Truth vs Consensus: Which is more important?

in tauchain •  6 months ago

Truth vs Consensus

Truth can be thought of either as something which we can prove by experiments or it can be the result of a consensus. A scientific fact is arrived at by the process of conducting scientific experimentation. A mathematical fact is discovered by finding a proof. Consensus is discovered by analysis of sentiment (or by voting) to determine what the majority currently believes at a point in time about a subject. The truth of the scientists might not match up with the popular consensus at the time. The mathematical proof might say one thing but a majority of people might agree to disagree with the math. We have seen this happen in the past and this blog post is a discussion on that topic. Particularly for Tauchain we have the question of what is the truth and what is more important? Do we care more about the truth or more about consensus?

Tauchain offers helpers in the form of reasoners and logic to improve the quality of discussion. These helpers will not necessarily work unless people agree to accept the results generated. In addition, the bias people inherently have could influence what they discuss in the first place which could create a consensus but not necessarily an improvement.

Consensus as Truth

According to the "truth by consensus" paradigm the truth is produced by consensus gentium. Consensus gentium means agreement of the people. In my previous post I discussed exactly this topic: Consensus Morality and Tauchain | Consensus Gentium. To be specific we can think of consensus gentium to mean: "the truth is what everyone currently believes". In this model of truth we can only get the truth by finding out what everyone believes but how do we determine what people believe? It is a challenge to find a way to determine what people actually believe in a blockchain context. One method of attempting this is called Futarchy which provides an economic reward and an economic cost for having correct or incorrect beliefs. In essence under Futarchy the people must bet on their beliefs rather than just vote. Under Futarchy prediction markets are used to apply market elements to produce a market consensus truth.

Consensus gentium in an environment where there is persecution and or coercion can result in widely held "beliefs" which are enforced into existence such as the belief in geocentrism. Victims of this kind of persecution may include Galileo who was forced to recant his beliefs or face the inquisition. Ancient Greek philosopher Anaximander proposed that the universe revolved around the earth and this idea caught on. Once the idea caught on it became the gospel truth and over time it became blasphemous to dispute this belief. We continue to see this happen even now in the cryptospace with for example the belief of "code is law" or that "blockchains must be immutable", but these too are beliefs based on a particular set of values which the holders of these beliefs hold dear.

Consensus as a regulative ideal

A descriptive theory is one that tells how things are, while a normative theory tells how things ought to be. Expressed in practical terms, a normative theory, more properly called a policy, tells agents how they ought to act. A policy can be an absolute imperative, telling agents how they ought to act in any case, or it can be a contingent directive, telling agents how they ought to act if they want to achieve a particular goal. A policy is frequently stated in the form of a piece of advice called a heuristic, a maxim, a norm, a rule, a slogan, and so on. Other names for a policy are a recommendation and a regulative principle.

In this case we have a distinction between the way things are and the way things ought to be. Policies can be directed to shape the way things ought to be.

The problem with consensus as truth | argumentum ad populum

If consensus equals truth, then truth can be made by forcing or organizing a consensus, rather than being discovered through experiment or observation, or existing separately from consensus. The principles of mathematics also do not hold under consensus truth because mathematical propositions build on each other. If the consensus declared 2+2=5 it would render the practice of mathematics where 2+2=4 impossible.

A big problem is that of coercion. Another big problem is that popular opinion can in fact lead to really bad outcomes. If something is true at a point of time merely because a lot of people believe it then we are basing our decisions merely on what a lot of people believe. This can result in decisions which satisfy what is popular yet also unwise. A lot of people believe a lot of crazy wrong stuff but this does not mean they do not passionately believe it. The question of truth is more about what is true even if not very many people believe it. Geocentricism turned out to be false even though a lot of people believed it at some point in time. On the other hand the laws of physics appear to be true for 13 billion years even during times when a lot of people didn't believe it.


  • Consensus truth: "truth because a majority currently agrees" is not an accurate measure of truth. If we were to follow this alone then we would still be in the dark ages.
  • A benefit of maintaining consensus reality is we gain the benefit of harmony in society. People can become violently hostile when their version of the truth is discounted by the government. In fact, the scientists themselves have been attacked in the past by the believers of the gospel truth. We've seen this happen time and time again.
  • A principle China uses is it's governance strategy is based on maintaining harmony. This differs greatly from the conflict oriented societies we see in other places where people are encouraged to be wrong and be held accountable rather than to simply avoid being wrong. To quote:

The State, or the ruling government, has the special role of taking care of the people; however, what distinguishes the Chinese ruling government from other ruling governments is the respectful attitude of the citizens, who regard the government as part of their family. In fact, the ruling government is "the head of the family, the patriarch."[11] Therefore, the Chinese look to the government for guidance as if they are listening to their father who, according to Chinese tradition, enjoys high reverence from the rest of the family. Furthermore, "still another tradition that supports state control of music is the Chinese expectation of a verbal 'message.'"[12] A "verbal message" is the underlying meaning behind people's words. In order to get to the "verbal message," one needs to read into words and ask oneself what the desired or expected response would be.

  • Truth by way of consensus is vulnerable to disinformation. People can be made to believe hoaxes. Disinformation campaigns or outright information warfare would allow for beliefs to be influenced. We saw this happen with the church in the past where the Inquisition used torture to enforce a particular interpretation of the data. In addition, people were labeled and killed by the church for expressing beliefs which went counter to the consensus.
  • Majority opinion is just popular opinion. Not everyone forming an opinion is an expert on that which they form their opinion on. So it is maybe one thing to have a consensus of scientists voice their opinion on a specific topic. These scientists would at least in theory have the most up to date information and the best knowledge. On the other hand strictly popular opinion would be the opinion of people who don't have a clue but who may have strong feelings about a specific topic. As we can see, popular opinion or majority opinion may be flawed but that is what we currently have.

In my current opinion, public opinion/sentiment is a valuable metric to track when arriving at critical decisions. This is particularly true when there are investors, stakeholders, shareholders, members, citizens, etc. At the same time the process by which we determine truth can become influenced by the beliefs of the stakeholders which may be based on nothing more than disinformation. For this reason I would suggest that points be awarded in a decision process which gives weight to public opinion/sentiment but it is not the only viable metric to use. Scientific consensus also has to be considered which is in essence the opinions of scientists who study the topic (this too would be given points). Finally if there is some dispute about something then this too needs to be considered as some topics and some questions have more than one side to the argument.


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