Category Archives: Philosophy

Philosophy

The Worldview Fallacy

Nothing is more dangerous than a dogmatic worldview—nothing more constraining, more blinding to innovation, more destructive of openness to novelty.
-Stephen Jay Gould

Worldview:
“A particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.”

Worldview is often sited by religious believers as an authorization for logic that yields their desired conclusions. An example of this came up recently at a debate (not mine but attended) where a believer didn’t like a scientific conclusion. He dismissed the evidential outcome, replacing it and stating that his own conclusion was valid given a Christian worldview. In other words, he didn’t like the real answer so he changed the rules of analysis.

Worldview has nothing to do with fact. It is an overlay that makes one prone to bias, particularly a worldview based on the sacred texts of a deity. When a person places an immutable prerequisite in front of their thinking, logic becomes unreliable. If a conclusion conflicts with the precondition it is rejected then modifications are applied—bias, rationalization, reinterpretation of evidence, dissonance-reducing confabulation—until an acceptable result is reached.

Worldview has been described as seeing through color-filtered glasses, usually rose-colored to represent a desirable bias. While there is something to this concept—we are all influenced by our knowledge and environment—it is incorrect to assume that all worldviews are equally valid. My Christian friend could have been confronted by a Scientologist, claiming that her worldview accepts that emotional baggage is traceable to engram-inducing in-utero trauma. He could have been confronted by an astrologer whose worldview holds that good and bad days are due to planetary alignment. But on this day he was confronted by a scientifically educated person with high confidence (from the knowledge of a consensus of cosmologists and physicists) that the universe is 13.72 billion years old, rather than the 6000 years his book implied.

Putting forth a false worldview as an analytic shield is like pretending to throw a magic spell that automatically elevates your conclusions to incontrovertible “truth.” At best it is a demonstration of believence in full bloom, at worst a dodge or manipulation.

I have also seen worldview used to encumber when, seeing their own argument attacked, a believer tried to counterattack but accusing his opponent of having her own falsifying worldview. This tactic is reminiscent of the accusation that atheists practice a religion—faith in science. In other words, the childish ploy of “Oh yeah? Well you too.” Not exactly high debate. The problem again is the assumption of balance, this time to an equally low level, not admitting (or worse not recognizing) the deficiency of this plane.

Some will retort that validity is in the eye of the beholder. Who is either side to judge whose worldview is valid and whose is not? Why not default them to equal footings? Rubbish. The best source of knowledge is a consensus of a majority of educated specialists within a particular field, unless of course the subject has already been dismissed (I’m thinking astrology here). Experts don’t always turn out to be correct but they have the best chance of being so. When the consensus shifts, so does the best current knowledge. Is this an Argument From Authority fallacy? No, because a consensus is not a single authority, and we simply do not have a more reliable method. Conception and non-evidential belief don’t even come close. Would you rather be subject to an Argument From Ignorance fallacy?

Until recently we have thought of these tactics as misrepresentation but it more appears to be honest belief, sad evidence that apologetic teachings are having some success molding opinions. Believers are not unthinking followers but apologists seed and feed their opinions. Given that these followers have a propensity to accept religious views, they then become resistant to physical explanations of nature. Worse, creation rationalizationists are laying claim to science itself, arguing that science is now proving deity and accusing real scientists of being the deceptive, illogical ones. It’s a classic attack switch tactic—take what your opposition accuses you of and reverse its direction.

Time will tell if the worldview tactic holds up. So far it’s providing many with a comforting belief bubble, a safe haven to reduce the dissonance stress of being in disagreement with the world’s most prominent scientists. But bubbles are thin…and they can pop.

The Role of Philosophy

What is your aim in philosophy? To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein

“Blood from the right chamber of the heart goes to -vena arteriosa – lungs – arteria venosa – left chamber…”
-Ibn Nafis (1210-1288 AD)

 

“We likewise discover that there cannot exist any atoms or parts of matter that are of their own nature indivisible.”
-Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

Philosophy is proto-science, the development of hypotheses and the testing of these by thought experiment using the tool of logic. Its limitation, as the above quotes demonstrate, is that its conclusions cannot be raised to a level of strong confidence since, evidence not being part of the process, there is no way to tell which conclusions are true and which are false. Sometimes it results in a hit, sometimes a miss. This is not to say that philosophy is useless—it is in fact essential—but that its conclusions are preliminary. They are the end of a road that does not continue unless and until evidence becomes available to progress the investigation with physical experimentation. The samples above are both reasonable and logical, however only one is correct. In time, evidence arose and accumulated to elevate one to the level of high theory while the other has been relegated to the dustbin of ideas that didn’t pan out.

Ask yourself then: before evidence was found to substantiate or destroy the hypotheses, what degree of confidence should have been stamped upon its plateaued conclusions? Sans evidence can any confidence even be assigned? In other words, can the output of philosophy be considered truth?

The answer is no, in of itself. Although it may derive what later becomes learned as truth, until that result is proven by evidential experimentation of positive result, a philosophical conclusion is held in a waiting position, cued up hopefully for the scientific method to take the baton and move forward. But if no runner comes along—no evidence arrives—then conclusions remained cemented at this level they have obtained, able to advance no further. They are refined speculations, educated guesses, reasoned options, even hopes.

Of what use then is philosophy? Tremendous use, particularly when evidence has not yet been discovered or when evidence may never be discovered. For the later consider the question, what is “importance?” As an abstract concept, there is no way to discuss this question without thought argument. The outcome therefore remains hypothetical and conceptual. A vase may be important or unimportant for a variety of reasons but its physical properties do not change according to its deemed importance. This is analogous to a truth vs the perception or knowledge of a truth; a truth exists independent of any knowledge or perception of it. Yes, a tree falling alone in a forest does make a sound.

In millennium past, philosophy has had a great role in leading us toward truth, though for every truth eventually matured to fact many alternate dead ends were abandoned. We kindly tend to remember the successes and forget the failures. We revere Isaac Newton for his Calculus and Theory of Gravitation while diminishing to trivia his efforts in alchemy and apocalyptic prophesy.

Though the knowledge we have gained from the last four hundred years of science has reduced the realm of philosophy—natural philosophy in particular–but there is still much we do not know. (Indeed we don’t even know how much we don’t know, so perhaps philosophy should be considered to have just moved on to new territories.) Thus philosophy will always have an important role. While science continually moves into new areas, it is often philosophy that first helps us imagine beyond the current one*. And if the history and progress of the philosophy-science team has taught us anything it is that there will always be new horizons.

However, there is a problem. Among the believent, (those with a propensity to conclude belief, particularly when evidence is scant or nonexistent), philosophy is often used beyond its boundary. When faith is criticized or considered insufficient, deities are often rationalized by argument. Religious apologists lacking physical evidence of the supernatural (by definition) make philosophical arguments to justify not only scriptural teachings but their preferred deity’s existence. This would be fine if only done to the degree of hypothesis without confidence, but they often treat their conclusions as raised to the level of likelihood, even seeing them as “truth.” This is typically an honest error, motivated reasoning being in full bloom, but it is nonetheless incorrect. Problematically, when people group and reinforce such beliefs, the result is a deficit from reality that can result in ideological, educational, political, even physical conflict.

A bigger problem: when one can generate a conclusion that is intuitive or desirable, avoiding the discomfort of the unsatisfactory, the unfamiliar or the unanswered, the search for knowledge stops and sometimes inconvenient evidence is suppressed. This is common because evolution has sculpted us to be intuitive. Intuition is a quick-decision neurological shortcut that enhanced our survival in an environment where there was often no time for slow, deliberate consideration. Infinities, time dilation, “nothing” before the Big Bang do not make intuitive sense yet they have non-supernatural explanations. But settling on a deity explanation, fanciful and teleological, is intuitive and comfortable.

So use philosophy wisely. Value its contribution in the past, present and future. But be aware of its limits and our bias to use it beyond its ken. If truth is what you’re after, philosophy is just the first step.

 

*Science does not progress only by the philosophical generation of hypothesis. Given the knowledge base we’re standing on now and the technology available, much (most?) of new science is investigating questions that previous work exposed. Just ask anyone who is involved with a planetary exploration project; the backlog of data to be analyzed is monstrous, not even including the reconsideration/revaluation that future findings will trigger. Almost everything we learn generates exciting new questions. Mathematics too is a field that proposes and generates new horizons, particularly in cosmology.

 

A Ranking of Values

For me, human rights simply endorse a view of life and a set of moral values that are perfectly clear to an eight-year-old child. A child knows what is fair and isn’t fair, and justice derives from that knowledge.
-Tom Stoppard

Values
“A person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.”

Morals
“A person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.”

Perhaps the strongest thing that drives me is the thought that some people are working with beliefs and information that is untrue. The range of this is wide, from youthful beliefs that others care much about what they think, to world-shaking Kool-Aid parties to bring about an imagined transition to a next life. Too much of our populace is moving backwards in what is believed matching up with what is true.

My journey to understand this phenomenon has settled into a very simple goal—seeking truth, whatever the answer. By necessity then truth itself must be a value to uphold, perhaps the highest. From this all else will follow. Only with the truth, or more accurately our best estimation of truth at any time, can we best accomplish everything else that is meaningful to us.

Once truth was labeled as a high value it got me wondering what else should be on the list so here we are. Admittedly this is a soft list. With time, thought and input from others I’ll probably shift items around. There is also some mea culpa here; while the order makes sense in a way of what should be, I’ve been less than optimal in responsibility to family vs self. Trying to be better at it these days, especially in awareness.

The sequencing task was interesting. Some interactive logic raised its head, not unlike Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics.” That’s how Truth got demoted to Number Two. Below that it was a process of reverse prioritizing—what should be degraded in the service of upholding the one above.

You’re probably already thinking about what your list would look like so to help with alternate concepts, check out this site as a reference: http://www.stevepavlina.com/articles/list-of-values.htm. Steve Pavlina gives us 500 “value words” to choose from. I’ve taken another approach but like his too so have selected some to clarify each section below.

  1. Human Life

It’s interesting to note that we can justify breaking even this top code by sacrificing one life to save two. Abortion is up here too, a difficult issue with strong logic on both sides. And of course “Would you go back in time and kill Hitler?” is on this shelf, albeit philosophically. Well, would you? Easy yes for me.

So this is the Free Speech analog value—sounds obviously and simple but it’s not as clear as it seems when put into situational context. Still, it’s a strong place to start.

Value words: Reverence

  1. Truth

This has such high placement because almost every decision, every judgment is maximized when input is correct. We too often operate on belief, but if belief is the know-it-all Uncle at the Thanksgiving table who nobody has the energy to counter, then truth is the wise old grandmother who actually knows what’s what, even if she isn’t putting forth the effort to shut him down.

Often it seems pointless to counter people with wrong opinions strong as they may be, but there has to be a line. Actually, I can define two lines.

The first is stepping in when someone is putting out offensive or blatantly untrue information. If nothing else I want them to know that what they are saying is not acceptable in society, to say or to impose on others to hear. Think racist putdowns, homosexual slurs (had a coworker going on about gay men all being pedophiles).

The second is mistaken belief that we know to be untrue, such as a stance that we never went to the moon or that climate change is not caused by human activity. Here, I want them to know that their opinion is being challenged; hopefully others nearby will then speak out, the result being truth becoming majority opinion.

Value Words: Accuracy, Correctness, Credibility, Deference, Fidelity, Honesty, Learning, Precision, Sacredness

  1. Responsibility to Family

Honestly this is a tough call between self and family, especially if taken to a sacrificial extreme. What each of us would do in a life-and-death situation probably can’t be known until being in that situation. Evolution theory indicates that self preservation should come first, unless the fractional benefits add up sufficiently—three brothers beats one you (50% x 3 > 100% x1 of the same genes).

Most of us will answer this easily however if comparing ourselves to our children. We would willingly sacrifice ourselves for them, especially in their early vulnerable years. Biological instinct is strong.

Value Words: Care, Duty, Love, Loyalty, Protection, Support

  1. Responsibility to Work

While it’s easy to justify leaving work to rescue a hospitalized family member, that impulse is countered by logic that the job is what provides self and family with food and shelter—short term vs long term effects. In theory one can always get another job. I’m guessing people will place this one up and down this list.

On a personality level, this and the responsibility categories that follow—collectively responsibility to non-self—implies what type you are.

Value Words: Accountability, Attentiveness, Commitment, Dependability, Diligence, Duty, Loyalty, Obedience, Prosperity, Reliability

  1. Responsibility to Self

From an evolutionary perspective this would be much higher, at least prior to successful reproduction. And we all have a responsibility to make ourselves happy, love ourselves first, enjoy our one and only not-God-given life, yes? Ayn Rand would agree. Seriously, what would life be without ComicCon and classical music? Service to others is important but ultimately we are the “I” in our heads, a small piece of the universe that has become aware of itself by whatever cause. This also means learning as much about life, the universe and everything as possible. For me this is reading, attending talks and listening to others. For most travel and expansive experiences go here.

Value Words: Achievement, Awareness, Care, Comfort, Consciousness, Experience, Fitness, Fun, Happiness, Health, Introspection, Knowledge, Learning, Pleasure, Rationality, Security, Sexuality

  1. Responsibility to Others

This is a big one for me, which is how I know I’m a liberal by personality. I recognize my bleeding heart, clear as day. From another perspective, every time I walk past someone else’s left-behind dog poop I want to etch their car with “Do Unto Others.” How do some people operate with so little consideration for others? By having a different type of brain.

Value Words: Acknowledgement, Altruism, Awareness, Benevolence, Compassion, Courtesy, Diversity, Empathy, Fairness, Friendliness, Honesty, Kindness, Patience, Respect, Sincerity, Understanding

  1. Responsibility to Society

An extension of the Do Unto Others instinct with a dash of paternalism yields a desire to care for society beyond my extended kin. We vote to make our preferences known, recycle to protect resources and construct like the United Nations to define and extend rules of civil decency. We are unavoidably interdependent now. Corporations are global, making their reach wider, their shareholders unbordered. This is a good thing since interdependent groups have a self-interest to avoid conflict. Economic theory points this out too—every seller requires a buyer, every product sale to a foreign country is money pulled into the source country (in theory).

There is value in preferring our home city, state and country but the world has less strife when we remember that those on the other sides of borders are basically the same, with mirror interests of equal value. Certainly they have equal rights to profit, liberty and safety, to the extent that they are not trying to pull such off at our expense (we or theirs). Win-win is a better strategy than win-lose. Evolution has figured this out as the process of reciprocal altruism.

Value Words: Accountability, Commitment, Community, Connection, Country, Duty, Impact, Justice, Liberty, Organization, Peace, Prosperity, Resilience, Security, Stability

  1. Responsibility to Future

This takes responsibility to family, others and society one step further thanks to our abstract-thinking big brains. We are no longer a species of three million beings. There are few, if any, homesteading land rushes in the future of mankind. Rare earth metals are now shorter in supply, prone to political play as China begins to monopolize these commodities (though two generations ahead will likely be mining asteroids). Global temperature rise will not reverse itself without significant human intervention. Attention investors—get into the carbon sequestration market on the ground floor! People with children have an increased motivation to pass forward an unruined world. The life of each generation has become dense, not only in population but information and interactions. Every generation naturally strives to have their offspring do just a little bit better.

Value Words: Accountability, Advancement, Change, Commitment, Continuity, Endurance, Inventiveness, Longevity

  1. Learning

Some people don’t have this interest and there’s nothing wrong with that if they so choose. To those who are content with unending days of porch chair rocking, I tip my hat to your ability to bask in that satisfaction. For me though, especially as an atheist highly confident in the existence of only one life, I am driven to learn as much about this universe as possible, for as long as my mind spins. There is satisfaction in learning something new but also an awareness that each bit of information adds to the knowledge pool, helping me make progressively better decisions. For example, I no longer eat donuts multiple times a week because…you know…knowledge.

Seriously though, it was the stress of not understanding why people had vehemently conflicting opinions that induced me to start this study and eventually this blog.

Value Words: Achievement, Awareness, Challenge, Discovery, Exploration, Growth, Inquisitiveness, Introspection, Knowledge, Openness, Understanding, Wisdom

  1. Animal Life

I’m surprised this almost got pushed off the list but it shows how many things are important, how rich our lives are. We are animals. We evolved from animals. We can see our ancestry in their eyes, even the yard lizards who stare blankly into the distance. Every animal we see is a reminder of common ancestors, of a path commonly travelled a thousand million years in the past. The least we can do is to share the space with them.

Value Words: Balance, Connection, Diversity, Harmony, Protection, Preservation, Sharing

 

What does your list look like?

Earth

Chapter Next

My life seems to work itself into chapters with one interest dominating for a time, running its course, then being replaced by another. I used to view this as a weakness of follow-through—and there is some truth to that—but have learned to accept it as somewhat of a blessing. There is not enough time in life to experience everything so one way of coping is to move from one interest to another. While the price is lack of mastery it does yield a broad range of experiences. Today it is time to turn the page from managing a movie theatre to Chapter Next.

A parallel interest has been brewing for several years. In the midst of work stress an unrelenting irritation was moving to the forefront—not understanding the contrary opinions of others, lingering post-911 shock (how could people do such a thing?), the public’s slipping trust in science, false statements of “fact,” and the political flare preceding the 2008 presidential election.

In 2007 I wrote this statement, planning a blog based on my limited knowledge:

I May Be Wrong But…
(Surviving in a Complex World)
2/26/07

Ruminations on all the controversial subjects. Essentially a “this I believe” piece written with the disclaimer that I don’t know enough about anything but this is my take on things, trying to get through life with the limited understanding of subjects. Generally it is a lament of not understanding why some things are the way they are, why some people (governments, etc) act the way they do.

My base belief is that people want to do the right thing and yet there is much evidence to the contrary, at least among those in the minority who have an effect beyond the average person.

Final essay is that we can only do what we can do, trying to get by in this complex world. We don’t understand enough about probably anything to call ourselves competent or expert and we certainly can’t make that claim about multiple subjects. The best we can do is to strive to do the right thing, keeping in mind that others must be allowed to do the same.

Mistakes are allowed, though lessons should be learned and corrections made. Ego is, to a large extent, bad.

Why different opinions?
• Our crutches—indulgences, divine belief, laziness.
• Our strengths—right intent, perseverance, knowledge.
• Our weaknesses—greed, ignorance, fear, arrogance.
• Tools to be better—open mind, tolerance, middle ground, compromise.

The essays never happened but by 2009 (the summer of the harsh healthcare town hall “debates”) I had decided that the above was not an acceptable course—developing coping mechanisms to ignorance. Ready to finally pay attention to this confusion, I aimed to try to understand it all. A better answer was to learn. I wanted to understand what yielded logical but opposite opinions, separate belief from truth, explore contradictions and hypocrisy, research the history and context of issues—in short, to learn about people, society and the forces that drove them. There had to be sense in this mess.

As do many people I had been living day to day, not paying deep attention to such things, triggering a broader question—how much does an average citizen need to know to intelligently (read knowledge, not intellect) make good election decisions?

So I began reading and reading. Soon though each book lead to more questions and a growing list of must-study topics. This expanded the broader question too—does an average citizen really need to go into this much depth? Was that even possible given the daily demands of life? Special interests were lobbying Washington in historic volume while affecting public opinion significantly, yielding “opinions” that looked implanted and reinforced. Were we really that gullible?

As flashes of answers began to appear, an interest also grew in sharing this information. Life kept me busy, in learning mode for several years but that turned out to be a good thing. Now, with the theatre gone there is finally time to begin interacting on these topics. My knowledge base remains modest but many books later, the tapestry is starting to come together.

I invite you to join me on this knowledge quest. Let’s share what we know, fill in each other’s blanks and correct each other when wrong. Let’s learn to interact in a less contentious manner than the growing political divide is pushing us toward.

History is full of conflicts based on quick judgments, emotional reactions, public manipulation, and the protection of power. Granted, none of this will magically go away but societies now have the benefit of much hindsight and fast, widespread dissemination of information. Let’s do some good here.