How real are the equations with which we represent nature?
Physicists’ theories work. They predict the arc of planets and the flutter of electrons, and they have spawned smartphones, H-bombs and—well, what more do we need? But scientists, and especially physicists, aren’t just seeking practical advances. They’re after Truth. They want to believe that their theories are correct—exclusively correct—representations of nature. Physicists share this craving with religious folk, who need to believe that their path to salvation is the One True Path.
But can you call a theory true if no one understands it?
The Bari belief in partible paternity may be functional, but it is not any closer to truth than the stork theory of conception. Some philosophers with pragmatist inclinations might believe that truths ought to be defined in terms of utility. By that standard, if a particular belief is useful for the Bari, then it is true. But, that is sloppy thinking. A statement is true if and only if it corresponds with facts.
The Bari belief is clearly false, and for that very reason, it cannot be called “knowledge.” This also applies to the wide array of beliefs that in North American academia, are beginning to be honored as “indigenous ways of knowing.” The word “knowledge” has a very specific philosophical definition…
In 2014, a grad student made a joke video about a celestial body coming to destroy Earth, and got way more than he bargained for.
(click on image for full cartoon)
NYTimes Op-Doc exploring the psychological basis of our need for certainty and its pitfalls. Narrated by psychologist Arie Kruglanski who coined the term “cognitive closure.”
From 2016 but still offers meaningful insight into our current moment in politics.
“People who are anxious because of the uncertainty that surrounds them are going to be attracted to messages that offer them certainty. The need for closure is the need for certainty. To have clear-cut knowledge. You feel that you need to stop processing too much information, stop listening to a variety of information and zero in on what, to you, appears to be the truth. The need for closure is absolutely essential but it can also be extremely dangerous.”
We reveal how one of the biggest fake news stories ever concocted — the 1984 AIDS-is-a-biological-weapon hoax — went viral in the pre-Internet era. Meet the KGB cons who invented it, and the “truth squad” that quashed it. For a bit.
There are further episodes linked there as well.
13 minute talk that covers some interesting ground. What is truth? How do we arrived at it? Can there be multiple “truths”?
A couple of interesting quotes from his reflections on telling stories:
“…maybe I was relying too much on science to find the truth.”
“There were a lot of truths in the room at that moment and we were only looking at one of them.
He started to do stories where “everything is disputed all you can do is struggle to make sense. And the struggle kind of became the point.”
“We live in a world where truth is no longer just a set of facts to be captured. It’s a process. It’s gone from being a noun to being a verb.”
“I committed myself to doing stories where you heard truths collide.”
How do you end a story? Host of “Radiolab” Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.
After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News, investigates the ongoing threat caused by the phenomenon of “fake news” in the U.S., focusing on the real-life consequences that disinformation, conspiracy theories and false news stories have on the average citizen, both in an election cycle and for years to come.
Popper’s vision is one of knowledge as useful information, by which we mean knowledge that solves a problem. Information counts as knowledge, therefore, if it fulfills this simple purpose.
For people living through a ruinous financial crisis or devastating climate change — or even through rapid social change that has no material effect on their lives — it can be hard to make sense of a cascade of events that seem to have no plainly evident causal chain, or even identifiable human authors. How do you account for a world we’re meant to master, but is so complex its workings seem essentially opaque?
“Human cognition is inseparable from the unconscious emotional responses that go with it.”
In theory, resolving factual disputes should be relatively easy: Just present the evidence of a strong expert consensus. This approach succeeds most of the time when the issue is, say, the atomic weight of hydrogen.
But things don’t work that way when the scientific consensus presents a picture that threatens someone’s ideological worldview. In practice, it turns out that one’s political, religious, or ethnic identity quite effectively predicts one’s willingness to accept expertise on any given politicized issue.