# The Munchaussen trilemma and the personal identity problem

What is the Munchaussen trilemma?
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Münchhausen_trilemma

The Münchhausen trilemma (after Baron Münchhausen, who allegedly pulled himself and the horse on which he was sitting out of a swamp by his own hair), also called Agrippa's trilemma (after Agrippa the Skeptic), is a philosophical term coined to stress the purported impossibility to prove any truth even in the fields of logic and mathematics.
Trilemma
If we ask of any knowledge: "How do I know that it's true?", we may provide proof; yet that same question can be asked of the proof, and any subsequent proof. The Münchhausen trilemma is that we have only three options when providing proof in this situation: * The circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other (i.e. we repeat ourselves at some point) * The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum (i.e. we just keep giving proofs, presumably forever) * The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted precepts (i.e. we reach some bedrock assumption or certainty) The first two methods of reasoning are fundamentally weak, and because the Greek skeptics advocated deep questioning of all accepted values they refused to accept proofs of the third sort. The trilemma, then, is the decision among the three equally unsatisfying options.
As such, what is pragmatic?
The failure of proving exactly any truth as expressed by the Münchhausen trilemma does not have to lead to dismissal of objectivity, as with relativism. One example of an alternative is the fallibilism of Karl Popper and Hans Albert, accepting that certainty is impossible, but that it's best to get as close as we can to truth, while remembering our uncertainty.
The personal identity problem For instance, when we say I, what is the I we are referring to and how can we prove it exists and be approximately true? From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_identity
In philosophy, the issue of personal identity concerns several loosely related issues, in particular persistence, change, sameness, and time. Personal identity is the distinct personality of an individual and is concerned with the persisting entity particular to a given individual. The personal identity structure appears to preserve itself from the previous version in time when it is modified. It is the individual characteristics arising from personality by which a person is recognized or known.
Apparently, it is not as simple as it seems:
Generally, it is the unique numerical identity of persons through time. That is to say, the necessary and sufficient conditions under which a person at one time and a person at another time can be said to be the same person, persisting through time. In the modern philosophy of mind, this concept of personal identity is sometimes referred to as the diachronic problem of personal identity. The synchronic problem is grounded in the question of what features or traits characterize a given person at one time.
With such problems, how about the no-self theory?
This is because the no-self theory rejects all theories of the self, even the bundle theory. On Giles' reading, Hume is actually a no-self theorist and it is a mistake to attribute to him a reductionist view like the bundle theory. Hume's assertion that personal identity is a fiction supports this reading, according to Giles. The Buddhist view of personal identity is also a no-self theory rather than a reductionist theory, because the Buddha rejects attempts to reconstructions in terms of consciousness, feelings, or the body in notions of an eternal, unchanging Self. According to this line of criticism, the sense of self is an evolutionary artifact, which saves time in the circumstances it evolved for. But sense of self breaks down when considering some events such as memory loss, split personality disorder, brain damage, brainwashing, and various thought experiments. When presented with imperfections in the intuitive sense of self and the consequences to this concept which rely on the strict concept of self, a tendency to mend the concept occurs, possibly because of cognitive dissonance.
If the self does not exist, what is the I we are referring to when we say I and how can we prove something which does not exist to be either true or false? :cheese:
According to this line of criticism, the sense of self is an evolutionary artifact,
And since when do artifacts not exist? They may not have attributes they seem to have, e.g. independent existence, or being eternal and unchanging, but does that mean artifacts do not exist? If I say 'I' I refer to the entity that has written this sentence, whatever that may be, however it exist, dependently or independently.
And since when do artifacts not exist? They may not have attributes they seem to have, e.g. independent existence, or being eternal and unchanging, but does that mean artifacts do not exist? If I say 'I' I refer to the entity that has written this sentence, whatever that may be, however it exist, dependently or independently.
What exactly, is an "evolutionary artifact" and does it exist as an object in the real world or is it only a concept? If you say I, wrt the entity "that has written this sentence", what is the entity? It is circularity. Please explain why it is not so. And does the entity I, perdure or endure? From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perdurantism
Perdurantism or perdurance theory is a philosophical theory of persistence and identity. The perdurantist view is that an individual has distinct temporal parts throughout its existence. Perdurantism is usually presented as the antipode to endurantism, the view that an individual is wholly present at every moment of its existence.
So, what is I or the entity that "exist" if we cannot prove it exist or what it is? Without a definite object (as the subject) to speak of: I am, therefore I think becomes (whatever it is) am, therefore (whatever it is) think? Descartes will turn in his grave! :lol:
Descartes will turn in his grave!
I could not care less... :vampire:
Descartes will turn in his grave!
I could not care less... :vampire: Thanks for using the correct phrase. Hardly anyone these days says "I could NOT care less", so they completely negate the meaning. Lois
I could not care less... :vampire:
How could I (whatever it is) care at all? :lol:
I could not care less... :vampire:
How could I (whatever it is) care at all? :lol: If you do not care at all, you could not care less. You're already at the lowest limit of your ability to care. There is no place you can go. Lois

It’s a colloquialism folks and nothing to quibble over, actually I culdn’t care less about this argument I just wanted to post that an Artifact is an object made by man, e.g. A spear point or a cup. I suppose you could call a spear point an evolutionary artifact within a certain context. We have evolved away from using them as hunting weapons, the same with philosophy; a papyrus roll or a fire clay tablet some Egyptian or Sumian used to record his thoughts could be consider an artifact.
Cap’t Jack

Words, words, words…
http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/artifact:

1. An object made or shaped by human hand.
2.(archaeology) An object, such as a tool, weapon or ornament, of archaeological or historical interest, especially such an object found at an archaeological excavation.
2. Something viewed as a product of human conception or agency rather than an inherent element.
3. A structure or finding in an experiment or investigation that is not a true feature of the object under observation, but is a result of external action, the test arrangement, or an experimental error.
4. An object made or shaped by some agent or intelligence, not necessarily of direct human origin.
5. (computing) A perceptible distortion that appears in a digital image, audio or video file as a result of applying a lossy compression algorithm.
kkwan’s meaning of ‘artifact’ is somewhere between 3 and 4.
But I could care… could not care less…

There is a more technical name for the fallacy, but kkwan seems to be committing the “it’s just” fallacy. i.e. “It’s just an evolutionary artifact”, so how do we prove it exists? These kinds of questions give philosophy a bad name. They have been dealt with. Bringing them up doesn’t add any value to any conversation. If you have something to add, get on with it. If you are using the trilemma to make a statement about some particular thing, don’t, you accomplish nothing.
We all live in a dream, dreamt by Elvis. Prove we don’t. End of discussion.

If you do not care at all, you could not care less. You're already at the lowest limit of your ability to care. There is no place you can go.
If we don't know what I is, how can I (whatever it is) care at all?
Words, words, words... http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/artifact: 1. An object made or shaped by human hand. 2.(archaeology) An object, such as a tool, weapon or ornament, of archaeological or historical interest, especially such an object found at an archaeological excavation. 3. Something viewed as a product of human conception or agency rather than an inherent element. 4. A structure or finding in an experiment or investigation that is not a true feature of the object under observation, but is a result of external action, the test arrangement, or an experimental error. 5. An object made or shaped by some agent or intelligence, not necessarily of direct human origin. 6. (computing) A perceptible distortion that appears in a digital image, audio or video file as a result of applying a lossy compression algorithm. kkwan's meaning of 'artifact' is somewhere between 3 and 4. But I could care... could not care less...
It could be 5 or 6 as well. So, what is an "evolutionary artifact" (EA)? Is the self an EA and how do we prove it exists and is true or false? OTOH, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/artifact
ar·ti·fact noun \ˈär-ti-ˌfakt\ : a simple object (such as a tool or weapon) that was made by people in the past : an accidental effect that causes incorrect results Full Definition of ARTIFACT 1 a : something created by humans usually for a practical purpose; especially : an object remaining from a particular period
``````b :  something characteristic of or resulting from a particular human institution, period, trend, or individual
``````

2 : a product of artificial character (as in a scientific test) due usually to extraneous (as human) agency

We still don’t know what is an artifact, in the context of an EA.

There is a more technical name for the fallacy, but kkwan seems to be committing the "it's just" fallacy. i.e. "It's just an evolutionary artifact", so how do we prove it exists? These kinds of questions give philosophy a bad name. They have been dealt with. Bringing them up doesn't add any value to any conversation. If you have something to add, get on with it. If you are using the trilemma to make a statement about some particular thing, don't, you accomplish nothing. We all live in a dream, dreamt by Elvis. Prove we don't. End of discussion.
GdB misquoted me. I did not assert that the self is "just an evolutionary artifact". Please refer to the context of my first post whereby the assertion of the self as an "evolutionary artifact" was a quotation from the wiki on personal identity wrt the no-self theory.
GdB misquoted me. I did not assert that the self is "just an evolutionary artifact".
Did I? Read, kkwan, read. And naming the self 'just an evolutionary artifact' is not in line with my first posting.
GdB misquoted me. I did not assert that the self is "just an evolutionary artifact".
Did I? Read, kkwan, read. And naming the self 'just an evolutionary artifact' is not in line with my first posting. This was what you wrote in post 1:
According to this line of criticism, the sense of self is an evolutionary artifact,
I did not write the above. It was from a quotation from the wiki on personal identity which I cited in my first post from which you extracted and assigned authorship to me. Read my first post carefully, GdB.

kkwan,
I agree with Lausten that in commenting on your citation you interpret ‘an evolutionary artifact’ as ‘just an evolutionary artifact’. That gives you the possibility to criticise it (with a rather lousy rhetorical question (‘If the self does not exist, what is the I we are referring to when we say I and how can we prove something which does not exist to be either true or false?’.))
My comment wanted to show that that is not a correct interpretation. ‘Not existing independently’, or ‘existing unchanging’ do not mean ‘not existing’.
This is an error many people here make (see the free will discussions; I even assume that your thread here is derived from the idea that the capability of reasoning is evolutionary advantageous): that explaining a higher order phenomenon with lower order processes means that it is explained away, and that the higher order phenomenon therefore does not exist. It does exist: only not independently.

Donald Rumsfeld was an evil bastard. And he got shamed when he said what I’m about to say, but IMO he was completely correct, though his context was a little different. Here goes: There are things we know. And there are things we know we don’t know. The hard thing to realize is, there are things we don’t even know we don’t know. And I would add, of those latter, there might be things we are completely incapable of knowing, ever. My point is, this is why topics like in this thread are useless. And in general why esoteric philosophy (for example metaphysics, some areas of epistemology, etc.) is useless. We are confined to using the concepts we know. The answers may involve concepts we not only don’t know we don’t know, but are incapable of knowing or understanding even if we somehow knew they were out there.
I always think of birds. They no doubt have a certain set of concepts they use to explain the world. But they could never even conceive of say quantum physics, or advanced cosmology, or whatever, in order to discuss the world. In our own way, at our level of consciousness, we are no different from the birds. AND we can’t even know if we ARE different because that would require us to somehow get beyond ourselves. Long story short…it’s just a bunch of word games for the most part. (If you’re interested, you might check out the excellent book entitled The Glass Bead Game.)

You might like Wittgenstein’s Poker, Cuthbert, the story of that very argument in the 20th century.
I think it is very useful to identify that we can’t know everything. It is useful even to discuss where our ability to know drops off. Although not necessarily useful in everyday conversation AND particularly not useful when used like kkwan is using it, as a way to say we can’t even know who we are.
Note that he devolves into “those weren’t my exact words” types of discussion when confronted with the simplest question about his logic. He could simply attempt to clarify what he is saying, instead he tries to send us down a rabbit hole.
The reason it is useful to discuss this philosophy is so we can say, “I don’t know everything, and neither do you”. We can say that to the priest who wants our obedience as well as the politician. If we all understand our limits, we eliminate the people who claim to not have limits or claim to have special knowledge unavailable to the rest of us. We claim the right to say, “how do you know that?”

Donald Rumsfeld was an evil bastard. And he got shamed when he said what I'm about to say, but IMO he was completely correct, though his context was a little different. Here goes: There are things we know. And there are things we know we don't know. The hard thing to realize is, there are things we don't even know we don't know. And I would add, of those latter, there might be things we are completely incapable of knowing, ever. My point is, this is why topics like in this thread are useless. And in general why esoteric philosophy (for example metaphysics, some areas of epistemology, etc.) is useless. We are confined to using the concepts we know. The answers may involve concepts we not only don't know we don't know, but are incapable of knowing or understanding even if we somehow knew they were out there. I always think of birds. They no doubt have a certain set of concepts they use to explain the world. But they could never even conceive of say quantum physics, or advanced cosmology, or whatever, in order to discuss the world. In our own way, at our level of consciousness, we are no different from the birds. AND we can't even know if we ARE different because that would require us to somehow get beyond ourselves. Long story short...it's just a bunch of word games for the most part.
That is a very philosophical consideration, Cuthbert... Are you sure we do not know what we don't know? How do you know? ;-) But sure, there is a lot of wild speculations that is called 'philosophy', which is hardly taught at any university.
(If you're interested, you might check out the excellent book entitled The Glass Bead Game.)
I checked it out, but I don't see the connection? It seems to me the book shows the value of theoretical reflection, but that it is empty when it is disconnected from practical life. Full ack to Lausten's response.
Donald Rumsfeld was an evil bastard. And he got shamed when he said what I'm about to say, but IMO he was completely correct, though his context was a little different. Here goes: There are things we know. And there are things we know we don't know. The hard thing to realize is, there are things we don't even know we don't know. And I would add, of those latter, there might be things we are completely incapable of knowing, ever. My point is, this is why topics like in this thread are useless. And in general why esoteric philosophy (for example metaphysics, some areas of epistemology, etc.) is useless. We are confined to using the concepts we know. The answers may involve concepts we not only don't know we don't know, but are incapable of knowing or understanding even if we somehow knew they were out there. I always think of birds. They no doubt have a certain set of concepts they use to explain the world. But they could never even conceive of say quantum physics, or advanced cosmology, or whatever, in order to discuss the world. In our own way, at our level of consciousness, we are no different from the birds. AND we can't even know if we ARE different because that would require us to somehow get beyond ourselves. Long story short...it's just a bunch of word games for the most part.
That is a very philosophical consideration, Cuthbert... Are you sure we do not know what we don't know? How do you know? ;-) But sure, there is a lot of wild speculations that is called 'philosophy', which is hardly taught at any university.
(If you're interested, you might check out the excellent book entitled The Glass Bead Game.)
I checked it out, but I don't see the connection? It seems to me the book shows the value of theoretical reflection, but that it is empty when it is disconnected from practical life. Full ack to Lausten's response.My point exactly, we don't even know that! Unlike the physical sciences where we can construct a bridge and walk across it to test if our engineering "truths" are valid, in this type of philosophy we can't do that. As for the book, the connection is that as the name suggests, the theoretical reflections are just part of a game. Hesse was poking fun at professional philosophers who treated it like a game where the beads that got manipulated were ideas. If you've ever read through a dictionary of philosophy it becomes very apparent much of philosophy was just that: Mr X states A, B, and C. Mr Y was a student of Mr X but after careful examination concluded A, B, and not C. His student added D, but negated A. And so on.