FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Incoherence of the Philoveritors

by

Much of what we believe is poorly-justified or believed in the total absence of evidence, or even in defiance of abundant counterevidence. So many cherished axioms are problematic or outright false—or else vague, inconsistent, or of an otherwise indeterminable truth-value.

And you know what? Generally, this is not a big problem. In most circumstances, the truth is not particularly important. Nailing down more accurate information (when possible) can be a costly distraction. In fact, in many situations, untrue beliefs can even be helpful. Of course, there are also a number of circumstances in which false beliefs are extremely pernicious; the important thing is to identify the sorts of situations in which information quantity and quality is particularly important (as opposed to the overwhelming majority of conditions in which adequacy trumps accuracy).

A second distinction follows: in addition to the situations in which data quality is important, it is also critical to identify circumstances in which critical information is likely to be hard to obtain or utilize, or be otherwise unreliable. Regrettably, there is extensive overlap. For instance, in situations which are opaque, massive in scale or complexity, fluid, or especially, volatile–the informational environment will be difficult, but often crucial. Regrettably, most geopolitical and socio-economic events fall into this sphere.

However, virtually all human decisions are made under uncertainty of varying degrees; the primary objective is to avoid iatrogenesis (harm by the healer) resultant from naïve intervention.

Towards that end, in situations where information is scarce, difficult to use, or otherwise unreliable—it is often easier and more useful to identify critical pieces of information which one does not know (perhaps cannot know), and what is known to be false. While important in its own right, negative epistemology also assists its more precarious positive aspect: with each malformed strategy cast aside, each false narrative exposed, with each mistake learned from, each pitfall avoided, each constraint identified–one becomes increasingly likely to make a good decision in the face of uncertainty, or at the least, minimize harm from error.

Prudence is another critical strategy. In many situations, action is altogether unnecessary—and interventions into fluid, complex and/or volatile systems under the misguided belief that one should “do something” typically render situations much more difficult to predict or control. A heuristic: act decisively, but only when necessary, and be as non-invasive as possible.

Finally, as we explored at the outset there are many situations in which misinformation, disinformation and ignorance are benign—and many others in which they are extremely dangerous. However, it is sometimes possible to shift from the latter situation into the former by reducing or modifying one’s exposure to particular risks (thereby reducing the amount and quality of data which are necessary to achieve an acceptable outcome).

These are the sorts of epistemological investigations with obvious real-world implications. It should be clear that there will be little room for meta-inquiry, as many of these strategies must be indexed to specific problems in particular contexts.

The notion of “truth” as objective, universal, and morally (rather than merely pragmatically, albeit conditionally) obligating—i.e. as the sort of thing which can be clearly delineated and discussed in grandiose terms—while popular among so-called rationalists, is a fundamentalism derived from monotheistic absolutism, and one difficult to empirically defend:

It is unclear whether one can meaningfully speak of “truth” as anything beyond a socio-linguistic function. Even if we posit the existence of some objective reality in which we are all immersed, it is (or should be) obvious that we do not have the ability to perceive, reflect upon or communicate about said reality in a comprehensive or objective fashion. Accordingly, every epistemic act is one of framing and distortion (further refracted and cascaded in social contexts).

And worse still—these processes are largely opaque: we do not have introspective access to most of our mental contents, and the actions resultant from these processes are largely reflexive rather than reflective, invented intuitively and ad hoc to the particular contours of the situations we find ourselves in. Rationalization typically happens after the fact, and our explanations seem to bear little in common with the cognitive processes guiding our actions.

Unfortunately, the prevailing practice of epistemology is far removed from this growing consensus in psychology, sociology, cognitive science and related empirical disciplines. Accordingly, it is useless at best; we must shed antiquated notions of epistemology in order to render the discipline more viable and useful.

In Building on Nietzsche’s Prelude: Reforming Epistemology for the Philosophy of the Future, we offer up a proposal of what a more relevant epistemology might look like, exploring how such a reformulation might affect social conceptions of “knowledge” and “rationality;” we close with an exploration of fundamentalism in relation to rationalism, scientifism, and related ideologies.  Pick up a copy: it just might change the way you think…about thinking.

Musa al-Gharbi is a research fellow with the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC); he has a M.A. in philosophy from the University of Arizona. His website (www.fiatsophia.org) includes links to follow him on social media or subscribe to his posts. A version of this article was originally published by SISMEC.

Musa al-Gharbi is a cognitive sociologist affiliated with the Southwest Initiative for the Study of Middle East Conflicts (SISMEC), where this article was originally published; readers can connect to al-Gharbi’s other work and social media via his website: www.fiatsophia.org

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
Julian Vigo
The Hijos of Buenos Aires:  When Identity is Political
Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano
By Way of Prologue: On How We Arrived at the Watchtower and What We Saw from There
Dave Lindorff
Is Trump’s Idea To Fix the ‘Rigged System’ by Appointing Crooks Who’ve Played It?
Aidan O'Brien
Fidel and Spain: A Tale of Right and Wrong
Carol Dansereau
Stop Groveling! How to Thwart Trump and Save the World
Kim Nicolini
Moonlight, The Movie
Evan Jones
Behind GE’s Takeover of Alstom Energy
James A Haught
White Evangelicals are Fading, Powerful, Baffling
Barbara Moroncini
Protests and Their Others
Joseph Natoli
The Winds at Their Backs
Cesar Chelala
Poverty is Not Only an Ignored Word
David Swanson
75 Years of Pearl Harbor Lies
Alex Jensen
The Great Deceleration
Nyla Ali Khan
When Faith is the Legacy of One’s Upbringing
Gilbert Mercier
Trump Win: Paradigm Shift or Status Quo?
Stephen Martin
From ‘Too Big to Fail’ to ‘Too Big to Lie’: the End Game of Corporatist Globalization.
Charles R. Larson
Review: Emma Jane Kirby’s “The Optician of Lampedusa”
David Yearsley
Haydn Seek With Hsu
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail