Saturday, January 02, 2010

"You Can't Prove Anything"

Here he is, the great Penn Jillette.

... Well, I just got a new computer that has Windows Movie Maker on it, so I made this. Mainly, it was an experiment: I wanted to learn how to use the program. Also, I wanted to learn how to get it on line, which was the hardest part, as it turned out. I finally managed to upload it by first saving it at a very low level of video and audio quality. I hope it's not too unsightly. Anyway, here it is:


Jeremy said...

its a good thing we dont all use cartesian criterion for knowledge!

BTW the sound is a very soft on my computer. Dont know if it is you or me.

Lester Hunt said...

Thanks for the info. I'll try to fix that when (or maybe I should say "if") I do this again.

Chris said...

First of all, I like the video. It's much easier to listen to that in the background than sneaking glances while the supervisor isn't looking.

Second, I'm currently reading a book on skepticism called What We Can Never Know by David Gamez, which influenced the way I interpreted Penn's comments. Gamez argues that we are not really capable of experiencing the "real" world and instead our consciousness exists in a virtual reality construct of our own minds (of which we are not capable of knowing anything similar to the way one cannot experience the computer generating a virtual reality in which one exists).

In this light I think I can see where Penn is coming from. We are capable of proving only our own perceptions to ourselves (and even that is limited thanks to hallucinations, dreams, etc.). One can't undeniably prove anything because no human is known to be experiencing objective reality.

I agree that proving something should not require disproving every other imaginable possibility, but I do still think he has a point. Math, to me, can't be considered a way of proving things in this sense because it too is a human construct.

I'm not sure where this thinking leaves one on a daily basis, but it seems to hold some merit.

Lester Hunt said...

I'm not familiar with Gamez' book, but what you are describing does sound like the most common route to skepticism in the modern world (eg. in Descartes): ie., the idea that we only know (or "experience directly," etc.) our own mental contents. Maybe it's because I was raised in the woods by ordinary language philosophers, but I have never found this metaphysic (that's what it seems to me be) very plausible.

I was thinking Penn sounds more like he's in the tradition of ancient Greek skepticism. There doubt is based mainly on reflection on the fact that every idea you can think of seems to have pretty good objections against it, and indeed the whole intellectual landscape seems to consist of intractable disagreements about everything. It's the sort of conclusion you might come to after years of making a TV show called "Bulls**t!" -- !