Why is Truth Good? (with William Eliot)

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Robin:
Hello, Agnes.
Agnes:
Hi, Robin. Hi, Will.
William:
Hi, Agnes. Hi, Robin.
Robin:
We are joined again by Will.
William:
I’m back.
Robin:
And he is going to tell us what we are going to talk about.
William:
Yes.
Robin:
We don’t know.
William:
Well, a surprise sort of. I gave you a little hint a couple of days ago. It’s a topic I’m – again, I’m curious about it. I think I’m pretty quite confused about it. But this is something that there’s a lot of discourse and there has been for many millennia on this very topic. And it’s kind of like why is truth good? Why is truth good? Or in parallel, although it’s not the actual opposite of this question, why is fiction bad? And these kind of explorations. So the thing about truth is I’m just worried that a lot of defenses for why truth is good rely upon the definition of truth and that truth represents reality, the truth is linked to what is actually the case rather than hypothetically, so on and so forth. But I’m reluctant to use those as reasons why truth is good. It just seems like maybe like a tautology, some kind of argument that’s looping back on itself. It has defined itself and then saying – and then someone else is saying it’s good because truth is defined as truth.
Agnes:
So can I give you one standard philosophical reply, I’m not saying most philosophers would give us but some would, that I find practically satisfying. That’s the place to start. You might think – like supposed we are playing monopoly and you are like, “Well, why you trying to get so many houses and why are you trying – and hotels and things, why are you doing that?” And you’re just like, “Well, that’s what monopoly is.” Right? Part of what it is to play monopoly is to aim at certain things. But supposed you’re not playing monopoly? Or you’re playing baseball, why are you trying to get a homerun or whatever, right? There are certain goals that are internal to certain activities. Given that you are playing those activities, you are going for those goals. So you might think believing is like that. It’s like monopoly or baseball in that it has a kind of constituted aim that part of what it is to be in the believing game is to be aiming at the truth. And we all are in the believing game, we all in fact do, not all the time, we do all the kind of stuff besides believing. We have desires. We form hypotheses. We entertain conjectures. We do all sorts of things that are not believing but in so far as we do play the believing game, it’s just written into that game that what you are aiming at is the truth.
Robin:
I would invoke at least for a reference as Agnes did, the usual decision theory rationale. So the usual decision theory says you have to make a bunch of choices and you have preferences over these choices. And if your choices meet some certain academes of certain kind of consistency that most people think are reasonable axioms at least to meet ideally then you can be described by a set of utility functions and a set of beliefs which are consistent with these axioms and that these beliefs are of the sort of beliefs about truth or at least they have that same formal structure. And within that formal structure, if you were to get more information that narrowed your belief distribution then you would make better decisions according to standard decision theory. So standard decision theory says that there’s a set of possible worlds, you don’t know which one you’re in. You want to make the decisions that matched the worlds you’re in and the outcomes you want. The way you do that is you have a set of preferences and you have a set of beliefs. And the beliefs are literally just about which possible world is the actual world. And so, the claim there is knowing the truth or having more accurate beliefs literally is the same as knowing better which of the many possible worlds is the actual world. And if you didn’t care which of the many possible worlds was the actual world then the truth wouldn’t be very useful.
William:
Yeah. OK. So there are kind of two explanations there. One is Robin’s one and one is Agnes’ one. I’ll reply to the latter first. So it kind of seems that the words that we are getting around here is reliability. So truth is reliable. But I also don’t – I’m not fully convinced that that isn’t also the definition of truth is that truth is reliable. And so to say truth is good because it is reliable, I’m just – for some reason, I’ve got – I did it. This is a circular argument that is really toxic to me and I’m kind of allergic to it. Anything that seems like it’s looping back on itself.
Robin:
Do you reject or accept the concept of many possible worlds and one actual world? That is, if you accept that then I almost got you there according to the standard story by saying, “Well, truth is just which is the actual world and you could be wrong by thinking a different world is the actual world compared to the one that is the actual world.”
William:
OK. Yeah. So if we look at in this world level view where you’ve got as you say the actual world and then you got many theoretical worlds, which you may also describe as imaginary worlds, and I subscribe to that, I think there is one – I mean leaving apart my Everettian interpretation of quantum mechanics thoughts, I subscribe to that. Now, the question is, why should we live in the actual world as opposed to a world. There are several different gradients? We could go down one which is – we could find an explanation for the way things are, which isn’t “true” but is true in that we have a definition for it and the definition seems to correspond. So I’ll give you an example, right? Before we knew about certain cosmological things such as heliocentrism or before we had kind of lost of collective faith in a higher being, we had narratives and stories which we thought were the actual world and we survived and lived quite happily in those imaginary worlds. And that’s not to say that we found the actual world now somehow because we still are very unsure about those sort of things. But it seems that there’s this loyalty to pursuing what is the actual world against what is an imaginary world such as a world based off of a religious text. We just as society has chosen to go that direction. I’m curious why.
Agnes:
So I mean it seems to me that in Robin’s picture, he afforded the possibility of separating the question of what is the actual world going to look like, which world are we in, and the question of, what would guide our decisions? Right? And so when you say, “I’m skeptical that we just defined two things,” well, I’m actually not sure which of the two you are worried about conflating truth with. But certainly, there’s space here for the thought that you could learn – you could get more information about which world you live in and that could have no impact on your decisions, right? So there could just be facts like, I don’t know, counterfactual historians or something, right? They are trying to look at – they are interested in certain weird sorts of truth. I mean it’s a little hard to specify those truths in terms of possible worlds.
William:
More challenging facts.
Agnes:
Yeah, certain facts. But the point is, it seems like the concept of truth can still apply there. So I guess like it seems to be that what Robins is saying is that a subset of truths can be useful to us. And so, he is not conflating truth and usefulness. And in fact, he would be saying, not all truths can have any impact on what decisions you make. Only some of them do and we invest energy inviting those ones typically. But – so is your worry that even the sort of more minimal claim of truth is – where truth is knowing which world you live in regardless of whether that’s going to be useful to you or not that even that, that may not be capturing the concept of the truth. Or is it that you want to separate out the idea of truth and what’s useful in making decisions? Williams: I think it’s more of the second one. I’m curious. I should also say, I’m someone who is quite scientifically-minded so obviously I care what is true because I mentioned it in doing analysis in the world and I find it useful in that sense. But the way this started at this point of like circularity or at least what I can sniff some circularity, but maybe that’s an illusion in the moment.
Agnes:
Right, because I guess if you pick the second one, that’s what I thought you were picking then I really think there isn’t circularity. That is, there are two different concepts that he is bringing in, one is which world is the actual world, and the other is what bearing do they have on our decisions? Right? And the first is the question of truth and the second is the question of like how do we live well or something. And Robin is saying that decision theory says that this thing over here which is defined independently of whether or not we make any use of it, not circularly, that can actually – it does – it’s going to help us typically sometimes, sometimes these things will help us make decisions.
Robin:
So I think it might help to try to paint the picture of the non-truth oriented people in as vivid a way as possible because I think if you look at that picture in detail, you will see a version of truth there too. So let’s imagine a religious community and we are setting aside all the practical ways they farm and build houses and things like that or just looking on the topics where they talk about their religion. And there’s a set of priests and other people in this religion and they are making claims or they are discussing various claims about the Holy Scriptures and the various events that happened and what their gods might approve. And in that world, they are socially coordinating so that for example, when the priest makes a statement about a certain topic, they just make sure they never disagree with that in the future. So it’s socially constructed process by which they chose that but then they’re just going to stick with it. And so over time, they accumulate these things and all these other just stick to and you as a member of the religion, want to do that too. You want to go along with that. But along the way, it’s somewhat useful to maybe to guess what the next version of that will be because you might – you have to pick sides in these various political battles and you want to pick the side that’s going to be aligned with the one that’s going to be officially declared instead of the one that won’t be. And we could say that if this is the opposite of a truth-oriented world because it’s all focused on the social community and what they arbitrarily pick, but nevertheless, you as a member of that community have this decision theory task which is what will they actually pick? And for you, that is the actual world compared to the possible worlds and you are trying to guess where will the community go in terms of making one choice or another. And so you use decision theory in the same way you might just do it anywhere else. You’re saying, “I’m trying to predict what this will be. I’m using my various clues to guess that, the truth is what they will pick and that’s the truth that’s relevant here.” So this is my attempt at a construction of saying, try to imagine the world that’s the least truth-oriented. And there’s a kind of truth that matters there too.
William:
Yeah. Even within a world of fictions, you might still be wanting to operate in a way which is reliable and predictable.
Robin:
Right.
William:
Which is a kind of by definition …
Robin:
True to the story.
William:
Exactly, yes.
Robin:
Then you might ask, well, which kinds of constructed truths should we embrace versus non-constructed truth? So I think – so there’s this whole field of philosophy of science and the sociology of science and a lot of that field has for a long time been focused on the idea of the social construction of science and the key claim that many people disputed or a part of them was the idea that the social truths that science produces were socially constructed. They were the result of some negotiation, political process, rather than an objective nature. But for our purposes here, it’s still just as much a truth.
William:
Yeah. OK. And that extends even to how we live our lives today right now because the things which we take for granted as being true might not actually be that way. But we can still act in a way which seems to conform with decision theory because we are just using what we know will continue. Is that the process there? Is it what we know will continue or …?
Robin:
A socially constructed truth is still a truth would be the key point.
William:
Yeah.
Agnes:
That people believe.
Robin:
No. It’s a truth. That is, like in the United States, we all drive on the right side of the road, right? That’s socially constructed. In another parts of the universe, it could have been the left. The physics of the universe didn’t declare that. We socially chose that. But it’s still the truth that in the United States you drive on the right side of the road.
Agnes:
There are different things you might mean by social constructed but yeah. One thing you might lean in is like it’s a kind of fiction but not that it might be – it’s a reality that’s the product of decisions.
Robin:
And the question is, is there a difference between those two concepts? What is an example of a socially constructed truth that isn’t actually a truth with respect to some social world?
William:
Yes. And so, you’ve been asking about a lot because I was like maybe you are asking about the isosceles triangle, is that a social construct?
Agnes:
Yes.
William:
And loopholes.
Agnes:
Yeah. I mean I guess I’m inclined to think that yes, that the really pure example of things that are socially constructed are things where in order to – or so to speak, there’s no way – no instrument that could apprehend them other than the mind that believes in them. And so, the example for me, the purest example in all of my polls and I was very surprised because though this was deemed socially constructed was not by at – the margin was not as big as some other cases like money or whatever. It’s winning and losing. I think winning and losing is purely socially constructed. There’s no reality that that corresponds to. So, there are other realities that sometimes track like the sometimes the winner gets a gold medal, right? And so then you could – your instrument could pick up someone is having a gold medal. But your instrument doesn’t pick up that that’s the winner. So there’s a symbolic assignation of something as winning or it could be that death is losing.
Robin:
But in a social world where people are trying to win and not lose and trying to calculate which lose will help them win the game, we can use expected utility theory to describe that situation and the true state is the state where the person you thought win wins and that is truth. You might say it’s disconnected from other truths or arbitrarily constructed truth, but it’s a truth who won the game.
Agnes:
Can I give you a thought experiment that I just came up with? So suppose we have Robin handsome utility function and someone who knows it. So they know all of the things that you are trying to bring about in your life and obviously, you own learning of truths and your view, it serves as utility function.
Robin:
Right.
Agnes:
And suppose they were to say to you and you believe them, OK? That here’s a bunch of falsehoods which if you were to delude yourself into coming to believe them, overall, you can have more utility, given your utility function.
Robin:
Right.
Agnes:
Here’s a pill. You can take this pill. If you take this pill, you will believe a bunch of falsehoods and that will overall satisfy your desires better. Do you take the pill?
Robin:
If I’m completely convinced that it will achieve my purposes then I have to want to do it. [Laughs]
Agnes:
It’s interesting that you frame that, right?
Robin:
Well, there’s no escape there, right? But of course, I have to wonder whether – but my assumption, you said it will give me all the things I want, right? If that’s true, how else could I want to do, right? I might think it’s not possible that this thing will give me everything I want. For example, I might want to be in control of what I do and understand it. That may be part of the things I want. But if you tell me, “Yes, that’s a negative but it’s out way better than positive. You don’t exactly how but just trust us. It really is.” Then I kind of have to believe that, right?
Agnes:
And what about you, Will? Do you take the pill that you’re going to believe that a lot of falsehoods? It’s a lot but overall, your desires are better satisfied?
William:
It’s just tricky because I care a lot about things that are true but I have to question why. And it may just be because I have – like Robin, a utility function that just wants to operate rationally like continue life in a way which is just going to be in accordance with what will give me the best life. But if I wanted the best life and I need to accept falsehoods to get that, then I would do that. I’m sure this is like a Kafka story or something.
Robin:
This is a point just to summarize what should be the obvious extension to the initial theory I described, so I described the standard expected utility framework, right? And in that framework, the truth is this hidden instrumental thing that you’re privately using to calculate what to do but actually in our social world, we have various truths that we agree on or fight out or ascend to, and that’s part of the object of our world in terms of what we want. It’s not just a hidden set of tools we use to achieve other things. They are central objects for our many games that we fight over. So, playing that other role could then give more for you to want to believe the non-truth according to that story because it could help you win these games where the truth is part of the game.
Agnes:
I think the thing is that in life, there are like actually a lot these things. There are a lot of these non-truths that will help you get ahead in the world and achieve other things you might want. And I see you, Robin, as somebody who has systematically avoided them.
William:
Yeah. This is what I was about to say, which is like the reason Robin was kind of cringey at that question maybe but like just as a general thought of his way of thinking is, it is constrained by what is truth, which is I guess I’m kind of surprised that you’ve sort of placing quite a lot of priority on this social film over the top of truth.
Robin:
So a simple way to think about living your life is that you are a creature that’s part of a species and you aren’t that different from all other members of your species and you evolved over this long time. And evolution puts you in this game you are playing and it gave you various strategies and habits and you are aware that some of those strategies and habits have you not being fully honest or aware about various truths around you. I think that’s of the things you can kind of figure out about how you are and how you are made in the world. So the question is then, when you start to see a way in which your inherited programming is leading you to believe false things or to embrace false things, how resistant should you be to that?
William:
Yup.
Robin:
And you might say, well, evolution produced these habits that you have for the purpose of winning the usual games which is your best guess of what you want. And so, you should go along with whatever habits evolution is suggesting for you to believe the truth when it suggests you do that and to hide from it when it suggests otherwise. That would be the average, exactly. So, the question then is, how good a guide to what you want right now in the world you are actually in is the evolved habits that your ancestors have bequeathed to you, that were pretty good in a different ancient world for some sort of an average person in that world? And so one thing I could say is, if I specialized in trying to figure out complicated detailed truths in particular areas of the world wherein people are quite inclined to mislead themselves then I have assigned myself a task that includes resisting these pressures. That’s the job I had picked. That’s not necessarily a guide for everybody else. They didn’t pick this job. They aren’t necessarily in this situation.
Agnes:
It has to be a guide for everybody that reads your book.
Robin:
It would also be an issue for anybody who takes as input the outputs of what I produced. Yes. So other people will have to ask, to what extent do they want to specialize in areas of thinking and ideas where in, there will be a lot of temptations that evolved. Inherited temptations to believe something other than what’s true. And how comfortable are they with embracing that as their goal and agenda here, realizing that there are substantial chances that that will come at costss that at least from evolution’s point of view, evolution guessed that wasn’t a good idea. And you’re going contrary to its guess.
William:
Yes. So I think that angle of evolution is interesting. We talked a lot about evolution last podcast. But I asked my friend this question about truth, whether or not truth is something that we can appreciate without defining itself. And he said, the truth helps you not die. The truth is something that has in a sense a life for evolution because of that fact that it’s linked to reality, it gives you the best tool for working out how to stay alive and to thrive.
Robin:
Right. Well, say, some parts of your mind using this truth orientation would realize that launching yourself into battle ahead of the attack force might lead you to die.
William:
Yeah.
Robin:
But other parts of your mind realize that declaring to your feudal compatriots that that is exactly what you would do because you feel so tied and allied to your group might also be exactly a winning strategy at least among those people making that declaration quite against these other truths you might know, right? That is, evolution could have told you that there are some social truths that are especially important to us, that are in some sense in conflict with these other more basic physical truths.
William:
OK. I’m not sure I understood that entirely then.
Robin:
So in your religion and social group, we are thinking about attacking those people or they are attacking us and we are saying, “Will you run to the front and fight or will you run away and hide?” And you are saying, “I will run to the front and fight.” And I expect every good person to do that and I feel really determined to do that. And evolution might have told you exactly to say that sort of thing and to believe it sincerely, at least until the moment you get near the front of the battle, in which case, it will trigger other instincts. And that’s the truth that evolution could have selected you to believe and say, at that moment. Whereas, from a distance analyzing the situation, you might realize you could get killed running to the front of the battle.
William:
I see. It’s kind of evolution has made you believe – you could find an example where evolution has made you believe something that might not be actually true.
Robin:
We were going to the not getting you killed part, right?
William:
Yeah.
Robin:
That there are times when evolution entices you to pretend to not believe you will be killed in situations where it does look like you would get killed exactly in order to win other social games.
Agnes:
Why wouldn’t it just have you believe like yes, I might get killed but it’s worth it? Wouldn’t that be the better belief?
Robin:
It might find it hard to move you that way, right?
Agnes:
It’s constructing you.
Robin:
Right.
Agnes:
So why not construct you …
William:
Because it doesn’t have group think. Isn’t that the thing here? It doesn’t have a type of thinking where it – this idea that evolution is just this – evolution is kind of abstraction of what a gene individually wants to do. And within your body, it wants to stay alive or it wants to pass on to a next descendant. So to die is counterproductive to that aim.
Agnes:
Right. But risking death might be worth it because you have a chance to pass your genes to the more upper class members of the group.
Robin:
So from the point view of decision theory, it’s completely accurate to say that if you want to change an agent who has beliefs and preferences in order to get them to take other actions, it’s sufficient to just change the preferences. You don’t necessarily need to change their beliefs. So more plausibly, your mind is just this huge complicated amalgam of various processes with all sorts of complexities that evolution found it hard to manage and it’s taking some sort of opportunistic, easy way to get you to do what it needs you to do. And the easy way will be to play both beliefs and preferences even though in principle, it would only need to change preferences. It would be enough to make you determined to go to the front of the battle even if you are likely to die. But there’s this other process that’s inside that they hear about, “I’m going to die,” and it freaks them out and they start overruling other parts of your mind and like turning off things and evolution didn’t know how to deal with that. And it was just easier just to tell you, “Oh, you wouldn’t die.” Oh, OK.
Agnes:
To me, that is surprising because suppose there is something I don’t particularly want to do, so like it’s hot in this room so I don’t particularly want to go outside and run around right now, right? But like if you made it worth my while, I could develop a preference for that. OK? Give me enough money or whatever. But now, suppose you are like, “Look, I’m going to make it worth your while. I want you to believe that the sky is red.” And you just keep adding more money into the equation and I’m just like, “I’m sorry. It’s not doing it for me. I just don’t think it’s red.” And so it seems like the levers, the preference lever is just more movable than the cognitive lever of just getting me believe false stuff.
Robin:
So we did this episode previously on rot.
Agnes:
Yeah.
Robin:
And I think rot is a concept that is hard to bring into mind for people who don’t have a lot of experience with complicated systems. So I think anybody who has inherited, say a large complicated software system or even rule system for a company, and then tasked with making some change, is very familiar with the concept that even though in principle, there would be changes only in one section that could produce any outcome, as a matter of fact, you will be searching for easy wins that allow you to think make minimal changes to do whatever you want. And so, most people in large bureaucratic or software systems are looking for these things called hacks. A hack is exactly not a general elegant solution but just an opportunistic small, local solution that will locally get you what you want but in general, not get you – get it in general in an elegant way that will make it easier to make more changes. So your mind is hacked. Your mind is a whole collection of hacks. Evolution hacked your mind because it really couldn’t have a large integrated abstract perspective. It could just at each point make one win and another lose in order to move your ancestors toward what it wanted.
Agnes:
Can I ask you a question, Will, about this question?
William:
Yeah.
Agnes:
About what’s good about truth? So as I see it, human beings have two fundamental forms of motivation. One of them is to believe what’s true and the other is to pursue what’s good. And Robin is inclined to do like a translation thing. Well, the reason we want to be believed as true is in order to pursue what’s good. I’m not sure about that. I think we have a pretty strong, robust, just independent thing where we want to believe whats true even if it’s not going to be good, even if it doesn’t satisfy our desires or preferences, and I don’t think that could be captured as we have a preference, that is. I think I could reconstruct the examples, well, you’ll believe more truths if you believe this lie, I still don’t want to believe the lie. OK. So to my mind, there are these two basic modus and you are worried about one of them, namely, to believe what’s true one. And I wonder why you’re not worried about the other one? You are like – why aren’t you like, “Well, there’s this thing we called good and we are always like after it?” Is it just whatever we pursue or is there anything out there? Are you also worried about that and about it being in some sense arbitrary or are you only worried about truth?
William:
I think I probably am worried about that. But I’ve also recognized that I have very limited experience to really be thinking about these things in general. So I kind of – I’m concerned that some things are very tricky to define and to untangle so that we can be extremely confident that appropriating them or trying to make progress towards them is a good idea. So I guess that’s kind of where the truth questions come out of. It’s interesting because from the way you’ve raised your question to me, it made me think that you wonder whether I’m seriously questioning truth. Well, I’m not in that mode. But what I’m saying, why is it that we like truth and can we say why without just defining truth? But I guess that’s more of my question here. It’s not that I’m wondering why the truth is something good in general. By extension, it wouldn’t be that I’m worrying whether good is something arbitrary or something that we should move towards. It’s what is the truth or what is good? And just kind of incidentally, do we have a way of defining that which isn’t looping back on itself. Maybe it’s this – maybe it helps if we come to this idea of reliability. So this is what I said earlier. And I think it could – and it kind of based off of what Robin was talking about with decision theory. So it seems that reliability is the core, useful element of truth, which is that it can be used in a sense, in a predictive modeling sentence. And I’m curious as to what you guys think. Is reliability part of the definition of truth or something that we take – that we use truth to do a reliable process or to act reliably or yeah, as I was saying, is reliability part of truth itself?
Robin:
So quite often, we have sets of related concepts that we see as fundamental. And then we are asking, which is the fundamental concept that this sets? And that’s hard to do because they are often like quite strongly correlated and the deviations are hard to uncover or measure and we are often stuck in that way. It’s just hard to pick out one. La Rochefeld has this quote or something like, “You can’t look directly at the sun or at death.” Where it’s just these things, if you try to focus on them very particularly, they’re just too much for you and you sort of take them from a distance. But I would – its a common observation, that I think is roughly true, that we have these sets of related concepts and we have different ways we could summarize them but they usually in effect, produce the same thing. But if you’re trying to push on which one is the more fundamental, it’s hard to do. So for a suspected truth and prediction or a reliability, it is a theorem I believe that typically on average, when you are more truthful, you can make more accurate predictions, right? Then you might say, “Well, could I flip that around and make predictability the axiom?” and the other things that you result and that’s just a matter of well, can you? I mean it’s hard but maybe it’s possible. But even then, you might say – if you just care about predictability then maybe you say this truth is a concept you don’t need because predictability is the concept you really wanted. But can you really disentangle this too? What’s point? I mean why bother? Don’t you kind of know that you want to predict things and the truth helps you to do that and isn’t that good enough?
William:
But this I think the question of induction, right? The things which historically had been true, will they continue to be true? And you can’t see historic occurrences of them being true to help you in the future. So maybe that’s one argument against this rotation from predictability to truth. It’s that induction argument from David Hume precisely for that reason.
Robin:
But you’re going to have to make an assumption like that anyway to use truth in some other ways. You’re not going to escape from making an induction assumption. Maybe you should just give in and realize you’re going to have to make an assumption like that.
William:
Agreed.
Agnes:
No. I mean you could just refrain – you could just say, well, there are ideas and there are impressions. And the impressions, we have just direct awareness of. And causation is an example of relation of ideas and those are things we can’t now explain. That will be Hume’s – I mean, sorry. Hume doesn’t actually take the skeptical route. He thinks he is somewhere around it but people are more impressed by Hume’s problem than his solution. Hume thinks that habit has a kind of legitimacy. So the fact that we just keep doing it that way …
William:
He said something like, “Let’s favor consistencies.”
Agnes:
Yeah, like there’s no – that the idea of necessary connection he thinks is an illusion. The necessity or the idea that there are forces and stuff going – but nonetheless he thinks you can kind of just go back to the habit you had before. I mean just don’t think too hard about the causal forces. But I wanted to raise something that is always – I’m not sure this is going to be directly relevant. But it’s something that has always struck me as a really interesting asymmetry between our pursuit of truth and our pursuit of goodness. And it’s this. Whenever you are pursuing goodness, whenever you are trying to achieve the good, you are trying to do some good. There’s something that you see as being good and you are trying to bring that about. So if like you’re hungry or you’re in some goodness-oriented process then you are not just trying to achieve good in the abstract. I mean there is some good. Right? But – and so you are committal. You could be wrong. But you are committal in so far as you are pursuing good. You’re committed with respect to the goodness of something that you are trying to bring about. And truth doesn’t work like that, and that’s so interesting. So suppose you are trying to figure out whether P – you are not trying to make it be the case that P or trying to make the case that not P. You want to know whichever the right one is is the one you want to believe, right? But with respect to the good, that’s actually not the way it goes. You actually start with some like, “No, this is what I want to bring about.” And you could later turned out to be deceived or whatever. So I think this is part of what makes orientation to the truth just a little bit puzzling is this kind of openness where I’m like, “I just want to know which way it is, whichever way it is,” which I want to believe P – conditional on P is being the case, I want to believe P. But conditional on not P being the case I want to believe not P. And so it’s like which one do you want to believe? And it’s like, well, whichever way is true. So there is this really interesting kind of opacity and it’s like – it sounds like well, conditional on my being hungry, I want food. But conditional on my being not hungry, I don’t want food. OK. Which one are you? And you can answer. You are like, “Yeah, I’m hungry.” And so, I’m not unsure which of those two ways I’m going. And so I think at least it’s my sort of intuition that some of the reason why people raise the puzzles that you just raised and be like, what are we after in wanting truth? It’s that orientation to the truth is open in this really distinctive way and so it doesn’t look like our other pursuits.
Robin:
So I’d like to sort of mention how truth ends up being political [Laughs] in that in our world at least, it’s very common for people to describe the difference between their political group and other people’s political groups as that theirs is more truth-oriented. They are a part of the reality, community, etc, and that the other groups are more delusional or unwilling to face the truth or self-deceived. And in that framing, then people are clearly saying that truth orientation is better. Their group is right more because of that, and that’s their main explanation for the disagreement between then and the others is that they claim that really deep down, the other people know they aren’t being so truth-oriented. They really know that they have these other priorities. And that’s just this common framing that people use on many different sides to explain differences on fundamental topics and to describe why they are right and other people are wrong. And some people, like say rationalists for example, it’s a community we are somewhat aware of, play this game further. They don’t just claim that we are right and they are wrong. They try to point to many habits of our community which they can use to say, “See? This shows that we are more truth-oriented. We know Bayes’ theorem. We collect statistics. We have these refutation processes or whatever.” And many academic disciplines have done similarly. They have some other group that they feel that they are rivalrous with and that they are disagreeing with and they will point to their methods, statistics, logic, whatever, as the reason why they are right and the others are wrong. And so that’s to me the context I tend to think when I hear this discussion about how important is truth. I think almost everyone when it comes to this us versus them thing will be leaning and what we care a bit more about truth even if they might also acknowledge that sometimes we are better off not acknowledging the truth. That they want to have that be a human universal and not something that’s distinctively more true about their group because then it makes their group wrong.
William:
Yes. So it’s common between all the infighting groups that they all profess to care about truth.
Robin:
Right. In the abstract when it’s us versus them. But if you move to – when you move aside from what group you are with context and start to think about say, being romantic and how much you believe in your romantic ideals then people will start to celebrate like being optimistic and not necessarily being cynically-oriented toward raw facts. But then they will celebrate some other stints toward truth outside of this political rivalry.
William:
Yeah, that’s interesting in and of itself is – I mean maybe it is romanticism is one way of describing it. But like it’s this kind of choosing this kind of misty, rosy view of life because it’s preferable to something that is – I mean you use the word cynicism. It’s something about ignorance maybe or something about choosing not to get bogged down in the details has a valuable element to it, at least in a romanticist frame of mind.
Robin:
Yeah. When you are thinking about a romantic versus a nonromantic, most people find the romantic more interesting and attractive and friendly. The nonromantic seems dour and distrustworthy and suspicious in that romance context. But again, we go to the political context and people slip around that they are definitely on the truth side.
William:
Yeah, I challenge this because in a sense, I find what could be sadder than not looking at the truth is – what the truth is or not appreciating the photosynthesis is what makes plants green and instead having some kind of fantasy about a magical line running through the wand for example, like a romantic might say some beautiful fiction. In a sense, maybe this is kind of – I’ve swallowed my argument before. I’m putting it out into the world. But I’m saying isn’t it kind of almost a romantic thing to appreciate the world as it is rather than as misty-eyed view would say it is.
Robin:
So, we’ve recorded a podcast recently on James criticizing Clifford where James offers exactly the opposite argument of how you will need to romantically believe in things to make them happen.
Agnes:
I’m so pleased about that, Robin. You really remembered what we talked about.
Robin:
I did.
Agnes:
Yeah. So can I give the example that James gives? So sometimes you have to first believe in the fact before the fact can come. So here is like one example that I like. You’re on a train and some robbers come to rob the train and James is marveling that like say, a band of five or ten robbers can rob a whole giant train with like hundreds of people in it maybe. And it’s like imagine if just all those people believe like we can overcome these robbers, they easily could, right? If they all just had faith, right? And they might say, “Well, look, there’s no evidence, right?” But like if they all just were to believe, they would then rise up together and they would overcome the robbers. And James says, there are tons of stuff like that in life where the cynical point of view is just equivalent to the point of view of like, I’m just being scientific and I can tell you that I can’t myself overcome these robbers and I have no reason to believe that everybody else is going to rise up. And so he just thinks like the people who have the – the other example he gives is like often when you want to be friends with someone, in effect, you have to treat them in a friendly way before you like have evidence that they are going to be friends with you. And by sort of giving them the benefit of the doubt and sort of seeing them as your friend, you make them your friend. And if you were going to be sort of ruthlessly truth-directed in one sense, you would never believe and you would be like, “I’ll wait and see whether he is going to be friendly to me,” then nobody would ever be your friend.
William:
Yeah. But isn’t it kind of incorporated in the ruthless and truth-directed way of thinking that you would default to that behavior because in a cynical way, it’s going to succeed?
Agnes:
Suppose people can see through you, suppose you are not much clever than everybody else, which is the average person isn’t much clever than everybody else, then it maybe that if you take that attitude, people will see through you and nobody will be your friend.
Robin:
A third example given was that often, someone will woo or seduce someone else via a high-level of confidence and success of their pursuit. Right? If they – if say this will work 2% of the time and they projected their belief of this has a 2% chance but I’m going for it, that wouldn’t be very persuasive or attractive to someone being wooed if they believe this has a 70% chance of working even though objectively, it has a 2% chance. And they persistently pursue it as if they had such a 70% chance. More often, they can succeed.
William:
Yeah, sounds convincing. 

Robin:
But these are cases then where their world has conspired to make you more successful if you don’t believe the truth.
Agnes:
And there are also cases where classically one invokes romance like romance.
William:
Yeah.
Agnes:
People will have romantic visions about romance and it’s like you might think, “Yeah, you can every date you go,” and you kind of have to think, “Maybe this is going to be the one.” If you didn’t think that, this probably would not work out. If before your marriage ceremony you are like, “Fifty percent chance of divorce,” that increases the chance of divorce that’s higher than 50% you might think.
Robin:
And in say, philosophy of science, people have suggested that most researchers need to have overconfidence in the success of their research program to motivate their pursuing some unusual approach compared to the status quo and that science wouldn’t work nearly as well if people were not substantially overconfident about their particular research programs.
William:
OK. So these are all like reasons why in a sense, not believing the truth or not at least thinking about the truth or focusing on it or making it a key part of your frame of mind helps you to succeed. But this also seemed kind of weird as well like isn’t this not playing, to go back to monopoly, this is kind of like not playing monopoly for the sake of being a better monopoly player in a kind of strange way. I’m not sure how the analogy would map directly but …
Agnes:
So I mean if the monopoly game was supposed to be just the analogy to belief game, which is how it was originally setting it up then it would be just be you would lose the game on purpose sometimes, which doesn’t make any sense. If the monopoly game, we now change the analogy in its life, well, it’s clear that sometimes in monopoly, you will sort of like intentionally give up a property or intentionally not buy some – you might not buy boardwalk and park place because you are like nobody ever lands on them for some reason. And so the rest of you …
William:
At least the brown ones.
Agnes:
The blue ones at the very end, they have these huge rents but like somehow, the game is designed that like nobody ever lands on them. And so, it’s like globally, you are still trying to make money but like locally, you might lose money because you think overall you’re going to make money. And so, I actually do think that like Robin’s framework, the decision theory framework, has an easier way of making sense of these cases than the one I was suggesting where belief is the truth game. I think the thing my framework has an easier way of making sense of is the fact that in the cases where it’s to your advantage to believe something false, you can’t actually just get yourself to go ahead and do it. So suppose your point of view is just like you start out with this point of view, look, there is like for each date, there is like a 1% chance this is going anywhere. And someone is like, “If you think about it that way, it’s never going to work. You have to think this is a 90% chance with every date.” It’s going to be really hard to get that percentage shift over and you could give them the whole argument we’ve just given and yet, it doesn’t work. And you wonder, why doesn’t it work? I mean this person just wants it to work out and you’ve shown them what happens. They have to do it in order to make it work out. It’s just they have this wrong credence. Why can’t they just adjust in the way that you would adjust with the properties?
Robin:
But as an actual factual matter, many people do successfully grow up in environments where they are trained in habits of dating and professional competition and school such that they assimilate habits that are basically optimistic lies but they never had to explicitly address it and consciously adopt it. And so, they can quite successfully be not truth-oriented in those strategies.
Agnes:
Absolutely. But the question is, why do we have to that giant rigamarole with respect to preferences? I mean you can just shift and adjust when you see you have reason to do. Here, what you’re saying is in effect, you have to elaborately construct the environments such that the person winds up believing, “No, really, it is a 90% chance this time.” And then they are like insisting that this is the truth. Right? That’s a distinctive feature of the truth that it works that way that you had to do this very expensive process to get them to believe, which is a process that appeared to make the world like a Truman Show type world that you set up for them where they are like they have all the beliefs that will make it work out for them because you couldn’t just get them to just select those beliefs, even though all they want is to be happy.
William:
I’m just kind of interested in something you talked about earlier. This like almost in what direction is the gravitation pull. So you were talking about truth having this strange thing where you care not for what the answer is but you care about the fact that it’s true as opposed to – of a situation such as goodness but you do care what the answer is because in a way, the quality of its goodness is somehow more closely bonded with the thing itself as opposed to this truth which is a big circle around everything. I don’t know if …
Robin:
I mean your concept of reliability is then closer to the concept of goodness, right? So …
Agnes:
Yes.
Robin:
… reliability is this sort of thing that you know which direction you wanted to go and you’re happy when it goes there and that might be a reason to think of reliability as more fundamentally what you want than the truth. You want the truth indirectly because it produces reliability rather than vice versa.
Agnes:
Right. But your original worry when you were like worried about Robin’s view is something like yeah, but why think the truth is just reliability? Is that somehow circular? Is it something going amiss there? And I guess there is something that we missed. Here’s what I think about it, that philosophers also think about it, we have two basic kind of mental states, mental orientations to the world and they are the orientation of belief and the orientation of desire. And when I have the orientation of desire then I have in my head some representation like say, I want a cupcake. And I have a cupcake image in my head and then I’m trying to make that real like maybe I go to the cupcake store or maybe I bake a cupcake, right? So I try to make the world, the world is sort of soft and malleable and I try to mold it so that it has the shape of my mind.
William:
Yup.
Agnes:
That’s how desire works. That’s how the pursuit of good works. Belief goes the other way. It’s that say, I want to know like is there a cupcake in that store. I want to know that. Well then, my mind is like a blank and I want it just to reflect whatever the truth is. So first, the world is fixed and then my mind is supposed to mold to whichever way the world happens to be, so sometimes philosophers call that direction of fit. So the direction of fit of belief is different from desire in that the direction of fit of desire is a world to mind, whereas the direction of fit of belief is mind to world.
Robin:
And that’s explained by the observation I made in our podcast that within the standard expected utility framework, preferences are the part about you and beliefs are the part about the world. So you’re trying to vary the beliefs to match the world but not vary your preferences to match the world. The preferences are varied to match what you are. I wanted to observe that even though we mostly think we want to acquire more truth, I think I found out in the process of writing Elephant in the Brain that we too easily make that assumption. So The Elephant in the Brain is a project whereby we look for the hidden motives in life and it’s easy beforehand to say, “Yes, I want to know what the hidden motives in life are for myself and other people,” because you presume that, “I’m a truth-oriented person and I want to know the truth.” And a heroic scholar has that as their task, and I am a heroic scholar of course. And then you dig into the hidden motives of human behavior and you find out what they are, which is a mixture of pretty and ugly, various things. And you find that maybe you didn’t want to know as much as you thought. You liked the idea of learning the truth that reified your sense of glory and heroics but what the truth is, is that you aren’t as heroic as you’d like to think and neither is anybody else and they don’t want to hear it. And they aren’t going to reward you for finding out and telling them so much. You made a presumption that you want to know the truth but I think in fact, many people find out through their lives things they presumed they wanted to know the truth about and then found out about, that they didn’t actually want to know. But the only way to find out is to realize that there it is, you know it and you’re not so happy.
William:
Yeah. This is I mean something to worry right in the car when I was saying that I was very loyal to our ideas and you pointed out that this can often mean you’re loyal to groups. So in the kind of – it has panned out to what you are just saying in that you may say you’re loyal to the truth but in fact, you’re loyal to something that might be described as your artwork of the truth where you accept – if truth is like a color palette and you’re making a painting of the real world, you might choose, “Actually, I’m not going to have any black in my painting,” rejecting certain truths.
Robin:
And you might not think that is who you were ahead of time.
William:
Yeah.
Robin:
So one of the most disturbing truths you will find out is how much you actually care about the truth. When you go, “I’m just trying to discover the truth.”
Agnes:
Robin, you were saying that like politically, everyone likes to paint themselves as being …
Robin:
For their group, yes.
Agnes:
Their group is being on the side of the truth. And I sometimes wonder why. I mean that is – you say, we have this heroic idea that we want the truth and why any of that – why not have the idea about yourself, “Well, I mean I want the truth and so forth only if it’s good for my group?” Isn’t that – wouldn’t that show loyalty weighed better if you are like, “I’m willing to lie for my group?”
Robin:
Well, I think people have in mind an audience. So, an audience is hearing two groups and one group is saying, “We just care about the truth,” and another group might be saying, “Well, we believe what we find comfortable to believe.” And I think they both kind of believe that the audience wouldn’t find that second position as persuasive.
Agnes:
But why not? I mean unless people really fundamentally care about the truth, which would – that seems circular to us.
Robin:
They might care about the truth of which group to join.
Agnes:
Right. But like if I join this group, it’s going to be like really – we will be really loyal. We will always be on the same page and stuff. Why not join that group?
Robin:
I think people often do make that appeal. They just don’t make it in the truth terms.
Agnes:
Right.
Robin:
They make it in another more indirect term, so I think that appeal is in fact made.
Agnes:
I guess I’m just wondering like it seems to me very striking that we in politics, universally make this appeal to truth and that has to then speak to something in the audience and it has to speak to something in the audience about what group to join. For instance, it speaks to something in Will like when the vouchers and stuff and say, these are our ideas and we care about truth, that makes him want to join their group. And he doesn’t just want to join because they are very groupie or very joinie or something, he wants to join because they appeal to this thing that appealed to him independently of his being in the group.
William:
So that’s what I believe and I’m also very convinced by Robin’s kind of group level way of thinking. I was going to say maybe this is on the similar line. It’s kind of like an answer to your question. Just walking around DC, I see loads of signs advertising different candidates for Mayor, so I was thinking how would you make the best kind of like or how do you make the best campaign, I should say. And I think you have to say things which the voter is going to be confident you will actually do. So it’s like actionability. And if you are saying things that aren’t true in your campaign, everyone is going to be – there was somebody, a couple of years ago, who said that everyone was going to get a horse or something or like that.
Robin:
Yeah, a pony.
William:
Oh, is it a pony? I can’t remember. But like let’s take that and make it stupid. So if I said, I was a candidate running for mayor of DC, I think it’s mayor, and everyone is going to get a rainbow-colored novel(?) then it plays this credibility issues on all my other things because the actionability of my promise is very low. So in a sense, truth at least when it comes to this utility when we are getting someone to join a group is important because it’s linked to the actionability of what a group is fighting for.
Robin:
I think often, when people are trying to persuade an audience, and to take positions that appeal to an audience, a big question is what kind of constraints or limitations can the audience actually notice and take into account? And when the audience can’t really notice some of them then the speakers are induced to ignore them as well. So imagine there are ten different categories of social spending by a government and you have a limited budget, so you couldn’t increase all of them. But we have a separate topic – debate about each topic and in each topic, each candidate says that they will increase that one.
William:
Yeah.
Robin:
And the voters – the readers never noticed that they made all these different promises which aren’t compatible together. But if they don’t bother to notice those inconsistencies then the incentive is to go at it because otherwise you’d be – so say, I’m going to increase the first three but I can’t increase the rest because they weren’t on my budget. But now, on the rest of those debates, the other candidate says, “I’m going to increase that.” And I say, “Sorry, I can’t.” And they sound like better candidate because look, look at all the things they are going to do.
William:
Yeah. And this is a problem on the voters not being able to assess the actionability, correct?
Robin:
Right. And so, I’ve made this observation that an awful lot of the flaws of our current public debate in political systems, they are often laid at the feet of politicians or various intellectuals, but you could say, there really – should we lay it at the feet of the audience who can’t make various subtle distinctions. So for various kind of signalling games, I might complain an academia that people do all these over the top efforts to make complicated models or complicated statistical analyses that aren’t actually that helpful but they impress audiences. If the audience isn’t smart enough to notice whether they are actually useful or not, how can you blame these people for doing what the audience is rewarding them for? And so in some sense, we will have a better world when we have better audiences that appreciate the pitches being made to them.
William:
So another way in which you kind of don’t want to tell the truth.
Robin:
When your audience can’t tell the truth either, yes.
Agnes:
So it is being paradoxical though about the idea that you have to make these really, really complicated models to impress a group of people who aren’t smart enough to figure out whether or not the models are useful but they can follow the models? How’s that?
Robin:
They can just see that they’re complicated. They can see that it would be hard to do that. I would find it hard to do that. If they can do it, they must be able to do more than I could.
Agnes:
Like in philosophy, when people give, they tend to have like complicated papers or complicated arguments and then people make objections. So they have to understand and presume when someone comes and gives an econ talk, some people make objections, right? So they are like, “Hey, you made a mistake here. This seems wrong. That seems wrong.” And you couldn’t do that if you didn’t understand.
Robin:
Of course, no. But the question is if a much simpler model would have done the same purpose, they will still do the complicated model?
Agnes:
And wouldn’t the audience notice that though?
Robin:
That’s the whole point. The audience may not care because the audience may also be mainly interested in showing that they are clever to find these objections. And the ultimate audience who is the consumer of all these things is just going on the fact that these people have been selected out of this competitive process to be the ones who can make the complicated ones and find the holes in the complicated ones. And so, those people have evidence to play this complicate game. And again, if the audience were smart enough to be able to see, isn’t that more complicated than you need? Then maybe this process could be deflated when the audience doesn’t notice that or doesn’t bother to ask that then the game goes on.
William:
OK. So how about this concept of a useful fiction? So I think that’s kind of what we’ve been approaching here with this idea of debate can do this, each promising something which isn’t actually actionable, at least when viewed as a group. But for them, that’s a useful fiction. So, how do we – assuming that there are useful fictions in the universe, I’m sure there are, even if it’s something simple like a story about, I don’t know, a child story that late helps that person become a more kind person. Let’s say that was a fiction that was useful. But kind of across the spectrum from child story to political BS, we have useful fictions. I’m trying to think about how they fit into the puzzle piece that concerns …
Robin:
I mean I would suggest the word fiction connotes a much more specific, much more structured thing than merely misleading statements. The world is full of usefully misleading statements but fiction connotes a very particular subset of that.
William:
Yeah. I mean misleading statements, something that’s a falsehood essentially.
Agnes:
So I mean I think that even a statement like, fictions are pretty much the only things that are guaranteed to be useful, because somebody had to make them up for some reason. Whereas like, many facts aren’t useful at all. So fiction is designed for a purpose and a misleading statement is designed for a purpose, right? You want to mislead people in one way rather than in another way because it’s useful.
William:
Yeah.
Agnes:
So all fictions are going to be useful. The question is just to whom? And are they net useful for everyone which maybe that’s the interesting question. I think that like – I mean there definitely some fictions that are net useful to everyone or like not definitely. It’s too strong. But like plausibly, the fictions that have withstood the test of time like Homer's Iliad or the Bible or whatever. Its likely, those are not useful to people given that they have stuck around for so long.
Robin:
Let’s just point out that models are false. That is in almost any area of intellectual inquiry, a common thing to do is to produce models. They are simplifications of reality that can be easily – more easily followed. Their implications can be traced out more easily. And we quite often use models because we can do those things and we know that models are false. That is, they are oversimplifications.
William:
Very nice. Yeah, OK. But then …
Agnes:
Like all fictions, they are useful.
William:
So maybe the fictions are useful because like a model that correlated with truth.
Robin:
They can be useful for many purposes, sometimes to mislead people, sometimes to help people see the truth. So you could say that a model literally helps people see the truth better. Yeah, because otherwise it’s just its this opacity of cloud of un-understandable mess. And at least a model shows them some patterns they can make sense of that otherwise they couldn’t see.
William:
How about for Homer’s Iliad and the Bible? Do you think it’s because in a weird way they are model, that they’ve survived?
Agnes:
I think that – so I have my own theory of fiction, of artistic fiction, which is that they are designed to show us the bad side of life. So Robin was bringing up the fact that like knowing which world you are in of all the possible worlds can be useful for making decisions. But there are actually a lot of stuff you might learn that’s not that useful for making decisions, like how profoundly are you suffering right now or something? Where are all the – get a really fine grain and detailed understanding of all the ways in which you are unhappy and all the ways in which the world is structured so as to make you miserable. All of that might not be that useful for you and guiding your life but it’s like a bunch of truths. You might be interested in those truths. And I think you systematically turning your attention away from them because they are not useful, they don’t give you guidance. And my own view is that the blunt instrument view of art, of what art does for us is just allow us to see that like dark side, the dark side of the moon, the dark side of the human phenomena, the bad part that we tend to look away from to whatever extent we can. And so you will just find that when you look at fictions, they focus on bad stuff, on happiness, on suffering, on betrayal. The good stuff tends to be highlighting or it has a role, the secondary role relative to the bad stuff. And so then, which fictions survived is ones that really bring home to you a certain set of evils. Now, what are the evils that Homer’s Iliad is trying to bring home to you? I think – I’m not sure if it’s going to be the same for every audience, but like one is just the problem of having a side, like a military side, the Iliad is about this dispute between Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks and Achilles, the best fighter, for power, right? And it’s like how does the Greek side hold together if the person who is in charge and the person who is best at killing aren’t the same person? And you’re always going to get this problem with groups or they have trouble co-hearing. And really, if I think about Genesis, the first book of the Bible, it’s a very similar problem. You have this problem of a group which at first, it’s just Cain and Abel, I mean it’s just two brothers but like which one is going to be in charge? Right? You got to get one kill the other. And what you have is like, if you think of like Jacob and Esau or you think of Joseph and his brothers, I mean it’s over and over and over again, it’s this story of, we are trying to get like the juice going, right? We are trying to get people going. But you have to start with the family and it’s already going to be war between the family, between the brothers, which brother is going to be in charge. And so, that’s like a fundamental human sort of like evil or problem of group organization, right? And I think, yeah, I think that is what these stories are focusing our attention on. I think it was worse off in Iliad like about just the way in which the human body comes apart at the joints like that’s a really – I mean that’s a lot of – the Iliad is just descriptions of tendons being unstrung and different places a spear can go to tear different muscles. And that’s looking inside the human body in a way that you don’t and you’re not allowed to do in most other contexts or just because you saw a corpse on the street, right? If you see a corpse on the street, you would look away from it, right? I mean you just wouldn’t feel like you’re even allowed to look at it. But you see corpses in movies all the time and we look at them, right? And so, there’s a kind of yeah, I do think fiction is meant to ship. But here, it’s just truths. It’s not for the guidance of our life. It’s just because we care about the truth I think.
Robin:
So let me give a different but perhaps complementary perspective.
Agnes:
Then after that, maybe we should let Will have the final words.
Robin:
Yes, that sounds fine. We are running out of time. In general, human world is full of all sorts of structures and things that are curious and different from the rest of the animal world we’ve ever seen, not just stories, hospitals, traffic jams, hallways. There are just all of these things in our world. And people often ask, “Why is that thing there?” And the fact is that for almost all those things, because they are touching on so many parts of our world and lives, there are great many social and formation structures that make those things be there and form how they are. And so – but we are often asking, but why is it there? And so, in principle, you can imagine lots of different social pressures that could be structuring those things. And the hard part is the disentangle, yes, but which are the most important ones? But often sort of the conversation about these things tends to go, people tend to look for optimistic or idealistic functions, we want to tell a story how our world is good and how it works well. And so we might tell about how traffic jams could be time to think before you get home or the fact that it takes time to cook means that you can pause to savor the smell. I mean we make up all sorts of stories about why things have various purposes, why they sell pre-habit spots. And the problem is that we are prone to sort of find pro-social reasons that make us all look like good people working together to achieve things or even to make it look like it’s a good thing that it exists like say, a traffic jam or maybe it just shouldn’t be there and there is not good reason for it. And people want to show their creativity about making another explanation. And so, I think what you really need to do to be honest is to go through for any one of these things. Collect a list of all the possible explanations you can come up with. And then make a list of sort of key observational facts about this thing that you might need to explain. And then try to do a match where you say, “Well, which of these explanations can explain the most of those puzzling observation of facts.” And at the end of that, that’s where you would get a best guess about the theory. But what you mostly see is someone just saying, “Here’s theory A and it fits some facts” and they are done. And they go, on to the next topic. And so that’s a way too much sort of haphazard theorizing where people are just happy to have named any theory that could explain something without doing the systematic comparison of different possible theories and what are the subtler facts that could explain. And so, I just think, if you want to explain something like stories, that’s the process you have to go through. I’ve gone only partly through that sort of process but there’s a lot of subtle things that you would bring in and there’s a lot of theories you could invoke. And so, what Agnes’ mentioned is certainly one of the plausible theories but there’s a lot more.
William:
Got it. Oh, as for final word, I don’t think I have anything too profound to say or maybe a little humble refection on the relationship between art and truth. Just kind of potentially linked to what you were saying about if it wasn’t truth, this is – something you were saying, Robin, if it wasn’t truth, it would be like a jumbling cloud with not much identifiable within it. I think if I recall, my favorite pieces of art or my favorite stories or movies or to some extent, music. I think it’s because they have been realistic that they’ve become my favorite because they have this link to reality, this recognizable flavor that this is true that they become my favorite. And maybe to link back to the ancient stories that hopefully lingered throughout history such as the Bible, it has because these best encapsulate truisms about human life that they survived perhaps. We can only guess.
Robin:
And that’s our podcast.
Agnes:
OK.
William:
OK.