Wednesday, November 11, 2020

On Medium: Saturated in Fiction: Consensus Reality as a Web of Stories

Read on to explore how we're more saturated with fiction than we realize, even in our concepts, scientific models, and the techniques we use, as well as our inner narratives.


  1. Great article! Just a minor quibble. When you say: "if the full truth of anything would have to take into account that thing’s relation to everything else, no pure truth, strictly speaking, has ever been uttered."

    Isn't this a "the present statement is false" type of situation?

    1. That's an interesting point. You're suggesting that this amounts to self-refuting antirealism. But the difference here would be between positive and negative truths. My statement was about the unlikelihood (not quite the impossibility) of a full positive account of anything in particular. I was saying we haven’t yet ever said exactly what anything in particular really is, because we’d have to understand its position in relation to everything else, which would require omniscience.

      Now that statement I just wrote is negative, which means it’s consistent with what I said in the article, since it’s not intending to tell us the full truth of anything in particular. In short, the “full” truth would be the positive truth, the identification of something’s essence. The denial that that kind of knowledge is likely or possible would indeed be some kind of truth, but not the kind it’s denying. So I don’t think the statement is self-contradictory.

      What kind of truth is this negative kind? Notice that this negative truth does depend on some positive understanding, namely about the limits of our cognitive abilities. I’m saying our so-called knowledge is largely fictional, because it’s based on concepts and models that simplify and idealize, and on narratives that appeal to the equivalent of stock characters. If I were to say that we’re essentially story-telling animals, then that denial of full, pure truth would contradict the rest of the article. But the article itself denies that we’re nothing but consumers of fiction, since I hold out scientific objectivity as a check on freewheeling imagination and story-telling.

      In any case, this negative knowledge is a realization that calls for humility. It’s a deconstruction of the more arrogant self-conceptions (both theistic and secular). To say that we tell stories instead of revealing the pure truth of anything is to say that that’s how we cope precisely with not knowing the essence of anything, including ours.

    2. "The denial that that kind of knowledge is likely or possible would indeed be some kind of truth, but not the kind it’s denying. So I don’t think the statement is self-contradictory"

      I get your point, and I agree. There's different kinds of truths. This reminds me of Tarski's theory of truth which posits, among other things, that every time we speak of something as being true, we do so necessarily in a context. I think he called it a particular 'universe of discourse'.

      With this in mind, I agree that a positive truth as you call it, as in a "full positive account of anything in particular", is very unlikely, not to say self-contradictory.