MetaCognitions | Proportioning Belief to the Evidence


I think that it’s necessary that we question within reason those claims extraordinary or important to us, and especially when those claims unfairly support our own or others’ ideology and belief-systems, however ill-suited we may feel at the time to bother with it.

Given the power and pervasiveness of human bias (my own included), we should not be too credulous or too obstinate regarding what we accept as true when our personal affirmation or denial of a claim speaks too clearly to our own prejudices and inner narrative and not to evidence and reason or the lack of such for the claim.

Carl Sagan popularized the phrase “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and Christopher Hitchens is credited with his dictum, “What may be asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence,” both noting that the burden of proof for a claim lies always with the one making it.

This is because it is rationally impossible to definitively prove a particular claim false with a limited data set. There is always going to be data we don’t currently have available to us, as we simply cannot gather infinite data in a finite span of time.

There is a balance that must be struck in effectively arriving at more reliable knowledge claims, and so we must satisfy ourselves with the best evidence we can get at the moment, recognizing that we shall always overlook much of what data can possibly exist no matter how diligent we are.

What do I mean by questioning within reason? Nothing arcane or obscurely philosophical; merely that when it’s brought to our attention that there exist good or poor reasons to accept or reject a claim, to consider those reasons, and to weigh them in balance with the claims they are intended to support and, to paraphrase David Hume, “…proportion our belief to that evidence.”

It’s something I struggle with daily, as my own…psychology…makes me somewhat impressionable despite seven years of identification and development as a skeptic. I don’t always win these struggles, but even if perfect, consistent skepticism is unattainable in practice, I think it’s an ideal worth striving for and approaching ever closer.

What’s at the end of the journey? When should I laud myself for finally arriving at it?

Never…

…Never, because there is no final destination, just a road that winds ever onward. But things have gone far better than I’d have expected in late 2006 through mid-2007, and that’s something to be thankful for.

I don’t need magic. I don’t need to supplement reality with anything outside of it to make it “better.” There is magic enough in the real world.

I have that real word, no, a universe, perhaps even a multiverse, and all of you to be thankful for as well, and that resonates deeply with me, the part of me which stirred our species’ ancestors on the plains of Africa millions of years ago, the part which survives in our species still.

It is the spirit I believe in(…and the only one I may partake of, without medical complications! 😉 ): the human spirit.

Thank you, my friends and readers, whatever you believe.

So very, very much!

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