Sociological Experiment

Knatz.com / Teaching / Thinking Tools /
@ K. 2000 07 07

Mission: to challenge cultural complacency, and self-misrepresentation

It is my contention throughout my home page as throughout the latter decades of my life that the habits of thought and behavior that allowed the human species to colonize the bulk of the earth and to achieve a population of a half-dozen billion persons will not suffice to maintain such a population. I characterize our hitherto habits of thought as “pack mentality.” Societies train themselves to see what they want to see and then regard agreement as proof of the veracity of their beliefs. It’s OK to cage or kill someone if the twelve representatives of the group agree. No one spoke up for Socrates or for Jesus (according to those stories), at least not above a whisper: therefore Socrates and Jesus were “guilty”: of whatever the pack wanted to accuse them of. Yet we have tools to sort and grade evidence and theory (or explanations of the evidence) by standards more objective than public opinion. This directory shares this human’s digestion of some that this human sees as key.

The scientific method requires both verification of a hypothesis and failure at falsification of a hypothesis for theoryhood to be achieved. The system is not perfect. It still has a social element: more than one person has to understand what the one person is saying. Without Halley, what would we know of Newton’s work? Darwin, Einstein, Freud … had a fan or two before they had several fans or more. It took years of Hardy failing to recognize Ramanujian before Hardy finally “discovered” his superior. It’s hard to imagine Kurt Godel reaching an audience even of one had he been a contemporary of Peter Abelard.

(The host of Darwin’s refuters have the common characteristic of not understanding the theory (or theories) being refuted. By that standard, even I could refute Einstein.) (And of course it’s also hard to imagine Kurt Godel being
Kurt Godel in medieval Christendom.)

Posthumous fame doesn’t buy beer.
Sir Fred Hoyle

I wish to propose an generic experiment, adaptable by any would-be rational individual in a society. Try testing some of the cherished beliefs of your fellows. Even under Hitler, Germans sang Die gedanken sind frei. It’s not new for an Englishman to believe he has freedom both of thought and conscience. Americans claim this as Constitutionally “guaranteed.”

Verification is not difficult. I don’t doubt that Germans did think a variety of things even in the ‘Thirties and ‘Forties. English English literature is broad enough that one can find a range of propositions and beliefs published: uttered, broadcast, in print. So too in the United States. Chose an opinion. Express it. Write it up the best you can. You may even get it published: at least as a letter to the editors. You can mount it at your home page. All this is verification.

Now what about verification’s equally important but easily overlooked sibling: falsification?


2001 04 13

I mounted the above 7/7/0 meaning to continue it within a day if not within an hour or two. So it goes: the most important part of the piece implicit but not expressed. Can I do it now? With so many other things crowding me? I’ll go at least a word further.

Find a view repressed in the past. Try Peter Abelard’s nominalism, for example: there’s Geoffrey and Alison, Tom, Dick, and Betty, there’s this table and that chair; but there’s no such thing as “man,” “woman,” “table,” or “chair.” You don’t have to believe it. Just try first to understand it, then to express it, then to succeed in communicating it to another. Then try to publish it.

Or research Cree cosmology. Try to argue it publicly. I don’t mean as an “anthropologist”: “this is what those funny people thought”: ha ha ha. I mean try to argue it as though you believed it.

At the very least, I guarantee you’ll have a better understanding of the issues I’m trying to raise.

Sorry: that’s the best I can do in the three seconds I’m allowing myself today.

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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