Future, Mathematics, Opinion

Truth = Utility

Definition and implications of a new kind of epistemology

Naim Kabir
Oct 27 · 12 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Source: Todd Quackenbush at Unsplash
Image for post
Image for post

The tau truth-function

The first thing you’ll notice is that truth is a function.

Image for post
Image for post

The context set, D

D is a Domain: a set of contexts d.

Image for post
Image for post

Truth-values are numbers

Image for post
Image for post
  1. Truth-values can be operated on by addition.

When you add a positive truth-value to another positive truth-value, the result is something more true.

Why is this a useful notion? Well, we’ve already established that a statement s can be evaluated within the contexts d₀ and d₁, your chosen D. Let’s say we have three statements s₀, s₁, and s₂, with the following properties:

  • s₁ is consistent with d₀ but not with d
  • s₂ is consistent with both d₀ and d
Image for post
Image for post
Luminiferous aether, courtesy of Skitterphoto.
  • s₁: light is a particle
  • s₂: light is a wave and a particle
  • d₁: {“The Michelson-Morley experiment was conducted”, “Light excites electrons in discrete quanta”, “Light produces diffraction patterns}

Truth is marginal utility

This one’s probably going to be controversial but bear with me.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Seriously though, wear a mask. Source: CDC

True statements don’t have to be useful right now — but they must be useful in a plausible world, past or future.

Where’s the “reality” term?!

Let’s reiterate our formulation of the truth.

Image for post
Image for post

We use maps precisely because they are not accurate: they are useful.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

Consensus does not matter, except for conventions

Image for post
Image for post
It is true that you should stop when you see this sign. Photo by Davis Sanchez from Pexels

Wide truths are better truths

Image for post
Image for post

Deep truths are the truest truths

We’ve seen that a statement is true if widely useful in a variety of contexts, which speaks to portability and manipulability being a heavy driver of truth-value. Another insight I’d like to consider needs me to impose some structure.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Be humble: truth lives on a surface, not a point

Another consequence of this framing is that there are no privileged statements. A statement s₀ could produce some positive truth value, but a statement s₁ that contradicts it could produce an equivalent truth value if it had the same impact on marginal utility in as many contexts.

Image for post
Image for post
Source: Jacopo Bertolotti, Wikimedia Commons

Towards AI

The Best of Tech, Science, and Engineering.

Sign up for Towards AI Newsletter

By Towards AI

Towards AI publishes the best of tech, science, and engineering. Subscribe with us to receive our newsletter right on your inbox. For sponsorship opportunities, please email us at pub@towardsai.net Take a look

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Naim Kabir

Written by

Data scientist at Even.com — focused on experimentation, causal inference, causal discovery, & explainable machine learning.

Towards AI

Towards AI is a world’s leading multidisciplinary science publication. Towards AI publishes the best of tech, science, and engineering. Read by thought-leaders and decision-makers around the world.

Naim Kabir

Written by

Data scientist at Even.com — focused on experimentation, causal inference, causal discovery, & explainable machine learning.

Towards AI

Towards AI is a world’s leading multidisciplinary science publication. Towards AI publishes the best of tech, science, and engineering. Read by thought-leaders and decision-makers around the world.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store