Knowledge Questions: What are the limitations in our abilities to reason? How do we produce knowledge in the sciences? What impact does knowledge have on the knower?
This article brings together so many interesting issues in TOK and the problems associated with knowledge and its production. There are connections in this article to memory, the scientific method, the replication crisis, reason, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
We need more intellectual humility for two reasons. One is that our culture promotes and rewards overconfidence and arrogance (think Trump and Theranos, or the advice your career counselor gave you when going into job interviews). At the same time, when we are wrong — out of ignorance or error — and realize it, our culture doesn’t make it easy to admit it. Humbling moments too easily can turn into moments of humiliation.
Why bad ideas refuse to die
“They may have been disproved by science or dismissed as ridiculous, but some foolish beliefs endure. In theory they should wither away – but it’s not that simple”
“Many ideas have been brilliantly upgraded or repurposed for the modern age, and their revival seems newly compelling. Some ideas from the past, on the other hand, are just dead wrong and really should have been left to rot. When they reappear, what is rediscovered is a shambling corpse. These are zombie ideas. You can try to kill them, but they just won’t die. And their existence is a big problem for our normal assumptions about how the marketplace of ideas operates.
“The phrase “marketplace of ideas” was originally used as a way of defending free speech. Just as traders and customers are free to buy and sell wares in the market, so freedom of speech ensures that people are free to exchange ideas, test them out, and see which ones rise to the top. Just as good consumer products succeed and bad ones fail, so in the marketplace of ideas the truth will win out, and error and dishonesty will disappear.”
Personal beliefs versus scientific innovation: getting past a flat Earth mentality
“Almost by definition, the most important and innovative scientific findings often go against people’s existing beliefs. If research that conforms to personal beliefs is favored, then any research that is based on new ideas runs the risk of being passed over. It takes a leap to imagine a round Earth when everyone’s always believed it to be flat.”
“Celebrities often make wildly inaccurate claims and comments to millions of people. But the workings of our minds mean we’re all prone to such behaviour.”
“Without being too harsh, the Dunning-Kruger effect must be considered. Achieving high profile or celebrity status in the modern world is no indication of intelligence, and the effect shows that “low intelligence” is often accompanied by increased confidence in ones opinions and an apparent inability to accurately judge your own abilities and expertise in comparison to others. A willingness to present your poorly-thought-out conclusions as cast iron facts would be an inevitable consequence of this.”
“A new era of ignorance
““We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,” says Proctor. Even though knowledge is ‘accessible’, it does not mean it is accessed, he warns.
““Although for most things this is trivial – like, for example, the boiling point of mercury – but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else.”
“Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. In the case of ignorance about tobacco and climate change, a scientifically illiterate society will probably be more susceptible to the tactics used by those wishing to confuse and cloud the truth.”
One of my favorite TED Talks.
“What does real scientific work look like? As neuroscientist Stuart Firestein jokes: It looks a lot less like the scientific method and a lot more like “farting around … in the dark.” In this witty talk, Firestein gets to the heart of science as it is really practiced and suggests that we should value what we don’t know — or “high-quality ignorance” — just as much as what we know.”