This is the first of an occasional series of posts where I’m presenting some new, edited transcriptions of Dennis Stephens’ Supplementary TROM Tapes.
All that is known to exist of Stephens’ research notes consist of his published book and about 20 cassette tapes, most of which were not widely known until transcribed by Pete McLaughlin in 2012.
A few aricles by Stephens were published in 1994 and 1995 by International Viewpoints, who had his agreement to edit the spoken text into a more concise and formal style; it seems that due to fading eyesight he had to supply copy as audio and was unable to check proofs. The Supplementary TROM Tapes were recorded from late 1992 to late 1994, perhaps with a view to their eventual publication. They are mostly informal chats addressed to Greg Pickering, who had already edited The Resolution of Mind for publication, with digressions from his prepared notes. He frequently repeats statements several times and occasionally spells out a word to make sure the listener can duplicate it, corrects mistakes by leaving the incorrect phrase ahead of the corrected one or flicking the on-off button. A push-button cassette recorder didn’t provide much facility for tape editing!
Dennis grew up in the East End of London (Tottenham and later Edgware) and so his accent was basically East Ender although not Cockney. In 1957 he settled in Australia. Judging from these tapes he didn’t adopt many Australian idioms; for example, he still refers to Wellington boots instead of gum boots. But he picked up our Australian habit of flattening vowels: compared to the more musical sound of educated English, Aussie vowels tend to converge toward an indeterminate “uh”. So it may be hard for American listeners (for example) to catch all he says. Cairns might sound like ‘Cannes’, or cleft stick like ‘cliff stick’.
In these new transcriptions I’ve endeavoured to capture all the content that Stephens intended, as if editing them for hard-copy publication in a journal by:
deleting corrected phrases to leave the correction
reorganising sentences and correcting grammar where necessary
In a letter tape of 6 May 1993 to Greg Pickering, Stephens said that the lectures The Unstacking Procedure, The Exclusion Postulate and Dissociation should be published for use by students on Level Five. By 16 November 1993 he’d reconsidered and told Terry Scott that the Supplementary TROM tapes should not be made public, at least at that time. However, in another tape to Scott on 19 January 1994 he said they are essential for students on Level Five, and would also be valuable for scientists interested in the logical basis of TROM.
The Exclusion Postulate by Dennis Stephens
This lecture is about much more than its title suggests, and is Stephens’ major statement about the nature of postulates. He adopted L. Ron Hubbard’s non-standard usage of ‘postulate’ for a causative thought since English lacks a precise word for this. A postulate in this sense is a mental act, a decision such as “Apples must be known” or “All crows are birds”, directed as an intention or goal to bring something into existence, take it out of existence or relate it to something else.
The first big idea he presents is that postulates limit the possible and thereby define the reasonable, with a discussion of what we really mean by “reasonable” and why games are inherently unreasonable.
Then comes the defining law of this universe, that it’s possible to know anything that has been brought into existence to be known but nothing that has not been brought into existence. Consequently it’s futile to try knowing something that doesn’t exist, or not-knowing something that does. A thing cannot both exist and not exist simultaneously.
Next (and we’re still only up to the ninth page), Stephens explains the two other laws that apply to postulates but not to perceived objects within this universe.
Then follows the definitive explanation of how games become compulsive, in terms of double-binds or false identifications. The mechanism of exclusion postulates is not introduced until near the end, in a discussion of the practicalities of running Level Five of TROM.
The universe in which we live consists only of life and postulates. The old word ‘postulate’ has recently come into use as an English-language equivalent of saṃskāra, in the sense of an act of will, decision, purpose, or causative consideration. Entities, identities, objects and masses are the product of postulates interacting in games, and can be resolved back into these postulates.
Stephens (1992) developed a process that demonstrates that anything we perceive as an object consists only of postulates. Resolve these postulates and it is found to disappear. Represented as an algorithm, the process is as follows:
1. Name the object, or living organism.
2. What is the function of a _____?
(or for an organism, What is the purpose of a _____?)
3. Timebreak anything that appears.
4. Return to 2.
If no more answers to 2,
5. What purposes have you had towards a _____?
6. Timebreak anything that appears.
7. Return to 5.
If no more answers to 5,
8. Return to 2
If no more answers to 2,
In steps 3 and 6, timebreaking is the basic process of handling memories by viewing them in present time as described by Stephens (1979). Essentially the person looks at the area of each purpose, perhaps asking themself “How do you feel about that?”, to find material to timebreak.
Although primarily a demonstration, this process may have some application in therapy. A person bothered by an irrational fear of spiders could erase “spiders” from their mind, and from their experience of the world. Or someone with a paraphilia for stiletto heels can erase “stiletto heels” – always supposing that they want to.
Stephens noted that it is quicker to erase an object by running it as the subject of the basic goals package (Know, Not Know, Be Known, Not Be Known), for example “Must know spiders” and so on. However, if the object is involved in gameplay with a junior goal such as ‘Eradicate’, it becomes imbued with a purpose from that goals package. It will not erase by making it the subject of the basic package as long as the person considers the junior goal to be separate from the basic package.
Finding all the purposes eliminates any junior goals packages that may involve this object. In the end you may be left with one of the four legs of the basic goals package as its “actual” purpose.
For example: Once I was bothered by recurring thoughts of a certain book that I had lost. I set out to erase this book from my mind using the algorithm above. The purposes that came off first were to do with the book as a collectible, as an ornament to admire, as a possession to be proud of, as property that might be sold at a profit. But the basic purpose of this book, or any book, is Be Known – it exists to make something known.
And whenever an object is erased, a complementary subject is necessarily erased as well. From the pratītyasamutpāda, we know that subjects and objects are mutually dependent. The observer and the observed form a unity (Spencer-Brown, 1969). So if a person runs the algorithm given above, the question “What purposes have you had…” will run out the postulates that they made in the class of self, just as “What is the purpose of …” runs out the complementary postulates that they consider the object to have. Erasing those scary spiders also erases the personality who was scared of spiders.
But don’t worry; everyone has a vast stack of personalities or selves that they have created by living out one game after another. Resolving the mind is like peeling pages one by one from a very thick notepad. If a person really did erase all their selves they would be in the condition that Buddhists call nirvāṇa; and I’ve never met anyone who has got that far.
Spencer-Brown, G. (1969) Laws of Form. (Allen & Unwin: London).
Stephens, D.H. (1979) The Resolution of Mind.
Stephens, D.H. (1992) The Unstacking Procedure. Audio recording of 3 November 1992, available here.
Consider the double bonding A ⇒ B and B ⇒ A, or A ⇔ B. Double bonding is also known as the biconditional or XNOR connective in formal logic.
In a double bonding, the two fields A and B are co-extensive. If these are just two different names for the same thing, this is an innocent synonymy, as in the instances of nomenclatural synonymy in plant names. But if we consider them to be different (and by using the two names A and B we seem to be making that consideration), then it’s not at all innocent.
Then the statements A ⇒ B and B ⇒ A together create a paradox where A and B are both identical and different; this can only be represented by an imaginary Boolean value as defined by Spencer-Brown (1969). The double bonding contains the seed of a feedback loop to an imaginary value.
This imaginary value can be approached more stealthily by making a series of bondings such as A ⇒ B, B ⇒ C, C ⇒ D and then adding D ⇒ A to create what Hofstadter (1979) called a strange loop. In other words, a function that re-enters itself, in this case at the fourth level.
The possibility of double bondings as paradoxes or fallacies was noted by Lewis Carroll at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice in Wonderland. Grammatically, “I see what I eat” could be equivalent to “I eat what I see.” But in English language syntax the order of antecedent and consequent expresses a convention that the first sentence means that Eat ⇒ See, but not that See ⇒ Eat.
Hofstadter, D. (1979) Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. (Basic Books: New York ).
Spencer-Brown, G. (1969) The Laws of Form. (Allen & Unwin: London).
A dichotomy is the division of a whole into two parts that are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive.
For example, the unity of 1 may be divided into two classes of entities, X and 1 – X, defined by an elective function x. George Boole showed that expanding the function f(x) gives the two constituents x and 1 – x only.
The two classes are mutually exclusive; this means that X (1 – X) = 0, or nothing can simultaneously be both X and not-X. They are also jointly exhaustive, X + (1 – X) = 1, as everything must be either X or not-X.
If the universe of discourse is limited to “birds” for the sake of a simple example, then x might be the definition of the group of bird species known as penguins. Then the class X contains all penguins, and the class 1 – X contains all the other birds that are not penguins. Note that one side of a true dichotomy always has a privative definition, it is defined only by what it is not.
A language such as English has many spurious dichotomies, pairs of words that are “antonyms” in the broad sense as offered by a thesaurus but do not satisfy the two equations above.
To define a dichotomy or decide whether it is a true or spurious one, it is necessary to first define the universe of discourse. For practical purposes, the universe of discourse is the real physical universe or a subset of it.
The two ends of a gradient such as pure black to pure white are not a true dichotomy in the real world even though black and white are mutually exclusive. But they are not jointly exhaustive because most of that gradient is neither black nor white, but grey. Not to mention all the other colours. Of course, in some hypothetical universe that consisted only of pure white and pure black things, black/white would be a true dichotomy.
Opposed pairs of concepts such as ‘freedom’ and ‘slavery’ are not true dichotomies either, except in a hypothetical universe where they are the only two things that exist so that x = (1 – w) and w = (1 – x). In the real world, their mathematical relationship can be expressed by relational statements of the form x ⇒ (1 – w); a slave is not free, but it does not necessarily follow that everyone who is not a slave is free.
On the other hand, direct opposites such as ‘known’ and ‘not known’ or ‘penguin’ and ‘not penguin’ are true dichotomies, as they are mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive.
If antonyms are pairs of words with exactly opposite meanings, then the precise antonym of any word is formed by simply adding the prefix ”not”. This may seem trivial, but any attempt to invent more sophisticated antonyms leads to imprecision and confusion.
For example, the antonym of ‘accept’ is ‘not accept’. A thesaurus may suggest ‘reject’ as an antonym, but that is not an exact antonym, just an approximation. The pair accept/reject are more like the gradient of black to white because they are separated by a grey zone of neither accepting nor rejecting. This is because the concept of rejection is within not-acceptance, it is a narrower concept because there are many ways of not accepting something without actually rejecting it. Again it is a mathematical relation of the form x ⇒ (1 – w).
Sets of entities, of any kind, can be linked in logic by bonding postulates of the form A ⇒ B (meaning that A is a subset of B, implies B, is within B). The same statement can be written in reverse as B ⇐ A (meaning that B is a superset of A, is implied by A, includes A). A is called the antecedent, and B is the consequent. This does not imply either a causative or a temporal sequence between antecedent and consequent, but simply a logical relationship.
In each case, the set of entities classed as A is completely included within the set of B. A is never found without B although B may occur without A. This situation is described in Boolean algebra as a (1 – b) = 0, or a = ab
Uppercase letters here refer to sets of actual entities, whereas the postulates (in other words, the elective functions or decisions) that define those sets are indicated by the corresponding lowercase letters, following the usage of Boole (1847).
Any relationship that exists between two entities or two postulates can be exposited as a nested hierarchy of A ⇒ B relations. It’s hardly an exaggeration to call this relation the basis of all logical thought.
If A ⇒ B, a pair of conditions holds:
B is necessary for A: A needs B in order to exist, although B can exist without A. eg, water is necessary for plant growth.
A is sufficient for B; the presence of A guarantees B, although B might also exist under alternative conditions not involving A. eg, seeing plants growing is sufficient evidence to assume the presence of water.
Stephens (1994) pointed out that the necessity of B for A and sufficiency of A for B together form a tautology that arises from the way we have circumscribed A and B such that A ⇒ B. For example, if we agree that all dogs are mammals, or dog ⇒ mammal, then being a mammal is one of the necessary qualifications for being a dog, but being a dog is by itself sufficient to qualify an animal as a mammal. This type of tautology is ubiquitous in the systematic classification and naming of plants and animals. Thus species A may be assigned to genus B as one of its members so that A ⇒ B, and that genus is in turn assigned to a family. Thus the classification system of the plant kingdom is a nested hierarchy of A ⇒ B relations with A sufficient for B, and B necessary for A, at each level.
By the same logical process, a taxonomist may assign species M to another species, N, as a synonym if he considers them too similar to merit separate names. A synonymy is an example of what Boole (1854) called an abstract proposition as it is a proposition about species concepts, which are in turn propositions about actual, tangible specimens. Every scientific name of a species refers ultimately to one specimen, known as the type specimen. It will be seen from the paragraphs above that if name ‘M’ is a taxonomic synonym of ‘N’ they cannot be at precisely the same level in the hierarchy: M must be within N as a name applying to a subset of the whole set of individual organisms comprising species N. Therefore two names cannot both be taxonomic synonyms of each other.
The same issue arises with synonyms in ordinary language. There is always an asymmetry in rank, a difference in level between one word and another that is considered to be its synonym. The meaning of the latter must always be a subset within the former. A thesaurus might glibly suggest ‘vehicle’ as a substitute word for ‘car’. But ‘vehicle’ is a more inclusive concept than ‘car’: all cars are vehicles but not all vehicles are cars. Therefore cars are a subset of all vehicles, and the word ‘car’ is within ‘vehicle’ as a synonym.
However, the codes of biological nomenclature were drafted without reference to Boolean algebra. They can add a little confusion since the principle of priority mandates that the earliest-published name be used for the merged species, although this may not be the name associated with the most inclusive set. This arbitrary rule may give the paradoxical impression that a larger M can reside within a smaller N. For instance, many garden plants from China such as the Banksian rose (Rosa banksiae) and the weeping willow (Salix babylonica) were given their botanical names based on the selected horticultural forms first introduced into Europe, but those names must now apply to all wild populations of these species as well.
All the examples above are single bondings where A ⇒ B but not B ⇒ A. This can be expressed in Boolean algebra as a (1 – b) = 0 and b (1 – a) ≠ 0.
However, if A is both necessary and sufficient for B, then B exists if, and only if, A exists. This is the state of equivalence A ⇔ B, meaning that A and B are co-extensive, and either can be called the antecedent or the consequent. This is quite distinct from the taxonomic tautology mentioned above (where the antecedent is necessary for the consequent to be true, and the consequent is sufficient to prove the truth of the antecedent). An example of equivalence would be the relation between the concepts “the 4th of July” and “USA’s Independence Day”; then a statement that “July 4 is Independence Day in the USA” is quite true but adds no new information. If it is agreed that A and B refer to exactly the same things, they may be called nomenclatural synonyms rather than taxonomic synonyms as they differ only in name, not in the sets of entities to which they refer.
On the other hand, a mutual bonding of two non-equivalent entities – that is, A ⇒ B and B ⇒ A where A ≠ B – represents a logical contradiction. They cannot each be contained wholly inside the other if they are different in any way. This is what Stephens (1994) called a double bonding, and may be expressed in Boolean algebra as a (1 – b) = 0 and b (1 – a) = 0.
Therefore every double bonding contains a fallacy. Either one of the bonding postulates is untrue, or they do not both belong to the same logical type in the sense that Whitehead & Russell (1910) used this term, or the same level in the sense of Polanyi (1968).
Boole, G. (1847) The Mathematical Analysis of Logic. (Macmillan: Cambridge).
Boole, G. (1854) An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, on which are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities. (Macmillan: London).
Polanyi, M. (1968) Life’s irreducible structure. Science 160: 1308-1312.
Stephens, D.H. (1994) Relationships – Bonding. audio recording of 21 February 1994.
Whitehead, A.N. & Russell, B. (1910) Principia Mathematica. Vol.1 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge) .
Take a look at whatever you call your “self”. Is it an entity with hard, permanent boundaries?
In my own experience, awareness extends across conceptual spaces that could be called fields, divided by boundaries that might be called discontinuities in awareness.
Michael Polanyi described a particular type of boundary in a series of publications in the 1960s. He introduced the theory of tacit knowledge, where information tacitly known at one level of reality is the basis of explicit understanding at a higher level. For example, whenever we read a text we are tacitly perceiving all the letters but normally notice only of the words or sentences that they spell. Many such levels may exist in a hierarchy, such as letters forming words according to rules of spelling, that form sentences according to the rules of grammar, that in turn carry meanings according to semantic rules.
Each level is a field containing a consistent set of concepts that is incomplete in that it allows its boundary to be ruled by the next higher level. The lower or proximal field contains things known tacitly but the distal field consists of things that are known explicitly, or are still unknown. The proximal field is experienced as self, the distal field as not-self or in other words the external world. For the purpose of this discussion I’ll call these Polanyi boundaries.
The old truism that anything has both an inside and an outside aspect is rediscovered from time to time. For example, the botanist Agnes Arber wrote that “The fact that each organism is both a unity intrinsic to itself, and also an integral part of the nexus which is the Whole, informs it with a basic duality.”
The subjective experience of being a self and separate from an external world – that is, the rest of the universe – was analysed by Gerbode in terms of the theory of tacit knowing. We tacitly know such things as the movement of our voluntary muscles, ideas with which we have identified, skills that have been learned and experiences internalised. All these things are within the aggregate that we think of as self. The other things that we perceive are considered to be separate from the self and therefore parts of an external world.
Another type of boundary that exists between opposing postulates in the mind was described by Stephens as occurring where postulate pairs such as “must know” and “must not be known” meet head-on like opposite flows forming a ridge, a mass that we experience as sensation. Such ridges might be called Stephens boundaries. Moreover, since one self-consciousness cannot simultaneously hold contradictory postulates, the boundary may effectively divide the mind into two fields that function as if they were independent entities.
Please note that I’m using the term postulate here to mean a causative thought, following the usage of Stephens and Gerbode, and before them of Hubbard. This isn’t quite the usual meaning of the term in English. Unfortunately, English doesn’t have any word that captures this concept exactly, and the Buddha’s Pali term saṅkhāra would be more precise. In Buddhist philosophy, saṅkhāra does not depend on self-consciousness but is actually a precondition for that consciousness.
At first sight, a Stephens boundary appears to separate a pair of entities that are both on the same level. The pair of postulates that define their boundary are not immediately recognisable as a rule imposed from a higher level that defines the boundary of the lower one.
But a Stephens boundary can also be seen as an instance of a Polanyi boundary. Both types of boundary represent an inconsistency that marks the limit of an internally consistent field. In fact, the contradictions between postulates are the source of the incompleteness or inconsistency that marks the boundary.
A pair of exactly opposed postulates forms a unity, just like the two ends of the same stick. More importantly, any Stephens boundary actually has higher and lower sides like a Polanyi boundary. The stick has a proximal and a distal end relative to the observer’s viewpoint.
The proximal field is experientially a self, which is normally a lower level field than the corresponding not-self. Self (the field of what we tacitly know) is a small portion of the whole universe (the field of what we explicitly know + what we tacitly know + everything that exists beyond our knowledge). In our everyday experience, the universe of discourse is whatever we perceive as the whole world. Any thing that we can readily view, including ourselves, is much smaller than the universe. Brotherhood with the universe can be a heady feeling when meditating under the summer stars, but taking that feeling too literally is the road to megalomania.
Any thing that we call our tacitly known “self” is an instance of what Stephens called a junior universe – an object that is selected as one side of a dichotomy, leaving the rest of the universe on the other side. Compulsive game playing compartmentalises a person into progressively smaller junior universes by successive dichotomies.
Could it be that a subjective sense of self arises from opposed postulates? If one being cannot hold both postulates simultaneously, there would be a division into self and not-self. The field of not-self can then be subdivided into various objects and even other living beings known as “them” or “you”.
Conversely, resolving the postulate opposition would resolve the perceived boundary of a self. An experimental test of this hypothesis would be to erase some contradictory postulates from one’s mind and observe what happens to the sense of self. Does it expand?
Arber, A. (1954) The Mind and the Eye: A study of the biologist’s standpoint. (Cambridge University Press).
Gerbode, F.A. (2013) Beyond Psychology: an Introduction to Metapsychology. 4th edn (Applied Metapsychology International Press: Ann Arbor).
Polanyi, M. (1968) Life’s irreducible structure. Science 160: 1308-1312.
Stephens, D.H. (1979) The Resolution of Mind: A Games Manual. (privately published: Sydney).
Further to the previous post, I’d been thinking about why the basic pair of complementary postulates in the mind is Know and Be Known, instead of anything else. Is this an arbitrary? Could it be something different in another universe?
But, of course!
Know and Be Known are the two essential properties of Life, the one thing that ultimately exists. They add up to BEING.
” … yet always a twoness in that many. And that twoness so near unite to oneness as sense to spirit, yet so as not to confound to unity the very heart and being of God, who is Two in One and One in Two.” – E.R. Eddison, The Mezentian Gate.
The duality of knowing and being known can explain the duality of self and not-self. Why am I sure that I exist? Because I can know (sense, see, feel, understand) things. Why am I sure that those things exist objectively outside me? Because they can be known (sensed, seen, felt, understood).
These are also are the two sides of the communication cycle: that is, receipt point and source point.
In Eddison’s novel The Mezentian Gate, Life has created a universe of experience by dividing itself into Love and Beauty, the knower and the known. Similarly, all our experience in this universe that we inhabit depends on a division into self and not-self. That division opens the door to the possibility of games, aberration and all the states of woe. But if the two were collapsed into one without division there would be no consciousness.
I would like to present another public domain edition of The Resolution of Mind by Dennis Stephens.
Dennis Stephens (1927 – 1994) was one of the first dianetic auditors in England, where he worked with L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s and contributed to the development of scientology in that period. He later acknowledged Hubbard as “the man who took psychology out of the brain and gave it back to the people.” His other major influence was the mathematician George Boole, “the man who took logic out of the esoteric.”
Stephens developed Hubbard’s dianetic techniques for viewing the past under control of a therapist into a simpler procedure that he called timebreaking. Timebreaking is done solo because a person must take responsibility for their own mind if they are ever to become cause over it. Many of us who have found timebreaking valuable had the benefit of previous experience with dianetics and scientology, but Stephens intended this technique to also work for people with no knowledge of these sciences.
His second breakthrough was to extend Hubbard’s ideas on game theory and goals. In his opinion, research in scientology went astray in a search for the opposing goals and identities that form the core of the mind. Stephens realised that the basic goal package had been there all along in the two basic abilities of life stated in Hubbard’s first axioms of scientology: to create things to be known, and to know things that have been created. He then used Boolean algebra to analyse the structure of games that arise from opposing and complementary goals; I have found this theory to be workable and valid.
In several ways the life of Stephens was a contrast and complement to that of Hubbard. Stephens’ goal in life was to know, rather than to be known. He was passionate about learning and finding the truth, but didn’t give a shit about becoming rich or famous. His childhood in the semi-slum neighbourhood of Tottenham had taught him a disgust for capitalism and a desire to find “a better way”. He founded no group or movement, he never claimed to be the source of all wisdom, but quietly wrote up his discoveries for anyone who might find them useful. And he expected users of his system to think for themselves, take responsibility for their own progress, and make new discoveries.
Stephens’ system is known by the acronym TROM from the title of this, his only published book. It is available at several places on the web as noted below, as are his other research notes which he recorded as audio tapes in the last years of his life. I’m posting this edition as one more source of The Resolution of Mind, hoping that many others will pass it on – in any medium, in English and other languages. It began as my working copy, with typographical errors from earlier editions cleared up to make reading easier. I have also arranged the four addendum sections in chronological order, added a table of contents and used a font that I hope readers will find easy on the eyes.
Other editions of The Resolution of Mind are available as free downloads from:
Boole, G. (1854) An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, on which are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities. (Macmillan: London). This is the original Boolean algebra.
Hubbard, L.R. (1956) The Fundamentals of Thought. (HASI: London). This summarises Hubbard’s version of scientology at the time when he and Stephens were working together. The discussion of postulates and games is very relevant to TROM.
Hubbard, L.R. (1957) 18th Advanced Clinical Course. A year on, and Hubbard was considering a theory of how memory works very similar to the one Stephens later adopted.
This is a reminiscence about Ian Tampion, who worked with L. Ron Hubbard at Saint Hill in the mid-1960s. Ian and his wife Judy had been among the first to complete the Clearing Course and OT sections 1 to 4, and they returned to Melbourne in late 1968 to re-establish a Scientology organisation there. At first they held regular Sunday evening meetings with a presentation and/or a tape play at their home in Hawthorn.
One of Ian’s talks that I remember from that period was entitled Only One Thing Happened.
He said that when several people observe the same incident, each one has their own perception and understanding of what happened. They all saw this incident from different viewpoints, they noticed different details, and they may have differed widely in their background knowledge and ability to observe. To hear their accounts you might even wonder if they were talking about different incidents.
They may consult together and arrive at a consensus, the kind of broad agreement glossing over contradictory details that we call reality. A consensus can be workable, it may give an adequate understanding of the actual incident. But it will never be the same thing as that original incident.
For example, several witnesses to a car crash might have differing accounts of it when they give evidence in court. The court may make a reasonable decision based on consensus and balance of probabilities; but it cannot know with certainty and precision what actually occurred.
Ian made the point that an objective reality exists out there in the world before anyone observes it and generates their own mental image of it. There can be many views, but only one thing happened. This can be a stable datum if others try to shake your reality and convince you that their view is the only correct one. Or, ‘truth is the exact time, place form and event’, as Hubbard wrote.
The defining features of science are the source of its practical value, but they are also its limitations. It takes for granted the separation of subject from object, of an observer from the thing observed, that is the basis of the “common sense” human worldview. Ironically, this same separation is what Buddhists call avidyā or not-knowing, our basic error of failing to recognise phenomena as our own creations. So it might be said that, although science is a method of gaining knowledge, it has been built on a foundation of not-knowing.
Data by itself is not knowledge. Even facts committed to memory are just one step beyond facts stored in books on a shelf. The evaluation of data is as important as the data itself. But to evaluate anything we have to start from at least one datum that is known with certainty. And that presupposes some system of metaphysics (what’s real?) and epistemology (how do we know it?), neither of them prominent in the current intellectual landscape.
The scientific method was often taught in schools as a balance or alternation between deduction from the more general to the specific, and induction from the specific to the general.
But in practice, science proceeds mainly by gathering data and making deductions, rather in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes. Consequently it often appears that each generation of researchers is focussing on smaller and smaller questions in greater and greater detail. There is a lack of any formal process for drawing conclusions from observations and experiments, explicitly transmissible from teacher to student. Inductive thought in science has often been informal, and based on individual inspiration that dares an occasional leap beyond the safe ground of deduction. Think of Kepler’s elliptical planetary orbits, Kekulé’s dream of the benzene ring, Mendel’s digital model of inheritance, or Faraday’s sizeless electron.