Posted: Dec 24, 2013 12:10 pm
by Calilasseia
hermes wrote:Hi, I joined this forum because I am getting increasingly annoyed by the proliferation of nonsense out there; also because many of my family and friends believe the biggest load of rubbish and rational argument makes no dent in their delusions, and only serves to irritate them (and infuriate me). I'm just hoping that some day the consistent failure of their doomsday predictions/dawning of the new age, will eventually cause a small chink of rationality to enter their closed minds. In the meantime, I joined this forum to vent my frustration to fellow rational skeptics!


A little word to help you on your way as you step into the wilder sections of the forums is apposite here.

Whilst we have a rule in place forbidding attacks upon persons (specifically, other forum members), ideas are a free-fire zone, and if you consider an idea to be a bad idea, you are free to loose off as much ammunition from the minigun of invective in said direction as you please. One of the principles arising from science, a principle that has universal application throughout the world of human ideas, is that ideas are disposable entities. The method by which the decision to dispose of an idea is made, is courtesy of discoursive analysis. This, from an elementary standpoint, consists of determining if either [1] no evidence exists to support an assertion, or [2] evidence exists refuting said assertion. If an assertion is presented here, and conditions [1] or [2] hold, then said idea is discarded, at least by those who care about discoursive honesty.

Quite simply, every assertion that is erected, begins with the status "truth value unknown". The role of proper discourse, is to determine if that deficit of knowledge can be remedied, and the assertion can be duly allocated to the categories "true" or "false"(at least from the standpoint of an elementary analysis). If an assertion is not amenable to any form of test, either in principle or in practice, we can go no further with that assertion, and discard it on the basis that it cannot contribute to substantive knowledge, as a result of being untestable. If an assertion is testable, we apply the relevant tests, and discard those that fail when subject to attempts to falsify them. Finding a small body of apparently confirmatory evidence is treated with suspicion, not least because of the lessons learned the hard way by scientists in this regard, who, for example, after 250 years of apparent great success with the postulates of Newtonian physics, then found themselves encountering circumstances where those postulates failed to hold.

This is why scientists place such store by falsification: a postulate can enjoy as long a period of apparent confirmation as one wishes, be it one, ten, a thousand or even a million years, during which no contrary observations are made, but the moment just one contrary observation is made, that postulate dies. At least, that postulate dies from the standpoint of being universally applicable: in the case of Newtonian physics, we still teach this, because [1] it happens to provide an excellent approximation for a vast class of phenomena, with the error being almost unmeasurable in many cases, and [2] the mathematics is simpler and more tractable from the practical standpoint. One does not need the full force of four-dimensional Minkowskian tensors if one's objective is to build a brick and timber house: Newtonian ideas will suffice to guide us in the right direction with respect to structural integrity. The moment one wishes to investigate the behaviour of matter in close proximity to a black hole, however, those Minkowskian tensors are currently the only tool for the task.

An assertion, if it is to contribute to substantive knowledge, must erect one or more claims that a constraint applies to the behaviour of a system of interactions of interest. The nature of that system does not matter: that system can be abstract, as in the world of pure mathematics, or concrete, as in the world of the empirical sciences. What matters is that we can investigate the behaviour of that system, and determine if the constraints contained in the assertion hold or not. If the observed constraints differ from those contained in the assertion, the assertion is falsified, and discarded. In short, an assertion, in order to be capable of contributing to substantive knowledge, has to be capable of being wrong. If the assertion is couched in such a manner as not to admit of this, it is useless: it tells us nothing.

Needless to say, the above exposition is merely an elementary one, and I make no pretence otherwise. Once one begins applying rigour to the matter (a word you will find is something of a favourite here), certain subtle modifications to some of the above elementary principles become necessary, in order to encapsulate the subtleties of the knowledge we are seeking to alight upon. But even with this proviso in mind, the above principles remain sound as stated, and only require those subtle modifications once one delves into arcane aspects of the technology of discourse itself. Indeed, the true utility value of proper discourse, lies not so much in the finding of answers, but in learning how to ask the right questions. This frequently propels us to hitherto unsuspected answers, that display utility value in realms where the questions were previously thought to be known and well studied - I point again to the transition from Newton to modern physics as an example.

Of course, a natural corollary of the principle that ideas are disposable entities, is that you are not your ideas. Which is why bad ideas may freely be subjected to withering critical fire. Unfortunately, those exhibiting a tendency to treat certain ideas as sacrosanct, fail to understand this elementary principle, and treat an attack upon their ideas as a personal attack. You will encounter much bleating of this sort when dealing, for example, with certain categories of supernaturalist. The ruthless subjection of ideas to bombardment with the full force of critical ordnance, has utility value not only within mathematics and the sciences, but in all human endeavours involving ideas erected as purportedly dictating how reality behaves, and indeed, another valuable lesson we learn from science is that ideas are more likely to be reliable if they are shaped by the data. It matters not how exquisite one's constructions are, if the data says "begone", then only a fool fails to heed that call. Pretending that one's ideas magically dictate to reality, without bothering to ask even the most basic questions with respect to reality's agreement on this, apart from being manifestly fatuous, is a breeding ground for bad ideas, and is to be avoided studiously, though this is a lesson that supernaturalists in particular demonstrate a singularly stubborn unwillingness to learn.

In short, my clarion call to you is this: put bad ideas to the sword wherever you meet them. Not least because if bad ideas are not thus dispatched, they frequently lead to the destruction of good human beings. Our history is littered with doctrines whose adherents, including those who claimed to be the sole upholders of the sanctity of human life, readily resorted to brutal extirpation as the "solution" to critique and nonconformity. Good ideas weather such critical storms on their own merit: bad ideas survive only through destruction of their critics.