2015-11-23

Do things go wrong, or is it just me?

Consistency seems to be an universal requirement for any account of reality we accept to consider as true. This requirement seems to build slowly in childhood with the acquisition and consolidation of language, along with notions of true and false, and the underlying law of excluded middle, a basis for all rational and scientific accounts of the world. Formal logic and mathematics underlie the growing computational power of our machines, and we also try to make consistent the laws and rules governing our daily life. But whatever the level of formality at which they are used, consistency and truth belong to the realm of discourse. Holding that a discourse is (in)consistent and statements are true or false in the framework of this discourse makes sense and in many cases can be precisely defined and proven by logic. Considering that a statement is true because it seems consistent with reality or at least the state of affairs at hand is more hazardous, but is still useful and is actually the basis for most of our daily decisions. 

But what is more arguable is to consider consistency as a characteristic of the reality itself, independently of any discourse we can have on it. What could that mean? Reality simply is what it is whether we think or speak about it or not, and there is no point in asking if reality is true or false, consistent or inconsistent, all qualifiers which should apply only to statements and discourse. Reality is the state of affairs, the mountain as we experience it, it is not a discourse, even if our discourse is part of it. What can be said true, false, consistent or inconsistent, is that one asserts about this experience. But somehow the experience has those permanent patterns which comfort us in believing that indeed reality is internally consistent and our language can build accounts of it we proudly call facts. Our faith in the internal logic and consistency of reality beyond any account of it has gone as far as considering reality as the embodiment of the discourse of some perfect logos. This metaphysical stance pervades implicitly or explicitly all the occidental thought from Greek philosophy through various avatars of monotheism. We can still track it in modern science, with the quest of the Theory of Everything, which in the mind of some would be a consistent account of no more no less than the thought of God. Of course such a theory should be globally logically consistent, since the creator could not be inconsistent without failing to perfection.

Our philosophy should be more humble. Logic should stay where it came from and belongs, inside language. And when the reality suddenly behave in an unexpected way, inconsistent with those accounts we so far considered as true, instead of thinking first that things have gone wrong, let us admit that it is our account of things which was proven wrong. Things never go wrong, but we often do.