Let's put this common refrain to rest~ something that I hear all the time in arguments concerning religion.  It goes something like this:

" Remember, you can't prove a negative!"

Really people?

This has become much more common, especially in the arguments amongst Atheists and agnostics concerning certainty, and it really puzzles me how people can be skeptical and free-thinkers, yet take to an idea so easily and not question it.  I will elaborate on this a little more once I have the time, but let me start all of those "can't prove a negative" types off with a question~ " I am not sitting at my desk."  Thats a negative claim.  Are you telling me that there is no way to confirm or disprove that?

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These more thorough definitions are better, I think I can relate them to how I approach it more clearly now:


While "evaluation" and "belief" are very close, the key distinction is that "evaluation" only refers to the results of examining something, while "belief" refers to the evaluation itself as an entity. The functional difference is that many evaluations may be merged into one result (as with experiments contributing to a theory), but every belief is distinct in form (so you have many sects of religion). 


I would also say that "data" refers to collected knowledge, but does not include predictions or anticipatory knowledge which can arise from evaluations. "Evidence" is data which is contextually valid to a specific question or method of questioning. For example, particle collision data is evidence for physics, but irrelevant to criminal psychology; conversely, indications of intent are evidence for criminal psychology but irrelevant to physics.  


From this, I can say that beliefs (evaluations as entities) can never be evidence (relevant data) because they do not qualify as collected knowledge. Evaluations (the results) either organize data or indicate how new data can be acquired, both of which can lead to evidence. "Logic" represents the system of constraints implicit to the structural source of data which may be used in evaluations to identify where new data can be found. If the data source is not relevant (it wasn't evidence to begin with), then logic applied to it will not produce evidence.


And that's the root of my argument for how you can prove a negative statement: data can't disprove what it doesn't contain (the problem of exhaustive searches), but logic applied to data can tell you what it cannot contain (incompatible elements)-- so you know that it cannot be found at all, regardless of whether you search for it. This is distinctly different from extrapolation (which is only suggestive) because it's like saying "The box is full; nothing else can fit." That knowledge about the data you possess is, itself, data that can be used as evidence. 


I consider 'truth', in its traditional sense, to be an inapplicable term. All data is some form of knowledge-- the challenge is determining if it's relevant knowledge (evidence). While the term 'truth' can still be useful in casual discussion within an agreed context, it becomes utterly useless in philosophy or any other intellectually-rigorous application.


And lastly, your selected connotation on "dogma" doesn't match up with how I was applying it. I would consider "1c : a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds" to be much more accurate for this discussion, since 1b seems to require a social context for belief (which we have not been using). The basic premise of slipping into dogma is that you ignore data which threatens the grounds of your prior evaluations to avoid the effort of re-examining the topic.

I agree that evaluation is different than belief. Belief is tied to identity, evaluation is tied to evidence. Evidence is that which acts on one or more of our 5 senses. Evaluation is a method to reach a belief. A belief is the result of deciding that an evaluation is valid. Another way to say the previous sentence is: A belief is forming an identity and deciding it is valid. An identity is just a definition to describe what is believed. 


I agree with your usage of evidence and data. I contend that predictions are beliefs, not knowledge.

But I contend that applying logic to data, equates to my definition of belief.

Side Note: There are up to 16 human senses, more senses found in other organisms, and no clear agreement on how to classify them, so I'd avoid restricting it to only 5 senses.


To narrow this down, I think that you have oversimplified your approach to logic by clumping its products into a single category, then classified the entire group as "beliefs" by evaluating only one subset, predictions. I think I can highlight the distinction you missed by borrowing some database terminology:


Logic, in general, in used to generate metadata using the regular data we collect. As I described before, you can learn two things from this: how data is organized, or where new data can be acquired. These correspond to structural metadata and descriptive metadata (also called metacontent).


Scientific theories, most philosophy, and all forms of prediction are types of structural metadata; they reflect how data structures are built, and can stand without reference to any collected data (they are effectively a priori in nature). The general results are possibility (could be), necessity (must be), or contradiction (can't be). Contradictions represent malformed concepts and cannot correspond to any possible evidence, but all possibilities require confirmatory evidence. 


As you determined, all structural metadata qualifies as "belief" in this discussion and cannot be used as evidence. 


Metacontent, on the other hand, follows directly and causally from existing data such that metacontent qualifies as embedded data. Nearly all metacontent is some form of positional index based on the relative arrangements of data within a set. Common examples are a library catalog, human memory, or contents pages, all of which represent data sequences by spatial, temporal, or numeric ordering.


The argument I provided for proving a negative statement relies on metacontent, specifically by identifying contradictory overlap. Essentially, given a theoretical new piece of data, you can determine where in data arrangement it could fit (possibility), but if that position is already filled then it has been pre-empted by other data (contradiction). So the key twist is that this approach uses embedded data to identify contextual contradictions, which can be found a posteriori with partial knowledge but never by a priori analysis.


So the problem I see is that you assumed all applications of logic follow the traditional a priori method to produce structural metadata, which very clearly leads to beliefs. But this is a non-traditional approach which uses the metacontent within evidence to exclude pre-empted possibilities (i.e., negative statements).


So it comes to this: how can embedded data not be considered evidence when it is contained within and inseparable from evidence? Any functional distinction between the two would appear to be totally arbitrary and unsustainable, so an exclusion by metacontent should be interchangeable with a confirmation by regular data.

Logical proof is not my definition of proof. Proof to me is having a body of evidence sufficient to convince people of its existence. If you use my definition, you cannot have proof of nonexistence.

I am using this definition of data (I use the word evidence):


: information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful


I am using this definition of knowledge:


b (1) : the fact or condition of being aware of something (2) : the range of one's information or understanding <answered to the best of my knowledge>


I think we are using this definition of Dogma:



a : something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet


I am using this definition of belief:



: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing


Cane, you are clearly using definition 1c of dogma: a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds. I am definitely using that definition. And you clearly have a very low opinion of logic, without which we know nothing whatsoever apart from our most primitive sensations.
My opinion of logic is irrelevant. You have told me what I am doing, not what you think knowledge is. Tell me, what does it mean to know.
Cane, your opinion of logic is central to your inability to admit that impossible things are impossible, except for your logically impossible negative claim that negative claims are impossible to prove. That you think logic and dogma are somehow linked, when in fact they are essentially polar opposites says that you are not particularly interested in knowledge. It is bizarre that you persist. At this point, I'm writing you off as a troll.
Thanks! Enjoy your superior status and your comfort at being right. You cannot prove a negative, unless you want to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt. But then you get into the realm of law, not science.

Cane, our relative levels of intellect have nothing to do with it. My feelings have nothing to do with it. It is this simple:


"You cannot prove a negative" is a self-negating proposition. You either can't or won't see this.


If you can't, then perhaps we have some evidence of an intellect differential. If you won't, then you are simply trolling and wasting everybody's time to get your jollies. Either way, since your fundamental axiom is incorrect and you are unwilling to abandon it despite repeated demonstrations of its obvious falseness, we have no basis for discussion. Enjoy your little mind games.

Jason, that kind of aggression really wasn't called-for at all. The epistemology of knowledge is a long-standing, worthwhile topic and the responses weren't going in circles yet - until you jumped on calling "troll".


I'm sure that's the tone you use for arguing "fundamentalists" out of their religions (with no success whatsoever, just spite), but it puts someone on the defensive almost instantly when you attempt to damage or manipulate their personal identity. 


Cane's position did relate very well to one of the most common logical issues: the presumption that "possible" is sufficient for "necessary". I would surmise that his response was to reject the entire class of a priori knowledge in favor of a posteriori affirmative statements. That is actually a reasonable approach because it inherently excludes self-contradictory statements (since they can't be found a posteriori).


His primary mistake was in being a bit hasty in his rejection of a priori knowledge because he lost access to logical transformations of a posteriori knowledge-- such as providing exclusionary proof for negative statements. While I believe he would do better with a more expansive epistemological approach, I had no problem arguing for additional aspects to expand his current framework.


That's how philosophy works; you have to find an anchor point and build your framework outward from there, often over the period of years or decades. So if his approach missed something critical, then we should argue for an expansion of his ideas, not for the subversion or deconstruction of his investment unless it contains explicit contradictions.


As far as I see, Cane's ideas held no contradictions; they simply strike me as being incomplete and improvable. He was very careful to qualify his skepticism about proof for negative statements as a belief, not a proven negative statement, so the entire basis of your attacks against him seem baseless (and really, quite sloppy for the oversight). 


It could be worthwhile to have an extended discussion about the nature of persuasion and how to approach the modification of other's personal identities, but probably in a separate thread.

"That is actually a reasonable approach because it inherently excludes self-contradictory statements (since they can't be found a posteriori)."

-What? Rejecting the entire class of said a priori knowledge is what creates the contradiction that one can be certain that certainty is impossible.

I think it is contradictory to hold that one cannot be certain and it is not to hold that one can have knowledge that since a thing is not possible, it cannot exist. A system that hold causality and non-contradiction as universal has the least contradictions, imo.


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