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Applying Skeptical Scrutiny To Our Relationship With Knowledge
Posted: 27 June 2017 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Tanny - 27 June 2017 05:30 AM

Is reason and science really leading us to a better future?  Or is that outdated wishful thinking? If reason and science is racing towards a civilization crashing cliff, is there a way to edit the process of knowledge development so as to avoid a tragic conclusion to the story?

Who is going to do the managing of this development? You? The Knowledge Police? The Department of Knowledge We Don’t Think You Can Handle?

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Posted: 27 June 2017 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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Tanny - 27 June 2017 07:28 AM

Hi John,

JohnH - 27 June 2017 07:04 AM

First, you have to define “better future”.

Ok, let’s see, how about a continuation of the standard of living progress achieved over the last few hundred years.  As example, in our time millions of Chinese peasants are being liberated from endless centuries of dirt poor poverty.

Hi Tanny There is a documentary, Corazon Vaqueros that describes the self-sufficient farmers here in Baja California. It has an English commentary and shows a lot of happy people living in what most may call primitive conditions. Some time ago, an American friend (I’m originally from England) told me of a conversation he had with a local Mexican. He was encouraging the Mexican to work harder to make more money. The Mexican responded that before foreigners started to visit, they didn’t have to work. The moral being that you cannot assume that your values will apply equally to all people.
The China you mention was considered to have one of the highest standards of living into the 19th century. A significant contributor to that decline in standard of living was the imposition of Western values on their culture (http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/timelines/china_modern_timeline.htm).
Why would you want to lift people out of poverty? Because poverty seems bad to you? Because they will “feel” better if they are not in poverty? Possibly not your answer, but I suspect that is about as deep as many people go and we must guard against that. I would suggest that (somewhat in agreement with Jared Diamond - Guns, Germs and Steel) bringing people out of poverty helps them better contribute to the world and provides more people to work at improving our world in addition to alleviating the “suffering” many of us assume they go through. Others would argue that poverty is their own fault for not working hard enough. They don’t deserve any better if they can’t add value to society without our help. It’s evolution. I doubt the latter would be moved by arguments based around sympathy. Is a “better” world a world in which people agree rather than have other opinions forced upon them?

Tanny - 27 June 2017 07:28 AM
JohnH - 27 June 2017 07:04 AM

In doing so, you must ask if humanity is even capable of such a task.

To some degree, for some period of time, yes.
.....generally speaking, most people around the world want pretty much the same thing, the status quo continues to become more agreeable and it affects them personally.

On the former, that is why I am responding.
On the latter, it isn’t always the case that what people want is what leads to survival. For example - many people want more. You are arguing that more may be a problem. I say this not as a negative, but as a caution to question every definition of a “better” world and the steps to get us there. Evolution is the ultimate arbiter of our choices and it certainly doesn’t care how we feel, so we’d better be sure we keep an eye on the governing process of our existence.

Tanny - 27 June 2017 07:28 AM

given the huge stake scientists have in the “more is better” model.

The basis of science is curiosity, so knowing more is certainly a motivation. For many the only “better” is the fact that they are self-rewarded by knowing more. Given the messes we keep creating on this planet, it seems to me that knowing more is an important step to even keeping things going, let alone making things better. My stated reason for helping the poor is to recruit them in the search for and application of knowledge. Perhaps you can come up with other reasons too, but you need a rational motivation to do what you propose.

Tanny - 27 June 2017 07:28 AM

It’s our relationship with these things that should be examined.

Science to me is about predictability, so any rational solution to anything requires science. However, the application of knowledge (applied sciences) is widely seen as a separate discipline. Things can get somewhat “fuzzy” when you start talking about applied social science. Especially when Social Sciences is often separated academically from other sciences and philosophy is usually considered a part of the humanities. Both seem vital to these efforts.

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Posted: 27 June 2017 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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The underlying issue here really seems to be the MISapplication of knowledge. Maybe another solution would be to consider how to penalize/discourage, or at least not encourage such offenders. I consider one offender to be the misapplication of the wonderful notion of capitalism. To me, capitalism is the lubricant that encourages interactions within our society. It rewards those who exchange things of value. However, it seems to have been almost fatally infected with a virus that so distorts the perception of value that is is often impossible to make a reasonable evaluation of worth. For example, too much food is really worth nothing. In reality, it has a negative worth since it can be damaging. Yet constant marketing efforts persuade us to invest in that negative by appealing to the senses in ways that too many do not have the ability to resist. Now, the entire “consumer industry” is in such a spiral of high speed obsolescence that the world demand for new has created an energy demand that threatens to destroy the planet in order to meet it. It isn’t science that has done that, it is the way we have chosen to use science - and accepted as the norm for the way we should treat our resources on this planet.

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Posted: 27 June 2017 02:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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JohnH - 27 June 2017 01:02 PM

The underlying issue here really seems to be the MISapplication of knowledge.

Yes, I think we can all agree that we will have both successes and failures in the application of whatever knowledge is available. 

In the past when we made mistakes, we learned from the mistakes, repaired the damage, and then continued with progress.  Above in the thread I used the example of WWII, a huge mistake which was repaired and learned from, leading to progress in European relations. 

What I’m attempting to point to in this thread is that this longstanding pattern of the past, mistake/learning/correction, will be increasingly made obsolete by the emergence of “existential scale” powers. As the scale of available powers grows, the room for error shrinks.  It can be argued that the room for error has already shrunk to zero in the case of nuclear weapons.

So yes, misapplication of knowledge will always be an issue.  In the past that was a problem which could be survived.  Today, and increasingly in the future, misapplication of knowledge may very well not be survivable.

If true, it seems to me the implications of this are profound. 

1) If we’re inevitably headed for the collapse of modern civilization, what is the point of all the science research currently underway?

2) Scientists are generally considered experts on knowledge development, reason, critical thinking etc.  Why aren’t we hearing about this challenge from them?  Has the science community become a new kind of “clergy”  that we blindly believe?  Are they wrong when they sell us the “more is better” relationship with knowledge?

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Posted: 27 June 2017 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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Tanny - 27 June 2017 02:37 PM

Above in the thread I used the example of WWII, a huge mistake which was repaired and learned from, leading to progress in European relations.

WWII arose largely because one nation was trodden down beyond its limits of endurance and fought back with pretty miserable consequences for much of Europe. Now we’re seeing a similar pattern on a world scale. I’m not sure what we learned.

Tanny - 27 June 2017 02:37 PM

Scientists are generally considered experts on knowledge development, reason, critical thinking etc.  Why aren’t we hearing about this challenge from them?  Has the science community become a new kind of “clergy”  that we blindly believe?  Are they wrong when they sell us the “more is better” relationship with knowledge?

The key word is “generally”. But by whom? Blindly seems somewhat appropriate, although applied to the paraexperts selling the latest super-whatever swooped upon by the media to boost ratings.

As for “real” scientists and academia, take a look at https://heterodoxacademy.org/

We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

Read Lee Smolin’s book “The Trouble with Physics”. It’s really about the politicization of academia - in all disciplines. Hope you like Physics too! He makes a case that a lot of innovative progress comes from people who are not at the core of academia. Einstein, for example couldn’t get a job in academia and worked as a patent clerk as he also pursued his academic “hobby”.

Judith Curry - retired Chair of Atmospheric Sciences at GIT - judithcurry.com..
In this case responding to a comment by Justin Murphy

I love this phrase from Murphy’s essay:

I have been able to cultivate and maintain an energetic, autonomous, creative intellectual life that feels to me on the right track intellectually and politically.

This perfectly articulates how I feel, but I had to resign my academic position to reach this point.  Right now, the politically correct world of academia seems stifling to efforts to ‘cultivate an energetic, autonomous, creative intellectual life.

Most academic institutions preach a politically correct version of the “diversity and tolerance” creed for students, but when it comes to employees, faculty and staff need to toe the academic and political line - diversity be damned.
Struggling to get through the spam police

[ Edited: 27 June 2017 05:05 PM by JohnH ]
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Posted: 28 June 2017 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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JohnH - 27 June 2017 04:52 PM

WWII arose largely because one nation was trodden down beyond its limits of endurance and fought back with pretty miserable consequences for much of Europe. Now we’re seeing a similar pattern on a world scale. I’m not sure what we learned.

My understanding is that Germany was recovering from WWI, but then it got slammed by the 1929 stock market crash and resulting depression, leading as you say to the desperate desire for a strong man who could “fix it”. 

Your point is well taken, because I see Trump’s election as flowing out of the 2008 Wall Street debacle.  Perhaps we should be grateful we got only Trump, because the 2008 Wall Street crash could have easily led to another global war, just like in 1929.  The hyper complex hyper interconnected financial system might be seen as an “existential scale” technology too.  It can’t destroy us on it’s own, but it can trigger those forces that can.

I think we have to credit Europe for abandoning centuries of near perpetual warfare, I do think there was learning there.  I do think we can learn from our mistakes.  The question of the thread is, what happens when the opportunity to learn is erased?  How long can we go without making any big mistakes in an era when mistakes are not just injurious, but fatal?

The key word is “generally”. But by whom? Blindly seems somewhat appropriate, although applied to the paraexperts selling the latest super-whatever swooped upon by the media to boost ratings.

Well, don’t we blindly believe the “science clergy” when they insist the “more is better” relationship with knowledge is the best, even the only, way forward?  Who is challenging this dogma? 

Ah, wait, I thought of someone, Ted Kaczynski, a certifiable psychopathic nutjob.  Seriously, are we trapped inside a blindly believed group consensus assumption (more=better) and does one have to be half insane to escape that dogma bubble?  In other words, should I be calling a psychiatrist?  Hey, until further notice, nobody should open any mail from me!  grin

As for “real” scientists and academia, take a look at https://heterodoxacademy.org/

Whoa, that is an excellent link, thanks!  I’ll be following up on that for sure.  Perhaps these are the allies I’ve been searching for, we shall see.

Read Lee Smolin’s book “The Trouble with Physics”. It’s really about the politicization of academia - in all disciplines. Hope you like Physics too! He makes a case that a lot of innovative progress comes from people who are not at the core of academia.

Makes sense to me.  The trouble with credentials of any kind is that they tend to make one risk averse.  I have the opposite problem myself.  I have no credentials, so no one will listen to what I learn from being able to explore without fear.  It seems that with or without credentials, one is kinda screwed either way?

Another problem I see in relation to this topic is that science works by dividing reality in to many small topics, and then laser focusing brains at these narrow fields of endeavor.  This works great for developing knowledge, but it means scientists are typically those whose natural talent and inclination are as specialists.  And exploring the topic of this thread requires much more of a global, big picture, bottom line kind of mind, the opposite of specialization.

And then there is the issue of bias.  What scientist is going to be open to the possibility of less research funding in their particular field?  Perhaps scientists are actually the folks least in the position to observe our relationship with knowledge in a truly objective manner?  Are we barking up the wrong tree by focusing on them?

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Posted: 28 June 2017 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Tanny - 28 June 2017 05:20 AM

My understanding is that Germany was recovering from WWI, but then it got slammed by the 1929 stock market crash and resulting depression, leading as you say to the desperate desire for a strong man who could “fix it”.

I’ve not encountered that explanation before. The terms of the Treaty of Versaille are usually blamed for Germany’s demise after WW I (http://www.historyonthenet.com/world-war-two-causes/). It was based on Clemenceau’s desire to punish rather than rehabilitate Germany. The U.S. did a better job with the Marshall plan in Japan after WWII but they still apparently didn’t learn not to mess with other nations in ways that negatively impact some groups within the nation.

Who is challenging this dogma?

You, and others - I pointed out a few, although I think your focus on “more is better” needs revising. You comment later in your post that a narrow focus may not be the solution. See also http://jmrphy.net/about/

I have no credentials, so no one will listen to what I learn from being able to explore without fear.  It seems that with or without credentials, one is kinda screwed either way?

Don’t be too sure - http://jmrphy.net/blog/2017/06/20/the-affective-politics-of-keeping-it-real/. Your credibility can be your credential.

Are we barking up the wrong tree by focusing on them?

That was the sentiment in my first post and some of my other posts. Reason isn’t restricted to scientists.

[ Edited: 28 June 2017 07:08 AM by JohnH ]
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Posted: 28 June 2017 07:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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JohnH - 28 June 2017 07:05 AM

I’ve not encountered that explanation before. The terms of the Treaty of Versaille are usually blamed for Germany’s demise after WW I (http://www.historyonthenet.com/world-war-two-causes/). It was based on Clemenceau’s desire to punish rather than rehabilitate Germany.

Yes, that’s all true.  But Germany was starting to emerge from those punishing fines, and then, 1929.  Wall Street scams => Great Depression => WWII.  Imho, we experienced a near miss repeat of that pattern in 2008.  The most likely trigger for the next big war is probably a collapse of the financial system.

If this interests you, check out a documentary on Neflix called “Inside Job”.  It’s a well done film that traces in some detail the Wall Street, Washington and academia corruption that led to the 2008 crisis.  The gist of it is, if you have enough money you can simply buy all the other power centers.

Your credibility can be your credential.

An interesting assertion, one I’d like to believe, but I must admit to some skepticism.  In the real world, generally speaking most of the time, credibility comes from credentials and not the quality of one’s argument. And there’s a logic to that that’s not unreasonable. 

I contact some interesting thought leader types online as I come across them.  If I had Nobel Prize I’m pretty sure the response rate would be dramatically different.  And I don’t really blame thought leaders for not fully engaging every random somebody on the Internet with an opinion, because if they did they’d have time for nothing else.

For me, the two bottom line points of this thread are:

1) Is the thesis being presented here generally correct?

2) If yes, what are we, you and me, going to do about it?

Thus, a key goal for this thread is to make it of sufficient quality that it might engage those higher up on the credibility/authority food chain.  I hope to find those who are already working on this, and/or somebody with a bigger microphone who’d like to steal the idea.

With that in mind, I’m off to engage the folks at heterodoxacademy.org, the site you introduced to the discussion.  Thanks again for that.  Will report back if I have any success.

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Posted: 28 June 2017 08:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Here’s the letter I sent to heterodoxacademy.org.  I’m posting it here in case anyone has suggestions about how I might do more effective outreach.  I don’t claim to be good at this, only enthusiastic.

=====================

Hi Jeremy,

I’m writing to let you know I very much appreciate the dogma challenging agenda of your site heterodoxacademy.org.

I’m hoping that some members of your team might like to join an ongoing conversation regarding what may be the most fundamental dogma of science, academia, and our culture at large, the typically un-examined assumption that a “more is better” relationship with knowledge is the path to a better future.

You can find that conversation here:

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/19373/

Very briefly, the thesis being presented in this discussion might be summarized as follows:

1) The accelerating knowledge explosion will produce a growing number of “existential scale” powers with the ability to crash modern civilization, for example, nuclear weapons.

2) Powers of this scale will eliminate room for error and the ability to learn from our mistakes, requiring a permanent perfect record of management never before seen in human history.

3) Thus, it’s likely we will sooner or later lose control of at least one such power, which will result most or all of the accomplishments of science being erased.

4) If true, the point of today’s research is…  what exactly?

These themes are explored in more detail in the conversation, which I very much hope your team might lend your experience and insight to.

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/19373/

Thanks for reading this, and good luck with your project!

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Posted: 28 June 2017 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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It is looking to me that the pathway that knowledge is going is mostly digital. AI will be controlling the knowledge and we may just be a tool of the CPU. Skeptical Scrutiny will just be an algorithm.

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Posted: 29 June 2017 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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1) Is the thesis of this thread generally correct?

2) If no, why exactly?  Which of the following statements is false?

    a) Science is driving an ever accelerating knowledge explosion.

    b) This explosion will give us greater and greater powers, at a faster and faster rate.

    c) Some of these powers will be capable of collapsing modern civilization.

    d) Sooner or later we’ll lose control of at least one of these large powers.

    e) When that happens the accomplishments of science will be largely erased.

3) If the thesis of this thread is generally correct, what is the point of today’s science?  What is the point of generating new knowledge which can, today, right now, be erased at any moment?

4) If the thesis of this thread is generally correct, which thought leaders within or beyond the scientific community are discussing this existential threat to everything everyone everywhere cares about?  What could possibly be more important??

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Posted: 29 June 2017 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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3) To stay ahead of the problems. Go back to any ancient writing and you’ll find stories of leaps in technology that allowed one civilization to destroy another.

4) All of them hopefully. What do you think regulations on the use of chemicals is? Or treaties about the use of certain weapons?

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Posted: 29 June 2017 09:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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Lausten - 29 June 2017 05:52 AM

Go back to any ancient writing and you’ll find stories of leaps in technology that allowed one civilization to destroy another.

Yes, but there was always some civilization left after that event which provided a platform for regeneration.  This falls under the old system, make mistakes, learn, recover. 

The new system I’m pointing to will be, make a mistake, game over. 

Lausten - 29 June 2017 05:52 AM

All of them hopefully. What do you think regulations on the use of chemicals is? Or treaties about the use of certain weapons?

I agree that we will likely be able to successfully manage most “existential scale” technologies most of the time.  But that’s not good enough, because with powers of existential scale a single failure a single time is all it takes to bring everything crashing down, removing the opportunity to learn and recover.

This is actually very simple.  As example…

I can probably make and learn from mistakes in playing around with a knife (old system), but a single mistake in playing around with a loaded handgun can end any opportunity to learn more about gun safety (new system).  The difference is simply that guns are much more powerful than knives.

More and more knowledge equals more and more power.

More and more power equals less and less room for error.

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Posted: 29 June 2017 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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From a different view point for fun. Remember life is to short not to have fun.
What if the problem is not enough knowledge?
 
Let’s say that long ago in pre-history there were these descendants of Indonesian homo erectus. They were people of science who were called the “people of knowledge”. The people of knowledge were natural and did not develop writing because they were hyperthymesia (Hyperthymesia is extremely unique neurological condition in which people remember practically every detail of their life) or you could say they never forget anything. With their knowledge, they created a world that would help them survive. This changed the world and they found that they personally were not built for the type of world they were creating. Mainly farming at this period. They were experts in animal biotechnologies. So, they breed humans that were built for farming by using some of the following species of Homo Heidelbergensis. Homo Rudolfensis. Homo Abilis. Homo Floresiensis. Homo erectus, Homo Neanderthals and Homo Denisovans. That is why today we are a subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens.
 
As they gathered plants and animals from around the world to use and domestic. They brought home plagues that made them extinct. But the farmers and helpers they created from the other branches of the homo family were immune to the plague and survived.
 
When the quick death of the Indonesian homo erectus happened, it left a massive void in knowledge. This void was filled by the creation of writing and the word used for knowledge at that time was the word “god”. The unnatural Homo sapiens sapiens were not as intelligent as the homo erectus and ended up making god a deity. 
     
It does not matter if the story is true or not. It is only a possibility. But the point to be made here is that hyperthymesia is real and if it is a gene, then if we gave that gene to the people today. It would be no different than updating our old computer with one that’s got a huge hard drive. But in this case the brain is the getting the update. Would it change the world? Remember, that in pre-history there are no stories passed down of wars or deities. And 90% of the proteins we consume today came from that period along with most of the domesticated animals.

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Posted: 29 June 2017 01:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Tanny - 29 June 2017 09:14 AM

The new system I’m pointing to will be, make a mistake, game over. 

You’re making an awful lot of assumptions. You’re assuming some sort of massive nuclear exchange or something. There are so many other possible “ends” to this civilization. A virus could wipe out the European descendants and leave many Southern Hemisphere people untouched. A farming or distribution crisis could leave all the people who don’t know how to garden completely clueless about how to get their next meal, leaving indigenous populations in the enviable although possibly vulnerable position of having control of food.

You should spend more time reading and less time typing. Your doomsday scenarios lack creativity.

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