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wundayatta's avatar

If you spout enough gobbledygook, can you convince yourself of anything?

Asked by wundayatta (58693points) May 4th, 2009

Stanley Fish writes, in the New York Times:

In the opening sentence of the last chapter of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution,” the British critic Terry Eagleton asks, “Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God?” His answer, elaborated in prose that is alternately witty, scabrous and angry, is that the other candidates for guidance — science, reason, liberalism, capitalism — just don’t deliver what is ultimately needed. “What other symbolic form,” he queries, “has managed to forge such direct links between the most universal and absolute of truths and the everyday practices of countless millions of men and women?”

I read the whole thing, but I can’t see what Fish and Eagleton are on about. It seems to me they are putting up red herrings right and left so they can shoot them down. I guess my main question, though, has to do with “practices.” What practices are necessary to link to the “universal and absolute of truths?” What do they mean by “absolute of truths?”

Personally, I don’t believe in absolute truth, unless you are speaking of a mystical sense of knowledge that feels numinous and forever. As to practices, it seems to me that anything will do.

However, this argument seems to me to be so full of unexplained terms that it amounts to a bunch of gobbledygook. And yet, this nonsense gets printed in the New York Times! Opinion page, but still….. Not all opinions are created equal, it seems to me.

Can academics get away with anything? If there is no way of applying science, can you say whatever you want, and just assert it to be true? Is there any way to counter this kind of nonsense which is as slippery and malleable as a schmoo?

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22 Answers

TitsMcGhee's avatar

I definitely have roundabout ways of convincing myself of just about anything, and usually anyone else, if I have anything to say about it. This is particularly useful in academic essays, especially for my English, Literature and Philosophy classes. Can’t beat that.

theartfuldodger's avatar

It makes sense to me.

But that is because I believe in God and Science.

If you refuse to believe in God, you can’t see the relations, and it seems like trash.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

With circular logic as the method of reasoning, anything is believable.
You know the stuff.

Our parents all gave us the lesson every time they used the words “because I said so”.

Judi's avatar

This is my theory about absolute truth (and I am no academic and I know better than to put myself in the middle of an argument with daloon!what am I doing?)
Truth is absolute, but perception is relative.
I had a revelation when flying a small plane over Mt Shasta. My husband yells out to me, “Hey, There’s Mt Shasta!”
I say,“No way! I’ve seen pictures of Mt Shasta and it looks nothing like that.”
He said, “That’s because we’re on the other side of the Mountain.”
Did the mountain change? No, not at all. It was still the same mountain that we had driven past on all out trips to Oregon. It was the same mountain people have taken pictures of for years. Then what changed? It was my perspective. I believe that truth is absolute, but perspective is relative.

Harp's avatar

George Bush was endlessly fascinating to rhetoricians for his mastery (yes, that’s what I said) of the use of keywords embedded in gobbledygook to deliver messages. Some argue that this technique was all the more effective because it targets the emotions and desires, while bypassing the rational thought process. Here’s a good commentary:

“What makes Bush different is his masterful way of using code words without the distraction of logic. He speaks in short sentences, repeating code phrases in effective, if irrational, order. “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in,” he once said, “to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

But he does more than just repeat things over and over and over. He catapults his messages by leaving logic out of them. The result is what the poet Robert Frost called the “sound of sense” — the meaning you intuit from hearing people speak in the next room. You pick up the sense from the speakers’ rhythms and tone, and from an occasional emphasized word”. (source)

Religious speech often works the same way. The emphasis is on the use of emotionally charged words that speak to profound desires. “Truth” is one of these, and in its supercharged form, “absolute truth ” or “universal truth”, it resonates strongly with our longing for certainty, an unmoving point of reference.

Someone conditioned from an early age to key into such words doesn’t challenge them intellectually and lets them go straight to the heart. You, sir, are apparently insufficiently conditioned and so allowed your intellect to intercept a message not intended for it.

ragingloli's avatar

Of course.
That is the basic principle of all propaganda and religion.

fundevogel's avatar

I think it much easier to believe gobbledygook is everyone else does too. If it’s just one person believing he’s just crazy. If the majority people believe the same gobbledygook it is the Truth.

wundayatta's avatar

@Judi: I hope you don’t feel that I don’t listen, or that I’m unkind (except occasionally, and only where deserved ;-)

I wonder if your analogy is appropriate. I can see that it works for things in “reality.” However, is it reasonable to believe that because the physical world works this way, that the metaphysical world also does?

I don’t know if your views are similar to Eagleton’s or not. Still, if there is an absolute “truth” about meaning and what it is to be human, then do the different ideas about that truth (often represented by hundreds of religions), just represent different sides of the “mountain?” Do some see Mt Everest and mistake it for Shasta? If so, does that mean they are looking for truth in the wrong place? Or is every mountain truth?

You can see (I hope) that I am wondering whether the notion of “absolute truth” means that one religions is right. If not, then it seems to me that any idea about truth is acceptable, since all points of view are looking at the same mountain.

Judi's avatar

I think that the mountain is just to big for anyone (from an earthly perspective) can fully understand or grasp it, but I do think it is real and true. (absolutely)
I am confidant that my faith belief is true, but I also am confidant that I don’t know the whole story.
1Corinthians 13:9–10 “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears”

avalmez's avatar

why does it have to be that if absolute truth exists then there exists the possibility that one religion has grasped that truth? i do believe absolute truth in the sense you mean exists. and i believe men and woman in different times and places and of different religious backgrounds have glimpsed portions of that truth.

wundayatta's avatar

@avalmez: I wouldn’t think, if there was absolute truth, it would belong to only one religion. However, I’ll bet there are religions that do think they are the only ones who have access to the absolute truth.

fundevogel's avatar

I think the biggest flaw in the relationship between religion and truth is that it makes two very big, but unsupportable assumptions

1. there is an absolute truth


2. people that lived thousands of years ago in superstitious cultures with barely any understanding of how the world works some how managed to gain a perfect understanding of this absolute truth and any flaws in it are result of it being corrupted over time. Not from being dreamed up by a bunch of primitive cultures.

The same goes for people that think there is a natural cure for every thing and they have simply been lost. Heads up, a ton archaic medicines tended to really suck or just not work. Many of them were literally poison. Natural poisons.

I’m not looking to primitive cultures for medical or metaphysical guidance.

Blondesjon's avatar

What difference does it make? An individual ultimately makes the decision as to what they do or do not believe. It doesn’t take gobbledygook, balderdash, or gibberish. That is just giving yourself an excuse.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Yes, until the money runs out.

avalmez's avatar

@daloon of course, many religions lay exclusive claim to absolute truth. and many others recognize they are but a piece of the puzzle.

@fundevogel that absolute truth is an unsupportable assumption is, itself, an unsupportable assumption. that modern peoples have a substantial advantage understanding absolute truth over peoples of any period, is equally unsupportable, as who is to say what is the nature of absolute truth.

fundevogel's avatar

@avalmez – can you provide any support for an absolute truth over every other sort of truth we have?

To be clear an absolute truth would be a truth that was not defined by individuals, law, culture, natural law or religion but simply is, unchallengable, universal and undeniable.

If you can think of a single truth that could not possibly come from any of the systems I mentioned before, I could accept that as an indication of the possibility of an absolute truth. But if you can’t then the existence of an absolute truth would indeed be unsupportable.

I don’t think that there is any example of a truth of this sort, unless basic logic qualifies as an absolute truth. But I’m assuming you’re referring to a moral or philosophical truth, and I can’t think of single one of those that isn’t rooted in one or more of the systems I mentioned above.

As far as I can see absolute truth is like bigfoot. There has not been enough evidence supporting it’s existence without an act of faith.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

You heard about the book that came out a couple years ago called The Secret? There’s a great example of gobbleygook that almost everyone saw as the truth.

My Dad used to say “If you fling enough shit against a wall, some of it is bound to stick.”

My Dad had a real colorful way with words. :-)

wundayatta's avatar

@fundevogel: I’m wondering if one’s own consciousness would meet your conditions for absolute truth? Isn’t it absolute, in the sense that there is only (presumably) one person who can know it, and there is only one consciousness that any individual can have, and that is the tautological one that they do have. Isn’t it absolute? Isn’t it Truth to the person whose consciousness it is?

avalmez's avatar

@fundevogel my claim is that stating absolute truth does not exist is itself stating an absolute and so, in your own view, such a statement is unsupportable. i do believe certain truths are not relative or perception based. and whether such truths can be supported by any of the “systems” you mention or not, matters not. and actually, faith based truth is relative to the believer, but that does not forbid that any such truth is not in fact ultimately true and therefore an absolute. i am not a philosopher and i always thank God for that when i enter into a chat such as this.

avalmez's avatar

and actually i don’t know how worthy the following is given the context of this question, but…math is an example of an entire body of knowledge founded on a set of facts that can not be proven (supported) but are so evidently true they are taken as absolutely true. mathematicians call these facts axioms. an example along the lines you requested

fundevogel's avatar

@avalmez – I never said that it didn’t exist, just that it’s existence was unsupportable as far as I could see.

Unfortunately if the truths you think are absolute could also be rooted in an observable system, it is more rational to ascribe it to the existing system than a hypothetical one. A hypothetical system would only be a reasonable alternative if there was no other known explanation.

This does not exclude the possibility of absolute truth but it certainly doesn’t support it. which is all I was saying.

Math certainly falls under the logic I mentioned as a possibility and I can’t dispute it as an absolute truth. But I’m pretty sure math isn’t the sort of truth people are searching for and usually think of when they speak of truth. And I don’t think people often base their lives on calculus, not matter how dependable as it is. A lot of people flat out hate it, truth or not.

@daloon – interesting thought, something of a relative absolute. My main problem with that is even if a person develops their own set of unshakable truths they still developed them based on situations and environments they engage in rather than simply have a set of truths intrinsic to themself.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

kinda. it’s called cognitive dissonance – when you’re saying/acting upon certain beliefs, but believe another. for example, if someone is on a debate team and has to argue for the other side (the one they personally are against), after awhile they may start to kind of believe it themselves. or if someone is normally absolutely against smoking weed, but they just do it one day (be it because of peer pressure or getting a little too drunk, whatever), their beliefs might start to slowly fall in line with their actions.

so i’d assume that it’s the same for gobbledygook spouting. (;

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