Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Unexplained is not unexplicable

I swear I put the key on the table. I cannot explain to myself where it has gone. Only a ghost could explain its disappearance. But then I realised that the cat had stolen it. The theory of evolution on the species has no good explanations for the existence of certain organisms or biological phenomena in nature, therefore the evolution theory is wrong or incomplete. But could we not find an explanation in five or ten years?

The absence of an argument supporting a statement does not imply that no such argument exists or will be found in the future. An unexplained phenomena does not mean that it is unexplicable.

Stick with the dogma that all phenomena have explanations, even if they are currently unexplained.

Write down 5 examples where an unexplained phenomena could be interpreted as an inexplicable event.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Reliance on authority: pro and con

Everyone gets statements wrong from time to time. A professor might well be proven wrong by his student. And if a small child says that 1+1=2 and Einstein says it is not, then the small child is right. The truthfullness of a statement should never be judged by the authority of the proposer but only by the strength of the arguments supporting the statement.

However, if Jimmy has got his facts wrong several times and Jane has not, I will rather trust Jane on a future issue. And I rather trust the professor than the high school student to get his statements correct. Thus, a statement is more likely to be true if the proposer is viewed as an authority. Such a short-cut in thinking saves an enormous amount of thinking time but is not without risk.

The secret is to obessively disregard any authority when deciding on the truthfullness of a statement, but at the same time to develop an intuition on who you can trust to get their statement right, use their statements as working statements, and only later view the strength of the arguments supporting the statements.

Write down 10 aspects that makes someone an authority that you could trust.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Problems and Mysteries

We try to understand how things work by asking questions: Why does the moon circle around the earth? Why do men find younger women more attractive? Why does this politician get the most votes? Why does my neighbour have an affair? What is consciousness? Do we have freedom of mind?

Here is what Steven Pinker writes in How the Mind Works:

"The linguist Noam Chomsky once suggested that our ignorance can be divided into problems and mysteries. When we face a problem, we may not know its solution, but we have insight, increasing knowledge, an an inkling of what we are looking for. When we face a mystery, however, we can only stare in wonder and bewilderment, not knowing what an explanation would even look like."

Write down 10 problems and 10 mysteries. Remember some questions might be mysteries for some, problems for others, or even answered.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We could be both right or wrong

You argue that a liberal drug policy would reduce the number of drug users, because criminals have no incentives to recruit new addicts. Your friend argues that such a policy would lead to a huge increase in drug users, because drugs are freely available. Who is right? Then you dig out the statistics of the Netherlands, a country with a very liberal drug policy, and show your friend that drug use has not increased. You proved him wrong. And claim a win on the debate. But then you re-examine the data and see that the drug use stayed relatively constant defying your argument, too. You were both wrong. Or wait maybe you were both right, because the two effects might balance out?

When two people present statements, there are four scenarios. A is right, B is wrong. A is wrong, and B is right. And both A and B are right, and both A and B are wrong! Often, we get confused, because assume that the two statements are exactly opposite, e.g policy reduces number, or policy does NOT reduce number. However, very often both people hold different opinions but not 100% opposite opinions. You argued that drug use would go down, and your friend that it would go up. In fact, you were both wrong, drug use stayed relatively stable!

Never think that you have won an argument by defeating someone else's arguments. Sure, you have proven them wrong, but your statement could well be wrong or right.