From: Lane Sobehrad

Dr. Korn,

My name is Lane Sobehrad, I'm an undergraduate (History major, Latin minor) at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. I was doing dome initial brainstorming for one of my capstones (akin to a senior thesis) when I happened across your website "Responsible Thinking." I've recently been questioning the authenticity of history, of science, of reality as a whole, both relative and absolute -- all of which you address in your website. The broad idea I have for my project was seeing truth as a utopian ideal, something nice to think and idealize about, but something that ultimately holds no water. Truth appears to me as a socially constructed idea, now being represented mostly by science in today's world, and more by religion and tradition in the ancient civilizations. In both cases, however, answers to the unknown are attempted, even though they ultimately provide a convenient explanation for something no one then or now can actually explain absolutely. It is this aspect I am most interested in; whether or not we can "know" anything. I was interested more in the historical and philosophical aspects than the scientific and mathematical aspects that appear to be your area of expertise per your online biography. I was wondering if you might have a few readings suggestions since I am brand new to this idea and subject. Please feel free to e-mail back. Thank you for your time and advice.


Lane Sobehrad


When you posit that truth "ultimately holds no water" I hope you mean "absolute" truth, in which case I agree. As you can tell from my article, I think truth is an essential concept, but any claim carries with it some doubt and inaccuracy, so absolute truth is not valid. I feel science is different from most religious, political and philosophical belief systems in that it recognizes that all claims are subject to improvement based on additional evidence. If you haven't read it, my section section talks about this.

Carl Sagan ("A Demon Haunted World") and Richard Feynman ("The Pleasure of Finding Things Out") are some good sources of discussions on the merits of science. Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" is an important paper on the nature of science often pointed to by postmodernists, though I personally think they greatly exaggerate the extent to which it supports their position. It has a great discussion of the history and nature of science.

The idea of fuzzy logic (I think the originator of this idea was L. A. Zadeh) is helpful for recognizing that words and reasoning are not as absolute as we may think of them. Often philosophers seem to take the position that something that is not absolutely true in all cases is simply false. This makes it hard to deal with reality.

Bob Korn