Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Respect for Scientists

I have zero automatic respect for academics in general, and the same holds true for scientists. At best, someone's formal education gives me an indication of what they've studied and thought about at length - not a guarantee that they're right, even about topics within their own field of study. That flag alone is useful, since really, it's a piece of paper that says 'This person has studied topics in field X, as far as we can tell' - but it doesn't convey authority in the sense of 'I have to accept this person's beliefs and views about topics in their field as true.'

The only advantage of that formal marker of education is that it gives me a vague guarantee that the person in question has read a good amount of books and done some study/research in a particular field, or at least faked it well enough to stumble through an examination process. And the value of THAT is that it flags someone who I can ask questions, or who presumably has good arguments about or awareness of a particular field. At that point, I read what they have to say, I examine their arguments and evidence, I ask them some questions if they're available for that. But really, what's going on is the same exact exchange I have with people who have zero academic qualifications - I converse, I read, I attempt to understand, and I decide what to believe in light of that. Their academic accomplishments just give me a tip about who may have some interesting things to say. I'm not duty-bound to accept their word as truth.

That last one seems to confuse a lot of people, particularly 'defenders of science.' People have got it into their heads that the last step - analyzing, understanding, and then (horror of horrors) deciding what to believe - is wrong, and that the proper thing to do is 'analyze, understand, and then agree with the credentialed person/group'. In fact, the first two steps are largely optional, so long as you do the last one right. They're the ones who know everything! You're not an expert! You can't trust your own opinions about these things - what do you know?

I can accept this plea for reliance on authority from God or God's Church. God may reveal truths I and no one else can understand, after all. Not so with science, or... any other field, really. The whole point of those fields was supposed to be the intellectual accessibility of their claims. "But maybe you don't have the time to properly investigate them!" you'll ask. Yep, possible. I can be agnostic at that point. But if I investigate and find the conclusions questionable, or unsupported, or not supported to the degree I think is necessary to accept... that's that. It doesn't matter if the source comes from a scientist. Or, for that matter, for a consensus of scientists.

Everything I just wrote seems to me to be not only plainly rational, but almost common sense. And yet I know from experience that a lot of people completely lose their heads when they hear this kind of talk.

41 comments:

BenYachov said...

Interesting as a default I usually respect scientists about topics within their own field of study unless their reputation for incompetence in that particular field is evident.

If Richard Dawkins polemics the anti-evolution arguments of Young Earth Creationists I will likely consider him competent to do so.

Or if he makes a positive argument for evolution I would give him the time of day all day everyday.

I would take his critiques of ID seriously but I would not automatically accept them.

But all of the above IMHO are the extent of his skill set.

Any anti-religion polemics of his outside of this narrow field above I will laugh at, loudly, and with great cruelty.

Crude said...

Interesting as a default I usually respect scientists about topics within their own field of study unless their reputation for incompetence in that particular field is evident.

Like I said, I see their academic credentials as an indicator of what topics they'll have knowledge of, for the purposes of talking to them and getting good information. But I'm the one who has to decide if the information is good.

The key here is that what matters is what they say, not their credentials. To put it another way - an expiration date on milk is a good way to determine whether milk has gone bad... before you open it up. But if the milk smells sour it's ludicrous to drink it, no matter what the damn date says.

The Deuce said...

The most important thing to remember is, no matter how much an expert a person may be in some field or other, *nobody* is so much an expert that they get to have their own laws of logic. A scientist saying something incoherent deserves no more respect than anyone else doing the same thing, even if he's discussing his own field.

Also, even when someone tells you that you should believe whatever an expert tells you to believe, they're still granting that you're able to reach logical conclusions on your own via rational inference from premises. It's just that the *only* argument they want you to consider is, "These people say X is true. These people are experts. Experts are more likely to right than non-experts when they say things are true. Therefore X is probably true." But if you're capable of reaching rational conclusions from premises using logic, then there's no reason that you cannot examine X for yourself, and the quality of the arguments being made for and against it.

Also, contra Ben, I'm *not* inclined to give Dawkins the benefit of the doubt when discussing things in his own field. Why? Because Richard Dawkins is demonstrably an intellectually dishonest (and otherwise dishonest) sophist, who makes patently absurd and illogical arguments against things he doesn't like, without a hint of reflection or intellectual rigor.

Am I to suppose that Dawkins only possesses these glaring character flaws when he's not discussing his own field? Am I to believe that his willingness to be dishonest, distort facts, and disregard logic for personal and ideological gain is something he only has when treading on those areas where I am best equipped to see and debunk his bullshit?

On the contrary, I think that given his agenda and personality flaws, he's every more likely to try to misrepresent wherever he thinks that he's less likely to be called out on it, and wherever he thinks it will be harder for the layman to see how his philosophical presuppositions are coloring his presentation of the actual facts.

The Fez said...

This reminds me of some particular prose from G.K. Chesterton:

"Since objections have been raised against remarks of mine, here and elsewhere, on the subject of science and the system of evolution, I feel it may be fair to acknowledge them here by explaining my meaning more fully. To begin with, of course, I am confronted with a very reasonable retort that I know nothing about the subject. I am not a biologist; I am not even the most amateur sort of naturalist. There is a not unnatural disposition to remark on this fact, when I use phrases indicating that the Darwinian idea has suffered defeat. It is true, and it would be equally true if I ventured to throw out the suggestion that the Kaiser has suffered a defeat. If I were to insinuate that the armies of the German Empire were ultimately out-manoeuvred and forced to a surrender, it might be said that I was wholly ignorant of the technical strategy of soldiering, and did not know what half the manoeuvres meant; and this would be perfectly true. I am sorry to say that I was unable to be a soldier; and I am very glad to say that I refused to be a critic of the details of soldiering. Or again, if I dared to hint that there is now a rather difficult financial situation, that prices are rather high and housing rather hard, I might be reminded that I am not an expert in financial matters; that I am not a professor of political economy, or even a close student of political economy. And this also would be quite true. I am sorry to say I am not an economist; and I very glad I am not a financier. But these cases alone will be sufficient to suggest, to anybody of the smallest commonsense, that there is a fallacy somewhere in the simple argument that only an expert in detail can perceive that there is a difficulty, or declare that there is a defeat."

Doubts About Darwinism
by G. K. Chesterton
Originally published in The Illustrated London News, 17th July 1920

Eufrosnia D said...

I am not sure this view is practical.

The most reasonable thing one can do regarding any field of knowledge seems to be to turn to the authorities of the field (unless we ourselves is an authority). If we were going to a medical doctor for an example, I am not quiet sure we have the time to study our symptoms and the body of knowledge to arrive at conclusions about our own disease. We might try out other doctors for a second or third opinion but I can't see someone practically going to medical school to cure ones own disease. One might not even have that long to live. Still, in some cases I admit it might be practically possible BUT in GENERAL, I would say it is valid to rely on authority here.

In the case of the Catholic Church, we have a somewhat more special scenario. It is the only choice regarding the field of knowledge of Christianity for we cannot empirically study the truths of faith. This is why teachings of the Church cannot be legitimately challenged by us or anyone outside the Church. We can from the Church come to know some truths regarding empirical truths (of the historical kind) as well. These would be truths like Adam and Eve are literal persons and first parents of us all. The Original sin etc.

Since we know the Church cannot err on this matter, from our faith we know that whenever Science contradicts such a pronouncement, it only means that the Scientific theory needs much development.

The problem happens when Scientists overstep their scope of expertise. When a Scientist takes the existing Scientific theory and challenges a Catholic to reject the existence of Adam and Eve or God, then the scientist has overstepped the scope of his knowledge. At this point a Catholic can easily disagree with the Scientist for he knows from an infallible source that this is not how it actually happened. Or when the Scientists deny the resurrection as scientifically impossible, one can point out how it is historically reliable that it happened and the lack of scientific explanation is why we consider it a demonstration of Divine authority over life.

So I would say that one needs to happen is not a realization that we should not trust people with authority. Rather, we must

1. Figure out the authority when it comes to our faith.
2. Hold anyone who contradicts what is taught by our faith as mistaken
3. Remember that the certitude from Scientific extrapolation of the past is not 100%. There is room for error for Scientific theory might not be complete. (i.e. challenging religious or historically reliable claims is not within the scope of Science)

Crude said...

Eufrosnia,

I think it's entirely practical, really. I'm not arguing one shouldn't be allowed to, say, trust a doctor's expertise without understanding it. But that isn't knowledge, and it shouldn't be some kind of automatic position where we always trust our doctors because they're doctors. We make decisions, we commit to have faith in people or things we don't understand.

And if you think your doctor is wrong, well, that's your decision.

Eufrosnia D said...

I am not quiet sure what you mean by it's "entirely practical".

Lets take an example of a doctor diagnosing Jane Doe (who is not a medical doctor) with disease X.

Now for Jane Doe to have reasonable grounds to doubt the doctor, she must be of expertise to conclude from her symptoms that X is not what she is suffering from. But this is logically not possible for Jane Doe does not have sufficient knowledge. Can she still just believe she does not have X? Sure, but that would make Jane Doe an unreasonable person.

Even if we take the case where Jane Doe is aware of the doctor having botched a lot of diagnosis, she is only aware that it was a "botch" by learning it from the conclusion of another Doctor (authority).

So how would you suggest that Jane practically find reasons to doubt the doctor without resorting to another authority? It seems that Jane can only have doubts (reasonably) if there is conflicting opinions from different authorities.

Note that these things become even more complex when we speak of fields of knowledge like Engineering and Theoretical Physics where even other skills (mathematical for an example) become important to grasp the reasoning process which most of us do not have training to do.

So I am not sure how it is practical. We cannot go about our lives wondering if the building that we live in will collapse due to a civil engineering error. Or the flight we take is not reliable due to an air craft engineering error in the design of the plane. Or that the medicine we were given is not for the right disease etc. Can our suspicions be true? Of course. But we must settle for some reasonable level of certainty. That reasonable level of certainty seems to be authority (this is perhaps analogous to the relationship between being prudent (reasonable) and being scrupulous (unreasonable)). We just cannot do more unless we decide to spend time on our selves to study the field. But that is not something every person can afford to do.

It is also worth pointing out that we first begin to doubt an authority when they in our minds contradict something we either know by experience (making us somewhat of an authority on that matter) or from another authority.

RD Miksa said...

Dear Crude:

To put it another way - an expiration date on milk is a good way to determine whether milk has gone bad... before you open it up. But if the milk smells sour it's ludicrous to drink it, no matter what the damn date says.

I will hopefully write more when off work tomorrow, but I just wanted to say that the way I see the issue of expert consensus is just like you wrote above. In many ways, I consider it like a burden of proof type argument. If the expert consensus points in one direction, and if you have not had a chance to view the evidence yet, then the rational default position should be the expert consensus one, rather than a default position of agnostism or a position against the expert consensus. However, once you review the evidence, or if you find that the consensus has been skewed for some illegimate reason (say, for example, by dogmatic adherebce to a principle like methodological naturalism), then you can be perfectly rational in rejecting the expert consensus.

And I think that we all do this. For example, as a society, we give our implicit blessing for juries to put human beings into prison for crimes that the jury has determined they committed. The jury is an expert consensus. And each day, we all accept that a person is guilty of a crime basef on the opinion of juries and we acknowledge that the burden off proof is on the person disagreeing with the jury's decision, not on the one who agrees with it. But that would not stop you from reviewing the evidence yourself and then concluding that the jury was wrong. But until and unless you do that, your rational default position should be to accept the jury's decision. And this is precisely how we, as a society, act every day.

Take care.

RD Miksa

PS - Sent from phone. Sorry for any grammatical mistakes.

Crude said...

Eufrosnia,

Now for Jane Doe to have reasonable grounds to doubt the doctor, she must be of expertise to conclude from her symptoms that X is not what she is suffering from

Right away, I disagree. You're elevating the doctor to a position of authority right from the get go and making it so his statements are by default correct. The doctor can explain the situation to Jane, and Jane - who hopefully has brought some knowledge and understanding along with her - can choose to make a choice in light of that. But the choice remains Jane's.

Even if we take the case where Jane Doe is aware of the doctor having botched a lot of diagnosis, she is only aware that it was a "botch" by learning it from the conclusion of another Doctor (authority).

Not necessarily. There's more than one way to botch a diagnosis - some can be easily discernible, like a complete lack of care or interest in the patient's symptoms.

It is also worth pointing out that we first begin to doubt an authority when they in our minds contradict something we either know by experience (making us somewhat of an authority on that matter) or from another authority.

Again, you're automatically giving an academic default authority, but that's precisely what I'm questioning. They have no such authority out of the gates. At best they have a piece of paper which can hopefully indicate expertise, and the function of that expertise is something you can investigate further. Now, you can go ahead and just trust them if you want - go with a gut instinct, hope like hell they know what they're doing. But that IS what you're doing - you're hoping, you're trusting. You're not 'relying on science' or anything by trusting an authority, because you're evading scientific knowledge and understanding altogether.

And hey, do that if you so choose. Take that gamble. Just don't confuse that gamble with knowledge, and don't confuse your choice with submitting to the proper authority. The only one who made them an authority in that case is you yourself.

Crude said...

RD,

Thanks for the reply, no problem on the responses. It's clearer than most.

I'm actually skeptical of your claim that the consensus of experts should be the default position. I think the consensus of experts is, at best, a rough clue, a flag in the ground you can follow when informing yourself about a subject - not an answer, or the intellectually 'right' default answer itself. Now, I think you can make a case where following that consensus with no further information is *justifiable*. But I also think there's more than one justifiable option available.

I want to try and make my view clear here. I'm not saying that it's wrong to trust a doctor, or trust a jury, or trust a consensus. But A) I don't think this is often as clear-cut as it is presented as being, and B) I think other initial approaches are justifiable. If a jury finds X guilty of a crime, and John has no knowledge of the evidence - just the bare fact of being found guilty - I don't think John could be faulted for provisionally practically assuming guilt *or* immediate agnosticism pending further investigation. I'm in the weird position of thinking that multiple approaches can fall under the heading 'rationally acceptable', but in neither case can any of these two people be said to have knowledge that X is guilty. John trusts that X is guilty, but he doesn't know. And in a way, that's practically fine.

I've gotten into this before. I think one of the problems is that people want to believe they have knowledge - that they KNOW science - because they hold such and such beliefs that scientists supposedly hold in a consensus. I think that is straightforwardly incorrect. Likewise, I think people have an 'ought' thing going on, where the supposed beliefs of a consensus of authority figures means we (especially as laymen) ought to submit to their consensus and accept their claims by default. I think that's an option - but I don't think it's the only one available, and it's actually counterproductive to encourage exclusively.

We do a lot of trusting. We have a lot of faith. And we don't have rational justifications for a lot of the scientific statements we place our trust in. That's not necessarily bad - indeed, along the lines of what you're saying, I think you can make the case that some amount of faith-granting is necessary for society to operate. But not as much as people think, and it's certainly not knowledge.

malcolmthecynic said...

My thought process is like this:

Take evolution. I have not observed the fossil record. I have not went and verified the evidence Darwin got from his Galapagos finches. I can't confirm the carbon dating of rocks.

But trained biologists, who HAVE done all of these things, have come to an overwhelming consensus that Darwinian evolution, albeit in a far more refined form, is true.

And so, since I don't really understand the arguments that well, and the consensus is totally overwhelming, then yes, I believe that evolution is true, whatever Vox Day says about it. For me to change my opinion would mean that I would have to become an expert myself, and that simply isn't happening.

So what do I think of creationists? Well, I think that unless they're trained biologists themselves, they're rather silly, because they have no idea what they're talking about and aren't listening to the vast majority of people who actually have studied the matter in depth.

If you've studied the matter in depth and are still a creationist, considering the consensus against you I would think that you're probably quite wrong, and if the evolutionists come out and give reasons that you're wrong I'll accept them until I have a good reason not to.

So I look at such people basically as crackpots until they do something to convince me otherwise.

I can't personally prove that the Earth is round. I also can't personally prove that the Roman Empire ever actually existed, for that matter. But I accept the consensus on such matters and conclude that people who deny them are conspiracy theorists and kind of loony.

I can't actually think of anything you said that I specifically disagree with, but this is my thought process on the subject.

Syllabus said...

I think that trust in any scientific authority is proportional to two things: the extent to which one can understand and replicate findings, laws, and postulates, and the results it has had (in terms of appliances, products making use of the scientific laws, etc). For instance, while I can replicate, say, Galileo's experiments with the rolling balls, I can't necessarily replicate the conditions which led to the discovery of antimatter. But given that the theory which predicts antimatter enjoys a large degree of applied usefulness, I see no problem with accepting it.

When you get to something like evolutionary theory, though, it gets a little dicier. While I have little to no problem accepting the scientific consensus in the field, the degree of confidence I have in it is substantially less than the degree of confidence I have in, say, Newton's first law, simply because I can both test and see the results of the application of the latter.

I realize that as a layperson, I lack the skill set to entirely competently adjudicate the question, so I defer at least partially to the scientific community, but I'm less committed to it because I can neither test the theory nor do I see fruitful applications of it to daily life. At least in comparison to, say, physics - the existence of superbugs demonstrates that at least a weak version of the theory is true, but that's not really on the same level as being able to send people to the moon.

Eufrosnia D said...

Crude,

*_You said: "Right away, I disagree. You're elevating the doctor to a position of authority right from the get go and making it so his statements are by default correct. The doctor can explain the situation to Jane, and Jane - who hopefully has brought some knowledge and understanding along with her - can choose to make a choice in light of that. But the choice remains Jane's."_*

I think this is where we disagree. Jane actually has no grounds to disagree on (unless she has some expertise). She is FREE to disagree but if she does, we would be right to conclude her unreasonable.

*_You said: "Not necessarily. There's more than one way to botch a diagnosis - some can be easily discernible, like a complete lack of care or interest in the patient's symptoms"_*

The fact that a certain symptom is relevant or irrelevant is also knowledge from the medical field. Unless Jane Doe is aware of such knowledge, how are we to justify her disagreement?

*_You said: "Again, you're automatically giving an academic default authority, but that's precisely what I'm questioning. They have no such authority out of the gates."_*

Actually they do. By your logic, a Doctor who has been approved by a medical body of Doctors to practice cannot do so. Why? Because the piece of paper is not enough? What about the case of a surgeon? An Engineer?

Certification by others in authority is the only reasonable way of protecting and propagating knowledge as well as practically accepting knowledge outside of our expertise. You can't have people self designating themselves "authorities" on a field (which is what happens when people who are not experts in that particular field object to conclusions of the authorities).

Your misunderstanding might be that you equate "A person has authority" with "A person will get it right". Those two are not equivalent.

When I say X is the authority of a certain field, I mean that one would be reasonable in accepting their claims regarding that field (unless there is a conflicting authority). BUT, could that authority be wrong? Of course. But for me to disagree purely on the basis that "he just might be wrong" is unreasonable.

Crude said...

Eufrosnia,

I think this is where we disagree. Jane actually has no grounds to disagree on (unless she has some expertise). She is FREE to disagree but if she does, we would be right to conclude her unreasonable.

I don't think we would be. She has an obvious ground on which to disagree, or at least to not accept the explanation and advice being given to her - she doesn't understand it. Why in the world is it necessary for her to agree with and believe something she doesn't understand? With God, that can make sense. With man? I think the standards differ.

The fact that a certain symptom is relevant or irrelevant is also knowledge from the medical field. Unless Jane Doe is aware of such knowledge, how are we to justify her disagreement?

I didn't mention symptoms, but a complete lack of interest in the patient's symptoms. I'm not a mechanic, and I can't identify car problems easily - but if a mechanic tells me, without seeing my car or knowing anything about it, that I need a 5000 dollar replacement? I'm not appealing to any mechanical knowledge in my withholding belief in his claim.

Actually they do.

Not in the sense I'm talking about, they don't.

By your logic, a Doctor who has been approved by a medical body of Doctors to practice cannot do so.

You're mistaking 'authority to force me to accept a belief, or assent to their claims' with 'legal authority'. The latter's not of interest to me here.

You can't have people self designating themselves "authorities" on a field

I'm not calling for that at all - in fact, what I'm saying would speak against it in principle. I'm saying that scientists and academics have no default intellectual authority such that we're bound to accept their views as true by default. At best, their education is an indicator that they may have something of value to say on a particular subject - so we interact with them. We can decide 'well, I'm going to accept what this person says, even though I have no clue what they're talking about or how they justify what they're saying', and that may well be fine, their right, and even rational. But there's nothing wrong with saying that you do not understand a given claim and therefore you are withholding judgment, or that your understanding of the claim indicates that said claim is wrong.

Your misunderstanding might be that you equate "A person has authority" with "A person will get it right". Those two are not equivalent.

Actually, I am counting on that distinction.

But for me to disagree purely on the basis that "he just might be wrong" is unreasonable.

I think it is vastly more unreasonable to say 'By default I have to accept claims about things I do not understand, using logic and reasoning I am not privy to, from these human beings on pain of my being irrational'. In fact, I think it's obviously so.

Eufrosnia D said...

You said: "I don't think we would be. She has an obvious ground on which to disagree, or at least to not accept the explanation and advice being given to her - she doesn't understand it. Why in the world is it necessary for her to agree with and believe something she doesn't understand? With God, that can make sense. With man? I think the standards differ."

I think you might as well ask what is different in the case of God because you have choice but to accept men as intermediaries in relating his message to you.

But apart from the religious problem, I fail to see how what you say is logical. Our assent to knowledge beyond our expertise cannot be based on our "UNDERSTANDING" of that knowledge. That just does not make sense. I have no clue of Civil Engineering principles behind some structures but I accept it even though I do not understand. IN FACT, it makes absolutely no sense to me to invest my time in Civil Engineering to make sure the building I work in is correct. I would have been a Civil Engineer then. Practically speaking, there is no realistic way one can go about with your mindset for most knowledge is beyond the understanding of an untrained person in that field.

You said:". I'm not a mechanic, and I can't identify car problems easily - but if a mechanic tells me, without seeing my car or knowing anything about it, that I need a 5000 dollar replacement? I'm not appealing to any mechanical knowledge in my withholding belief in his claim."

But this is not so trivial. In the case of a mechanic, it is common knowledge that the mechanic must see your vehicle for an accurate diagnosis. This is not really expert knowledge of the field itself but things knowable by natural reason.

You said:"I think it is vastly more unreasonable to say 'By default I have to accept claims about things I do not understand, using logic and reasoning I am not privy to, from these human beings on pain of my being irrational'. In fact, I think it's obviously so."

Well this is not too hard to settle. Could you explain how we resort to treating the field of Medicine (surgeons and specialists) and Engineering (just to begin with)?

Because so far, it has been the established way that we accept the authority if they are certified. You may not actually realize this but this is the same concept at play behind Apostolic Succession. One does not accept Apostolic Succession because the Successors themselves teach there is such a thing. It first comes about from the natural reason that we trust who is certified by those before them.

The idea that we always approach certified individuals from a neutral or negative point of view is therefore unreasonable. If we do that, we will have no growth in knowledge because everyone who comes after us SHOULD QUESTION OUR OWN AUTHORITY.

Crude said...

I think you might as well ask what is different in the case of God because you have choice but to accept men as intermediaries in relating his message to you.

Unless God speaks to me directly, but let's put that aside. (He hasn't, as near as I can tell.)

Either way, yes - I do have to decide whether to believe them. The key difference there is that they're giving me a message, not presenting an argument or logic with proves the truth of their message by unaided reason or the like.

Our assent to knowledge beyond our expertise cannot be based on our "UNDERSTANDING" of that knowledge. That just does not make sense.

I think what makes even less sense is the idea that by default the onus is on us to accept as true things we have no idea of on the say so of people we typically never even met regarding topics we often can't fathom.

What, exactly, is the danger of optional agnosticism in those cases? Accent on optional, since I'm not saying you can't accept someone at their word. I'm just pointing out that's what you're doing, and that this is a choice, not something that should be forced.

Practically speaking, there is no realistic way one can go about with your mindset for most knowledge is beyond the understanding of an untrained person in that field.

Yep. So feel free to have faith and accept something as true that you can't verify. Or be agnostic but 'act as if' it were true. Just don't tell me that you must, on pain of irrationality, accept as true things which you can't even understand.

But this is not so trivial. In the case of a mechanic, it is common knowledge that the mechanic must see your vehicle for an accurate diagnosis. This is not really expert knowledge of the field itself but things knowable by natural reason.

He the authority, remember? He doesn't give you 'expert knowledge' anyway, because it's not like you can understand it. But you're not intellectually bound to accept his judgments. What, it becomes acceptable if he pops the hood and moves his hand around in your car doing who-knows-what?

Go ahead, trust him. Have faith. Or don't.

Well this is not too hard to settle. Could you explain how we resort to treating the field of Medicine (surgeons and specialists) and Engineering (just to begin with)?

No changes required whatsoever to those fields. We simply accept what we're doing, and allowing for agnosticism. You can be agnostic about the claims related to a treatment but still accept the treatment itself.

Because so far, it has been the established way that we accept the authority if they are certified.

What you mean we, white man?

SHOULD QUESTION OUR OWN AUTHORITY.

Again, you are reading things into what I'm saying. Exactly how many times do I have to stress that nothing I'm saying here requires one reject all authority before you accept that? I'm simply saying that the default position is not 'I must believe whatever authority X tells me is the truth about question Y, which is his academic field, even though I have no idea what the heck he's talking about'. If you want to trust him, you feel free. I've said more than once, I'm not arguing you're irrational to do so - though I do think it's silly to call your trust 'knowledge'.

RD Miksa said...

Crude,

Yep. So feel free to have faith and accept something as true that you can't verify. Or be agnostic but 'act as if' it were true. Just don't tell me that you must, on pain of irrationality, accept as true things which you can't even understand.

I think this is a key paragraph, and it shows that our views are not too far apart. For I agree with your point that it can be both rational to see an expert consensus as proving some justification for the view that the consensus holds while it is also rational to be at least partially agnostic about the actual truth of that view and yet acting, in real life, “as if” the view were true. And I think that this is definitely how we act in our day-to-day lives.

For example, when we get on a plane, we might be, from a “truth-focused” perspective, quite rational to be agnostic (or at least partially agnostic) about the flight-worthiness of the plane, or that the pilot is sober, etc. But from a “life-focused” perspective, we act “as if” the plane is flight-worthy and thus get on the plane and trust our lives to its flight-worthiness. Or, when a jury finds a man not guilty, we may be entirely rational in ultimately being agnostic about the man’s actual guilt or innocence, and yet, by releasing the man into society, we (as in society as a whole) nevertheless act “as if” the man is innocent.

So, all this to say that I agree with your point. Nevertheless, I do want to raise some issues which I think are critical.

First, I think that it is unavoidable that an expert consensus for some view—as long as it is a genuine and free consensus—does provide some reason, of greater or lesser strength, to see that view as more rational than any other views that are not agreed upon by the consensus of experts. Given this fact, if a person has never considered the view before, and thus he has no evidence or argumentation with which to challenge the view of the consensus, and the person also has no reason to suspect the validity of the consensus, then I contend that it would indeed be irrational to hold a view that was in clear opposition to the consensus or to hold a view of straight agnosticism. That said, any view from just beyond straight agnosticism to the view endorsed by the experts would be rational to hold. And the burden of proof would be on anyone arguing against the rationality of this position.

Second, given that it is undeniable that every one of us acts “as if” the expert consensus is rational to believe in, even though we might ultimately be partially agnostic about the truth of the expert consensus view, this fact raises an interesting question: How much of a difference is there between acting “as if” something were true and believing it to be true? Or is this where faith comes in. Just like, when I am crossing the street, I am at least partially agnostic about whether the street is actually clear (my eyes might be deceiving me, etc.), and yet I still cross the street with 100% of my body, thereby acting “as if” I were completely certain that the street was clear. So, does the fact that an expert consensus gives me some reason to accept their view as rational then give me the rational grounds to have faith and thus to act “as if” it indeed is correct. I think it does.

Anyway, just some thoughts.

Take care,

RD Miksa

RD Miksa said...

Crude,

I've said more than once, I'm not arguing you're irrational to do so - though I do think it's silly to call your trust 'knowledge'.

This depends. If an expert consensus does provide you with some reason / justification for holding to a particular view (the consensus view)--and I think that it unavoidably does--and if knowledge is seen as "justified true belief", then the key question will be how much justification does the expert consensus provide you with. It may or may not be enough to allow your view to be classified as "knowledge."

Take care,

RD Miksa

Crude said...

RD,

First, I think that it is unavoidable that an expert consensus for some view—as long as it is a genuine and free consensus—does provide some reason, of greater or lesser strength, to see that view as more rational than any other views that are not agreed upon by the consensus of experts. Given this fact, if a person has never considered the view before, and thus he has no evidence or argumentation with which to challenge the view of the consensus, and the person also has no reason to suspect the validity of the consensus, then I contend that it would indeed be irrational to hold a view that was in clear opposition to the consensus or to hold a view of straight agnosticism.

And this is where I disagree. Not that I mind, by the way - I am in an army of one on this particular issue as near as I can tell. I see no reason to think that, in the typical and practical situation, the onus is on the person to agree with the expert about topics they know nothing about - and, to add something new, to believe 'experts' when they wouldn't know how to tell who is or isn't an expert aside from the endorsement of complete strangers anyway. And I think if they do believe the expert, they are manifestly not 'accepting science' or 'believing in science'. They're 'accepting the beliefs of people who claim to represent science'.

Second, given that it is undeniable that every one of us acts “as if” the expert consensus is rational to believe in, even though we might ultimately be partially agnostic about the truth of the expert consensus view, this fact raises an interesting question: How much of a difference is there between acting “as if” something were true and believing it to be true?

Well, I think it raises a major difference, because I think the view I'm laying out better captures our actual state of affairs with regards to science and academics. I think it's an important step for people to realize that 'trusting what the guy in the lab coat on TV says' isn't 'trusting science', even if the reason we trust him is because he keeps talking about science. Rather like how if you trust a used car salesman who prints out what he calls scientific data about the reliability of your car, you're not 'trusting science'. In large part, you're trusting a used car salesman.

If an expert consensus does provide you with some reason / justification for holding to a particular view (the consensus view)--and I think that it unavoidably does--and if knowledge is seen as "justified true belief", then the key question will be how much justification does the expert consensus provide you with.

You say that it's rational to judge the consensus of experts on a topic. Now, I'm not disagreeing with that - I've already said I think it's acceptable to do so. But, I want to ask a few questions.

* How do you determine who is an isn't an expert?
* How do you determine whether their judgment is or isn't within their own field, or relevant to their expertise?

Take the stock example of evolution. I accept it, etc. But Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, etc, will loudly proclaim over and over again that evolution is unguided - the outcomes are the result of selection, with God playing no role whatsoever. Frankly, few biologists speak up to correct either of them on this topic. Now, *I* know why Dawkins and Coyne are not only wrong about this, but are way outside their field when they do speak of it. How many people do?

Eufrosnia D said...

Ok, I think the problem here might be that you haven't thought about the implications of your argument.

Let us say that we remain agnostic about any authority in any field. But if that were the case, everyone will have to discover knowledge starting from first principles. What this means, if one is really consistent about their agnosticism, is that they have a mistrust of Universities and Education. Even history is doubtful unless one has done the research themselves firsthand.

With such agnosticism, there can be no progress of knowledge.

Now you might say "I remain agnostic and just accept things if they work". BUT, you forget that people have to assume principles work before they put things together and invent things. A Civil Engineer doesn't build a bridge doubting if the principles he was taught were mistaken. He holds them true when he designs and builds the bridge. Otherwise he SHOULD be putting his efforts in to making sure the principles are right. But since we have so much knowledge that cannot practically be verified by one man in a lifetime, it is impractical and the bridge will most likely never get built.

Now I think this still seems to escape you because you seem tightly convinced of agnosticism as a REASONABLE position though it maybe impractical. Perhaps the issue here is that you think by "reasonable" to mean mere "internal logical consistency" of the agnostic position. The question you should ask is what reason you have to doubt the authorities in the first place since it also seems reasonable to believe in one in the first place i.e. it is a reasonable position to hold that one who has studied a subject, trained in thinking about it, and certified by those who have empirically demonstrated their expertise, is more correct than someone who has not done so.

So when I trust a Doctor or Specialist who just got out of Medical School, I know I can trust him because his certification can be traced back to someone who has practiced in the field with success.


In short, your position pretty much amounts to a form of paranoia.
You might as well advocate that we remain agnostic if there "other persons" because that too is a proposition that cannot be proven with 100% certainty.

Eufrosnia D said...

Ok maybe I can explain it better this way.

What is your definition of "reasonable"? Is it merely that a position is internally consistent (i.e. logically possible) or that a position is probable? Because the intuitively correct position is not only does a position has to be possible but ALSO probable for one to hold the position as reasonable.

So to apply it to this case, the probability of an authority getting it wrong is less likely (i.e. less probable) in general. Therefore one would be reasonable to trust authorities by default. In the same way, it would be unreasonable to distrust an authority (or be agnostic) for that would be to hold the improbable position. The fact that society has functioned and knowledge has successfully grown this way makes the objections that follow by such agnosticism on knowledge to be an unlikely a concern as well. In other words, it seems intuitive that a trust model is necessary that one of agnosticism for the propagation and growth of knowledge. All of this adds to make the agnostic by default position unreasonable to hold.

To give you a religious example. It can be demonstrated to be highly probable given the cosmological and philosophical principles we know that the Universe was created by an intelligent being. So it is a reasonable position to hold. But for an Atheist/Agnostic to bank on the possibility that it might still be wrong and remain Atheist/Agnostic on the subject of God is unreasonable.

Also to add, when we speak of particular cases or instances of authority, there can be reason to change the probabilities. For an example, if a certain authority (as I said before) is known to have erred repeatedly by the judgement of others in equal or higher levels of authority, then we can start moving toward a agnostic or actively doubting stance toward that particular authority. Or if we see them violate commonly known logical rules of inference in arriving at a conclusion (while decision making), we can lower the probabilities in trusting them (for every individual is more or less an authority on the intuitively known logical rules of inference). But all these are particular instances where one is making an informed decision to move away from a default trusting position.

When it comes to an authority in general, given the absence of knowledge from another authoritative source to doubt their authority (which includes ones own authority regarding logical rules of inference), the default position must always be one of trust in them.

I hope that was more clear in communicating what I am trying to saying.

Crude said...

Eufrosnia,

Ok, I think the problem here might be that you haven't thought about the implications of your argument.

Not really. At least, what you're bringing up isn't new to me.

Now you might say "I remain agnostic and just accept things if they work". BUT, you forget that people have to assume principles work before they put things together and invent things.

I keep correcting you about this, but at this point I have to be direct.

Provide me a quote of where, in this entire conversation, I have said people should be agnostic on these questions. I have said multiple times that I accept it can be entirely reasonable to accept these statements on faith. I am not demanding agnosticism, I am opening the door to it.

The question you should ask is what reason you have to doubt the authorities in the first place since it also seems reasonable to believe in one in the first place i.e. it is a reasonable position to hold that one who has studied a subject, trained in thinking about it, and certified by those who have empirically demonstrated their expertise, is more correct than someone who has not done so.

'Empirically demonstrated their expertise'? By what - graduation? Passing tests? Seriously? Or by performing experiments? And this is just fraud. What about simple incompetence?

Either way, I'm maintaining both agnosticism and belief are conditionally reasonable. I find the claim that one MUST believe things they haven't a clue about because of a vague appeal to distant and (to them) unknown authorities to be... well. Insane.

You might as well advocate that we remain agnostic if there "other persons" because that too is a proposition that cannot be proven with 100% certainty.

As I said - I want you to quote me in this thread where I have advocated we remain agnostic. I've said more than once, agnosticism is a live and available option - and so is saying 'I believe'. The only thing I've advocated is against the idea that it is obligatory to believe academics about claims in their field, while having zero personal knowledge of their reasoning.

I think it's doubly bizarre to argue that this is essential for progress on the scientific front, since one of the much-touted claims of science is that scientists check each other's work and claims. Apparently the idea is more that they could if it wasn't a hassle, but they're sure someone checked it out at one point and everything was okay.

Crude said...

What is your definition of "reasonable"? Is it merely that a position is internally consistent (i.e. logically possible) or that a position is probable? Because the intuitively correct position is not only does a position has to be possible but ALSO probable for one to hold the position as reasonable.

I think 'probability' talk is less helpful than most people surmise. Plus it just fits odd here - what's 'probable' about agnosticism?

So to apply it to this case, the probability of an authority getting it wrong is less likely (i.e. less probable) in general.

You are pulling this talk of probability out of the air.

The fact that society has functioned and knowledge has successfully grown this way

'Society has functioned' as a measuring stick is hopeless. There are societies out there dying their hair with cow urine. They're functioning, technically. I'm not too impressed.

And knowledge has successfully grown? You mean the knowledge you're not aware of and think you can't possible be aware of? Or are you citing expert authority here?

By the by - according to expert opinion, just how much of that knowledge we have is knowledge that past experts were wrong?

When it comes to an authority in general, given the absence of knowledge from another authoritative source to doubt their authority (which includes ones own authority regarding logical rules of inference), the default position must always be one of trust in them.

And I disagree. It's even worse for you now, since you just added 'estimating probabilities' to the reason why you believe trusting authorities should be the default. Good luck with estimating those probabilities without begging the question to begin with.

Eufrosnia D said...

Crude,

This is my final post because I think there is enough said for any REASONABLE person to understand what I am saying.

The fact that a person who has

1.studied a particular subject
2.has been trained in it by those before him who have demonstrated their knowledge in practice
3.has been certified by the same persons

is more likely (probable) to get it right than YOU and I who are NOT authorities in that field of knowledge should be something you know from experience. I don't know why this is hard for you to grasp but it's perhaps because you are too far down the skepticism line of thinking.

Next you don't also seem to be very knowledgeable about other societies outside of your own. The reason why there are some societies that do have problems like the ones you mentioned can be traced back to them holding UNREASONABLE positions (ironically not much different from you on that front) like your own. Pantheistic societies for an example hold a skepticism toward empirical knowledge stemming from the views of reality (which are POSSIBLE, but cannot be shown to be PROBABLE to be true). But YOU don't seem to get what way the term "probabilities" are used in this sense. So you keep thinking the game is up and you won because Eufrosnia got "probabilities" involved.

As for "I think it's doubly bizarre to argue that this is essential for progress on the scientific front, since one of the much-touted claims of science is that scientists check each other's work and claims."

I think you are displaying some ignorance of the Scientific community. The new discovery/theory when presented to a conference is evaluated by those of equal or higher authority and accepted or rejected. Once it passes that stage, it is usually used on by others to build on. Rarely would we have a Scientist re-performing a complex experiment to make sure they got it "right". In fact, in most cases that is not doable if you want to balance your funding and TIME.

So this whole discussion is pretty much a joke. Why? Because we are arguing about something basic that should be obvious to you unless you have some prior ideological axe to grind.

Let me guess what has happened here. You can't seem to grasp how you would reject Richard Dawkins's claims for an example within the authoritarian framework. So as a solution, you came up with this idea that what we get from authorities is not really knowledge but ... well something NOT KNOWLEDGE for sure (you say this is not remaining "agnostic" but I think it's just a problem with definitions again).

My personal advise to you (I guess that too would be taken as something NOT knowledge and I do not have to demonstrate any authority anyway because you seem to treat all sources EQUALLY), is that you don't have to go to such a place to protect Catholicism. In fact, going to such a place only makes Catholicism itself bogus. The Catholic Church claims to be the true Church and that it is reasonable to hold her teachings TRUE. The reasoning here is completely based on authority first before assent by faith. So every supposed "blow" or "bright idea" you share to attack the authoritarian model is just another "blow" against Catholicism too. But you are too convinced of yourself as right that you don't seem to grasp that.

Crude said...

Eufrosnia,

The fact that a person who has

1.studied a particular subject
2.has been trained in it by those before him who have demonstrated their knowledge in practice
3.has been certified by the same persons

is more likely (probable) to get it right than YOU and I who are NOT authorities in that field of knowledge should be something you know from experience


What I don't know from experience is the extent of any given authority's studies, whether or how they demonstrated that knowledge, and what value their certification has. In fact, I find plenty of examples of experts who seem absolutely clueless about when they've even meandered outside of their supposed field of expertise.

Next you don't also seem to be very knowledgeable about other societies outside of your own. The reason why there are some societies that do have problems like the ones you mentioned can be traced back to them holding UNREASONABLE positions (ironically not much different from you on that front) like your own.

Is this coming from personal study, or expert opinion? What makes them 'unreasonable' as opposed to simply lacking access to knowledge and trust? And you certainly haven't established that my opinion is unreasonable - in fact, all you've made clear is that you don't like it and it bothers you. Beyond that, I have to keep correcting you about what I've even said. Not encouraging.

I think you are displaying some ignorance of the Scientific community. The new discovery/theory when presented to a conference is evaluated by those of equal or higher authority and accepted or rejected.

Is it evaluated competently? Carefully? Using the right standards?

Once it passes that stage, it is usually used on by others to build on. Rarely would we have a Scientist re-performing a complex experiment to make sure they got it "right". In fact, in most cases that is not doable if you want to balance your funding and TIME.

So much for the reliability of science stemming in part from replicated experiments validating others' work.

Let me guess what has happened here.

Don't. In fact, let me give you some advice in turn.

You're too sure of yourself. You encountered a claim - my own - that you weren't familiar with, and that you didn't seem to like. So, you attacked. You didn't ask questions, you didn't ask how to deal with such and such problem. Instead you switched into 'This is why you are wrong!' mode, 100% - and every time you were corrected, you blew past the correction and treated it as return fire in a fight that you were better off ignoring than a friendly and sincere corrective in a conversation. It's a bad habit, and it's going to bite you in the ass again and again.

My personal advise to you

Again, don't. You're not in the position to give advice here. This had little to do with Catholicism - this is addressing what I see as a deep-seated modern misunderstanding of knowledge and authority, yet another cultural failing that has snuck up on us, except this one isn't as easy to see. I have quite a lot to explain here, and a lot to defend - my work is cut out for me. But you are doing, frankly, an abysmal job of criticizing my view.

When you say 'you are too convinced of yourself as right', you're projecting. Stop treating every conversation where you disagree with someone as a fight. Learn to ask questions, learn to interact, because - I'm working with your projection here - if you think that your current approach to dispute is a great way to defend the faith or advance your ideas, you're mistaken.

Eufrosnia D said...

I am making this post because you explicitly stated that this has little to do with Catholicism. I believe it is my duty as a fellow sister in Christ to at least explain what I see as concerns with respect to the faith in the road that you are taking.

Catholicism ordinarily requires an assent to the authority of the Apostolic Successors (and successor of Peter) BEFORE assenting to any doctrinal truths.

Some do incorrectly (I am not sure if you are also guilty) assume that this assent is justified from Scripture or some other doctrinal basis. To say such a thing is logically invalid because without the Successors confirming and teaching it, one has no reason to think Scripture is anything special (that it is the God's word for an example) and nor is one able to say that they have correctly interpreted it themselves.

So what this means is that the form of authority we first have to give to the successors is entirely through natural reasoning i.e. Apostolic Successors can trace their certification back to the first Apostles. So the Church comes first in our sequence of assent (unless you got a direct revelation by God like that of St. Paul).

Also interesting to note is that we assent to concepts like that of the "Magesterium" and "Papal primacy & Infallibility" because they teach it to us. We have no way of knowing or saying if these teachings really "make sense". Some might say, we can see it is consistent with Scripture. But Scripture itself is held as important because of the teachings of these very successors.

In other words, Catholicism requires you to first assent to an authority and then subsequently accept their teachings based simply on their authority itself. It has nothing to do with whether or not you understand it. In fact, there have been teachings like the Trinity, co-existence of Divine Providence with Free-will, and other complex teaching which the faithful must accept even though they may not fully understand it.

Now you should know that the Church considers this form of assent to be fully reasonable. She also holds that those who do not see this don't have a right to be in error. I for one agree.

Now I fail to see how your challenge against what you call as a "modern cultural error" leaves the Church unscathed.

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

Eufrosnia D said...

I also noticed that you did feel ticked off about my "confidence" in this matter. The reason why I am confident about this matter is that you are stepping in to territory which is within the realm of intuitive truths and first principles of knowledge. You might not see it yet but your argumentation is akin to arguing that the principle of contradiction should be questioned. Just like with that, the place you are going does not allow for fruitful conversation to begin with and usually a person will find it to be absurd unless they already hold to some religion or ideology that denies that (like Hinduism in the case of contradictions).

Now why is your position so similar to the principle of contradiction?

Because if we affirm your position, we end up with an absurdity. By your own admittance, "But really, what's going on [with authorities] is the same exact exchange I have with people who have zero academic qualifications". This is illogical.

Why? Because it presumes that

Every individual is intellectually capable of grasping complex subject matter from different fields.

and that

Every individual can correctly form conclusions given the same set of knowledge/truths

First, we know the above propositions are false by experience. Most people just can't wrap their mind around advanced math for an example. Most don't put the effort to train themselves to acquire such a skill as well (Just look at the demographics of our Universities to see what our local kids are doing). Some others can't remember lots of knowledge and make connections like it is required for Law or Medicine. Others have difficulty with abstract thinking which is required for theoretical physics. So limitations exist among humans that make it impossible and unreasonable to presume that one can judge all truths. I myself know some fields that are above my own level of understanding.

Another reason why this is unreasonable is that if you were capable of grasping the complex subject matter and arriving at conclusions successfully, then YOU will be considered an Authority anyway. In fact, the only way you will know of being able to do such a thing accurately is if you were already certified an authority. Otherwise you should DOUBT YOUR OWN CONCLUSION.

====

Aside from all of this, just as we accept the Holy Trinity as TRUE (we do not just accept it as possible but as dogmatic truth) based on authority of the Catholic Church, I fail to see why we would put that condition of "our understanding and experience" as the reason for accepting or rejecting truths from an authority.

I apologize for my rather confrontational reply before and I hope this clarifies my concerns in a more civil manner.

Crude said...

In other words, Catholicism requires you to first assent to an authority and then subsequently accept their teachings based simply on their authority itself. It has nothing to do with whether or not you understand it. In fact, there have been teachings like the Trinity, co-existence of Divine Providence with Free-will, and other complex teaching which the faithful must accept even though they may not fully understand it.

Great. I assent, and I keep saying that I find it entirely reasonable, in principle, to assent.

Now I fail to see how your challenge against what you call as a "modern cultural error" leaves the Church unscathed.

Because you keep interpreting my words to mean 'You can't give assent!' despite my saying otherwise repeatedly.

Eufrosnia D said...

Because you keep interpreting my words to mean 'You can't give assent!' despite my saying otherwise repeatedly.

But your definition of assent by your own words is something like "same exact exchange I have with people who have zero academic qualifications- I converse, I read, I attempt to understand, and I decide what to believe in light of that."

That is not the same assent you give to the Church. You hold that the successors in the Church are the best window for you to gain knowledge and guidance regarding matters beyond the empirical realm of knowledge. All of this is done purely based on the fact that they can trace their succession to the first Apostles (and to Christ) i.e. they have authority- I converse, I read, I attempt to understand, and I decide what to believe in light of that.

So how is this not in conflict with what you say?

Crude said...

Eufrosnia,

I also noticed that you did feel ticked off about my "confidence" in this matter. The reason why I am confident about this matter is that you are stepping in to territory which is within the realm of intuitive truths and first principles of knowledge. You might not see it yet but your argumentation is akin to arguing that the principle of contradiction should be questioned.

No, Eufrosnia. What's happening here is that you're seeing phantoms of other conversations, and you're leaping to condemnations and criticisms that don't even apply to what I'm saying. Until I pointed it out, you were asking me no questions, you asked for no clarifications. You've been attacking, and in the process, making mistakes - despite my correcting them more than once. I've seen it before, and to see it happen even after I've clearly explained where you went wrong is pretty annoying.

This is why I said you're making a dramatic mistake. When confronting an idea that's unfamiliar to you, you look for a *possible* violation and leap to attack. You don't ask for clarification. You don't ask 'But wouldn't you have to conclude this because of that...?' It's bad form intellectually, and worse, it invests you emotionally in the conversation which will make backtracking that much more painful when you inevitably have to do it.

Right now, you're yammering about the principle of contradiction. But all you had to do was say 'So you mean you'd need evidence that the proof of contradiction was true before accepting it?' and I would say, 'No, because that's an axiom, a law of thought. It's ridiculous to ask for evidence for something like that.' and we'd be done. This is like watching someone in a traffic class raise their hand after being told that a car running a red light is subject to a ticket, and they say 'But that would mean a child walking across the street with a Matchbox car in his pocket is subject to a ticket!' Despite what they think, they didn't find a clever flaw in the reasoning being presented. They were being obtuse.

Why? Because it presumes that

And it presumes no such thing. If a person is incapable of grasping given subject matter, so what? That's not an argument for their being duty-bound to trust supposed experts.

Another reason why this is unreasonable is that if you were capable of grasping the complex subject matter and arriving at conclusions successfully, then YOU will be considered an Authority anyway.

No, you wouldn't. Hence my reference to 'academia'.

In fact, the only way you will know of being able to do such a thing accurately is if you were already certified an authority.

No, you wouldn't, and this kind of thinking is just painful to watch in action. I taught myself how to program - I haven't attended a single programming class save for one over ten years ago. I know how to program, I know how coding logic works. I'm not sitting here mired in self-doubt about whether or not I can program because I didn't get an A on a test from a formal institution. That's simpleton reasoning.

Eufrosnia D said...

Crude,

I am not sure you addressed my point regarding the principle of contradiction. My point was that your position results in an absurdity just as it does with rejecting the principle of contradiction. The principle of contradiction is also not just an axiom in this sense that everyone agrees upon.

About your programming, you say you know how coding logic works. You might even consider yourself a great programmer. BUT, until I test you (at which point I must be an authority) or see some test results from an authoritative source (University, SUN, MS), I have every reason to doubt your ability.

Now can you be convinced that you yourself know the subject? I think there are two sub questions here that need to be answered.

1. Can you program? The answer is a YES in this case because you can try out things and see it works.

2. Are you a good enough programmer (speed and ability to make new connections, knowledge of compiler intricacies in working conditions, mastery of good software practices, sufficient understanding of hardware dependencies)? The answer is not certain depending on how experienced you are.

Now if you are very experienced in programming, this is a sign that you have reinvented the wheel yourself and reached the status of an authority. BUT, most people do not need to go through such a process and cannot go through such a process with certain fields given the time constraints. In fact, they do not need to go through such a process.

To give you a programming example, imagine trying to explain some firmware level code with void pointers to someone when they do not even have a clue about hardware dependencies? How would you feel if they said after looking at your working product that the code is probably wrong according to their understanding but it just seems to work?

I can tell you when this becomes a very big problem: in safety critical real-time software systems. Most of the time, the end users (and even programmers) of the product (hospitals, power plants)do not fully understand the formal verification methods used to award the software with real-time guarantees. So by your logic, such things are irrational. The hospitals (and perhaps even patients) should distrust the software on the life support systems till they understand not only the code but the formal verification process.

Does this sound reasonable?

Crude said...

My point was that your position results in an absurdity just as it does with rejecting the principle of contradiction. The principle of contradiction is also not just an axiom in this sense that everyone agrees upon.

You have yet to give an reason to think that beyond 'but that would mean some people would be able to be agnostic about things', which is pretty much the point.

About your programming, you say you know how coding logic works. You might even consider yourself a great programmer. BUT, until I test you (at which point I must be an authority) or see some test results from an authoritative source (University, SUN, MS), I have every reason to doubt your ability.

Every reason to doubt? First, that's nonsense. I could be a friend of yours whose judgment you typically find to be reliable - you can accept my word on that basis alone reasonably.

But second? 'Until I test you' means that you've just doomed yourself to skepticism about just about every bit of science you read. When's the last time you checked up on the credentials of any quoted scientist? Or the last time you contacted a scientist to ask if a journalist reported their words accurately? And how in the world do you know who is or isn't an authoritative source anyway? Remember - you're not an authority, so that means you can't evaluate these things for squat according to you.

How would you feel if they said after looking at your working product that the code is probably wrong according to their understanding but it just seems to work?

If you think 'believing something is probably wrong' is 'agnostic', then you don't even understand the definitions being worked with here.

The hospitals (and perhaps even patients) should distrust the software on the life support systems till they understand not only the code but the formal verification process.

At this point, the only thing I distrust is your comprehension of this entire conversation. You really don't seem to know the difference between 'I'm agnostic about claim X' and 'Claim X is false, don't trust it!'

Eufrosnia D said...

Aah, the magic sentence Crude.

You said:"Every reason to doubt? First, that's nonsense. I could be a friend of yours whose judgment you typically find to be reliable - you can accept my word on that basis alone reasonably.

I am surprised you did not realize that there is no concept of "reliability" in your anti-authoritarian framework. In fact, I would only consider you as being good as someone with zero programming knowledge till I understand what you know and can make sure that your statements in the field of programming are accurate.

"At this point, the only thing I distrust is your comprehension of this entire conversation. You really don't seem to know the difference between 'I'm agnostic about claim X' and 'Claim X is false, don't trust it!'"

Perhaps this is because you have never clarified what an agnostic must do when s/he must act. Just as with the case of Atheism, all agnostics must choose at some points whether they act as Atheists or Theists.

Eufrosnia D said...

I accidentally submitted my reply without this bit

you said: "But second? 'Until I test you' means that you've just doomed yourself to skepticism about just about every bit of science you read. When's the last time you checked up on the credentials of any quoted scientist? Or the last time you contacted a scientist to ask if a journalist reported their words accurately? And how in the world do you know who is or isn't an authoritative source anyway? Remember - you're not an authority, so that means you can't evaluate these things for squat according to you."

I am not sure I see the coherency of your argumentation here. I can accept authorities because I know from historical evidence as to with whom the succession lies (religious case or otherwise).

In the case of hiring you, I have no such certification of yourself from history. I must find out for myself if you are truly an authority. If I am not an expert myself, this means that I will most likely not hire you (and reasonably so). I will go to a "reputed" (aka known to be authoritative) source.

I am not sure why you equated "who is an authority" is not known by historicity in society.

Crude said...

I am surprised you did not realize that there is no concept of "reliability" in your anti-authoritarian framework.

Sure there is - you can choose to trust. You can observe someone's behavior, even an organization's behavior and track record. Or you can commit freely.

It's not my framework that does a number on 'reliability'. It's reality. We trust and have faith more than we let on.

In fact, I would only consider you as being good as someone with zero programming knowledge till I understand what you know and can make sure that your statements in the field of programming are accurate.

Feel free. But that's not the only reasonable option available.

Perhaps this is because you have never clarified what an agnostic must do when s/he must act.

I don't need to clarify, because agnosticism is in reference to belief, not act.

I am not sure why you equated "who is an authority" is not known by historicity in society.

You suddenly switched the example to a hiring scenario, which wasn't what I mentioned. You said at the time - without that scenario - you wouldn't accept my claim unless you tested me or had results from an authoritative source. I mentioned that undercuts you since you're talking about throwing out pretty much every bit of science news you typically come across, and now we're in a hiring situation.

Eufrosnia D said...

Sure there is - you can choose to trust. You can observe someone's behavior, even an organization's behavior and track record. Or you can commit freely.

It's not my framework that does a number on 'reliability'. It's reality. We trust and have faith more than we let on.


What does being a person with good behavior have to do with their expertise on a subject? You do realize that the conclusion does not follow from any of the observations?

While I may know Crude to be the most honest chap in the world from my experience of him, it would be an error to conclude that therefore he is an expert in programming. He may insist he is and he may truly believe it. But it may be misguided for all I can tell if I was a lay person regarding the field of programming.

"Feel free. But that's not the only reasonable option available"

Well, could you at least share what other reasonable options are available and why they qualify as reasonable?

"You suddenly switched the example to a hiring scenario, which wasn't what I mentioned. You said at the time - without that scenario - you wouldn't accept my claim unless you tested me or had results from an authoritative source. I mentioned that undercuts you since you're talking about throwing out pretty much every bit of science news you typically come across, and now we're in a hiring situation."

Hmm? I feel that you might be purposefully tangling things up more than necessary.

When I come across a Scientific theory, I accept it (speaking from a perspective that I am not a Scientist) based on the authors credibility. How do I know the authors credibility? He is either recommended to me by a source I have already verified or he is accepted and recommended by the body of experts in the corresponding field.

Now why do I reject your expertise? Because you have no reputable credentials to point to that will make me believe you have sufficient expertise generally required of a programmer. So I must either test you myself (if I am an expert) or ask you to present yourself to an examination by a reputable certification board that will determine if you are knowledgeable enough.

Do you not see the distinction between the two?

As for the "hiring scenario", it appears to me that you still fail to see the fact that what I hold as my position is irrelevant apart from a scenario where I need to act or make decisions on it.

Crude said...

Eufrosnia,

What does being a person with good behavior have to do with their expertise on a subject? You do realize that the conclusion does not follow from any of the observations?

'Gosh, Don. In all my interactions with you you've been honest, reliable and intelligent. But you say you're a programmer? I have no reason to trust your outlandish claims!'

While I may know Crude to be the most honest chap in the world from my experience of him, it would be an error to conclude that therefore he is an expert in programming. He may insist he is and he may truly believe it. But it may be misguided for all I can tell if I was a lay person regarding the field of programming.

Let's see. Earlier you claimed that my views led to paranoia, because I refused to endorse the idea that one should, by default, believe the claims of experts - even when one is absolutely clueless about the subject they're proclaiming supposed facts about.

Now, even if someone strikes you as honest and intelligent consistently in your interaction with them, you insist that you cannot possibly believe a claim they make about having some relatively meager knowledge.

Which one of us has the paranoid approach to reality?

Well, could you at least share what other reasonable options are available and why they qualify as reasonable?

The one you dismissed due to apparent paranoia, for starters.

Hmm? I feel that you might be purposefully tangling things up more than necessary.

And I feel that you're doing poorly in this conversation and are looking for exits, then blinking when I call you out. Hence, you suddenly turning my own example into a hiring situation mid-stream when I point out the problem with your reasoning. Hence you repeatedly claiming that I'd demand someone be agnostic despite my expressly denying, multiple times, that I'd demand such. Hence you turning 'agnostic' into 'believes isn't true', and then fumbling when called out about that.

So I must either test you myself (if I am an expert) or ask you to present yourself to an examination by a reputable certification board that will determine if you are knowledgeable enough.

You have no idea how to determine whether or not someone is an expert, but you do know how to tell a reputable certification board from one that's bogus? What do you do when, as happens at times, someone is hired with a given qualification, and they turn out to be clueless? Shut down and wait for Captain Kirk to declare victory?

When I come across a Scientific theory, I accept it (speaking from a perspective that I am not a Scientist) based on the authors credibility. How do I know the authors credibility? He is either recommended to me by a source I have already verified or he is accepted and recommended by the body of experts in the corresponding field.

'A source I have already verified'? Really? So you have a physicist who recommends good physicist journalism to you, an evolutionary biologist who tells you which newspapers can be trusted when it comes to evolutionary biology, etc? The first thing you do when you pick up a new magazine is check out all the authors and run a background check on their past employment and educational credentials? Or wait, maybe call up a university and verify what papers they can trust? Do you call the journalism department or the science department? Maybe you just flip through all of them.

And best of all, you're not a scientist, so you don't trust yourself to personally reason about any scientific theories for squat, but you can tell which scientists are and are not credible because... what, some organization they paid tens of thousands of dollars to gave them a piece of paper at some point?

Eufrosnia D said...

"'Gosh, Don. In all my interactions with you you've been honest, reliable and intelligent. But you say you're a programmer? I have no reason to trust your outlandish claims!'"

Yes, Don. Because you might be one of those many misguided fools who think a tad too highly about themselves. Overconfidence is not exactly at an all time low in America.


Now, even if someone strikes you as honest and intelligent consistently in your interaction with them, you insist that you cannot possibly believe a claim they make about having some relatively meager knowledge.

Because, honesty has nothing to do with expertise in a field of knowledge!! Wow, if you cannot make that connection, I am not sure you should be speaking of these issues Crude.

The one you dismissed due to apparent paranoia, for starters.

Aah, so you admit you are advocating paranoia as the solution?

"Hence you turning 'agnostic' into 'believes isn't true', and then fumbling when called out about that."

Yea, I've been replying to you for so long because I just have a thing to fumble with you.

"You have no idea how to determine whether or not someone is an expert, but you do know how to tell a reputable certification board from one that's bogus? What do you do when, as happens at times, someone is hired with a given qualification, and they turn out to be clueless? Shut down and wait for Captain Kirk to declare victory?"

Wow. Just wow. We are talking about the most reasonable thing to Crude. When are you going to get it through your thick skull that doing the reasonable thing can end up giving a bad result?

Just because I get a poor hire from credentials does not mean I should be getting people like you. That would be retarded reasoning at it's finest.

As for how you verify sources, there are first of all roots in any field of knowledge that demonstrate their authority empirically. Society as well as their successors keeps track of who he certified and then the successors and so forth. So all you look for is the reputation that so and so has credentials from a certified authority.

IF YOU WANT TO ARGUE THIS SORT OF THING, AT LEAST GET YOURSELF EDUCATED WITH THE EXISTING WAY OF HOW THINGS WORK.

Crude said...

Yes, Don. Because you might be one of those many misguided fools who think a tad too highly about themselves. Overconfidence is not exactly at an all time low in America.

'Thinking too highly of themselves' is exactly the sort of thing I could come to be aware of about Don just by interacting with him on a regular basis - without having to have him tested.

Because, honesty has nothing to do with expertise in a field of knowledge!!

You know, Eufrosnia - most people are able to reasonable ascertain whether or not they themselves are a programmer, or are capable of doing matrix multiplication, or any number of things without having been tested formally. As I said, I find it hilarious that you initially accused my understandings on this front of being 'paranoid', yet here you are saying that you wouldn't even believe someone who you personally knew, who was intelligent and honest, was a programmer on their say so. You'd demand testing.

Aah, so you admit you are advocating paranoia as the solution?

Learn to read and - more importantly - comprehend.

Yea, I've been replying to you for so long because I just have a thing to fumble with you.

I don't even know what 'fumble with me' is supposed to mean. Seems like another fumble, frankly. ;)

Wow. Just wow. We are talking about the most reasonable thing to Crude. When are you going to get it through your thick skull that doing the reasonable thing can end up giving a bad result?

When are you going to get it through your thick skull that there is more than one 'reasonable' reply to some states of affairs?

Society as well as their successors keeps track of who he certified and then the successors and so forth.

"Society" does no such thing. Individuals do.

Look, let me be frank - I've wasted a good portion of my day talking to you. You've had serious trouble even understanding and accurately repeating a significant portion of what I've said, and now you're running on ego. I've let this slide enough with past comments, but at this point you're behaving like the sort of person who I have little time for, save for mocking - and I'd rather not let my blog turn into that kind of place.

So, we're done. Learn how to cope with ideas you disagree with, learn when it's appropriate to ask questions and understand rather than trying to deal with every disagreement by attacking, misrepresenting your opponent, and evading. But learn it somewhere else, because I'm not interested in holding your hand and guiding you through it.

Eufrosnia D said...

I do apologize for my lashing out a little bluntly toward you in my posts.

But you have to know a bit of my background. I am actually an academic. I see the system every day and I know why and how it works. I know it's shortcomings because I have to deal with it as do my colleagues. Even among this shortcomings, we know why the structures works and is the most intuitive. It's not like we academics just blindly follow a system. Everyone has discussed the issue of academic structures at some point in their career.

So you have to understand this discussion from my perspective. For me, it is like having one of my first year students disagree with something I clearly have studied (and those before me) for years. It is not so much that I hate the question but your seeming conviction that you got this one in the bag. It would be somewhat easier if this was a conversation in person. But it's unfortunately not and therefore it's not easy to convey all the details about the subject of academic structures with 4096 word limit in place as well. Even if I wrote you a detailed thesis, most likely it will not be read since people don't visit internet blogs for that sort of thing.

If you do not want to continue any discussion with me I understand. But please, at least put yourself in my shoes and look at the situation. At least for a minute imagine how you would feel if someone kept insisting with you regarding a piece of code that you wrote after much thought and know why it works. It is the same feeling I get when you keep making various accusations against the structures of authority in academic fields.

Sorry about upsetting you and I admit that I should be more patient.

Crude said...

Eufrosnia,

Even among this shortcomings, we know why the structures works and is the most intuitive.

Academics have collectively come to the conclusion that, despite whatever problems are evident, it really is better for all concerned if people are socially pressured to take academics at their word rather than so much as optionally withhold their judgment? This is supposed to be a surprise? Or better yet, a good reason to not optionally withhold judgment, or make a decision for ourselves?

For me, it is like having one of my first year students disagree with something I clearly have studied (and those before me) for years.

See, here's the difference between you and me: when someone merely disagrees with me or doesn't automatically believe me regarding a claim, particularly about something they do not understand, I don't automatically take offense. Why should I? It's not some kind of terrible state of affairs. But for you, it's actually indicative of a big problem - you should be able to flash your credentials and quell the dissent. No explanation needed, no argument needed, no evidence needed. You picked up your PhD, you win, period. You can only be trumped by another PhD, or by popular vote of the PhDs.

Yeah, I don't see the value of that system. I see the internal appeal of it. I bet politicians also wish people subscribed to the logic of 'I've been in Washington for 30 years crafting legislation, I know what laws we should have better than a cab driver or a clerk'.

At least for a minute imagine how you would feel if someone kept insisting with you regarding a piece of code that you wrote after much thought and know why it works. It is the same feeling I get when you keep making various accusations against the structures of authority in academic fields.

Once again - I don't expect that people should automatically accept my claims as true without argument or evidence, save for my friends or people who know me and thus have reason to generally trust my judgment and intelligence - and even there, only to a certain degree. If I want someone to believe me about a claim I make, I accept that I have a burden, and I try to meet it intellectually. If they just are unable to understand what I'm saying, well, that's unfortunate - even frustrating - but if they sincerely cannot understand what I'm saying, then I can't really hold their agnosticism against them. It's not an ideal state of affairs, but it's vastly better than the alternative.

Maybe the authority you have, that you like and expect, is not deserved. That doesn't mean some first year yutz has authority. You should have him outgunned in terms of knowledge and argument. And if you do not, then you have bigger problems on your hands than an inability to trump him with credentials.

I am entirely aware of the opposite problem of the complete idiot thinking he's a master of a given field because he read 1/3 of a 'X for Dummies' book or watched a TV show. I deal with, frankly, a lot of morons who think that being in the Cult of Gnu has magically given them expertise on philosophy, religion and science. I'm not a fan of them either. But the solution to that problem is not blind and automatic acceptance of academic authority.