novembro 30, 2015

Spending the Inheritance

It’s very hard for people to realize just how incredibly stupid civilization has been. Building a modern society on finite resources and then failing to accept it’s finality or shortsightedness, let alone do anything about it has been suicidal. We’re committing speciescide of our own race. Worse, we destroyed the ecological base along the way where we obtain our sustenance.

The world is presently overpopulated by the billions. We obtained this surplus through sheer folly and shortsightedness, a.k.a “greed”. There is a valid reason why overpopulation of this magnitude never appeared in human history before. No other civilization before ours exploited the oil reserves that were tens of thousands of years in existence, predating all human life and converted them into agriculture and global transportation system.

But we did, and we built a overpopulated world that polluted, raped, destroyed it’s natural carrying capacity to such a degree that human life itself is now threatened. We became so accustomed to this temporary ‘abundance’ that we fooled ourselves into believing it would last forever. We were dead wrong.

Surviving the collapse will mean we must first stop lying to ourselves. And we must stop listening to the lies being spouted off by others. Neither the media nor the government will be honest enough to tell the truth, yet are making their own secret preparations without telling you. Ignoring the hype, false promises, “vaporware” and empty platitudes that everything is going to be ok is important. Everything is NOT OK and its past time we started acting like it was true. [link]

novembro 25, 2015

Rabbit Hole

"At bottom there are no things, and hence not even protons, quarks or strings, there are only structures. These structures generate patterns, and science is in the business of describing such patterns. At one level, the pattern can best be captured by talk of protons and electrons; at another level (i.e., for material science, and of course for our everyday experience) they are captured by objects like tables. Tables, then, are not illusions at all, at least no more than protons and electrons are illusions; rather, they are the most appropriate way to describe a certain stable pattern." Massimo Pagliucci

novembro 20, 2015

Private Belief and Public Knowledge

To believe incorrectly is never a crime, but simply to believe is never to have knowledge.

In other words, liberal science does not restrict belief, but it does restrict knowledge. It absolutely protects freedom of belief and speech, but it absolutely denies freedom of knowledge: in liberal science, there is positively no right to have one's opinions, however heartfelt, taken seriously as knowledge. Just the contrary: liberal science is nothing other than a selection process whose mission is to test beliefs and reject the ones that fail. A liberal intellectual regime says that if you want to believe the moon is made of green cheese , fine. But if you want your belief recognized as knowledge, there are things you must do. You must run your belief through the science game for checking. And if your belief is a loser, it will not be included in the science texts. It probably won't even be taken seriously by most respectable intellectuals. In a liberal society, knowledge - not belief  - is the rolling critical consensus of a decentralized community of checkers, and it is nothing else. That is so, not by the power of law, but by the deeper power of a common liberal morality.

Of course, if your belief is rejected by the critical consensus, you are free to reject the consensus and keep believing. That's freedom of belief. But you are not entitled to expect that your belief will be taught to schoolchildren or accepted by the intellectual establishment as knowledge. Any school curriculum is necessarily restrictive. It cannot not be restrictive. My point is that the right way to set a curriculum is to insist that it teach knowledge, and that this knowledge should consist only of claims which have been thoroughly checked by no person (or group) in particular. We should never teach anything as knowledge because it serves someone's political needs. We should teach only what has checked out.[...] academic freedom consists in freedom to doubt, to inquire, to check, and to believe as you like. It does not consist in the freedom of one party or another to reset the rules for inquiry or checking. Someone who wants to insist that the theory of relativity is false and that some other theory is true is, of course, entitled to do so; but passing laws or using intimidation to make teachers (or anyone else) take him seriously has nothing to do with the freedom to inquire. It has to do with the centralized regulation of knowledge. If the consensus of critical checkers holds that evolution checks out but creationism does not, and clearly it does hold this, then that is our knowledge on the subject.

And who decides what the critical consensus actually is? The critical society does, arguing about itself. That is why scholars spend so much time and energy "surveying the literature" (i.e., assessing the consensus so far). Then they argue about their assessments. The process is long and arduous, but there you are. Academic freedom would be trampled instead of advanced by, say, requiring that state financed universities put creationists on their biology faculties or give Afrocentrists rebuttal space in their journals. Wh n a state legislature or a curriculum committee or any other political body decrees that anything in particular is, or has equal claim to be, our knowledge, it wrests control over truth from the liberal community of checkers and places it in the hands of central political authorities. 

And that is illiberal. If the principle is ever established that political bodies can say what our knowledge is or is not, or which ideas are worth taking seriously, then watch out. Everyone with an opinion would be busy lobbying legislatures for equal-time laws, demanding that biology books describe prayer as an alternative treatment for cancer, picketing universities for astrology departments, suing journals for rebuttal space, demonstrating for proportionate representation in footnote citations. We would find ourselves in a world where knowledge was made by voting and agitating. Then we really would find ourselves living Bertrand Russell's nightmare, where "the lunatic who believes that he is a poached egg is to be condemned solely on the ground that he is in the minority." In that case, those of us who believe in science had better hope that we can persuade a majority and round up a quorum-and whether we can do so is not at all clear on issues like astrology.

One cannot overemphasize: intellectual liberalism is not intellectual majoritarianism or egalitarianism. You do not have a claim to knowledge either because 51 percent of the public agrees with you or because your "group" was historically left out; you have a claim to knowledge only to the extent that your opinion still stands up after prolonged exposure to withering public testing. Now, it is true that when we talk about knowledge's being a scientific consensus we are talking about a majority of scientists. But we are not talking about a mere majority. For a theory to go into a textbook as knowledge, it does not need the unanimity of checkers' assent, but it does need far more than a bare majority's. It should be generally recognized as having stood up better than any competitor to most of the tests that various critical debunkers have tried. [...] Because space and time in textbooks and classrooms are limited, each of those groups will make demands at the expense of others. And that is how creed wars begin. 

[...] only after an idea has survived checking is it deserving of respect. Not long ago, I heard an activist say at a public meeting that her opinion deserved at least respect. The audience gave her a big round of applause. But she and they had it backwards. Respect was the most, not the least, that she could have demanded for her opinion. Except insofar as an opinion earns its stripes in the science game, it is entitled to no respect whatever. This point matters, because respectability is the coin in which liberal science rewards ideas that are duly put up for checking and pass the test. You may not get rich by being shown to be right, you may not even become famous, and you almost certainly will not be loved; but you will be paid in the species of respectability. That is why it is so important that creationists and alien-watchers and radical Afrocentrists and white supremacists be granted every entitlement to speak but no entitlement to have their opinions respected. They should expect, if they scoff at the rules by which the game of science is played, to have their beliefs scoffed at; they should expect, if for any reason (in eluding minority status) they refuse to submit their ideas for checking by public criticism, that their opinions will be ignored or ridiculed - and rightly so. Respect is no opinion's birthright. People, yes, are entitled to a certain degree of basic respect by dint of being human. But to grant any such claim to ideas is to raid the treasury of science and throw its capital to the winds.

Let us remember, then, that the proposition "We must all respect others' beliefs" is nowhere near as innocent as it sounds. If it is enshrined in policies or practices giving "rights" to minority opinions, the damage it causes is immediate and severe. Liberal science cannot exert discipline if it cannot use its tool of marginalization to drive unsupported or bogus beliefs from the agenda. When you pass laws requiring equal time for somebody's excluded belief, you effectively make marginalization illegal. You say, "In our society, a belief is respectable - and will be taught and treated respectfully - if the politically powerful say it is." Once you have said that, you face a very stark choice. You can open the textbooks only to those "oppressed" beliefs whose proponents have political pull. Or you can take the principled egalitarian position, and open the books and the schools to all sincere beliefs. If you do the former, then you have replaced science with power politics. If you do the latter, then you have no principled choice but to teach, for example, "Holocaust revisionism" (the claim that the Holocaust didn't happen) as an "alternative theory" held by an "excluded minority"-which means, in practice, not teaching twentieth-century history at all. Either way, you have taken in hand silly and even execrable opinions and ushered them from the fringes of debate to the very center. At a single stroke, you have disabled liberal society's mechanism for marginalizing foolish ideas, and you have sent those ideas straight to the top of the social agenda with a safe-conduct.

Is the liberal standard for respectability fair? That, really, is the big question today. If you believe that a society is just only when it delivers more or less equal outcomes, you will think liberalism is unfair. You will insist on admitting everyone's belief into respectability as knowledge. Or at least you will insist on admitting the beliefs of people whom you regard as oppressed-affirmative action for knowledge. Personally, I cannot think of anything good about that kind of standard for knowledge. It is bound to lead to fights over who gets what. Groups will appoint leaders, and leaders will negotiate, and when negotiations break down schism or intellectual warfare will ensue; or if negotiations are successful, then certain beliefs will be locked in place by delicate compromise, and a knowledge-making system whose greatest virtue is its adaptiveness will turn sclerotic.

Kindly Inquisitors, Jonathan Rauch

novembro 18, 2015

novembro 17, 2015

Allocation Practice

Democracy is an efficient method to allocate assent to available power holders. Capitalism is an efficient method to allocate resources to available uses. And Science is an efficient method to allocate truth to available hypothesis. They all have plenty of defects and need vigilance. But alternatives, like autocracy, communism, or mythical explanations have proven themselves to be much worse.