Epistemology

thinkerWe all have different trusted sources for what we believe to be facts, and trust — like friendship — cannot be won through debate.

Different things are obvious to different people. And even that fact is not obvious to some people.

Logic can only show us the consequences of our assumptions; it cannot choose the assumptions. Most of us are not consciously aware of our own assumptions; those are just things that we see as “obviously” true. And it becomes harder to be objective about things that we have already acted upon or spoken about.

When you fail to communicate with someone, that’s usually not their intention. If

  • they fail to understand what you’re saying, or
  • they fail to say something you can understand

(think about the symmetry there), the fault might not be entirely theirs. And even if they actually are stupid, telling them so will not be helpful.

Mary Doria Russell said “Wisdom begins when you discover the difference between ‘That doesn’t make sense’ and ‘I don’t understand’.”

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dilbert epistemology

No one has all the answers. Not even you. Not even me.

Someone will say “But I have all the answers! I just need people to listen!” And I ask that person: Why isn’t everyone listening to your answers? Apparently that’s a question you haven’t answered yet. Perhaps it’s because you don’t understand those other people very well. To do that, maybe you need to listen to them for a while.

Most of us humans prefer simple explanations when we can get them, and for good reason. But sometimes the truth isn’t simple, so don’t be seduced by simplicity.

Different things are simple to different people.

Reality is not as simple as our models of it, but we can only understand reality through our models of it. Learn many models, but don’t take any of them too seriously.

Classical physics has an objective reality that is independent of any observer. Politics is not like that. What matters in politics is not just objective facts, but our interpretation of the significance of the facts.

For instance, when a bullet from one man’s gun enters another man’s body, that’s an objective physical fact. But is it murder? self-defense? justified war? unjustified war? That depends on our framework of interpretation, and also our vocabulary. Perhaps, in the end, it is the poets who will save us, by finding better ways to describe the world.

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26 November 2016, version 2.01. Epistemology is the theory of knowledge — i.e., how do we know things, and to what extent is it possible to know things.