Truth Seeking in a Grey World: a Dialectical Approach
I stalled on writing this a few days ago, because I needed a break after an intense week-long writing sprint.
The thesis I had wanted to explore could be summarised this way: in many complex-enough fields, there isn’t one true way to achieve an end. This is sometimes the case in technical areas which often lend themselves to standards, clearly-defined terms and specifications that try to constrain what words mean and what methods are acceptable.
I’ve found conversations particularly grating when they devolved into explaining things like “the right way to interpret a Mozart horn concerto”, “what you can and cannot do in voice leading” when arranging a four-part harmony, etc.
Some of the positions strongly held in these conversations seem to ignore the broader picture of how consensus builds around acceptable practice, how convention changes with taste, fashion and cultural expectation, and how “Truth” should maybe not be mistaken for “current standard”.
I had intended to explore how I often “arrive” at conclusions by not arriving at anything in particular, but by coming to terms with the various tensions that inform various points of view, and how commonly used answers can be inferred from explicit and implicit assumptions about specific problem spaces, which in turn reflect deeply held values by the individuals from schools of thought that promote those view points.
My intention was to draw from the disagreements we had at a concrete level the broader approach to understanding I was using.
Over the last weekend, I’ve been caught up in the storm that is generative AI and how much of everything is changing a little too quickly. On Saturday night, my brother and I had fun writing this with the help of ChatGPT.
Attempt 1: Truth-Seeking in a Grey World: a dialectical approach
The quest for truth has been a central concern of human beings throughout history. Yet, as we navigate a complex and ever-changing world, the pursuit of truth can become increasingly challenging. We are bombarded with conflicting information, half-truths, and outright falsehoods on a daily basis. In this grey world, where truth seems elusive and subjective, how can we seek truth with confidence and clarity? The answer lies in adopting a dialectical approach.
Dialectics is a method of reasoning that involves the process of arriving at the truth through the synthesis of opposing views. It is rooted in the idea that truth is not absolute, but rather emerges from the constant interplay of opposing forces. In other words, truth is not a fixed point to be discovered, but a dynamic process of discovery and refinement.
To apply dialectics to truth-seeking, we must be willing to engage in critical thinking and open-minded inquiry. This means questioning our assumptions and biases, and being receptive to opposing viewpoints. We must also be willing to embrace complexity and ambiguity, recognizing that the truth often lies somewhere in the middle of opposing positions.
One practical application of dialectical truth-seeking is to engage in constructive dialogue with those who hold different views. By engaging in respectful and honest discussion, we can expand our own understanding of an issue, challenge our own assumptions, and potentially arrive at a more nuanced and comprehensive truth. It is important to approach these discussions with an open mind and a willingness to learn, rather than a desire to convince or prove one’s point.
Another important aspect of dialectical truth-seeking is the recognition that truth is not always immediately apparent. It may require ongoing investigation, research, and reflection. This means being patient and persistent in our pursuit of truth, recognizing that the process is often messy and uncertain.
Ultimately, the pursuit of truth requires both humility and courage. We must be humble enough to recognize our own limitations and biases, and courageous enough to embrace the complexity and uncertainty of the world. By adopting a dialectical approach to truth-seeking, we can navigate the grey areas of life with greater clarity and confidence, and arrive at a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the truth.
I was equal-parts fascinated and disappointed. The model seemed to get at what I’d wanted to say. I had intended to build up my argument from my lived experience by highlighting details from previous private conversations, what they may have meant, where they lost me, and so on. Naturally, ChatGPT knows nothing of that, so its output reflected its general knowledge.
It’s essay was a little too preachy, too quick to tell us what to do, too open about what values were acceptable. I had only intended to explore the approach I often use in a sort of open-ended text.
We asked the model to revise its essay:
Attempt 2: Truth-Seeking in a Grey World: A Dialectical Approach
In a world of competing narratives, it can be difficult to discern what is true and what is not. With the proliferation of information sources and the ease of spreading misinformation, it is more important than ever to have a method for seeking truth. One approach to truth-seeking is through a dialectical approach.
Dialectics is a way of understanding the world that involves examining contradictions and conflicts. It is a process of reasoning and analysis that involves considering multiple perspectives and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. In a dialectical approach, there is no one objective truth, but rather a constant process of questioning, testing, and refining ideas.
The dialectical approach recognizes that truth is not static, but rather evolves as new information and perspectives emerge. It is a method of inquiry that is always open to new ideas and is willing to revise its understanding based on evidence and logical reasoning. This is in contrast to dogmatic approaches that cling to fixed ideas and are resistant to change.
One of the key features of dialectics is the recognition of contradictions. Contradictions exist in every aspect of life, and they are not necessarily negative. In fact, they can be a catalyst for growth and change. By examining contradictions and conflicts, we can gain a deeper understanding of the underlying issues and develop more nuanced perspectives.
Another important aspect of dialectics is the recognition that perspectives are shaped by social, cultural, and historical contexts. There is no single, objective perspective that is free from bias. Instead, we must acknowledge our own biases and work to overcome them through critical reflection and engagement with different perspectives.
In a grey world where truth is elusive, a dialectical approach can be a useful tool for navigating complexity and uncertainty. It encourages us to be curious, open-minded, and humble in our search for truth. It also reminds us that truth is not a destination, but rather a journey of constant exploration and refinement.
In conclusion, a dialectical approach to truth-seeking involves embracing complexity, recognizing contradictions, and engaging with multiple perspectives. It is a method that values inquiry, critical reflection, and the willingness to revise our understanding based on evidence and logical reasoning. While it may not provide a clear and definitive answer to every question, it offers a way of navigating the grey areas of life and developing a deeper understanding of the world around us.
Us pattern-recognising natural intelligences could spot the formulaic nature of the generated text without losing a moment. The model clearly “got” what I’d wanted to say, but this was the sort of bland prose I will only skim (I’m sure you did too!) because it wasn’t interesting enough.
To its credit, I hadn’t envisaged contrasting this with the dogmatic tendencies I was reacting to, but that was a good prompt for me. This, after all, was my main gripe; the dogmatic certainty I kept hearing whenever I talked about these things, and that was why I’d wanted to write this.
We had hoped prompting it with my own prose would give it enough of a hint and let it generate something more interesting. We started with my first paragraph.
Attempt 3: Truth-Seeking in a Grey World: a Dialectical Approach
A thing that gives me pause whenever conversations with colleagues turn to technical subjects is how often the need to know The Right Way® to Do The Thing™ crops up.
It is common to see people wanting to find The Right Way® to Do The Thing™, as it gives them a sense of security and certainty. However, the reality is that in many cases, there is no clear-cut right or wrong answer. This is particularly true in the world of technology, where new tools and approaches are constantly emerging, and the best solution for a given problem can be elusive.
This is where the concept of dialectics can be helpful. Dialectics is a method of reasoning and discourse that involves considering multiple perspectives and viewpoints in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of a given topic. It is a process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, in which conflicting ideas are explored and reconciled.
In the context of technical problem-solving, a dialectical approach means considering multiple options and perspectives rather than fixating on finding The Right Way® to Do The Thing™. It means acknowledging the complexity of the problem at hand and being open to the possibility that the best solution may not be immediately apparent.
The dialectical approach can be particularly useful in situations where there is no clear consensus on the best approach. For example, in the debate between native vs. hybrid mobile app development, there are valid arguments for both approaches, and the choice ultimately depends on the specific requirements and constraints of the project. Rather than simply choosing one approach over the other, a dialectical approach involves exploring the pros and cons of each and finding a way to reconcile them.
Another benefit of the dialectical approach is that it encourages collaboration and open communication. By considering multiple perspectives and viewpoints, team members can gain a deeper understanding of each other’s perspectives and work together to arrive at a more informed and effective solution.
In conclusion, seeking The Right Way® to Do The Thing™ can be tempting, but in the world of technology, it is often elusive. By adopting a dialectical approach, we can embrace the complexity of technical problem-solving and work towards deeper understanding and collaboration. Rather than fixating on finding the one true solution, we can explore multiple options and perspectives, and ultimately arrive at a more nuanced and effective solution.
That it carried the sarcastic Registered and Trademark symbols through was partly funny in its own right, and partly disappointing. Although it varied it a wee bit, it looked like it wasn’t going to let go of defining dialectics in the second paragraph.
On the question of style, I’m not sure how the model would have come up with the kind of open-endedness I was looking for. To the best of my memory, it would not allow us to emulate another person’s writing style, because of reasons.
To its credit, I did not expect to see the text shift into the debate between hybrid and native mobile apps! I maybe would not have included that in the original article (I was thinking about music and the arts, not Software Engineering), but I think its a strong example I could have used to build my case. If I had not stalled on the original.
Eventually we got bored and asked the model to write it in the style of the King James Version of the Bible:
Verily, when conversing with mine colleagues concerning technical matters, I oft ponder on the frequent insistence to ascertain the one true way to accomplish a given task. Forsooth, it seemeth that many do hold to the notion that there is but one correct methodology to follow, and that all others are naught but heresy. Yet in truth, such dogmatic adherence to a singular approach is not only erroneous, but it doth hinder our quest for knowledge and progress.
Behold, in this grey world in which we dwell, there is oft no clear black or white, but rather many shades of grey. And verily, it is in this realm of ambiguity where the most profound discoveries are often made. Forsooth, it is in the questioning of the accepted norms, in the exploration of alternative paths, that we do find the greatest truths.
Yea, it is through the dialectical process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis that we do gain a deeper understanding of the world around us. Verily, it is in the tension between opposing ideas that new insights are born. And lo, it is in the willingness to engage in civil discourse and debate, to embrace the discomfort of uncertainty, that we do grow in knowledge and wisdom.
Therefore, let us not be afraid to explore the grey areas, to challenge the status quo, and to seek the truth wherever it may lead us. Forsooth, it is in the journey of discovery that we do find the greatest rewards.
At least it stopped defining the key term in paragraph two!
After running out of ideas, we asked ChatGPT to come up with a waakye selling operation in Accra. It wrote this bit of marketing hype:
Welcome to “Waakye Delight,” the premier destination for authentic Waakye cuisine in Accra. Our restaurant is dedicated to bringing the traditional flavors and recipes of Ghanaian cuisine to our valued customers.
Our menu features a variety of delicious and healthy options made with fresh ingredients sourced locally from Accra and the surrounding areas. Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty plate of Waakye with stew, fried fish or chicken, jollof rice or a side of plantains, our dishes are sure to satisfy your cravings.
We take pride in our friendly and welcoming atmosphere, making sure that every customer feels at home when they dine with us. Our staff is dedicated to providing excellent customer service, ensuring that your experience with us is one to remember.
In addition to our dine-in services, we also offer catering for events and parties, providing you with the same delicious Waakye experience at your convenience. Let us bring the taste of Ghanaian cuisine to your next event.
Come and experience the taste of Ghanaian culture at Waakye Delight. We look forward to serving you!
All of this was done on a fun weekend exploring the recent strides in AI, and being amazed at the progress made in getting these fascinating models into more hands.
If you enjoyed this, let me know.