familiar with Falsifiability, please read wiki. Now, let’s talk about all the examples in techphilosophy’s video.
1. There is a planet between Mercury and Earth. This is a pretty straight forward falsifiable statement, unless IAU went nuts again and keep changing the definition of “planet” then this statement is not well defined. But I want to talk a little about how do we know that the statement is true. We know planet Venus is there between Mercury and Earth, but how can you say “you know”? I’m pretty sure you have not been to Venus and feel it with your hand. You probably have seen it in the sky but how do you know it is a real planet but not a man made satellite? And how do you know it is between Mercury and Earth? Well, we have to use the Occam’s razor. You can safely assume that all astronomist in the world did not create a big Venus hoax for no reason than fool you.
2. All swans are white. Classic example of something falsifiable and got falsified. I don’t have much to say about it.
3. Nonspatial/Nontemporal Fairies live inside my nose.
4. techphilosophy skipped it so no idea what did he put there. But I’m guessing it may be “God exists” and he does not want to get into trouble.
5. I am currently conscious. This is the one where the most discussions happened between me and techphilosophy. His/her opinion is, if I may summarize, this is not falsifiable but very valuable and useful knowledge. I think it may or may not be falsifiable depends on how you define certain words, and when you make it not falsifiable, it is a topic as valuable and as ridiculous as #3. In my opinion, strictly non falsifiable statements are all equivalent. Because of historical reasons, philosophers still likes to cling on to this topic but with advance in neuroscience, they are clearly loosing the grip. So let’s start with definition of conscious, here are some that Google shows:
- aware of and responding to one’s surroundings; awake.
- having knowledge of something; aware.
- painfully aware of; sensitive to.
- concerned with or worried about a particular matter.
- (of an action or feeling) deliberate and intentional.
- aware of one’s own existence, sensations, thoughts, surroundings,etc.
- fully aware of or sensitive to something (often followed by of):
- having the mental faculties fully active:
- known to oneself; felt:
- aware of what one is doing:
- aware of oneself; self-conscious.
- deliberate; intentional:
Let’s start with a simple one: deliberate;intentional. Sounds like this will get used a lot in court, right? And who decide if accused was or was not deliberate/intentional? Not himself/herself, it will be judge or jury based on their opinions hopefully based on facts. So for this definition only what other people thinks matters. Remember this because it will be useful later when we talk about other definitions that seems does not involve others but only about oneself.
Next, several of the definitions are about aware of things, surroundings. This is another thing that can be hotly debated in a court since it can also impact the outcome a lot. But again, debated by other people, only what others thinks matters. It probably shows up more in hospital though. Still decided or tested by other people, doctors, nurses, etc.
Lastly, let’s discuss the one that does not involve other people “aware of one’s own existence”. Put that in the statement, it becomes: “I am currently aware of my own existence.” The idea is that when a person makes this claim in his/her own head, he/she is certainly not sleeping or unconscious and this becomes a self fulfilling statement and is always true. And because it does not involve others, it is not falsifiable. Well, with the advance in neuroscience, we can easily tell if a person is awake or dreaming and with advance in machine learning, we can even guess what a person is seeing (link). But even ignore that, let’s say no one is attaching any EEG machine to your shaved head, no one is even around you to observe you, no camera is recording what are you doing for anyone to see in the future, let’s try to make the environment allow the statement that “you are currently conscious” truly unfalsifiable. Then you can think to yourself “I am currently conscious”. But are you?? It has become very similar to the question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”. Except you say that you are the tree and you are there to hear it. Well, if you perceive that you are conscious as if the tree was able to make a record of the sound when it fell, then the statement becomes falsifiable. It is possible that in the future we will have a machine that can read your memory. So you have to forget your experience to make it truly non falsifiable.
In conclusion, I am not exactly sure what am I trying to say. I think what I’m suggesting is to apply falsifiability strictly to a topic before we decide to engage. I believe it will save a lot of meaningless discussions and a lot of time.