The Physics of Learning | Daily Cannibal

Truth resides in the majority. It is not a scientific thing at the bottom of a well where only the knowing can come to drink. Down there, where the aqua vitae reposes, there are still politics.

Stand beneath a concrete block falling on your head.  Discuss the politics of the laws of gravity with it as it falls.

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About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.


What? — 17 Comments

  1. we can’t really know anything at all.
    And everything is a matter of opinion.

    Exactly not. Of course things can be known, but not by all people, because they don’t “know” enough to begin with. That’s the problem. Take of one of our favorites, for example: climate change.

    People who wouldn’t know a computer algorithm from a crossword puzzle, with no understanding of fluid dynamics, no real knowledge of statistics and a firm belief that they are “scientifically literate” because they watch Neil deGrass Tyson once a week stoutly aver that “all the evidence” confirms AGW.

    They may believe that they have considered the evidence, in the same way the soothsayer points to a scattering of bones. That’s what CfE means when he says that knowledge is political. People out there actually think that reality is up for election — they are the ones who look at you incredulously and sputter “but…but…97% of scientists!!!”

    • Nemo, pursue the logic further, and it ends up exactly where I say it does: You can’t know anything. Because there is always more than one opinion about everything – even gravity. I can find you people on the internet who deeply and firmly believe that I could have a conversation with that falling concrete block – or that I could deflect it by countervailing gravity via the power of my mind.

      I can’t know that such mind power is impossible (and I rather hope it is not) so I can’t really know that the laws of gravity are immutable, even if I happen to know and understand the basic equations that govern it (supposedly, in some quarters).

      Yes, many people think that reality is electable or negotiable, and that A=A is simply a patriarchal construct of old white Greek guys to keep the people down.

      But then enters the whole gamut of epistemological questions, at which point, while I recognize the logic of the arguments involved, they still have me throwing up my hands and saying, “Nevertheless, it moves.”

      So, while you likely can’t really know anything, you can act as if you do. If you’re wrong, reality will likely enter a correction.


    • As far as I can tell, Nemo has hit the nail on the head here and, indeed, Alfred has been chewing on this for quite a while.

      WTQ, remember a while back when I mentioned something about “informed criticism”? The context was Rand’s philosophy and I stated something like “informed criticism is rare”.

      I think this is what Nemo is getting at in a much broader context.

      Most of what passes for ‘knowledge’ today is simply the parroting what one has been taught or read (along with a large dose of confirmation bias), not what one has genuinely learned and confirmed via their own rational faculty and judgement.

      Consider, for example, the ‘knowledge’ of nutritionists. What do most nutritionists actually know?

      Can you think of someone who, without formal book learning, could teach nutritionists a thing or two about nutrition?

  2. Yeah. I wasn’t going all the way to the firewall of what is “knowable” or “provable,” and readily concede that at these boundaries knowledge acquires the consistency of quantum foam.

    I’m saying that there are an awful lot of “educated” and “informed” people out there who have deceived themselves into believing they understand things they can barely grasp, let alone comment on with any hope of precision or relevance. Yet they pontificate with the assurance and aplomb of a nuncio, beaming as they chant their catechisms.

    Like our President.

  3. I have to admit I sometimes use believe, know and think as interchangeable. Probably late boomer miseducation. I’ll have to be more careful now that I know better. I think the world is “round” [1] because scientists have shown proof in a number of ways that over the centuries have been proved reasonably well. I do not believe the world is round just because someone says so, just because. Because for millennia they said just the opposite. Just because. I do not know the world is round because someone in the future may scientifically prove that the universe may actually prove to be something completely different than what we perceive. However, until proven otherwise, reality seems to conform with my thinking that the world is round.

    [1] To the extent that the earth is full of peaks and valleys and not spherical in the sense of “round”.

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