Tag Archives: Epistemology

What People Are Really Searching For

Isn’t it obvious that the more consequential an opinion is, the more careful we should be about forming it? Yet one of the mysteries of human behavior is that we often do the opposite.

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How the Pre-Scientific Mind Can Fall into Dogmatism

There is snow at the North Pole. Where there is snow, bears are white. What color are bears at the North Pole?

You probably knew how to navigate that logic before you were 10 years old. However, when researcher Alexander Luria asked Russian peasants to complete that syllogism in the 1930s, a typical response was, “Well, I’ve only seen brown bears. And only if a person came from the North Pole with testimony would I believe that the bears there are white.”

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What Makes a Good Explanation?

Today, we all know that the Moon’s gravity causes the tides, but what did people think before Sir Isaac Newton discovered that gravity is a universal force? I recently heard Jonathan White interviewed on NPR; he is the author of Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean. It turns out that serious people used to hold all manner of fanciful explanations for the tides. Three that I remember from the interview are:

  1. A woman is lifting her skirt and lowering it.
  2. A very large beast in the depths of the ocean is breathing in and out.
  3. The rays of the Moon heat rocks below the ocean, which causes the depths of the ocean to boil. Boiling in the region below the Moon causes the water level to rise.

Of course, these explanations are all wrong but some of them are better attempts at the truth than others. Put yourself in the time when the correct answer was not known. Which explanation would you prefer, and why?

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Must Believe, May Believe, and Make Believe

How is it possible that after more than two months of continuous lies 77% of Republicans believe President Trump is an honest man? Just as perplexing is the contrast with Democrats. Living in the same country and with the same information available, 90% of them have concluded that Trump is not honest.

An article I read recently (sorry I can’t remember where) gave an answer that made sense to me. People who want to believe something look for reasons they may believe it; those on the other side want to know if they must believe because the evidence is overwhelming.

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President Trump Meets Plato

If there is a silver lining in the current political cloud of scandal, chaos, and lies, it is that the more responsible American media outlets are making unprecedented efforts to educate the American public in how to distinguish truth from falsehood.

rsz_inauguration-crowd

It started with the first moments of Trump’s presidency. He grumped that the press had deliberately misled the public about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. The New York Times reported Trump’s attack under the headline, With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout Size and Intelligence Rift. When have the media ever begun a headline about a president’s first day with the words “With False Claims”!? This is a new focus on truth.

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How to Assess a Website’s Trustworthiness – Part 4

The Internet can leave the truth-seeker feeling pretty hopeless. For every website that says one thing, you can find another that says the opposite. How can you find the truth in over a billion websites of he-said/she-said?

The last three posts in this series suggested some ideas, but now I offer what I believe is the most important and reliable test:

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How to Assess a Website’s Trustworthiness – Part 3

When I was in high school, my grandparents took me on a trip across the country. Back then, I was firmly in the evangelical Christian camp. They were not, so we had some lively discussions.

During one of them, my grandfather asked what credentials one of my sources had earned. “Where had he gone to college? How about graduate school?”

“What does that matter?” I thought. “What’s important is whether his arguments are sound.”

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