Wednesday, February 04, 2009

White Crows

MrFreeThinker finally showed back up, and left some stupid in his wake. And he did seem to respond when I predicted he wouldn't show up to answer the flood of criticism for his efforts to shift the burden of proof. So, here I go with a main post about an example I gave in the comment thread. Let's get started. Observation: All the crows I have seen so far in my life are black. All the crows I have read about are black. Null hypothesis: There are no non-black crows.

Going by MrFreeThinker's apparent "logic," the burden is on me to prove that non-black crows are "metaphysically" impossible. This would require me to study the crow genome to show that it'd be impossible to get non-black pigments, that albinism is untenable in the species, etcetera. I'd also have to develop perfect knowledge of development to prove that congenital conditions and such can't produce anything other than a black crow. I might also have to cover the bases by somehow proving that crows are immune to bleaching, painting, and dying, er, the application of dye.

Of course, by real world logic, the burden is on MrFreeThinker: If he claims to have seen a white crow, all he needs to do is show it to me under proper observing circumstances.

So, when all the minds I've observed require complex mechanisms to produce their complex behavior, and he says he knows about a mind that doesn't require those systems, it's up to him to demonstrate that it's possible. I don't need to study the whole of philosophy of the mind, neuroscience, and search the entire universe, past, present, and future to fail to observe a simple mind producing complex behavior. He just needs to demonstrate one such entity.

It's the exact same reason we don't believe in psychic powers, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, unicorns, leprechauns, Russel's Teapot, and so on and so forth. It's also why people like me apply our heads to our keyboards whenever someone tries to shift the burden of proof by demanding that we prove their pet woo impossible, instead of just rounding up one solid, verifiable example of it.

10 comments:

Akusai said...

This would require me to study the crow genome to show that it'd be impossible to get non-black pigments, that albinism is untenable in the species, etcetera. I'd also have to develop perfect knowledge of development to prove that congenital conditions and such can't produce anything other than a black crow. I might also have to cover the bases by somehow proving that crows are immune to bleaching, painting, and dying, er, the application of dye.

Actually, even with all of that done, you only would have proven black crows physically impossible. That's the wonderful thing about appealing to metaphysics: it moves the goalposts so far that you can't actually do anything with them unless you can prove that a white crow is in principle impossible, that something about what it means to be a crow on a level deeper than the physical demands that crows be black.

Of course, you could play semantic games and define "crow" as "bird that meets these requirements and is black," which means that any white bird that appears to be a white crow isn't a crow by the above definition. But that would be acting like a woo.

Infophile said...

Sorry, I can't find this comment of his you're referring to. Mind posting a link?

MWchase said...

Thing is, albinism in crows is possible. While it lacks the punch, something like blue or purple would make more sense.

On the other hand, crows of either color would imply some things about the world that would advance our understand in various ways. Theology is just a rhetorical power grab (reaching for moral authority) or something.

Bronze Dog said...

Sorry about leaving you hanging there, Infophile. The latest thread he's shown up at is here. That's where he made the "metaphysically impossible" shift.

MrFreeThinker said...

No .
the real world case would be that if a group of people see a white. The other group makes fun of those who saw the white crow and say they are irrational and wrong. The group that saw the white crow says that if you are going to make such claims you are going to have to show a white crow to be impossible.

Bronze Dog said...

So... You believe in Bigfoot because people say they saw one?

Tom Foss said...

the real world case would be that if a group of people see a white. The other group makes fun of those who saw the white crow and say they are irrational and wrong.

Thanks, MrFreeThinker. If we had any lingering doubts about your familiarity with "the real world," you have just assuaged them.

Jimmy_Blue said...

MrFreeThinker:

The other group makes fun of those who saw the white crow and say they are irrational and wrong. The group that saw the white crow says that if you are going to make such claims you are going to have to show a white crow to be impossible.

In which case it seems you have to prove Terence impossible, rather than me having to prove he is possible. Still waiting.

Unless you accept Terence.

Bronze Dog said...

Just found this relevant cartoon.

Bart said...

No, MrFree Thinker, you're skipping a step there. The real real world example would be: a group of people (claim to) see a white crow, then another group asks them to show them the white crow, or a picture of him or some other evidence, the first group doesn't manage to show any evidence but still claims the white crow exists and THEN the second group calls them irrational and wrong. Then the first group starts shifting the burden of proof and the second group tries desperately to show them why that's even more irrational and wrong but the first group just won't listen.