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Jul
2nd
Tue
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David Deutsch on Fallibilism


“The fact is, there’s nothing infallible about “direct experience” (…). Indeed, experience is never direct. It is a sort of virtual reality, created by our brains using sketchy and flawed sensory clues, given substance only by fallible expectations, explanations, and interpretations. Those can easily be more mistaken than the testimony of the passing hobo. (…)

This logic of fallibility, discovered and rediscovered from time to time, has had profound salutary effects in the history of ideas. Whenever anything demands blind obedience, its ideology contains a claim of infallibility somewhere; but wherever someone believes seriously enough in that infallibility, they rediscover the need for reason to identify and correctly interpret the infallible source. (…)

[Popper]: [A]ll ‘sources’ are liable to lead us into error at times. And I propose to replace, therefore, the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?’ (…)

Popper’s answer is: We can hope to detect and eliminate error if we set up traditions of criticism—substantive criticism, directed at the content of ideas, not their sources, and directed at whether they solve the problems that they purport to solve. Here is another apparent paradox, for a tradition is a set of ideas that stay the same, while criticism is an attempt to change ideas. But there is no contradiction. Our systems of checks and balances are steeped in traditions—such as freedom of speech and of the press, elections, and parliamentary procedures, the values behind concepts of contract and of tort—that survive not because they are deferred to but precisely because they are not: They themselves are continually criticized, and either survive criticism (which allows them to be adopted without deference) or are improved (for example, when the franchise is extended, or slavery abolished). Democracy, in this conception, is not a system for enforcing obedience to the authority of the majority. In the bigger picture, it is a mechanism for promoting the creation of consent, by creating objectively better ideas, by eliminating errors from existing ones.

“Our whole problem,” said the physicist John Wheeler, “is to make the mistakes as fast as possible.” (…) [T]hat only means that whenever possible we should make the mistakes in theory, or in the laboratory; we should “let our theories die in our place,” as Popper put it. (…)

[L]essons can be learned to prevent them from happening again. “We are all alike,” as Popper remarked, “in our infinite ignorance.” And this is a good and hopeful thing, for it allows for a future of unbounded improvement.

Fallibilism, correctly understood, implies the possibility, not the impossibility, of knowledge, because the very concept of error, if taken seriously, implies that truth exists and can be found. The inherent limitation on human reason, that it can never find solid foundations for ideas, does not constitute any sort of limit on the creation of objective knowledge nor, therefore, on progress. The absence of foundation, whether infallible or probable, is no loss to anyone except tyrants and charlatans, because what the rest of us want from ideas is their content, not their provenance. (…)

Indeed, infallibilism and nihilism are twins. Both fail to understand that mistakes are not only inevitable, they are correctable (fallibly). Which is why they both abhor institutions of substantive criticism and error correction, and denigrate rational thought as useless or fraudulent. They both justify the same tyrannies. They both justify each other.” “
Jun
1st
Sat
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" "There was this American physiologist who was asked if Mary’s bodily ascent from Earth to Heaven was possible. He said,"I wasn’t there; therefore, I’m not positive that it happened or didn’t happen; but of one thing I’m certain: She passed out at 10,000 meters.” “

Edward O. Wilson, American biologist, researcher (sociobiologybiodiversity), theorist (consiliencebiophilia), naturalist (conservationist) and author, Interview with Edward O. Wilson: The Origin of Morals, originally in P. Bethge, J. Grolle, Wir sind ein Schlamassel, Der Spiegel, 8/2013.

See also: ☞ E. O. Wilson on human evolution, altruism and a ‘new Enlightenment’, Lapidarium notes

 

Apr
5th
Thu
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Love is the only rational act.
Mitch Albom, American writer, Tuesdays with Morrie, Random House, 1997, p. 52.
Mar
14th
Wed
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We balance probabilities and choose the most likely. It is the scientific use of the imagination.
Jan
7th
Sat
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If men were rational in their conduct, that is to say, if they acted in the way most likely to bring about the ends that they deliberately desire, intelligence would be enough to make the world almost a paradise. In the main, what is in the long run advantageous to one man is also advantageous to another.

But men are actuated by passions which distort their view; feeling an impulse to injure others, they persuade themselves that it is to their interest to do so. They will not, therefore, act in the way that is in fact to their own interest unless they are actuated by generous impulses which make them indifferent to their own interest. This is why the heart is as important as the head. By the “heart” I mean, for the moment, the sum-total of kindly impulses. (…)

And so we come back to the old dilemma: only kindliness can save the world, and even if we knew how to produce kindliness we should not do so unless we were already kindly. Failing that, it seems that the solution which the Houynhnms adopted towards the Yahoos, namely extermination, is the only one; apparently the Yahoos are bent on applying it to each other.” “
Bertrand Russell, British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic (1872-1970), Icarus, or, the Future of Science, (1924), Transcribed by Cosma Rohilla Shalizi, Berkeley, California, 11 June 1994.
Nov
12th
Sat
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The core of science is not a mathematical model — it is intellectual honesty.
Sam Harris, American author, neuroscientist, the co-founder and current CEO of Project Reason, La Jolla meeting, "Beyond Belief 2006: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival", Nov 2006
Nov
9th
Wed
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Once you reject evidence as a source of knowledge, you don’t gotta believe nothin’ you don’t like.
Tim Minchin, British-Australian comedian, actor, and musician, on Rick Perry, Tim Minchin: Mocking God in the heart of Texas, The Observer, 6 Nov 2011.
Sep
3rd
Sat
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From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. It wasn’t a miracle, we just decided to go.
Jim Lovell, NASA Astronaut aboard Apollo 13, played by Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 movie
Jul
17th
Sun
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The first attempt in this philosophy is, to clear the mind of any innate ideas or principles, and to make it a Rasa Tabula, or to resemble a piece of blank paper, without any original characters, or inscriptions, engraved upon it.
Jun
4th
Sat
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Rationality is the recognition of the fact that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precedence over that act of perceiving it. (…)

Devotion to the truth is the hallmark of morality; there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.
Ayn Rand, Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter (1905-1982), Atlas Shrugged, Random House, 1957
May
1st
Sun
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Hugo Mercier on The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning

Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That’s why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as they put it, “The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and reason-based choice, among other things. (…)

Now, the authors point out that we can and do re-use our reasoning abilities. We’re sitting here at a conference. We’re reasoning together. We can re-use our argumentative reasoning for other purposes. But even there, it shows the marks of its heritage. Even there, our thought processes tend towards confirmation of our own ideas. Science works very well as a social process, when we can come together and find flaws in each other’s reasoning. We can’t find the problems in our own reasoning very well. But, that’s what other people are for, is to criticize us. And together, we hope the truth comes out.
Hugo Mercier, cognitive scientist and a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, The Argumentative Theory, Edge, April 27, 2011. ☞ See also: The Argumentative Theory: ‘Reason evolved to win arguments, not seek truth’
Apr
28th
Thu
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Isaac Asimov on Faith and Reason

“If you can’t go by reason, what can you go by? One answer is faith. But faith in what? I notice there’s no general agreement in the world. These matters of faith, they are not compelling. I have my faith, you have your faith, and there’s no way in which I can translate my faith to you or vice versa. At least, as far as reason is concerned, there’s a system of transfer, a system of rational argument following the laws of logic that a great many people agree on, so that in reason, there are what we call compelling arguments. If I locate certain kinds of evidence, even people who disagreed with me to begin with, find themselves compelled by the evidence to agree. But whenever we go beyond reason into faith, there’s no such thing as compelling evidence. Even if you have a revelation, how can you transfer that revelation to others? By what system?

Q: So you find your hope for the future in the mind.

Yes, I have to say, I can’t wait until everyone in the world is rational, or until just enough are rational to make a difference.” “
Isaac Asimov, American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books (1920-1992), Bill Moyers interviewed author Isaac Asimov, World of Ideas, PBS, 1988. ☞ See also: Isaac Asimov predicted the Internet of today 20 years ago (1988)
May
17th
Mon
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Richard Feynman on doubt and uncertainty



“If you expected science to give all the answers to the wonderful questions about what we are, where we are going what the meaning of the universe is and so on then I think you can easily become disillusioned and then look for some mystic answer to these problems. How a scientist can take a mystic answer I don’t know because the whole spirit is to unders…well never mind that, anyway I don’t understand that…but anyhow…if you think of it though…I..the way i think of what we are doing is, we are exploring, we are trying to find out as much as we can about the world.

People say to me, “Are you looking for the ultimate laws of physics?” No I am not. I am just looking to find out more about the world. And if it turns out there is a simple ultimate law that explains everything so be it. That would be very nice discovery. If it turns out it’s like an onion with millions of layers and we just sick and tired of looking at the layers then that’s the way it is! But whatever way it comes out it’s nature, it’s there, and she’s going to come out the way she is. And therefore when we go to investigate we shouldn’t pre-decide what it is we are trying to do except to find out more about it. If you said…but..the problem is why we do you find out more about it, if you thought that you are trying to find out more about it because you are going to get an answer to some deep philosophical question you may be wrong and may be that you can’t get an answer to that particular question by finding out more about the character of the nature.

But I don’t look it at…my interest in science is to simply find out about the world…and the more I find out and…I like to find out…and there are very remarkable mysteries about the fact that we are able to do so many more things and apparently animals can do.

And other questions like that. Those are the mysteries I want to investigate without knowing the answer to them. So …altogether I can’t believe the special stories that’ve been made up about our relationship to the universe at large because they seem to be…too simple, too connected, too local, too provincial. The “earth,” He came to “the earth”, one of the aspects God came to “the earth!” mind you, and look at what’s out there…? how can we…? it isn’t in proportion…!

Anyway it’s no use to argue, I can’t argue. I am just trying to tell you why the scientific views that I have do have some affect on my beliefs. And also another thing has to do with the question of how do you find out if something is true? And if you have all these theories of the different religions and all different theories about the thing then you begin to wonder…once you start doubting… just like you are supposed to doubt, you asked me if science is true, no no we don’t know what is true…no no we don’t know, we are trying ……start out understanding religion by saying everything is possibly wrong, let us see, as soon as you do that you start sliding down an edge which is harder to recover from. And one…so with the scientific view or my father’s view that we should look to see what’s true and what may not be true, once you start doubting ……which I think, to me, is a very fundamental part of my soul is to doubt and to ask, when you doubt and ask it gets a little harder to believe.

You see, one thing, is I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things but I’m not absolutely sure of anything and then many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask, “Why we are here?” and what that question might mean. I might think about it a bit and then if I can’t figure it out then I go on to something else.

But I don’t have to know an answer, I don’t have to…i don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in the mysterious universe without having any purpose which is the way it really is as far as I can tell possibly. It doesn’t frighten me.
” “
Richard P. FeynmanThe Pleasure of Finding Things Out, (transcript source) ☞ See also: Richard Feynman - No Ordinary Genius, BBC Horizon documentary (1993)