Philosophical discussions and debate

 "...the further great minds advance, the more ordinary people they leave behind." - Kenneth W. Krause.
a web site that bridges the divide

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How do we gain understanding?

Honest Inquiry


If we honestly seek understanding, we must avoid biases and self deception. The mind is easy to fool. It selectively believes those things that fit in with its world view, no matter how ridiculous. Just as it is far easier to see fault in our neighbor's beliefs, we must treat ourselves with the same calm dispassion.


Thus, any inquiry that leads us in the direction of truth must begin with intellectual honesty. We must be prepared to accept what our mind finds revolting and discard our most sacred beliefs according to the evidence.


One may question the harm of belief in falsity. In many cases, the cost can be huge. For example, if marijuana is not addictive, is not toxic, and is not a gateway drug to stronger stuff, then the war on drugs is a multibillion dollar waste of resources. While some of us may harbor intense displeasure with the thought of legalization of marijuana, if our beliefs are false, we are imposing a large cost on society.


Since zeroing in on the truth is so important both on philosophical grounds and pragmatic necessity, we devote this page to discus approaches for gleaning the truth.


Intellectual Honesty


Approach all inquiries without preconceived notions. Begin with an honest assessment of your biases. Are you in strong agreement with one side of the issue but feel strong dissonance with the other side? Certainty in your views may be a sign of bias. While it may be reasonable to believe that the earth is flat based on the preponderance of evidence, a strong conviction in a political philosophy may not be warranted.


Ask well posed questions that can be be tested. Propose a hypothesis that can be falsified. If it is impossible to gather evidence to prove a hypothesis false, it is of no use.



Control for Other Factors


Vary only one variable. Design a study that varies only one factor. For example, to test the effects of smoking on health, the smokers and nonsmokers should otherwise have similar lifestyles.






Repeat the experiment. If a hypothesis is true, the results of an experimental test must be reproducible. One negative outcome falsifies the assertion.






Double Blind Experiments


We are biased. Both the experimenter and subjects must be unaware of the hypothesis that is being tested to avoid biases.



Keep all the Data


Data trimming. Keep all of the data. Data that falsifies a hypothesis must not be ignored. Even well trained scientists have been known to subconsciously trim data that did not fit their favorite theory.


Appeal to Authority or Hearsay

Eyewitness accounts are unreliable. It is common for many people who witness the same event to give contradictory reports. Experiments should be designed that do not rely on second-hand accounts.


Authority. Evaluate a claim based on the evidence, not on the pronouncement of an authority.


Ad Hominem Arguments's. Don't judge an argument false based on the reputation of the individual presenting it. For example, don't discount a conservative when she presents scientific evidence, nor an atheist when making a point about morality. Evaluate the argument based solely on the quality of the evidence.


In this day and age, it is becoming more complex for a layperson to evaluate scientific or technological issues. So, we must at times rely on experts. In scientific disciplines, theories that are accepted by a large majority of scientists are usually a safe bet. When science works properly, the consensus will change when new evidence surfaces that contradicts the status quo.


While the special theory of relativity proposed by Einstein and the theory of continental drift proposed by Wagner were both well outside the domain of contemporary theories, scientists accepted them as evidence accumulated.


Correlation and Causality


Correlation does not imply causality. A correlation between two events is not proof that one event is the cause of the other.



Preponderance of Evidence


Favor the hypothesis with the strongest supporting evidence. Nothing can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. It is possible that aerodynamic laws are incorrect, but when a plane crashes, we rightly assume that pilot error, bad weather, or mechanical problems are the most likely causes.


When study after study shows no evidence for the efficacy of prayer; but, studies repeatedly show the success of medical treatment, it is likely that medical treatment is the cause of recovery in patients.



Confirmation Bias


Fooling ourselves. The human mind amplifies the evidence that supports what it wants to believe and conveniently ignores the contradictory evidence. This makes it important to always apply the scientific method when seeking the truth.


It feels good. Functional MRI studies show that we get a high from a confirmation of our biases. If it feels good, don't be swayed by your emotions.



Change your Mind!


When new evidence contradicts your world view, simply change your mind. The electorate and politicians seem to think that changing one's mind is a bad thing. When seeking the truth, a mind change is a required part of the journey.



I enjoyed reading the information in your sites, particularly http://www.faithnscience.com/tips.html   Americans generally believe in science, but occasionally resist its findings.  The existence of a personal God is one case (see my http://sq.4mg.com/personalGod.htm ) and the ethnic group differences in IQ is another (see my http://www.sq.4mg.com/IQrace.htm ).  Discussion forums such as yours can foster better understanding in such cases. --Van Sloan