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What do you know?

Discussion in 'Philosophical Forum' started by Esponer, Jun 2, 2007.

  1. Esponer Brief Intermission

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    p is some proposition. When do you know that p?
     
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  2. GrimaH Absurdist

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    When
    -It's logical to me.
    -It's got some hard evidence I find hard to refute.
    -It doesn't have relatively strongly-supported opposing propositions.
    -It's got loli. This one's optional.
     
  3. Esponer Brief Intermission

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    Interesting: would you therefore say that belief is not a prerequisite of knowledge? Your three conditions do not require belief, which is unusual. Also, may I ask for clarification on at what point p is logical? Must it be founded upon rationally deduced axioms either directly, or through other propositions? Or is a proposition p logical if it being true would not contradict anything else you know — that is, it would expand rather than destroy a network of self-justifying propositions?

    The usual formulation of the conditions for knowledge include that p (for clarity: that p is true). Can you know something even if p is not true, but merely logical and possessing evidence you find difficult to refute? Perhaps knowledge itself is a problematic term — is it impossible to know anything, and must we therefore redefine "to know" as to refer simply to any p that it is not irrational, and is helpful, to accept as fact?

    Your conditions are interesting, although to me I find them somehow uncomfortably inadequate. I find it interesting that they include neither the requirement that p is true, nor that you believe p is true: the implication does seem to be a form of coherentism, whereby truth is a matter of cohering with other accepted truths ("It's logical to me"), and is weighed on the basis of how well it coheres ("It's got some hard evidence I find hard to refute"). Of course, in this epistemological outlook, there are no absolute facts — truth is simply utility, and in a traditional sense we may never know anything.

    Another issue is that it is plausible that there could be many conflicting 'truths' using such an outlook of knowledge, so long as they were part of a coherent network. More specifically to your points, would you say it is impossible to have knowledge of p if q contradicts p and itself has a convincing case? That seems a difficult position to put oneself in, but perhaps it is not so — if two propositions, p and q, equally or almost equally cohere within your network of 'truths', it is simply required to take no stance and no knowledge is possible.
     
  4. mislead it's just Che Guevara

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    If it's a readily available property of my self - feelings, thoughts, and the like. I know what I feel, I know what I'm thinking, and I know what I'm experiencing through my senses.

    Anything else is more or less a matter of probability, and is usually evaluated based on some interpretation of incoming sensory data.

    I also like to use pragmatism as a rule of thumb of sorts, dictating that if assuming p leads to some practical results, then it's at least worth considering.

    Meh, this probably isn't what you wanted to hear anyway, but I find the concepts of universal knowledge and truth highly overrated. *awaits rhetoric headshot*
     
  5. erictheking Overly rare

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    Esponer, lol. that's a lot of questions. :oh

    Well, without thinking too much about the issue..I'm not sure if we can know something in the defined strict sense. The question is, does it matter? If we can't truly know anything, maybe belief could be included as subjective knowledge..I, for example, hold my religious beliefs to be of a higher degree of 'truth' c.f. to my sensory experience. Maybe that's puzzling for some people.
     
  6. AbnormallyNormal 1 + 2 + 3 = 1 * 2 * 3

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    i would say you know something when you prove it is true
     
  7. TiGel2. Well-Known Member

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    P appeals to my reasoning and rational. It proves to me its validity in some form (not strictly materialistic.)
     
  8. GrimaH Absurdist

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    This makes me wish I had taken further academic studies instead :sag

    I've long given up on believing, I don't need it. My primary non-material desire in life was to actually find the hard facts on the mechanism behind the existence of my life and probable existence of the soul (sounds lame, I know :sag), and beliefs just get in the way. It's more like acceptance eg. I accept evolution as true as it's overall the most probable theory to satisfy the mystery of the change of life forms, and it's very logical and well-supported.

    New words :sag
    It should be, yeah.

    Nah, a lot of things I know could be wrong. I do not believe my current knowledge to be sufficient or definitely correct and therefore I seek more knowledge.
    Come to think of it, "know" is probably the wrong word. "Accept" would be more appropriate.

    -If it is *more* logical and has more solid evidence, I'll accept it as more probably true. Not sure if I'm answering your question there :headscrat
    -Yes, I think so.


    Yeah, well.
    :headscrat

    I....don't get it :sag
    Yea, that's the extent of my intelligence.
    I hope I answered your questions Esponer :sag
     
  9. impersonal Banned

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    @Esponer: I lol'ed. It's a bit mean to trick posters into such technical discussions with a rather simple initial question :amuse .

    Let's take examples (I'm a bit uncomfortable when things are too abstract... it can lead to bad interpretations)...

    ***
    p="the car is blue".

    I know that the car is blue if I know what blue is, what a car is, and if I see a blue car.

    ***
    p="13+12=25".

    I know that 13+12 = 25 if I know what 13, 12, and 25 are, and if I can apply the rules of calculus with a good certainty.

    ***
    p="I exist"

    I don't know if I exist, however I find it a bit difficult to reason and have feelings if I don't take this as a given. So this proposition is not self evident, or even justified, it is just necessary.

    ***
    To sum things up, I know something when it is coherent with the other things I believe. I don't believe that "truth" makes any sense: for any proposition to be true, objects would need to have meaning... and we have no way to tell whether objects, in themselves, have any meaning.

    However, to build knowledge, you cannot start completely from scratch. Coherence is thus built on a foundation of "basic beliefs". However, I would not say that there is only one possible set of basic beliefs or that these beliefs are justified. These beliefs are not self-evident; they just happen to be those we start with. Sometimes, if major incoherences are spotted, it is possible to attack these beliefs - that's one of the main roles of philosophy.

    I'm not sure whether these basic beliefs are just "propositions" or rather "logical rules". I tend towards the second, but I still have doubts. I even doubt there is a difference. For example: "there are objects" is a proposition. But it is also a rule of thought that we always interpret the world by differentiating it into many distinct objects.

    Please be gentle, Esponer. It's not that I have never personally thought about these problems. But I have not directly studied what others said about them, so my knowledge of epistemology in general is rather superficial.
     
  10. Catterix is a super awesome

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  11. Esponer Brief Intermission

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    I'm interested by how prevalent the pragmatist, coherentist view of the universe is. I agree with those principles, for the most part ? I agree that almost everything is a matter of assessing the probabilities, rather than knowing. Knowledge is less an absolute yes or no, and more a degrees of certainty where "absolute certainty" very rarely occurs (mainly where it is a definition or an artificial construct like mathematics).

    What's interesting is that I was hoping the discussion would turn in the direction of the Gettier problems, where the logically intuitive definition that knowledge is justified, true belief is questioned and shown to be insufficient. For the most part, the discussion has gone in a different direction towards ? that perhaps knowledge is an illusion, and everyone is simply doing their best.

    Perhaps humanity is bestowed with too much imagination, for other than things true by definition or true by construction, there are very few propositions which we are incapable of imagining being false.

    The great problem is being able to determine if something is true. We all recognise that to know p, not only must you believe p, but p must also be true. However, are those two conditions sufficient? A paranoid schizophrenic may believe that there is a conspiracy against him and that every professional he knows is seeking to undermine him. His belief would clearly be irrational, but if it transpired that his dentist hated him and sought to undermine him and ruin his life, would the schizophrenic therefore have knowledge of this? It's true, and he believes it, but most would maintain he doesn't actually know it. What then, is required for knowledge?

    One practical problem with this is knowing, in the real world, when you have proved something to be true. Proof is a useful concept to have in theory, but in practice there is no certainty to any proof except in an artificial environment (such as mathematics, where a proof is absolute by construction).

    In common parlance, I would say that I know that the sky is blue, but on a metaphysical level to what degree can I certain of that? Can I even be certain, have I even proved, that the external world exists? More importantly, I know that as objects approach the speed of light they experience time dilation, say, but I myself have not proved it. May I not say I know anything I read in a textbook?

    Were it possible to prove something without a doubt within the real world, the problem would not be so difficult. As it often isn't, many define knowledge as justified, true belief ? of course, because it must be true we can never be absolutely sure we have knowledge of something. Rather, if we believe something and have justification for that belief (whether strong personal evidence or, I suppose, the appeal to those more learned), and it transpires to be true, then we have knowledge of it. (But justified, true belief is not sufficient to define knowledge either, as highlighted by the Gettier problem.)

    Certainly, there is a correlation between what we know and what we consider rational. But can we know a proposition p while being unsatisfied by its logical rationale? Need it appear rational? Many a first year student studying physics knows of quantum tunnelling, but there are perhaps only a handful of humans in the world who could sincerely claim to think it's logical.

    And what about theistic fideists, those who have absolute conviction that their god exists while believe that no reasoning could arrive at that position? Do we expand reasoning to include their innate ideas, which are what they say lead them to god, or do they have knowledge of something while believing it is incompatible with reasoning, as they say? Of course, this presupposes their god is true, but perhaps we can put that aside for a moment so as to question the prerequisites for knowledge.

    Of course, there's an easy response: that some may know p given certain conditions, but you do not claim to know p unless it appeals to your reasoning. Are you familiar with the Monty Hall problem? Does its solution appeal to your reasoning, and if it did not would you be incapable of gaining knowledge of its solution?
     
  12. Esponer Brief Intermission

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    I apologise for being unnecessarily abstruse.

    That's a very interesting outlook. It's definitely true that when a human believes something, he tends to observe evidence such that it supports his view. When I debate with a creationist and he introduces a piece of evidence, I look for information on the evidence written specifically to debunk said theory, just as I imagine the creationist found the evidence written by someone specifically to support creationism. I already have a belief, a preconception, of what is true, and then from that belief I seek only evidence and justification for what I believe.

    I think your way of phrasing your attitude is a more careful way of my own. I'd say I believe in evolution, but hold separate from that a willingness to change my view in light of more evidence. Perhaps it is indeed a better attitude to say I believe nothing, and simply accept what seems probable and (a nod to mislead), "leads to some practical results". But if you believe nothing, is it a darker world than otherwise? Do I believe I love my parents, my girlfriend, or do I simply 'accept' it as a probable state of affairs, or even (coldly) as one that leads to practical results (my parents give me shelter and money; my girlfriend gives me coitus)?

    To explain, every proposition we accept seems either sensible or not according to how well it fits with propositions we've already accepted. There are two theories of how this works: one theory is that there are propositions which simply must be accepted, and can be shown to be true without appeals to other propositions. These are basic beliefs, and from this all other propositions build up. For instance, "I exist", "There is a material world" and "Other thinking entities like myself exist" may be, to someone, basic beliefs (I would question at least two of them).

    Those who believe this as foundationalists, and this is what I meant by "founded upon rationally deduced axioms". Another attitude, called coherentism, is that there are no propositions which can be shown to be logically true. The usual idea here is that we simultaneously form many, many attitudes which all cohere. No single one is actually firmly founded, but the larger and more complicated the web of agreeing propositions, the more reliable it is. Maybe I don't exist, but if I do then a lot of other stuff makes a lot more sense, and it's a lot more useful to say I do than I don't.

    A problem with coherentism is that there are no absolute truths. What if it's possible to form several different networks of accepted facts which contradict each other, but are all internally consistent? The paranoid schizophrenic may have a perfectly coherent network of beliefs ? everything makes sense with everything else ? and yet it is completely untrue. (Coherentists generally respond that there are contradictions in the paranoid schizophrenic's network of beliefs.)

    Once more, from your perspective is that not a dark and lonely universe? We, humans, seem to be the most intelligent lifeforms that exist ? that we've perceived, anyway. And yet after thousands of years of civilisation, the Enlightenment, the complete works of hundreds of astonishing minds and years of education, we have to say that we cannot know anything, do not believe anything, and simply accept? Do we have so little power in the universe? (I agree with you, but I think it's an interesting question.)

    What seems logical to you is surely a product of how well a proposition coheres with what you already know. Were I to propose that the sky was green, you would tell me this was illogical because it makes no sense within what you already know. You might tell me that it appears blue to you and therefore cannot be green, or that within the framework of physics you're familiar with it makes no sense for the sky to be green because air scatters shorter wavelength light in preference to longer, leaving a blue (short wavelength light) tint to the sky.

    Once you already have a few thousand propositions accepted because they're useful (like accepting "fire is hot and is bad to touch" is a sensible thing for a child to accept as it's rather disadvantageous to doubt it), new propositions can be judged based on how logical they seem to be with the old ones. However, what if your first few thousand were different?

    Could you have a different network of truths which still made sense? The first few thousand propositions you accepted you did so without the benefit of formal logic or developed reasoning ? you were a child. A child raised as a creationist Roman Catholic has a few propositions about god's existence right there early in his development, and takes them as seriously as you and I take "distant objects seem smaller". He might then be able to create a perfectly coherent network of beliefs ? I'd of course argue he can't, but what if he could? What if there can be two coherent networks of facts at once? How do we choose between them?

    If my explanation didn't make much sense, perhaps reading about coherentism elsewhere would be more useful. Of course, feel free just to throw off the above comments if they're not well couched.

    I was curious. My opening question was the essential question of epistemology, just as "Does a god exist?" is the well recognised essential question of the philosophy of religion. I was curious how many regulars of the philosophy forum were as equipped to deal with epistemology as with philosophy of religion.

    Let's say you are standing on a pavement and you see a car drive past. The car appears to you to be blue, and you are justified in identifying the car as a car. In truth, the car is blue. However, the car has been designed by the U.S. military as a stealth vehicle, which while blue appears to civilians to be red by a trick with light.

    The U.S. military is foiled, however, as it just so happens that you are colour blind in an unusual way: You see blue instead of red! You trust these senses when you should not ? these senses should display to you a red car. Yet the car is blue. Do you know that the car is blue?

    I mean, it is blue. You see a blue car. You know what blue is, you know what a car is, and yet you don't really know at all. It's a lucky coincidence. Of course, I've had to stretch to make that counterexample work within your example, but can you see what I'm getting at?

    This is an interesting attitude, which I have a lot of respect for. Many philosophers wanted to demonstrate that their existence was a logical certainty, using an argument of the form cogito ergo sum or otherwise. However, I'd agree that it's a more formidable stance to say that one's existence might not be certain, but that's it just pragmatic to assume it.

    Are basic beliefs required for a coherence theory? Could someone believe in tens of thousands of propositions, none of them foundational or basic, but each additional one granting a bit more credence to the rest? Perhaps you're right though, and even a theory of coherentism still has basic beliefs of a sort. Special relativity and quantum mechanics in many ways designed as an ever-expanding series of coherent propositions. The universe looked a confusing and nonsensical place, and physicists started considering what would fit ? literally; many of the early equations in quantum mechanics were built backwards, first to fit reality and only second to actually make any sense.

    But maybe even that horror actually had basic beliefs. Einstein's postulates, for instance, and the discrete nature of momentum. That's something I'll need to think about, whether theories which suggest that knowledge is built up in big coherent networks actually still appeal to basic beliefs.
     
  13. A.U.X.I.L.A.R.Y Banned

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    P?wtf?Don't get the convo.
     
  14. Esponer Brief Intermission

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    p is a letter denoting some proposition, as outlined in the original post. A proposition is a statement which may be true or false. For instance, consider the proposition, "Ben is a homosexual". This is an example ? my original post strived to keep the question general, by simply using p.

    So, imagine you have a friend called Ben. What are the necessary requirements for you to know that p? That is, for you to know that "Ben is a homosexual"?
     
  15. Fulcata I don't recognize your names.

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    I think that I exist, therefore I must exist because I think I do.
    Things that do not exist cannot think. And this, is all that I know.
     
  16. Kyon .

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    (Esponer, you sly bastard. I've never even heard of epistomology. :sag)

    Ditching conspiracy theories, I know something when I believe and/or am aware of it.

    p=The sky is blue on a clear, sunny day.

    To me, the sky is blue through perception. Unless there was an elaborate plot against me, then the sky would continue to be blue, and I can safely eliminate the possiblity of the conspiracy theory due to a substantial lack of evidence and knowledge on my part.

    p=1+1=2

    Now, there are a few mathematical things that fuck that right over, and I am aware of them. However, I percieve this as truth because it is a stretch for the other mathematics to make it equal 3 or 1.9r. Therefore, I believe it as opposed to the other math.

    p=Creationism

    Something that unlike the first two I do not believe, and yet I am aware of it's existence. If you are talking of truth, then I do not believe this and in my mind it is a largely irrelevant concept that can safely be discarded.

    From those three examples, you can see that the probablities (no matter how slim) can exist theoretically, however I choose to not believe some and choose to believe others. However, there is no absolute truth and knowledge to me is what I can observe, study, and believe.
     
  17. Fulcata I don't recognize your names.

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    Actaually, Kyon, the sky is not blue. The sky appears blue because air scatters short-wavelength light in preference to longer wavelengths. When we look toward a part of the sky not near the sun, the blue color we see is blue light waves scattered down toward us from the white sunlight passing through the air overhead. Near sunrise and sunset, most of the light we see comes in nearly tangent to the Earth's surface, so that the light's path through the atmosphere is so long that much of the blue and even yellow light is scattered out, leaving the sun rays and the clouds it illuminates red.
    (Diffuse Sky Radiation)

    There are even points in the atmosphere, such as the Arago Point, in which the sky is nearly clear, possesing no colour at all. (Nearly because particles in the atmosphere still interfere with the sun light.)

    If it were just "blue", the Earth would look like this from outer-space:
    Spoiler:

     
  18. impersonal Banned

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    I knew that it was going to be technical. I was just amused at Grimah's reaction ;).

    Yeah, of course. The same goes for my other example, 13+12 =25. Using another over-stretched counter-example, I could argue that perhaps I'm currently under the influence of drugs or hypnosis and that for this reason I missed the correct answer which is 42 (as usual).
    Error could be anywhere :ninja
    Perhaps when a theory grows up to become enormous the importance of basic beliefs is reduced. Indeed, new notions appear while some old ones disappear - even those at the origin of the theory - when they become too annoying for the development of the whole.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2007
  19. Kyon .

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    See what I mean? :wink

    Now that I am aware of this, it is added to my knowledge database, and it is combined with what I had thought to be the truth in order to better my understanding of the issue.

    Of course, I could simply say that the sky being blue is due to my own perception, but that would be ignoring evidence of the contrary, and not furthering my own perception of the world around me.

    So now p equals something different then what I had originally thought. To me, p is a variable representing what I believe to be true when I observe the evidence and make my own conclusions and can change when new evidence comes in. Therefore, p is not necessarily the truth.
     
  20. IBU Hopsecutioner

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    I am just going to stick with the format that Kyon and Hugo used and give my two cents on the topic at hand.

    P= That dog is brown

    I must have been made aware of the categories of wavelengths that form colours as percieved by humans. I must have also been taught and made aware of the categories of animals that humans came up with. And of course I need to be familiar with the language in general. But this knowledge is not absolute it is merely sensical in the reality that I percieve. Until I have knowledge of objective reality, to say that this is absolute I must make an assumption of human perceptions as some how reflecting the true nature of reality. Can we say for sure that our bodies do not tweak and twist reality?

    P=5+12=17 In order for me to know this I must accept math on the basis that in the paradigm of my perception the concepts of addition can be shown in a way that can be percieved. Ultimately if I cannot percieve how math works, then I could not know that this equation equals 17. And of course for me to verify if math is compatible with my perception I must be aware of the concepts of numbers. Like the first one this only works in the paradigm of human perception for the same reasons.

    P=The Laws of Physics This is where ultimately it is hard to know what something is in and of itself. I accept that via my perceptions and the reality that I exist in the law of physics make sense. However, to objectively know this requires that perception can lead to an objective view of the world. I have addressed why this becomes a problem. If there is a true and objective nature to the world and to knowledge, we have a wall in our way to discovering these. For all our knowledge is gained through perceptions and the synthesis of a priori knowledge in our own perception of reality.

    I am more interested in metaphysics, so bare with me.

    We cannot know the true or absolute nature of knowledge or reality in and of itself. We can only know things as they relate to the human perception of reality.
     
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2007
  21. mislead it's just Che Guevara

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    If I'd wanted to be mean, I'd try to undermine the expressive power of language itself, and make the problem even more horrible to tackle for the less knowledgable, but Hugo would've probably owned me with his superior understanding of Wittgenstein then.
     
  22. Kyon .

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    I feel so out of place here. :(

    You damn knowledgable bastards. :arg
     
  23. mislead it's just Che Guevara

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    Hey, we were wasting our time with boring, useless books while you were out partying and getting laid. And it's not like the knowledge really makes life easier or anything.
     
  24. impersonal Banned

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    I know next to nothing about Wittgenstein. Proceed :D
    Oh, knowledge does make life a bit easier. Although not as much as getting laid. But doing philosophy can be a good way to get laid. I mean, in my computer science classes there is 1 girl for every 20 guys, in my philosophy classes there's a bit more than 1 girl for each guy. That said, relationships are also more complicated with such girls, so I bet nobody would want them except the guys doing philosophy.
     
  25. IBU Hopsecutioner

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    You are right about the ratio and that ratio is about the same in Political Science. And this ratio makes me very happy that my major is
    Political Science and my minor is Philosophy.

    Philosophy is almost completely useless in terms of applications that get you some sort of tangible reward. But, taking a few philosophy courses can help one do better in other courses. In my opinion, someone who can debate philosophy will be able to own in debates and arguments regarding other topics.
     
  26. AbnormallyNormal 1 + 2 + 3 = 1 * 2 * 3

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    my response to this is that i accept it, but that is why i am a dualist - math i believe is possible to know, but the physical is not.
     
  27. TiGel2. Well-Known Member

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    Thank you for the response. There is perhaps a duality in the word 'Know" as far as I see it being used. In your example involving Quantum Tunneling, you say "know of", rather know. Know can be very arbitrary, and it can mean much more. I mean, can we ever know anything beyond our personal understanding? We can know of it, but can we know it?

    On your next point, I think you have to expand it to their innate ideas and understandings, the abstract so to speak can be rational on a personal level. I believe in God, and I do not see anything we can do that would prove Him in the sense of scientific veridibility, but I see the rational behind believing that the words of the religion I follow are true. They provide logic to me, I do not know that they would you, or anyone else, but because it prove rational to me, it is therefore something that I find rational and therefor satisfies "p".



    And now that I read your last paragraph I see that you came to my conclusion for me. Thank you lol. I am not familiar with the monty hall problem but will familiarize myself with it and get back to you.
     
  28. Edo Αρχίδια

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    Now these are words of wisdom smile-big
     
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