What alternatives are there to a basic truth value system such as 'true, false and meaningless?' One such system (and there are potentially many) is that of colour faiths, which allocate a degree of confidence that reflects a person's belief in a certain proposition.
I should prefix this piece by explaining that I invented colour faiths for my second novel, Dreamtime (ISBN 1 74100 176 5, currently out of print). This book, set at an inspecific time in the future after mankind has spread out among the stars, concerns a diverse group of visitors who arrive on a lost colony where heterosexuality is a crime, and society is built upon a history of deception. I wanted the language of the visitors to reflect possible cultural changes in future societies, and one of the several new mechanisms I added to their language was the colour faith system, as it suggested a more philosophically advanced culture where archaic notions of absolute truth and falsehood had been successfully dispelled.
Despite some people's conviction that the keyword 'faith' implies religion, most dictionaries reflect a much more general meaning for 'faith', such as "Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing." (American Heritage Dictionary, 2000) . Certainly, no-one who reads it will mistake Dreamtime for a religious novel!
The colour faith system is relatively easy to understand, being a method of assigning a degree of belief to a statement. We all know how to say if we believe something is 'true' or 'false', but with colour faiths one makes an assignment from a range of values, rather than a binary assignment. A comparison can be made with fuzzy logic, which is another alternative to naive truth values but with greater application to engineering than to human communication.
The sequence of colours used in Dreamtime is essentially a short spectrum with black and white used as bookends. It runs from black (essentially no belief) through red, orange, yellow, green, blue and finally white (near-certainty) as follows:
- Black faith: no belief in a statement or model (equivalent to 'false').
- Red faith: a small degree of belief in the plausibility of a statement or model.
- Orange faith: marginal belief in the plausibility of a statement or model.
- Yellow faith: general uncertainty or agnosticism about a statement or model.
- Green faith: a reasonable degree of belief in a statement or model.
- Blue faith: considerable belief in a statement or model.
- White faith: near-certainty of belief in a statement or model (equivalent to 'true').
The system allows a person to ask, for instance: "what degree of faith do you assign to Lemaître's Big Bang cosmology?" To which one might reply: "I have green faith." (As an aside, it is not widely reported that Lemaître, who formulated the Big Bang theory from Einstein's general relativity equations, was a Roman Catholic priest).
My wife and I occasionally use the system to communicate the strength of our convictions to each other, particularly as regards to problems of navigation. For instance, while hiking we might have the following conversation: "Which way do we go from here?" "I think we go this way." "How sure are you?" "I don't know... green faith?" "Hmmm... I have blue faith that it's this way". "Okay, we'll go that way."
I'm not suggesting that you adopt the system to communicate with other people (it requires that all parties have learned the mechanism), but I would suggest that you can productively explore your own belief systems using this method. (By belief systems, I mean to say the position you hold on all the concepts of which you are aware).
Which propositions and models do you have absolute belief in (white faith)? Which do you absolutely disbelieve (black faith)? Where are you rather uncertain (yellow faith)? What issues fall between these extremes? By exploring your own belief system in this way you will be better equipped to communicate with other people with different belief systems. Also, if you find that your belief systems consist solely of black and white faith responses, you have problems that you could use to work upon.
For instance, when an atheist and theist talk together there is an inherent problem when using a basic truth value system in that the proposition 'God' is True for one and False for the other. Since naive truth values presume that True and False refer to an objective reality, any communication on this subject is likely to be unproductive, to say the least. But if one can accept that the atheist has black faith in God and the theist has white faith in God, we have at least removed the appeal to an objective external reality (which for an unfalsifiable proposition such as God is an appropriate step!) Although conversation may still be difficult, at least the cognitive dissonance each may suffer facing their antithesis might be somewhat reduced.
It is perhaps appropriate at this point to mention Clarke's First Law: "When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong." I could restate this in the colour faith system as: "Scientists should be wary of assigning black faith to any model or proposition."
I hope you will take the time to explore your own beliefs - linguistic, scientific and metaphysical - by this or another system. There's much we can learn simply by exploring our own minds.
The opening image is Colour Studies, by Kandinsky.