specious pretexts


Knowing why you believe what you believe is important, especially in today's political climate. I'll delve into that more in my next post.

For me, there might be a single word to describe how I know what I know and how I decide to change my mind on something. But I don't know that word, so I'll sum it up thusly:

  • I trust what I already know, because I've somehow arrived at that conclusion (whether through experience or upbringing or repetition or overly convincing argument, it doesn't matter). I trust in it enough to get through the day simply because it's all I know, and that's just my limitation as a mortal being.

  • I'm not quick to change my mind, because then I would be forever changing my mind with each new piece of information or convincing argument that ever comes my way. Default skepticism keeps this in check, and isn't a random subjective choice — it's an evolutionary necessity to keep me from going insane.

  • But I still want to change my mind (it's the only way to truly evolve in life). However, it only happens in the presence of enough reasons to do so, weighed against my past experience and the knowledge that there are people in this world who are motivated to dupe you.

I read an article today that talks a bit about this “epistemic learned helplessness” (linked from an excellent idlewords talk, Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People). Essentially it's the understanding that anyone can convince anyone of anything, so truly knowing what to believe based on others' arguments isn't a good way to know what you know or not.

It might work equally for people who either believe that the world is round or flat, but again, I'll get into that another time.

#philosophy #knowledge #epistemology