Thursday, June 16, 2011

Biases and Epistemology.

The NY Times has a pretty good article on the reason for reason. It's not entirely wrong as there's a lot of cognitive biases and people tend towards defending their own ideas and attacking other people's ideas than about testing their ideas and rejecting them when they are wrong. Reason, used in this sense, is a tool or rather a cudgel for beating people with who disagree with what you believe, rather than taking any time to stop and consider and try to suss out what the truth is, rather than make your Truth win out over others Truths.

The understandings here should convince one that there's a deep and serious need for epistemology. That understanding how we should properly determine what is true and what isn't true is singularly important if you care whether your beliefs are true. If you care only about winning, then your beliefs are irrelevant. You can preach the gospel or fear the coming rapture. You can call Obama a socialist or claim that we should be socialist. The arguments and beliefs are largely pointless and unneeded. What matters is the truth, and to know the truth we need to know how we know we know.

I think that science is the only usable metric in this regard. That without testing our ideas against nature, we can't know anything about nature. The empiricism is a virtue. That if you accept evidence over your own current beliefs. You must have a low evidential inertia. You must find the evidence to be the ultimate arbiter, and everything wrong to be cast out. When Einstein did the calculations on what his theory said about the perihelion of Mercury, he about fainted, because it was right. It was observational evidence. But, if he were wrong, he would have rightly chucked it out the window, just as Kepler had to do with his rather beautiful analogy of the rotation of the planets as being within the perfect geometric shapes. It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory, if it doesn't fit the evidence it's wrong.

Therein is the real difference. That's the core of the issue. Without confronting the idea of epistemology you just get talking heads yelling at each other and argument is going to be nothing more than an attempt to win, and have very little to do with producing the correct result.

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