Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, as viewed from the eyes of a programmer. Are my thoughts valid? Correct? True? Well. That probably depends on context."/> Context is a Parameter in Calculating Truth

Irrational Exuberance!

Context is a Parameter in Calculating Truth

November 5, 2007. Filed under pirsigthoughts

Recently I have been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Its a good read, although occasionally frustrating. Thus far the thing that has struck me most was Pirsig's description of the scientific method as flawed. His fault is that the scientific method has caused our truth to change at a higher frequency than before the scientific method was in frequent usage: that science, in its quest for knowledge, is infact creating a hitherto unknown instability in the bodies of knowledge it studies. This scares Pirsig. To Pirsig the mutability of truth and knowledge is proof of the failure of the scientific method as a method of inquiry into Truth. As a programmer this conclusion rings false to me.

Consider writing a piece of software. At some point you will have some functionality working, implemented by a certain piece of code. It works. It is a true solution to the problem at hand. But as the program grows and evolves, that certain piece of code ceases to function correctly. It is no longer a correct solution, the hitherto true solution has become a false solution. Has the fundamental nature of truth just come into question? Should be we troubled by this?

No. We shouldn't. The piece of code has changed. Truth is based on the greater surrounding situation: content is an input into determining Truth. It is a mistep in reasoning to believe that Truth has been questioned if something once True is now False. Context is not sempiternal. It--unlike an absolute Truth--is changed by time. Thus we often find ourselves tricked into believing that truth has been altered, but the context has changed, and thus the previously established Truth is irrelevant to the new situation, and thus a new--unrelated--evaluation of Truth must be undertaken within the different context.

As programmers we have always known this. A good solution for a certain problem will always be a good solution for that problem. That doesn't mean that it is a good solution for a more complex but similar problem. Nor does it mean that its a good solution to a different problem. Its hard to regard this as anything less than obvious. Why is this a persistent source of confusion?

My response (to a question that I just asked, how convenient!) is that we crave stability in our lives. Its much easier to navigate static hazards. We spend a lot of mental energy worrying about things. Its easier to stop worry when life is predictable. Truth is a fundamental underpinning of everything else in our lives: when Truth shifts, everything on top of it lurches like a child's block tower. That isn't a comfortable feeling.

Still, when considering Truth, does our personal comfort deserve input?