Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Knowing and Believing

I separate knowledge and belief.

There are things you don't know.
There are things you can't know.
There is a vanishingly small number of things that any person truly knows.
And there are a large number of things that we 'know' with varying levels of confidence.


Most of the universe is composed of things I don't know.  I don't know what you had for breakfast.  Don't know if there are habitable planets other than earth.  There are huge fields of specialist knowledge that are mysteries to me: computers, for instance.  And even in places where I have formal training, like experimental design or biology or emergency medicine, there are still huge swathes of specialist information that is beyond me.

And there are thing I can't know.  Would I survive an EOTWAWKI scenario?  What will the future hold?  What evil lurks in the heart of William Horace Smedly III, of Smesgboygan Illinois?

Some of the things can't be known because there are too many variables and some can't be known because the basic premises are also unknown (is there a William H. Smedley in a town I just made up?) And some of the things are unknowable, such as the non-disporovable hypotheses.

The things I truly know are very few, specific and limited.  They are the things I consider fact.  Diamond scratches talc.  For all people and in all times and under all circumstances (so far, but I think any circumstances that would change the mohs scale would also change the substances).  Put one rock in an empty jar and another rock in the same jar, you will have two rocks.  1+1=2.  But I don't count on it with rabbits over time.

The things I know with confidence are the things I have tested or have experience in. Leverage even works on PCP freaks, pain compliance does not.  Strikes and pressure points are unreliable.  Days get longer starting in late December.

But I'm not attached to these.  I'm aware that there is sampling error (OC-pepperspray- is notoriously unreliable in my experience. Never stopped a fight and four times the threat didn't even shut his eyes.  But they didn't call me when stuff worked.)  I am aware that there are outliers.  I've angulated an elbow so that it was about eight inches off the line of true with no effect whatsoever.  The most reliable thing seems to be that the longer you stay in certain environments the weirder the stuff that you see...

Belief is different.  Belief is when you invest in something you don't know or can't know.  Even when you get attached to things that you know with confidence.  (If my best technique fails and I believe it can't fail so I freeze...) The important part is that belief, no matter how strong it is, doesn't convert things to knowledge, much less to 'truth.'

What is being invested?  Ego.  Identity.  When beliefs become tribal markers.  The process and even identifying when you are doing this to yourself is laid out in the ConCom material.

Believing 100%, completely without doubt, doesn't mean you are right.  It isn't even an indicator of likelihood of accuracy.  But people will argue, burn friendships, even fight and kill over who is wrong and who is right.  If you feel sure, if you are very, very sure, that indicates one thing with absolute reliability: the thing you feel sure about is NOT on the list of things you know.

Did anyone have an emotional reaction to 1+2=2?  Even if I say something more complicated, like 7x 8= 42, the emotional reaction doesn't come from the facts. Some of you will feel a little smug at catching the error and I will feel a little embarrassed about making a math error in public and those of you that just skimmed will go back and find the math error and feel a little guilty...

Emotions over how people respond.  No emotion over the math itself.  Or over the mohs scale.  Because there is no emotion associated with knowledge.  But there is powerful emotion associated with belief. And nearly every human seems driven to equate belief with knowledge.

That's the basics.  Two minor points. Unrelated but interesting.
1) In the stuff I know with confidence, having an underlying theory and different corroborations makes it stronger and invests some ego in it.  Days get longer after the Winter Solstice.  Having read and been taught about planetary motion fits it into a cosmology and if that day lengthening were to stop, it would rock my world far more than if a threat resisted a throw applied with perfect physics.

2) Almost every one of the unknowables acts as a very effective Rorschach test.  Your stance on any of the big issues, and how you present your stance tells me almost nothing about the subject.  But it tells me an awful lot about you.



4 comments:

Jose Tadeo said...

"Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies."~Friedrich Nietzsche

Jose Tadeo said...

"Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies."~Friedrich Nietzsche

Vaughn said...

Two facts that are both equally true for the same definitions of '1', '+', and '='.

1+1=2
1+1=10

Even with facts there is a assumptions and point of view can make a big difference.

Vaughn said...

Well, that was grammatically problematic.