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Applying Skeptical Scrutiny To Our Relationship With Knowledge
Posted: 29 June 2017 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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MikeYohe - 29 June 2017 10:50 AM

What if the problem is not enough knowledge?

Yes, we could describe the challenge as a need for more knowledge about how to manage knowledge.

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Posted: 29 June 2017 03:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Lausten - 29 June 2017 01:32 PM

You’re making an awful lot of assumptions.

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.

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Posted: 29 June 2017 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Tanny - 29 June 2017 09:14 AM

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. 

The planet has experienced several existential threats that succeeded to the point of pretty much rebooting life on the planet. Game over for humans, but does evolution really care? You may even wonder if successive reboots have improved things. Philosophising apart, these events were natural and the general opinion seems to be that they will occur in the future. One question you may consider in your debate is what approach will best equip humankind to survive such events. Nuclear weapons may be the only solution to nudge an extinction event asteroid off a collision course. The military efforts to track and intercept fast moving objects may be the only way to get those weapons to the asteroid.
A little closer on the horizon is the very real and threatening issue of global warming which you can argue is another consequence of “more is better”. Does advancing knowledge better equip us to identify and mitigate these threats or is the best prospect to use our current knowledge and not bother to delve deeper, for example into more efficient alternative energy technologies?

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Posted: 29 June 2017 06:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Hi again John,

JohnH - 29 June 2017 03:55 PM

The planet has experienced several existential threats that succeeded to the point of pretty much rebooting life on the planet. Game over for humans, but does evolution really care? You may even wonder if successive reboots have improved things.

From the perspective of most of the life on the planet getting rid of humans is not a bad plan.  So if we don’t care what happens to our own species, then not much to worry about here, agreed.

Philosophising apart, these events were natural and the general opinion seems to be that they will occur in the future. One question you may consider in your debate is what approach will best equip humankind to survive such events.

This is a good point obviously.  We might solve this by getting rid of all nuclear weapons except a few, just enough to do the asteroid removal.

A little closer on the horizon is the very real and threatening issue of global warming which you can argue is another consequence of “more is better”. Does advancing knowledge better equip us to identify and mitigate these threats or is the best prospect to use our current knowledge and not bother to delve deeper, for example into more efficient alternative energy technologies?

I’m not arguing against all knowledge, or that knowledge development should stop.  As in the food example above, we can hardly argue against eating. But what we can argue against is blindly eating as much as possible.

I’m arguing against the simplistic outdated “more is better” relationship with knowledge which is being sold by the scientific community, and readily accepted by the culture at large.  I’m arguing against the simplistic outdated relationship more than knowledge itself.  Updating that relationship would of course generate new knowledge.

I’m arguing that the fact that this outdated relationship can be easily challenged, but neither scientists or the public seem much interested in doing so, suggests the science community may becoming a new kind of “clergy” which we follow with the same kind of blind obedience we used to apply to the religious clergy.  I’m not against either scientists or religious clergy, I’m against blind obedience to anything or anybody.

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Posted: 29 June 2017 08:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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Tanny - 29 June 2017 06:12 PM

.., suggests the science community may becoming a new kind of “clergy” which we follow with the same kind of blind obedience we used to apply to the religious clergy.

Given all the insanity and distrust being spouted by political players and media about verifiable scientific understanding, I don’t think there’s much chance of people blindly following scientists. 

People prefer to follow folks who tell them what they want to hear - no matter how preposterous or dishonest.

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Posted: 30 June 2017 12:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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Tanny - 25 June 2017 03:20 PM

our science driven modern civilization is based upon a simplistic, outdated and dangerous “more is better” relationship with knowledge.

This seems to be the foundation of your discussion.

Simplistic. The value of science, the scientific approach to knowledge and the dangers (or benefits) of applying that knowledge have been discussed for centuries. During the same period, “scientists” from Archimedes to Galileo and beyond were at times motivated by the needs of war. There is surely a rational case to be made that having more knowledge than your opponent offers a significant advantage. I’m not sure I accept your position that there is a knowledge threshold in certain topics that we should not go beyond. Knowledge may be used or abused. It is the nature of knowledge that we cannot know which will prevail and therefore which knowledge we should not pursue.

Outdated. There is ongoing vigorous debate about the approach to science by philosophers and politicians among others. How can a topic so vigorously pursued at the present time be outdated.
The website philpapers.org may have some interesting reading for you. Nicholas Maxwell seems to share your concerns and suggests we should focus on “more” wisdom (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/from-knowledge-to-wisdom). He has written a few books on the topic.

Dangerous. As I’ve previously suggested, there are known dangers we cannot currently mitigate so there is certain unpleasantness if you fail to pursue knowledge. It is also the nature of knowledge (or lack of it) that you can never be sure what approach will yield the most valuable information (or the most dangerous risks) so what do you censor?

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Posted: 30 June 2017 04:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Citizenschallenge-v.3 - 29 June 2017 08:09 PM

People prefer to follow folks who tell them what they want to hear - no matter how preposterous or dishonest.

There you go, that’s it.  Scientists are telling us that if we keep developing more and more knowledge, our lives will get better and better and better.  That’s what we want to hear, so we believe it. 

What makes this challenging is that the claim is neither preposterous or dishonest. After all, it’s always worked in the past, and scientists are being sincere.  However, having good intentions does not make the claim correct. 

Here’s an example to illustrate the unseen logic flaw.

Imagine the happy wishful thinking man who is playing Russian roulette.  He can reasonably argue that with each pull of the trigger the odds are in his favor.  He can reasonably argue that it’s always worked before, which is true.  But what he’s not getting is that with each pull of the trigger his odds of survival are sinking towards zero.

To edit the example a bit, imagine that it took great intelligence to pull the trigger.  The wishful thinking man is thus quite proud of his work, with good reason.  Imagine that the wishful thinking man is rewarded every time he pulls the trigger.  Thus, with every pull of the trigger he becomes more and more impressed with his own ability and success, and more and more blinded to what is coming.

I think this analogy fits pretty well.  Every new major technology is another pull of the trigger.  Most of the time it will work out great.  Until it doesn’t.

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Posted: 30 June 2017 04:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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JohnH - 30 June 2017 12:25 AM

  The value of science, the scientific approach to knowledge and the dangers (or benefits) of applying that knowledge have been discussed for centuries.

So let’s identify those thinkers who have thought it through to the logical conclusion.  I don’t claim they don’t exist, and it seems likely that they do.  But who are they?  Other than Ted Kaczynski.

I can think of one off the top of my head.  Whoever wrote the Adam and Eve story in the Bible.  Adam and Eve ate the apple of knowledge, and then were expelled from the garden of eden.  Translated to modern times, we unlocked the secrets of the atom, and then demolished the environment we depend on.

There is surely a rational case to be made that having more knowledge than your opponent offers a significant advantage.

Yes, of course, this is one of the major challenges involved in this problem.

I’m not sure I accept your position that there is a knowledge threshold in certain topics that we should not go beyond. Knowledge may be used or abused. It is the nature of knowledge that we cannot know which will prevail and therefore which knowledge we should not pursue.

That’s the status quo argument, which I claim is outdated. 

The counter argument is that if we develop powers of “existential scale” it’s only a matter of time until we abuse one of them.  And due to their vast scale, abusing just one such power just one time is all it takes.

There is ongoing vigorous debate about the approach to science by philosophers and politicians among others. How can a topic so vigorously pursued at the present time be outdated.

No offense, but everybody always says this, and yet nobody can ever point to anybody with credentials who is having this specific conversation.

The website philpapers.org may have some interesting reading for you. Nicholas Maxwell seems to share your concerns and suggests we should focus on “more” wisdom (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/from-knowledge-to-wisdom). He has written a few books on the topic.

Thanks, I’ll check that out, and thanks also for the reminder to revisit that site, good plan.

More wisdom is obviously a step in the right direction.  Two problems though. 

1) Techniques for generating wisdom are highly limited, and there is no currently known way to scale them up to the degree needed in the time frame needed. 

2) More wisdom is not sufficient.  Perfect wisdom is required.  As example, we have shown some wisdom in regards to nukes, limiting their development to some degree.  That’s great, but we still face the challenge of NEVER having just one bad day.

As I’ve previously suggested, there are known dangers we cannot currently mitigate so there is certain unpleasantness if you fail to pursue knowledge. It is also the nature of knowledge (or lack of it) that you can never be sure what approach will yield the most valuable information (or the most dangerous risks) so what do you censor?

You are appropriately bringing up real challenges.  However I would caution you against making a common mistake. 

Listing all the challenges to this thesis does not solve the problem. 

As example, I’ve been having this discussion for years and have received many welcome challenges asking what I would do about this or what I would do about that.  When I have to admit I don’t know the answer challengers typically claim victory and then vanish.  This process is entirely valid, and welcome, but it does not in itself solve the problem.

What would be helpful, and most welcome, is for challengers to identify 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.

I’m not seeking a personal victory here, I’m seeking solutions. I don’t want civilization to crash any more than anyone else.  If that happened, where would I get my bagels????  grin

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Posted: 30 June 2017 04:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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Tanny - 30 June 2017 04:09 AM
Citizenschallenge-v.3 - 29 June 2017 08:09 PM

People prefer to follow folks who tell them what they want to hear - no matter how preposterous or dishonest.

There you go, that’s it.  Scientists are telling us that if we keep developing more and more knowledge, our lives will get better and better and better.  That’s what we want to hear, so we believe it. 

And they can demonstrate it. In fact “they” don’t need to demonstrate it, we can see the evidence ourselves.

And your analogy was stupid. Use science. You know about bullets, you know how the gun works, you can 100% accurately predict what is going to happen. Your whole theory relies on assuming levels of stupidity that don’t exist.

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Posted: 30 June 2017 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Here’s some good and bad news regarding a possible solution, imho of course.

BAD NEWS:  After discussing this for years I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s little chance we will reason our way out of this problem.  The “more is better” relationship with knowledge is too deeply rooted in the human condition and human experience. 

GOOD NEWS: The “good news” is that revolutionary environments like the knowledge explosion provide not only revolutionary risks, but revolutionary opportunities as well.  I’ve put “good news” in quotes because….

It’s only a matter of time until we wake up one day and some city somewhere in the world has been erased by a nuke.  This is obviously bad news, except that such an event has the potential to radically shift the cultural group consensus.

Consider the response to 9/11.  We responded to 3,000 dead with 2 wars costing trillions of dollars.  We dramatically inflated the security apparatus.  (PLEASE let’s not debate all this yet again.)  A dramatic response happened, that’s all I’m saying.

If we multiply 9/11 by a hundred or a thousand, it’s hard to know what the impact would be on global consciousness.  But it seems fair to reason it would be substantial.  At the least, the media would talk of nothing else around the clock for years.

The best hope we may have is that some existential power like nuclear weapons goes out of control in a limited manner.  When masses of people can see the vast damage with their own eyes, this topic may morph from being an abstract intellectual analysis that’s rarely discussed, in to a pressing real world concern which is impossible to ignore.

The best we can probably accomplish now is to begin the conversation so that we won’t be starting from scratch on the day after.

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Posted: 30 June 2017 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Lausten - 30 June 2017 04:44 AM

Your whole theory relies on assuming levels of stupidity that don’t exist.

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.

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Posted: 30 June 2017 07:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Nicholas Maxwell seems to share your concerns and suggests we should focus on “more” wisdom

John, this was an excellent reference for this thread. I’ve joined his listserve, and am trying to contact Maxwell to invite him in to this thread.  His mail is bouncing back at the moment, but I’ll look for another contact method.  Perhaps I am contact him via the listserv, we’ll see.

For those who missed the link, here it is again:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/from-knowledge-to-wisdom

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Posted: 30 June 2017 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Tanny - 30 June 2017 06:36 AM
Lausten - 30 June 2017 04:44 AM

Your whole theory relies on assuming levels of stupidity that don’t exist.

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.

I didn’t argue with those, I argued with the two points you made after this, and you didn’t respond. The above are true, but that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that we should stop learning or stop sharing knowledge or whatever it is you are saying.

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Posted: 30 June 2017 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Tanny - 30 June 2017 07:07 AM

Nicholas Maxwell seems to share your concerns and suggests we should focus on “more” wisdom

John, this was an excellent reference for this thread. I’ve joined his listserve, and am trying to contact Maxwell to invite him in to this thread.  His mail is bouncing back at the moment, but I’ll look for another contact method.  Perhaps I am contact him via the listserv, we’ll see.

For those who missed the link, here it is again:

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/from-knowledge-to-wisdom

Where in here does it say what you are saying? This is about being wise about science, not about limiting knowledge.

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Posted: 30 June 2017 08:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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Lausten - 30 June 2017 08:20 AM

I didn’t argue with those, I argued with the two points you made after this, and you didn’t respond.

I’m deliberately not replying to posts from anybody that have the potential to start a chain reaction of distracting personality conflicts, the plague of all forums.  That’s all I’m going to say about it.

Lausten - 30 June 2017 08:20 AM

The above are true, but that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that we should stop learning or stop sharing knowledge or whatever it is you are saying.

You seem intent on rejecting “whatever it is I am saying”.  If you’re not sure what I’m saying, why not ask me to clarify specific points?  That’s why I keep posting the list of assertions, to try to help members identify exactly where it is they disagree with this thesis, if they do.

If you agree with the listed assertions, what conclusions do you draw from them?

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