Maybe I 100% Know Something. But I Probably Won’t Be Able To 100% Explain It
TLDR: In my previous post, I said I don’t 100% know anything. In retrospect, I think I can only make a semantic claim that I don’t 100% know anything. I think semantic claims are important to the point that they affect communication. That’s still significant. I’m not sure if any word has a universally agreed-upon meaning.
In my post, “I Think Therefore Someone Is Or Was,” I said I don’t 100% know anything. After reading it, my friend Blanco pointed out that I also wrote, “I don’t know what ‘I’ means either.” He said this sentence implies that I know I don’t know what I means. So how could I claim I don’t 100% know anything?
I told him I meant to say, “I think I don’t know what ‘I’ means.” But that would imply I know that I think I don’t know what I means.
I could defend myself by saying that “I know” has the word I, and I don’t know what I means. So I couldn’t know if I know something. But is that a semantic point? Ignoring the meaning of I for now, are there statements that are 100% true?
The Sky Is Blue Or Not Blue
How about the statement, “The sky is blue or not blue”? Is that 100% true? Yes, different beings may perceive the color of the sky differently. And blue light is absorbed by many objects that aren’t referred to as blue.1 But doesn’t the sky always appear to be some combination of colors or another one?
What if the sky only exists as something perceived by our consciousness? Does that mean it doesn’t exist? Would the sky not existing count as the sky not appearing as blue (or some combo of colors)? I think so.
However, maybe not knowing what I means or whether I exist is more than a semantic point? Even if a statement is 100% true, maybe nobody can 100% know that. “Do I exist in base reality or a simulation?” isn’t a semantic question.
But, in the end, I believe whether I 100% know anything does come down to semantics. I wrote that I don’t 100% know anything, but I made that assertion based on my claim that I don’t know what “I,” “exist,” and “think” mean.
I do feel that I don’t 100% know what they mean. But, in case I ever lost my memory and had to look these words up again, I’d bet I’d be happy with their dictionary definitions. At least until my next existential crisis. For example, I googled “meaning of I.” I found definitions saying something like the person speaking or writing.2
That sounds good enough for over 99% of my conversations. In these conversations, I’m not thinking about what makes a person a person. I use “I” to talk about how I feel now and what I’ll do in five years. I use “I” to refer to myself whether I’m in base reality, a simulation, or a dream.
So I have an idea of what I means. I use the word I all the time.
Hence, maybe I can 100% know that the sky (or anything else) is blue or not blue?
It would depend on how I define 100% knowing, blue, or any term in that statement for myself.
Not that I need a definition. Presumably, I can know something without knowing the words to describe it.
Meaning Of Words
Maybe it’s practically impossible to 100% communicate anything to anyone through words?
I’m not the only person to question the meaning of I. And many terms are more debatable than I. Some terms are probably widely miscommunicated. For example, in this survey, most respondents interpreted “reasonable certainty” as 90% sure, but some of them felt it meant 50% confident.3 I think I would’ve said 70%.
Is the meaning of any term 100% agreed upon? I’m skeptical. When someone uses the word impossible do they mean not possible or extremely hard? When someone says the word pedophile are they referring to someone who’s sexually attracted to someone under eighteen, someone under sixteen, or someone who hasn’t started puberty?
Paul Graham wrote, “it would not be a bad definition of math to call it the study of terms that have precise meanings.” I don’t know how I’d define math, but that statement resonates with me. Numbers can become confusing the moment words are added to them. Does “I’ll be there in one second” mean one second? Even “one second” itself could cause confusion. In 1967, the International Committee for Weights and Measures, an unquestionable authority, defined one second as “the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom.” This means the duration of a second differs slightly depending on your altitude.
I’ll generally strive to use words carefully in the future. Hopefully, whatever I get across to you is helpful or entertaining.
https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/i (“the person speaking”) https://www.dictionary.com/browse/i (“the nominative singular pronoun, used by a speaker in referring to himself or herself”) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/i (the one who is speaking or writing)
This survey was taken at a conference for geologists and petroleum engineers. But I’d bet the general population doesn’t have a consensus for reasonable certainty and many other terms either.