Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Doggerel #133: "Belief"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

Today's entry has been bumped up on the schedule from an arbitrarily special round number because my brother got the seed of a mini-rant. As he put it, there are people out there with a "one-word epistemology". That one word is today's entry. There are a lot of definitions people use out there, and no shortage of woos who will equivocate between them to put their favorite woo on rhetorical par with science.

All too often, woos beliefs are maintained because they make the believer comfortable. That, in fact, is often the first attempt to justify the belief, especially in religious cases. Unfortunately, the universe doesn't seem particularly interested in being comfortable for squishy organics. Otherwise, there'd be no unpleasant truths.

Other woos do give some attempts at justification, often involving anecdotes. That may work reliably enough for low-stakes everyday things, but nothing to bet your life on, which is what a lot of quacks are asking you to do. Psychics often ask people to do it with the memories of their loved ones, or just large amounts of money. Science works with much higher standards for such matters: Anecdotes don't have many controls for removing bias and minimizing chance. That's what experimental controls and blinding are for. Throw in independent replications, where unrelated people try the same experiment to double-check, and that's why scientific "belief" is much more justified than anything woos commonly claim. You justify belief with the high standards of science. That's when it becomes reasonable to call it knowledge. If you're not interested in doing that, you might as well just call your belief for what it is: Wishful thinking, or if it's bad, paranoia.

1 comment:

Wikinite said...

All too often, woos beliefs are maintained because they make the believer comfortable.

I think you have hit upon a compelling question concerning belief. "Why do you maintain this belief?" is a question that should be asked.

I can say that I maintain my epistomoligical beliefs in reference to science because I feel I am benefited by my mental model coinciding with reality as much as possible.