It’s June, which means it’s time to talk about epistemology some more. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, and involves trying to find out how we know things, and what constitutes good reasons to believe things. I’ve talked about this in previous posts, but something that’s come up in the past year is the idea of “Different epistemologies”, particularly with regard to alternative medicine, and I want to put it to rest, partly because it’s a terrible abuse of the word.
Before I actually get into the post, I want to mention that awesome things are afoot. Headshots from the Heart is an internet telethon where I and my compatriots will play Borderlands for twenty-four hours straight in order to raise money for Child’s Play, which donates games to children’s hospitals. The entire event will be streamed, and can be viewed from the comfort of your home. There will be auctions, challenges, interviews, and more, all while we try to survive vicious junkyards inhabited by Jason Voorhees clones. And, instead of donating, you can pledge an amount to be donated per headshot, and let us earn your donation through our skills (or lack thereof). Check it out, and I hope to see you there.
“Trust your gut” is a phrase that I hear a lot. We have a tendency to trust our intuitions, and can recall all kinds of times when our intuitions were dead-on about one thing or another. People will tell you they lack musical talent, or can’t cook, but it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t claim to have a good, reliable intuition. I am one of those people. I don’t trust my gut, and am in fact highly suspicious of letting it do any of my thinking for me. There are lots of reasons for that, but mine is a little odd. You see, I’m colourblind.
With the election happening next week, there’s been a lot of talk about the values and beliefs of candidates and parties, and an equal amount of posturing from all sides to defend those values and beliefs. I think that defending a belief is intellectually dishonest. It’s an argumentative problem in the same way that ad hominem attacks and straw men are, at should be avoided at all costs. That’s right, beliefs should not be defended, and if someone commits to doing so, they’re betraying the fundamental principles of honest discussion, whether they’re aware of it or not.
I love science. Science is rigorous reasoning applied to actual physical stuff. It lets us build the computer I’m typing on, and the internet through which i share it with you. It grows my food, gets my food to the grocery store, and also cooks it. The progress of science is literally responsible for the first world lifestyle which I am privileged enough to live. I’m not that well off, but I still live a damn sight better than anyone in the eleventh century did, kings included. Science, while not my favourite branch of philosophy, is certainly the one which has done the most for me. That’s right, science is philosophy. It’s philosophy that works. Even Isaac Newton described himself as a natural philosopher, not a scientist.
It’s one thing to have someone tell you that something’s the case, and another thing entirely to find out for yourself, and any teacher worth their salt prefers to encourage students to do their own research rather than blindly accept lectures. I’m not an accredited teacher, but I do have an interest in promoting critical thinking and discourse. I have a hypothesis: if someone is skeptical of what’s being said, they will be more likely to look for themselves.
This is useful not just because other people can learn things from it, but because we can learn from it. We’re wrong a lot. It’s part of being human. We’re even wrong about how wrong we are, most of the time. Encouraging people to be skeptical of our claims and engaging in critical discourse about them helps us be less wrong. It puts another set of eyes on the evidence, which is never going to be a bad thing. If you’re interested in some ways to encourage skepticism and critical thinking, and some of the challenges involved, you’re in the right place.
Also, on a totally unrelated note, a new song!
Still doing some research on ethics in social media, so we’ll take care of that next week. Instead, here’s a poem I wrote on the epistemology of love. If a Turing machine tells us it loves us, what do we do? How do we know when anyone does? They tell us, and act accordingly, and we believe them. So this is for Alice, who helped me with a paper.
Off camping this weekend, so instead of the video post which I didn’t have time to finish, here’s a poem about philosophy of mind in the 16th century. One day I’ll write that philosophy picture book, I swear.
This week I met some Jehovah’s Witnesses, and while I didn’t have time to talk with them, I invited them to come back later. They seemed quite enthused about the prospect of someone being interested, so I hope to hear from them next week. I’m always interested in talking with people about the nature of and justifications for their beliefs. Now, I have as yet found no good justifications for believing in the supernatural, but I do find myself compelled to examine other people’s beliefs in the supernatural. Just because I haven’t found any good reasons doesn’t mean there aren’t any.
Allow me to make an assertion. Nobody knows what the truth is. No one has the kind of satisfactory access to the universe which allows them to determine any kind of absolute truth. This means, in turn, that anyone who tells you they know the truth of something is at best mistaken and at worst outright lying.