How can we be sure of anything

There comes a time where you simply have to question what is fact and what is fiction. Let’s be honest, words have no weight because there are too many variations of words that represent the sae things. Certanty is a mechanism used to maintain saanity.
Not that i am questioning just who i am because i am who i am and can never be another. So, i pose this question to you, what are you sure of. Honestly, tell me, because there are not a lot of things we can be sure of.
Please do not say death beause everyone has their own connotations as to what death is.

Taxes.

Well this is what Descartes said in the 16th century. In the end he concluded that the only thing he could be sure of was that he himself must exist and everything else was in doubt. Cogito ergo sum = I think therefore I am. Actually he also went on to make a dubious argument in support of the existence of God as well but his work that doubted things around him was one of the key moments in philosophical history. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methodological_skepticism

My philosophy professor asked the question “Does the character in your dream know he is part of your dream and that he will disappear when you wake up?” Somebody may be dreaming that you are typing here and you will go poof when the alarm goes off in the morning.

The only thing you can be 100% sure of is that the universe you wander through is a construct effectively composed of smears of probability. On the relatively infinitesimally microscopic time scale at which we live our lives, the probabilistic constructs that comprise our reality are stable enough across time to be “real” across the range of human experience. If you want or need more assurance than that you are in for some disappointment.

Wasn’t it Socrates who said: " A sign of a truly wise man is one who admits he knows nothing." ??

Whoa there, you’re assuming that there’s a universe, probability, time, and useful interpretations thereof. And you’re even implying the existing of possibly-conscious beings (besides myself) who have made statements concerning your so-called “universe”.

To the OP: Your current line of thought will lead you to solipsism, a belief that you can know nothing except yourown conscious mind. In the more extreme forms, that means that absolutely nothing exists except my thoughts.

Personally, I like to assume that there’s a tangible reality that I can learn about through my senses and reasoning abilities. That assumption seems useful enough to me.

You’ve found the starting point of the philosophical subject epistemology, which is the study of what we can know and how we can be sure of it. Descartes’ “Meditations”, which a poster already been mentioned, is probably the most famous text in the subject. Descartes said the only thing we can know for sure, on its own, is cogito ergo sum, “I think therefore I am”. He argued that since we are thinking about the problem, there must be something doing the thinking, and that something must exist. From that starting point he claimed to move on prove the existence of God and everything else in the world.

If you ask me though it’s all bullshit. I studied it for three years, and in the end all it is is academics dancing around ambiguous definitions. The answer to your question, whether there is anything we can be 100% sure of, is “probably not”. Knowing something does not mean we’re certain of it, it just means we think we have very good reason to believe something. Once you accept those last two sentences, the concept of epistemology basically falls apart.

Popeye said it better.

Moved from General Questions to IMHO.

samclem, Moderator

I ask ya… :wink:

Alas, yeah. Pretty much everything comes down to semantics. It depends on what your definition of “is” is. When Clinton originally said that, he was being a pettifogging defense lawyer…but it really is one of the more profound statements in philosophy. Pontius Pilate’s “What is truth?” is another.

There was the bloke who kicked a rock, and insisted that this proved the existence of reality. I say it only demonstrates the existence of pain.

“It hurts when I do this.”
“Don’t do that.”

When I ponder solipsism too long, it makes my mind hurt. So…

Quantum Physics says “No”.

Unless you look.

i’m sure of nothing, nothing!

Are you sure of that?

Certainty is for shmucks. You’re more likely to approach the truth on subjects where some doubt or uncertainty exists than subjects on which you are certain, because in the latter case, you’re not asking questions any longer.

Nope. Pretty sure there’s only one definition of death.

:confused: So epistemology is all bull? :dubious: I’ve read a sensible treatment by B Russell on Descartes. And Philosophy of Science and Artificial Intelligence are 2 fairly active and relevant adventures in human inquiry.

First off, one must assume one’s self to be real in the sense the term “real” is commonly understood. The question then becomes: What else is real? My response to this is that I can be reasonably assured of the reality of others by virtue of the breadth, complexity, sophistication and creativty of the behaviors they exhibit. For instance, I am not a musical prodigy capable of composing great works of classical music or an artistic genius who can produce stunning works of art. In fact, try as I might, I can never achieve, dream or much less imagine such masterpieces yet there they are, available for me to behold and continually marvel at. Could I have conjured up realities that so far surpass my modest abilities? To me, the most probable answer is an emphatic NO. I am witnessing the byproducts of the realities experienced by countless others.

I find that acting as is there is an objective reality that I can experience through my senses is a pretty good first approximation. At least it hasn’t failed me for the past fifty years.

Nice treatment George. I suppose a radical skeptic might then have to admit the probability of 2 entities – himself and at least one other, the other entity surpassing our agent by a wide margin. It could be a god, a very large collective/collection or both.

…and 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th… approximation.

"There once was a faith healer of Deal,
Who said ‘Although pain isn’t real,
When I sit on a pin
And it punctures my skin,
I dislike what I fancy I feel.’ "