Practical Epistemology

Non-atomic things are not illusions

It's unusual for me to repost something I left as a comment on another site, but I thought this was worth sharing here, even stripped of its context. Tweaked for posting here.

One of the great dangers of brain research today is that as we find the "explanation" for things, we will conclude they are just illusions and not real.

Well, the thing is, we're pretty sure at this point then that everything is "an illusion" by this standard. Religious experience, love, red, pain, it's all just an illusion brought on by neurons firing in certain patterns, right? Moving into the computer realm, the text box I am typing this into is an illusion brought on by clever programming, as is the browser. It's not an isolated series of claims of illusoriness, you need to consider the whole of them at once, including not just the politically popular ones (religion), but everything that argument makes sense for (red, mathematics, scary).

I submit to you that this view, while popular, is silly.

Bias In The News

Over the past few decades, psychology has taken great strides towards becoming a real, hard science instead of an "observational science" like history. Cognitive psychology has helped lead the way, since it has been lucky enough to be able to measure things like response times to stimuli for a long time now, but it has proven more difficult to test theories of how minds work on the lowest level.

Edge: Learning to expect the unexpected

[The 9/11 commision's] mandate is "to provide a 'full and complete accounting' of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and recommendations as to how to prevent such attacks in the future."... It sounds uncontroversial, reasonable, even admirable, yet it contains at least three flaws that are common to most such inquiries into past events.... Consider: How would an understanding of the world on June 27, 1914, have helped anyone guess what was to happen next?

How To Determine Motivation From Actions

People are altogether too cavalier about ascribing motivations to others. If sometakes takes an action A, and someone wishes to accuse them of motivation M, the person will ask themselves, "Does M explain why A was done?" If so, then the accusations fly! Yet that question is seriously fallacious and will only produce a true statement accidentally at best. The correct question is, "Given that a person has motivation M, would they consider A to be their best action?

Philosophical Musings

I tend to work on larger writing projects; deep down I don't believe that anybody cares to hear me say "[Link to something].... Hmmm...." on an hourly basis (w/ a tip o' the hat to Instapundit, who had two seperate "Hmm" messages on the front-page for me to choose). I think my next project is going to be "Critical Listening Fallacies"; these are the complement of the more traditional argument fallacies where the listener fails in their part of a debate.