Evolving epistemology

We weren’t supposed to believe in early treatments for Covid using existing medications.

There were not enough double-blind trials that controlled for confounding variables published in peer-reviewed journals.

The experts dismissed it.

Official bodies such as the WHO and the CDC warned against it.

The smart people followed the science and decided certain medicines should not be allowed in the treatment of Covid.

There’s something wrong with the way the rational, modern man forms his beliefs.

This site explains why not enough research of this sort is being done, or being done properly.

It isn’t enough to wave one’s hand at the issue and say, science is self-correcting! Clearly it isn’t, or at least not in a timely manner.

Research was effectively stymied for political and commercial reasons. Peer-reviewed journals acted as gatekeepers against unwelcome facts. Experts acted according to their own interests.

Nor can one dismiss it as unimportant because the virus wasn’t that deadly anyway. There have been many, many other cases like this, some of immense importance.

And let’s not forget the international agencies that supported the lab that probably leaked the thing in the first place.

Aside from medicine, consider how the greatest military on Earth botched the Kabul withdrawal, or how financial regulators were blindsided by the housing crisis in 2008. There are many other cases where our meritocratic system puts people in charge who have no idea what’s going on and/or are in the thrall of some trendy ideology.

Science is broken. ‘Expertise’ is broken.

Comments from a recent Substack thread:

This is what’s wrong with experts in a nutshell. They spurn curiousity, cleave to respectable opinion and keep getting shown up by randos online. It’s hard to maintain the old peasant respect for the aristocracy now that we can read their tweets and see directly how asinine they are.

We cannot turn our brains off and ‘trust the science’. Nevertheless, we cannot simply choose our own truth as many of the more paranoid are doing (see Gab).

We must figure things out for ourselves. The average person cannot do this, but I’m not writing for the average person.

How does one decide what to believe?

This is a question that goes back much further than 2020. In fact, it is probably the foundational question of philosophy: how can we know anything? To what extent can we trust our own senses and our own powers of reasoning?

This has led to classic thought experiments like, ‘What if a demon is tricking me into perceiving a world that does not really exist?’ or the more modern version, ‘How do I know I’m not in The Matrix?’

Descartes’ famous proclamation, ‘I think, therefore I am’ attempted to get off the ground in this regards. He meant, if you’re thinking about this stuff, there must be something thinking, and that thing must be you because you are directly experiencing those thoughts. Therefore you can at least know for certain that you exist.

Even asserting that much remains controversial.

There is a good idea that can help us with both the peer-reviewed journal question and the brain-in-the-box conundrum.

It is Socrates’ elenchus, the process of questioning everything. If, after exhaustive scrutiny, an assertion appears to stand up well enough with no contradictions or contrary evidence, we can cautiously assume it to be true for the time being. That is, we turn the burden of proof around – we try to disprove things rather than prove them.

Look however hard you like, there’s little indication you are a brain in a box. Either it’s an incredibly good trick or you’re not a brain in a box. Unless new evidence comes to light – say, you see yourself in the mirror one day when the fake inputs are turned off and you see a disembodied brain – you can cautiously assume that you are not a brain in a box.

The evidence that our universe is a simulation is a bit stronger but let’s wait for further study before leaping to conclusions.

As for peer-reviewed research, the underlying idea of science is fine. The empirical process is inspired by the elenchus but applies it in a specific way. If science were done properly it would be great. However, the many problems in scientific research – lack of replicability, pressure to publish positive results that will be frequently cited, conflicting incentives, elite gatekeeping and all the rest of it – mean we should switch the burden of proof around.

If the I-drug, or the H-drug, or vitamin D seem to be working and have mild side effects, doctors should start by assuming that they work and continue to use them.

If our betters at the WHO or the CDC wish to turn doctors against such treatments, the onus is on them to compile the peer-reviewed research that shows it doesn’t work or is harmful. And we should go over that research with a fine tooth comb.

The same is true for anything else. We should accept the commonsense, right-in-front-of-our-eyes thing until someone can disprove it.

Sometimes, someone will. Einstein showed that our commonsense understanding of time is mistaken. The telescope proved that our impression of the Earth as being at the centre of things was wrong. The microscope revealed a hidden world we were unaware of.

However, in the absence of such evidence, we should continue to believe that which appears to be true on the face of it. We should believe these things lightly, ready to change our minds should contrary facts come to light.

In other words, the next time an expert, official source, mainstream media outlet or ‘fact checker’ makes an assertion that goes against what appears to be the case, our response should be: ‘Prove it.’

9 comments

  1. Maniac · October 18

    I’ve got a pre-filled oral syringe of the Mr. Ed gel on my supplement shelf – just in case.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Kentucky Gent · October 19

    Good post, NV.
    And actually, according to Catholic theology, we ARE in a simulation. I heard a theologian explaining the existence of creation, and although he did not use the word “simulation”, I realized later that what he was describing was indeed a material simulation.
    Basically, he said that not only did God create the universe and everything in it, but all of creation can only continue to exist if God is actively willing it. If God stopped willing the creation for even the briefest instant of time, poof it would all be gone. I am paraphrasing, I don’t remember his exact wording.
    The atheists who are pushing the simulation hypothesis are actually specifiying a computer simulation, right? Whereas Catholic theology sounds like a material and spiritual simulation. I guess their point is that we, and the world around us, might not be real.
    But even if that were true, it still doesn’t explain existence, it just moves the ultimate explanation out of the realm of human ability to answer it. Because, at some point, you can’t have simulations all the way up. You have to have some sentient entity, something outside and apart from the (finite?) nesting Babuska dolls of simulations, that is the ultimate creator. The simulations don’t simulate themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lemmiwinks · October 19

      It’s turtles all the way down.

      Like

      • Kentucky Gent · October 19

        I actually thought of using that phrase, but the simulated is subordinate to the simulator, so I invented “Babushkas all the way up” on the spot.

        Like

  3. luisman · October 19

    Well, around 50% of our sensors (nerve ends) are in our eyes, most of the other 50% in the head (nose, ears, mouth), the majority of the tiny few left are in our fingertips. We still don’t know much how the preprocessing from the eyes into our brain works, but it seems like a vector graphics software combined with memories of things we’ve already seen. So, that simulation in our brain is real, although not necessarily Matrix style.
    I agree that we should not dismiss common sense, just because some scientist or ‘expert’ claims otherwise. It falls in the category of “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, like the Atheists argue against faith based truth claims.
    In our postmodern world, some can just name something a vaccine, although it bears very little resemblance to any vaccines we know. And they name something a horse dewormer, although it is a Nobel price winning human medicine. Tower of Babel times.

    Liked by 2 people

    • dickycone · October 19

      This source for the 2015 Nobel Prize for medicine for the drug-that-must-not-be-named appears to have been scrubbed from the Internet but still comes up on the Wayback machine:

      Click to access press.pdf

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Bardelys the Magnificent · October 19

    “Prove it” is also the basis of Western law. The status quo is that you are presumed innocent, and you must prove otherwise. It’s no accident that we have thrown away the core tenets of both law and science, as they both rely on logic at their center.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tim914 · October 20

    Science has become “Political” Science. Facts not in tune with the Authorized orthodoxy must be rejected or punishment will be meted out. Scientists look for the truth and so our current Woke medical experts are not Scientists as they solely use information which supports the goals of the oligarchs who corrupt the system with their wealth.

    Liked by 1 person

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