Online reading group and book discussion forum
  HOME ENTER FORUMS OUR BOOKS LINKS DONATE ADVERTISE CONTACT  
View unanswered posts | View active topics It is currently Wed Aug 04, 2021 9:33 pm





Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 70 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.  Go to page Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5
I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson) 
Author Message
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

Platinum Contributor
Book Discussion Leader

Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 6909
Location: Luray, Virginia
Thanks: 2248
Thanked: 2448 times in 1845 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
It would surprise me if Dawkins has even talked about epistemology, and so I think when you say he has some position on how knowledge is to be classified, you're bringing out what you think is implicit in his thinking.


An article today in Salon accuses Dawkins of epistemic and moral turpitude, building on previous Salon criticism, so his relation to epistemology is of interest.

Theory of knowledge is a primary concern running through Dawkins’ role as Professor for Public Understanding of Science. The problem in public understanding is that people are misinformed about what we know. That means people are confused about epistemology. It is not so much that Dawkins has a “position on how knowledge is to be classified”, as you put it, but rather that he considers many people do not know what knowledge is and why it is valuable.

The excellent Wikipedia page at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology explains why epistemology is such a major field in philosophy. It notes that in French epistemology just means ‘philosophy of science’, whereas the English term is broader, encompassing the whole theory of knowledge. Either way, epistemology includes Dawkins’ efforts to explain why science is important and how it proceeds.

Dawkins has strongly imbibed the English empirical philosophy propounded by Locke and Hume, flowing through into the modern analytical method of writers such as AJ Ayer who I quoted earlier, or Bertrand Russell and many others who tend to assume there is no meaning outside science. The disputes between empiricist philosophy and the European rationalist tradition hover strongly in the background of Dawkins’ assumptions about what is real and what methods of enquiry and analysis are legitimate.

I guess an accusation of "moral turpitude" might lie in the Dawkins section of the Salon article, but "epistemic"? The charge against Dawkins and everyone else in this article is that they've become right-wing intellectuals. That could be valid, I suppose, but I think the charge that Dawkins believes there's no meaning outside science is your extrapolation.



The following user would like to thank DWill for this post:
Harry Marks
Mon Jun 14, 2021 10:47 am
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Master of Posting

Silver Contributor

Joined: Jun 2004
Posts: 3728
Location: NJ
Thanks: 3
Thanked: 101 times in 76 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
I'm just enjoying learning about other books to add to my to read list. Glad this book isn't, as I thought, about wasting time on the religious shit show. Refreshing to just focus on the topic of the book.


_________________
When you refuse to learn, you become a disease.


Mon Jun 14, 2021 8:25 pm
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Chatterbox


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 1809
Thanks: 2204
Thanked: 973 times in 772 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Robert Tulip wrote:
It is not so much that Dawkins has a “position on how knowledge is to be classified”, as you put it, but rather that he considers many people do not know what knowledge is and why it is valuable.
Which is certainly a valid point, but then, the usual conclusion among those I might call "intellectual elitists" is that therefore those people should have no say in any matter primarily concerning knowledge. I tend in that direction myself, feeling that, for example, the teaching of creationism in a biology class is laughably ignorant. However, I also consider it extreme to wall off discussions of knowledge from issues of personal and social values. And if, in the end, that means we ought to promote some values clarification about which issues need to be investigated (e.g. social problems of Artificial Intelligence, ethical issues in how we reward and support science, ways that people deal with the sense of conflict between religion and science, etc.) I would support that.

The International Baccalaureate has a component called Theory of Knowledge which is very open to structure by the teacher, with many different ways to take the questions. Bog standard teaching approaches involve teaching (i.e. force feeding) scientific method and pointing out that other kinds of knowledge are not open to such an "evidence only" approach. Interesting teaching approaches demonstrate how something like verification occurs in the arts and in approaches to meaning and spirituality. Social science gets to blend the two.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Dawkins has strongly imbibed the English empirical philosophy propounded by Locke and Hume, flowing through into the modern analytical method of writers such as AJ Ayer who I quoted earlier, or Bertrand Russell and many others who tend to assume there is no meaning outside science. The disputes between empiricist philosophy and the European rationalist tradition hover strongly in the background of Dawkins’ assumptions about what is real and what methods of enquiry and analysis are legitimate.
"No meaning outside science." Now there is an example of an extreme position. I am more inclined to believe that there is no meaning inside science. Presumably what Ayer and his ilk have in mind is something like Popper's falsificationism, that a proposition which cannot be falsified is not open to investigation. And tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Is that a falsifiable proposition? Does anyone care?



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
Robert Tulip
Tue Jun 15, 2021 10:20 pm
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
pets endangered by possible book avalanche

BookTalk.org Moderator
Platinum Contributor

Joined: Aug 2008
Posts: 4650
Location: NC
Thanks: 2131
Thanked: 2150 times in 1594 posts
Gender: Male

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Mr. P wrote:
I'm just enjoying learning about other books to add to my to read list. Glad this book isn't, as I thought, about wasting time on the religious shit show. Refreshing to just focus on the topic of the book.

Me too! So far I've picked up Unweaving the Rainbow and Fred Hoyle's The Black Cloud.

It seems to me that Dawkins' reputation as an atheist always bubbles to the surface, even when the book we are discussing is about science and science writing. I'm not sure why Robert deemed it relevant to mention the Salon article, which accuses Dawkins and others of "epistemic and moral turpitude." I love tangents as much as the next guy, but that Salon article really takes us down a rabbit hole of ad hominems. I actually read the article and it's the very opposite of the kind of writing we're seeing in Books Do Furnish A Life.


_________________
-Geo
Question everything


The following user would like to thank geo for this post:
DWill, Harry Marks
Wed Jun 16, 2021 6:15 pm
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Master of Posting

Silver Contributor

Joined: Jun 2004
Posts: 3728
Location: NJ
Thanks: 3
Thanked: 101 times in 76 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
geo wrote:
Mr. P wrote:
I'm just enjoying learning about other books to add to my to read list. Glad this book isn't, as I thought, about wasting time on the religious shit show. Refreshing to just focus on the topic of the book.

Me too! So far I've picked up Unweaving the Rainbow and Fred Hoyle's The Black Cloud.


I downloaded the extended phenotype so far. Black Cloud I will as well. I will prob re-read Demon Haunted World and Pinker Better Angels. And.. And... Lol.

Good stuff.


_________________
When you refuse to learn, you become a disease.


The following user would like to thank Mr. P for this post:
geo
Wed Jun 16, 2021 9:30 pm
Profile
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

Gold Contributor

Joined: Oct 2005
Posts: 6132
Location: Canberra
Thanks: 2552
Thanked: 2516 times in 1883 posts
Gender: Male
Country: Australia (au)

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Harry Marks wrote:
the usual conclusion among those I might call "intellectual elitists" is that therefore those people should have no say in any matter primarily concerning knowledge.
People who don’t know what knowledge is and why it is valuable have uninformed opinions. Those you call elitists have a duty to inform the ignorant, so that mass opinion is based more on fact. Democracy means the majority have the final say, informed or not.
Harry Marks wrote:
I tend in that direction myself, feeling that, for example, the teaching of creationism in a biology class is laughably ignorant.
Religious beliefs should not influence science curriculum. But that does not mean religion is empty of meaning. In fact religion is a primary source of social meaning. So a dilemma arises, between recognising the social validity of faith traditions and critiquing their epistemic failure.
Harry Marks wrote:
However, I also consider it extreme to wall off discussions of knowledge from issues of personal and social values.
This ‘walling off’, also known as compartmentalising the mind, rejects the basic objective of achieving integrated understanding, and is a psychological syndrome noted mainly among creationists who live with the cognitive dissonance of holding contradictory beliefs. The purpose is mainly to allow religious belief to operate within its own autonomous mythic realm of story, where the main point is the moral parable rather than the literal scientific account. I suspect that most people who wall off their reason from their faith in this way are simply not interested in an integrated picture, and prefer not to dilute the social and emotional comforts of faith with efforts to explain the stories scientifically. My view is that this is a deeply unethical attitude, generating a proneness to fantasy that is highly damaging to the social reputation of religion and the overall health of the society.
Harry Marks wrote:
"No meaning outside science." Now there is an example of an extreme position. I am more inclined to believe that there is no meaning inside science. Presumably what Ayer and his ilk have in mind is something like Popper's falsificationism, that a proposition which cannot be falsified is not open to investigation.

For science, the meaning of a statement is its objective verifiable content. Truth is understood in science as the correct description in language of something that actual exists, where our words correspond to reality. An entry point to this rabbit hole is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verificationism

The scientific philosophy supported by Dawkins tends to see unverifiable claims as meaningless or nonsensical. That is a harsh assessment of poetic and spiritual meaning, but it creates the moral onus to justify claims with evidence and logic. As an intellectual discipline, the process of verification is essential to uncover the truth, and therefore the meaning, of assertions.
Harry Marks wrote:
And tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Is that a falsifiable proposition? Does anyone care?
Your comment expresses a perfectly reasonable exasperation with the mildly autistic idea that we could base all our values on facts. Yet the suggestion that policy should be strongly influenced by evidence has a high moral charge.

I personally dislike the term falsifiable. It seems to have confusing and even contradictory usages. For example it looks meaningless to say it is falsifiable that the earth orbits the sun (corrected for detail) since it has been so abundantly proved to be absolutely true.


_________________
http://rtulip.net


Mon Jun 21, 2021 2:53 am
Profile Email WWW
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Chatterbox


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 1809
Thanks: 2204
Thanked: 973 times in 772 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Robert Tulip wrote:
People who don’t know what knowledge is and why it is valuable have uninformed opinions. Those you call elitists have a duty to inform the ignorant, so that mass opinion is based more on fact. Democracy means the majority have the final say, informed or not.
That puts the question in a very interesting way. American Constitutional law holds to the idea that one of the main purposes of a Constitution is to restrict the abuse of minorities (such as those with wealth, or those with unpopular views) by the majority. So, of course, this leads to the question of what is an abuse. But I suspect that a strong case could be made that imposing a view of facts which runs counter to the preponderance of evidence is a form of abuse. In some ways that is what the First Amendment freedoms are about.

We have generally interpreted "establishment of religion" (which is prohibited in the Bill of Rights) to include imposing religious ideas on others in school. (Parents may do this, but the state may not.) Perhaps this could be broadened into prohibition of "attempts to legislate facts."

Of course the danger with using legal avenues to address these problems is that it enables other potential abuses. The "duty" you mention, to inform the general public, goes a long way toward heading off the potential for abuse by elites. But I would take it a bit further. I think the informed have some duty to address the dissonance between the mythologies people prefer and the evidence we have. That is, to propose worldviews which make sense of the values people express with mythologies despite setting aside the narratives in which those values have been embodied.

An interesting case was on the NPR show "Fresh Air" recently. The author of a book on the history of the Alamo, an iconic battle in the Texan war for independence from Mexico, was interviewed and explained a number of facts about the battle which contradicted the mythology surrounding it. Decades ago the Texas legislature expressly forbade teaching any version which contradicted the mythology. I suspect there needs to be a legal doctrine forbidding such a restriction, but I also suspect that someone has some responsibility for explaining in what sense the positive goals of the war for independence were valid.

That might not be easy. The main motivation for the independence movement was probably to extend the system of slavery into new lands (the same motivation that led Southern plantation owners to propose annexing Cuba by force). John Wayne created the movie that enshrined a more noble view, that the Texans wanted "a republic" (followed by a soliloquy on the nobility of people seeking to resist tyranny, which is, in light of their slaving goals, too ironic for words). He was opposing Communism, which had its own myths and lies. So political has-beens and schemers were elevated to the status of martyrs for freedom and democracy. I think one could de-bunk the mythology while upholding John Wayne's desire to combat Communism, but it would require some serious thought.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Religious beliefs should not influence science curriculum. But that does not mean religion is empty of meaning. In fact religion is a primary source of social meaning. So a dilemma arises, between recognising the social validity of faith traditions and critiquing their epistemic failure.
There are ways out of this labyrinth, but the average insurance salesman or cross-country trucker has little interest in following them. There are popular options for presenting "both sides" of various controversies but the limits of packaging a popular entertainment have meant that they are mostly shallow exercises in rhetoric.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
However, I also consider it extreme to wall off discussions of knowledge from issues of personal and social values.
This ‘walling off’, also known as compartmentalising the mind, rejects the basic objective of achieving integrated understanding, and is a psychological syndrome noted mainly among creationists who live with the cognitive dissonance of holding contradictory beliefs. The purpose is mainly to allow religious belief to operate within its own autonomous mythic realm of story, where the main point is the moral parable rather than the literal scientific account.
I'm not sure I agree that compartmentalizing comes mainly from the side of creationists and other fundamentalists. It seems to me that Haidt's research, and that of others who take a similar approach, has found a systemic process of subordinating communitarian values to individualist formulations, though Haidt does not, as far as I know, put it that way. As a result questions of virtue get shunted off to debates about imposing one person's standards on another.

While that compartmentalization of value questions is not about accepting accurate facts, a similar process goes on concerning factual issues in the social sciences. In economics, formulations prized for their rigor are normally given priority over formulations whose main appeal is their importance, as observed by Nobel laureate George Akerlof (husband of Janet Yellen) a few years back in an address to the American Economic Association. Psychologists frequently get caught up in controversies based mainly on the political subtext. The long history of editing the historical facts to support the interests of the powerful and the privileged has been replaced by an equally suspicious process of editing out any facts that might support their privilege.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I suspect that most people who wall off their reason from their faith in this way are simply not interested in an integrated picture, and prefer not to dilute the social and emotional comforts of faith with efforts to explain the stories scientifically. My view is that this is a deeply unethical attitude, generating a proneness to fantasy that is highly damaging to the social reputation of religion and the overall health of the society.
Well, is there a way to formulate this in terms of the virtues of integrating reason and evidence with values and social solidarity? I find that the religious belief that one should not impose faith, but rather appeal to the latent faith in others, is a strong argument against insistence on rejecting the implications of evidence. There are progressives even among the evangelicals who have managed to evoke those values in a strategic way, to persuade others against efforts to legislate fantasy.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The scientific philosophy supported by Dawkins tends to see unverifiable claims as meaningless or nonsensical. That is a harsh assessment of poetic and spiritual meaning, but it creates the moral onus to justify claims with evidence and logic. As an intellectual discipline, the process of verification is essential to uncover the truth, and therefore the meaning, of assertions.
And yet there are notions that carry on without verification for long periods of time because they are useful tools for thinking about the world. I think of the continuous creation model and the multiverse formulation in cosmology and of string theory in physics, as well as the punctuated equilibrium model in evolution. One of those has been pretty convincingly disproven (continuous creation of matter) but the others serve as vantage points from which to observe the data differently and to ask different questions, so in other words to resist confirmation bias.

Scientists are pretty tolerant of alternate formulations which represent an interpretation of ambiguous evidence (Gaia theory, anyone?) but react strongly when people use social criteria to put a thumb on the scale of impartial evidence. I can make sense of that, but I refuse to believe it is always the best process for assessing scientific endeavors, if for no other reason than the invisible biases which have led to preference for notions like Social Darwinism. An integrated view of epistemology with other social priorities can show a lot of supposed conflicts to be cases of false dichotomies.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I personally dislike the term falsifiable. It seems to have confusing and even contradictory usages. For example it looks meaningless to say it is falsifiable that the earth orbits the sun (corrected for detail) since it has been so abundantly proved to be absolutely true.
Point taken, but I doubt if I will succeed in converting over to a vocabulary of verification because the notion of "unfalsifiable" claims has a clean and well-defined content in epistemological terms, even if it performs poorly in ordinary applications.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
Robert Tulip
Mon Jun 21, 2021 3:48 pm
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame

Gold Contributor

Joined: Oct 2005
Posts: 6132
Location: Canberra
Thanks: 2552
Thanked: 2516 times in 1883 posts
Gender: Male
Country: Australia (au)

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Harry Marks wrote:
imposing a view of facts which runs counter to the preponderance of evidence is a form of abuse.
I completely agree, but defining the evidence is not always so easy. Atheists argue the preponderance of evidence indicates that God does not exist, but imposing this materialistic belief system would risk just as much negative social impact as the imposition of religious belief. There needs to be sympathetic dialogue between different perspectives to recognise their different merits and problems.
Harry Marks wrote:
In some ways that is what the First Amendment freedoms are about. We have generally interpreted "establishment of religion" (which is prohibited in the Bill of Rights) to include imposing religious ideas on others in school. (Parents may do this, but the state may not.) Perhaps this could be broadened into prohibition of "attempts to legislate facts."
The underlying problem here is that fundamentalist religion is crazy and dangerous. I see the solution in retaining freedom of worship while strongly promoting the idea that the real value of all religious claims is in their symbolic meaning, not as literal historical accounts.
Harry Marks wrote:
The "duty" you mention, to inform the general public, goes a long way toward heading off the potential for abuse by elites. But I would take it a bit further. I think the informed have some duty to address the dissonance between the mythologies people prefer and the evidence we have.
Even further, dissonance between mythology and prevailing values goes well beyond the dissonance with evidence that you mention. My understanding of Ten Commandment theology is that a key element, largely unconscious, is its restricted definition of a person as a man who owns property. In the USA, the tenth commandment, not to covet your neighbour’s slave, also feeds negatively into racial politics. That directly conflicts with the moral view that all persons and indeed all life are of value.
Harry Marks wrote:
propose worldviews which make sense of the values people express with mythologies despite setting aside the narratives in which those values have been embodied.
One way to pursue this important task of paradigm shift - setting aside outdated stories - is to recognise how the embodying faith narratives themselves call for an evolution in values. For example, focussing on Biblical ideas like Matthew 25:40, that salvation requires seeing Jesus Christ in the least of the world, is a way to promote an integral theology that cares equally for nature and humanity, with no need for any supernatural belief.


_________________
http://rtulip.net


The following user would like to thank Robert Tulip for this post:
Harry Marks
Fri Jun 25, 2021 11:52 am
Profile Email WWW
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Chatterbox


Joined: May 2011
Posts: 1809
Thanks: 2204
Thanked: 973 times in 772 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
I thought I would share this helpful effort at addressing these issues, quoted in an email from the publication "Persuasion". I think it does a good job of framing the issue by defining a category of claims that Rauch calls "reality-based", so that we do not define the others as "meaningless".

[Excerpt from the new book, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth by Jonathan Rauch]

When Americans think about how we find truth amid a world full of discordant viewpoints, we usually turn to a metaphor, that of the marketplace of ideas. It is a good metaphor as far as it goes, yet woefully incomplete. It conjures up an image of ideas being traded by individuals in a kind of flea market, or of disembodied ideas clashing and competing in some ethereal realm of their own. But ideas in the marketplace do not talk directly to each other, and for the most part neither do individuals.

Rather, our conversations are mediated through institutions like journals and newspapers and social-media platforms. They rely on a dense network of norms and rules, like truthfulness and fact-checking. They depend on the expertise of professionals, like peer reviewers and editors. The entire system rests on a foundation of values: a shared understanding that there are right and wrong ways to make knowledge. Those values and rules and institutions do for knowledge what the U.S. Constitution does for politics: They create a governing structure, forcing social contestation onto peaceful and productive pathways. And so I call them, collectively, the Constitution of Knowledge. If we want to defend that system from its many persistent attackers, we need to understand it—and its very special notion of reality.

What reality really is

The question “What is reality?” may seem either too metaphysical to answer meaningfully or too obvious to need answering. Colloquially, people also use the terms “real” and “reality” to convey certainty or confidence that things are the way they are. Reality, in common parlance, is that which is reliable and intractable and cannot be wished away: the rock we stub our toe on, the abrupt encounter with the ground when we fall.

Such colloquial definitions are not very helpful. The whole problem is that humans have no direct access to an objective world independent of our minds and senses, and subjective certainty is no guarantee of truth. Faced with those problems and others, philosophers and practitioners think of reality as a set of propositions (or claims, or statements) that have been validated in some way, and that have thereby been shown to be at least conditionally true—true, that is, unless debunked. Some propositions reflect reality as we perceive it in everyday life (“The sky is blue”). Others, like the equations on a quantum physicist’s blackboard, are incomprehensible to intuition. Many fall somewhere in between.

Now, you must have noticed that a phrase I used a few sentences ago, “validated in some way,” hides a cheat. In epistemology, the whole question is, validated in what way? If we care about knowledge, freedom, and peace, then we need to stake a strong claim: Anyone can believe anything, but liberal science—open-ended, depersonalized checking by an error-seeking social network—is the only legitimate validator of knowledge, at least in the reality-based community. Other communities, of course, can do all kinds of other things. But they cannot make social decisions about objective reality.

That is a very bold, very broad, very tough claim, and it goes down very badly with lots of people and communities who feel ignored or oppressed by the Constitution of Knowledge: creationists, Christian Scientists, homeopaths, astrologists, flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, birthers, 9/11 truthers, postmodern professors, political partisans, QAnon followers, and adherents of any number of other belief systems and religions. It also sits uncomfortably with the populist and dogmatic tempers of our time. But, like the U.S. Constitution’s claim to exclusivity in governing (“unconstitutional” means “illegal,” period), the Constitution of Knowledge’s claim to exclusivity is its sine qua non.

Rules for reality

Say you believe something (X) to be true, and you believe that its acceptance as true by others is important or at least warranted. X might be that the earth revolves around the sun, that God is a trinity, that an embryo is a human being, that human activity is causing climate change, that vaccination saves lives, that Joe Biden was lawfully elected president, or some other consequential proposition. The specific proposition does not matter. What does matter is that the only way to validate it is to submit it to the reality-based community. Otherwise, you could win dominance for your proposition by, say, brute force, threatening and jailing and torturing and killing those who see things differently—a standard method down through history. Or you and your like-minded friends could go off and talk only to each other, in which case you would have founded a cult—which is lawful but socially divisive and epistemically worthless. Or you could engage in a social-media campaign to shame and intimidate those who disagree with you—a very common method these days, but one that stifles debate and throttles knowledge (and harms a lot of people).

What the reality-based community does is something else again. Its distinctive qualities derive from two core rules:

The fallibilist rule: No one gets the final say. You may claim that a statement is established as knowledge only if it can be debunked, in principle, and only insofar as it withstands attempts to debunk it. That is, you are entitled to claim that a statement is objectively true only insofar as it is both checkable and has stood up to checking, and not otherwise. In practice, of course, determining whether a particular statement stands up to checking is sometimes hard, and we have to argue about it. But what counts is the way the rule directs us to behave: You must assume your own and everyone else’s fallibility and you must hunt for your own and others’ errors, even if you are confident you are right. Otherwise, you are not reality-based.

The empirical rule: No one has personal authority. You may claim that a statement has been established as knowledge only insofar as the method used to check it gives the same result regardless of the identity of the checker, and regardless of the source of the statement. Whatever you do to check a proposition must be something that anyone can do, at least in principle, and get the same result. Also, no one proposing a hypothesis gets a free pass simply because of who she is or what group she belongs to. Who you are does not count; the rules apply to everybody and persons are interchangeable. If your method is valid only for you or your affinity group or people who believe as you do, then you are not reality-based.

Both rules have very profound social implications. “No final say” insists that to be knowledge, a statement must be checked; and it also says that knowledge is always provisional, standing only as long as it withstands checking. It rejects the possibility of any ultimate authority—any priest, prince, or politburo—who can dictate truth or legitimately enforce intellectual conformity.

“No personal authority” adds a crucial second step by defining what properly counts as checking. The point, as the great American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce emphasized more than a century ago, is not that I look or you look but that we look; and then we compare, contest, and justify our views. Critically, then, the empirical rule is a social principle that forces us into the same conversation—a requirement that all of us, however different our viewpoints, agree to discuss what is in principle only one reality.

By extension, the empirical rule also dictates what does not count as checking: claims to authority by dint of a personally or tribally privileged perspective. In principle, persons and groups are interchangeable. If I claim access to divine revelation, or if I claim the support of miracles that only believers can witness, or if I claim that my class or race or historically dominant status or historically oppressed status allows me to know and say things that others cannot, then I am breaking the empirical rule by exempting my views from contestability by others.

Though seemingly simple, the two rules define a style of social learning that prohibits a lot of the rhetorical moves we see every day. Claiming that a conversation is too dangerous or blasphemous or oppressive or traumatizing to tolerate will almost always break the fallibilist rule. Claims which begin “as a Jew,” or “as a queer,” or for that matter “as minister of information” or “as Pope” or “as head of the Supreme Soviet,” can be valid if they provide useful information about context or credentials; but if they claim to settle an argument by appealing to personal or tribal authority, rather than earned authority, they violate the empirical rule.

“No personal authority” says nothing against trying to understand where people are coming from. If we are debating same-sex marriage, I may mention my experience as a gay person, and my experience may (I hope) be relevant. In fact, good scientific practice requires researchers to disclose their personal equities so as to surface conflicts of interest. But statements about personal standing and interest inform the conversation; they do not control it, dominate it, or end it. The rule acknowledges, and to an extent accepts, that people’s social positions and histories matter; but it asks its adherents not to burrow into their social identities, and not to play them as rhetorical trump cards, but to bring them to the larger project of knowledge-building and thereby transcend them.

There is more, much more, that distinguishes the Constitution of Knowledge from traditional, tribal, and tyrannical epistemic regimes. But the fallibilist and empirical rules are the common basis of science, journalism, law, and all the other branches of today’s reality-based community. For that reason, both rules also attract hostility, defiance, interference, and open warfare from those who would rather manipulate truth than advance it.

Jonathan Rauch is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
Cattleman, DWill, Robert Tulip
Mon Jun 28, 2021 4:03 pm
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Master of Posting

Silver Contributor

Joined: Jun 2004
Posts: 3728
Location: NJ
Thanks: 3
Thanked: 101 times in 76 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: I: Tools of the Trades: Writing Science (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Mr. P wrote:
geo wrote:
Mr. P wrote:
I'm just enjoying learning about other books to add to my to read list. Glad this book isn't, as I thought, about wasting time on the religious shit show. Refreshing to just focus on the topic of the book.

Me too! So far I've picked up Unweaving the Rainbow and Fred Hoyle's The Black Cloud.


I downloaded the extended phenotype so far. Black Cloud I will as well. I will prob re-read Demon Haunted World and Pinker Better Angels. And.. And... Lol.

Good stuff.


Halfway through the Black Cloud audio book. It is a well written, hard-scifi tale, doing justice to the details and processes of scientific approaches to a challenge. It does the math.

Some of the story is a bit dated, but thankfully that is just filler and does not degrade the storyline. The British banter and male chest puffing is a bit annoying and unfortunately the reader is a Brit male with a very typical British voice. No fault to the book, but it makes it really hard to listen to. Yes. I find British accents irritating.


_________________
When you refuse to learn, you become a disease.


Wed Jul 07, 2021 9:01 am
Profile
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 70 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.  Go to page Previous  1, 2, 3, 4, 5



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:


Recent Posts 
• What song is stuck in your head today?

Wed Aug 04, 2021 7:03 pm

Kira

• Fantasy ARC Reviewers Wanted - The Spirit of a Rising Sun

Wed Aug 04, 2021 2:27 pm

BookBuzz

• Reviewers Wanted - Romantic Erotica - Rabbithole By Melissa Rea

Wed Aug 04, 2021 1:03 pm

BookBuzz

• YA Coming of Age Romantic Mystery - Reviewers Wanted Leisha's Song By Lynn Slaughter

Wed Aug 04, 2021 11:05 am

BookBuzz

• Texting or calling

Tue Aug 03, 2021 9:58 pm

froglipz

• Young Adult - Reviewers Needed - Neptune's Window: First Glance

Tue Aug 03, 2021 11:37 am

BookBuzz

• New fiction novel!

Tue Aug 03, 2021 8:47 am

Authorkatm

• BETWEEN LOVE AND WAR, THE FIFTH NOVEL IN THE JAMES SAGA, AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON NOW!

Tue Aug 03, 2021 5:29 am

AnneAustin7854

• Hunting the Bear, and Other Poems

Mon Aug 02, 2021 7:52 pm

David Welch

• YA Fantasy - REVIEWERS NEEDED - Kate in the Land of Myths and Wonders

Mon Aug 02, 2021 1:33 pm

BookBuzz

• The Big Dark & Meet John Doe: Tales of the Weird World War — noir/sci-fi/horror

Mon Aug 02, 2021 12:42 am

Scott Pearson

• The Knight and the Shieldmaiden, an epic poem of love and war

Sun Aug 01, 2021 11:57 am

David Welch

• Reviewers Wanted - Memoir of a convicted drug dealer and a prize-winning chef with a mental illness

Sun Aug 01, 2021 11:50 am

BookBuzz

• Non-Fiction / Politics / Biography Book Needs Reviewers - Simply Chomsky By Raphael Salkie

Sun Aug 01, 2021 11:33 am

BookBuzz

• History / Biography Book Needs Reviewers - Simply Chinggis By Timothy May

Sun Aug 01, 2021 11:15 am

BookBuzz


Site Resources 
HELPFUL INFO:
Community Rules & Tips
Frequently Asked Questions
BBCode Explained
Author Interview Transcripts
Book Discussion Leaders

IDEAS FOR WHAT TO READ:
Bestsellers
Book Awards
Banned Books
• Book Reviews
• Online Books
• Team Picks
Newspaper Book Sections

WHERE TO BUY BOOKS:
• Coming Soon!

BEHIND THE BOOKS:
• Coming Soon!

PROMOTE YOUR BOOK!
Advertise on BookTalk.org
Promote your FICTION book
Promote your NON-FICTION book





BookTalk.org is a thriving book discussion forum, online reading group or book club. We read and talk about both fiction and non-fiction books as a community. Our forums are open to anyone in the world. While discussing books is our passion we also have active forums for talking about poetry, short stories, writing and authors. Our general discussion forum section includes forums for discussing science, religion, philosophy, politics, history, current events, arts, entertainment and more. We hope you join us!


Navigation 
MAIN NAVIGATION

HOMEFORUMSOUR BOOKSAUTHOR INTERVIEWSADVERTISELINKSFAQDONATETERMS OF USEPRIVACY POLICYSITEMAP

OTHER PAGES WORTH EXPLORING
Banned Book ListOnline Reading GroupTop 10 Atheism Books

Copyright © BookTalk.org 2002-2021. All rights reserved.

Display Pagerank