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Mindware: How Do You Know Which Theory to Believe In?

Mindware: Epistemics

Epistemics: a discipline "that fuses theory of knowledge, cognitive psychology, and philosophy of science (which is concerned with appraisal of the methods and conclusions of scientists)." Mindware, p 43, hardcover.

Okay, I'm at the end of the book and trying to figure out how to encapsulate what it's all about. I think it's basically: how do you know if a theory is good and which experts do you trust? This is a problem with a lot of people today - they don't trust the media and they don't trust the experts (but they trust Trump). Are they right to distrust the media and scientists? Who can they trust?

This question won't be easily answered or satisfied because what experts know today can be upended by new findings tomorrow. Think Galileo proposing the earth revolving around the sun rather than the other way around. Or think about all of those economic experts who failed to catch the pending financial disaster in 2008.

Today, we have climate change warnings. The majority of the science experts believe climate change is happening and mankind has contributed in part to the change. But, we have a large number of people who don't believe in it. Some of these people remember the time when scientists were warning of the global freeze or new ice age.

So if new scientific theories keep coming out that contradicts an older theory, how can one believe any of it?

The author provides just a few helpful hints. I struggled with the last two chapters because it leaned toward a philosophical discussion and I'm trying to extract something useful.

The first thing he says is that the theory needs to be simple. The simpler the theory, the more likely it is to work. If there are ad hoc theories added to the main theory because some little details don't fit the main theory, then the main theory is probably not it. Sometime you might get at the theory by building reducing the complex issue you are trying to explain down to its essential parts - a type of explaining called reductionism or the whole is equal to the sum of its parts. But, (ah, there's always a "but" somewhere) you can't reduce it so much that it starts to fail. The best example he gave was the concept of consciousness. You can break it down to the brain, then to the synapsis and the electronic impulses, and the chemical impulses and the idea of cellular biology and whatever else you want to reduce consciousness to. The problem is, you've reduced down to the component parts and still you can't explain consciousness.

Next, the theory has to be testable such that it can be proven false (or be falsified) if the theory really is not the correct one. We are very good at coming up with explanations and finding evidence or events that support our theory, but we don't seek out situations that prove our theory to be false. We have to prove our theory works but we also have to have a theory that could be found to be false, if the theory is incorrect. Read the book to get at this because for me, it kind of got hairy understanding when a theory can be "falsified" and when it can't.

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