Thursday, May 9, 2013

Epistemology the Product of Doubt

I hope that everyone takes the time to doubt themselves. Only the fool thinks that there is a snowball’s chance in hell they could be wrong about something. In today's blog, I am going to talk a little about the product of healthy doubt, it is called Theory of Knowledge. Fast thinking, arrogant types need a healthy dose of ToK. Rationality is by far an important virtue. In the realm of reason, epistemology is by far one of the most important skills one must know in order to possess a rational mind. A truly rational person cannot be without theory of knowledge.

When we have asked ourselves seriously whether we really know anything at all, we are naturally led into an examination of knowing, in the hope of being able to distinguish trustworthy beliefs from such as are untrustworthy.

I will divide this discussion into two sections. One: knowledge, and what the hell is knowledge anyway? Two: data. I will not go into logical systems, often called inferences, because that is too much material to cover in one blog. I will only be examining what knowledge is and the data used to support correctness of knowledge.

Knowledge – What it is and how to get it

Knowledge: belief that is in agreement with facts. Period.

I already lost a lot of people on that one. Faith is not knowledge. Trust is not knowledge. Having a “feeling” something is true, is not knowledge. 

Now that we know what knowledge is (pun intended), how do we get knowledge. The important part here is that we want our knowledge to be correct. We want as many true beliefs as we can have, and reject as many false beliefs as we can. After all, who wants to go around believing and thinking things that are not true? Certainly not me. I spent enough time in my early twenties doing that. Acquiring knowledge involves complex thinking, awareness that emotion is your enemy, and awareness that fast thinking is your enemy.

In defining knowledge, there are two further matters to be taken into consideration, namely the degree of certainty and the degree of precision. All knowledge is more or less uncertain and more or less vague. These are, in a sense, opposing characters: vague knowledge has more likelihood of truth than precise knowledge, but is less useful. One of the aims of science is to increase precision without diminishing certainty. But we cannot confine the word "knowledge" to what has the highest degree of both these qualities; we must include some propositions that are rather vague and some that are only rather probable. It Is important, however, to indicate vagueness and uncertainty where they are present, and, if possible, to estimate their degree. Where this can be done precisely, it becomes "probable error" and "probability". But in most cases precision in this respect is impossible.

Data and Evidence

Evidence is a piece of information that supports a conclusion. In the law, we would say means, motive, and opportunity. When I write about evidence, one of my favorite targets is Judge Esther L. Wiggins because the woman displays zero ability to understand the basic definition of evidence. As a result, she makes it very easy for people to lie to her. 

Here is an example:

EK: Jane has been doing all of this international travel, and paid $4000 in child support only to retain her passport and continue travelling internationally.

EW: What kind of a person pays child support just to continue travelling international!!! I just don’t get it. (in case you missed it, EW believed the claim even though the claim had ZERO evidence)

In the above example, there was no means to travel internationally. The means do not exist for two reasons. One: Jane was a full time student and has the records to prove it. Two: Jane has no money to travel internationally, and has the bank statements to prove it. In fact, opportunity has also been negated in this one. Three: there are no stamps in Jane's passport corroborating the claim she was travelling internationally. 

Moreover, all Esther Wiggins had to do was ask EK one question: " Hey EK, you claim Jane was travelling internationally - ummm - just a notion - ummm, but how do you know this? What countries did she go to? What evidence do you have to support this?"

When people use this kind of bad logic, they are committing several wrong acts. Other than making themselves look like gullible morons, they are choosing to have false beliefs rather than true ones, wronging all of society in the process.

Knowledge – How Not To Get It

Here is a list of ways you should not get knowledge. I could write pages upon pages of how NOT to get knowledge. I will keep it short and simply
·         Automatically believing what people tell you
·         Relying upon the appeal to authority, appeal to tradition, or ad hoc reasoning.
·         Relying upon any logical fallacy.

Evidence – How Not to Get It
·         Trust that others tell you the evidence is correct, do not verify it
·         Believe the evidence is correct because your feelings tell you it is correct
·         Take anything on trust or faith
Make it up out of thin air

Force of personality is not evidence. Unfortunately, many religious people are duped by this one. They tend to trust charismatic charlatans. They believe people who make them smile.  People who know how to speak well are often believed even though their arguments are complete garbage. Finding evidence means sifting through the games people play, and finding the substance of an argument.

This blog is only about defining knowledge and evidence, the basic components of epistemology, or asking how do we know what we know. I do not want to examine inferences people make about the evidence they gathered. 

What I must say, is that emotional thinking is by far one of the biggest enemies of rational thought. Fast thinking is the second big enemy of rational thought. Irrational people will believe things because others tell them X thing is true. (Esther Wiggins - this is you :-) Irrational people believe things because their emotions tell them it is true. Rational people reject emotions, feelings, and understand that other people cannot be trusted. Rational people do not trust themselves, the question whether their perceptions of reality are accurate.

When we know what knowledge is, and show basic epistemology, doubt ourselves at every turn, we are placing ourselves in a much better position to discover truth. 

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