Thursday, February 08, 2007

Everything you know is wrong

A fine assortment of Poppers

I enjoy that clip of George Carlin I slapped up in the previous post because, amongst many other things, Carlin mouths-off about the dangerous arrogance of humanity.

And even if that arrogance sometimes hides itself behind a popular cause du jour, such as environmentalism or secularism, it is still arrogance and it is still dangerous.

By way of a post on another blog I came across a recent discussion on Radio 4 about the ideas of Karl Popper (I’ve also stuck a copy up here). Unfortunately, the price of a small dab of enlightenment is having to listen to Melvyn Bragg (knob) for some of the time.

I’m a big Popper fan and my own take on the core of his philosophy can be boiled down to...

  • What passes for scientific ‘truth’ one day could easily, and is often, disproved by new evidence the next day. No matter how sure we are about a theory we should never forget that our understanding is imperfect.
  • Consequently, no matter how certain we may be about the scientific truth of an idea its application to the real world is open to unforeseen consequences
  • It is consequently daft to impose fixed ideologies; scientific, social or political, on society
  • Unless those ideologies are readily open to falsification, discussion and modification.

All of which can be boiled down to

I don’t like 'isms’

In Popper-world a good scientist doesn't try to build or advocate a case in the way that a lawyer does. A good scientist knows that the best and most intellectually honest way to test if their own pet theory is 'true' or not is to try everything they can to disprove it, and to keep trying...

Of course, we all like to pretend that we live in an enlightened society that is close to Popper’s ideal.

Bollocks do we.

Sure, thinking like Popper’s is popularly used to batter down religious belief systems but it is rarely applied to the other ists and isms that we have been indoctrinated to value.

The result being that a philosophy that could be used to promote plurality of thought is used to serve precisely the opposite objective.

There’s far too much certainty about these days. And worse of all, that kind of unquestioning, uninformed certainty that is supposedly a unique characteristic of religious faith.

Our society rewards arrogance and punishes intellectual humility remorselessly. Think about the people at the forefront of their vocations. The people we collectively choose, or passively permit, to speak for our times. People like Tony Blair or, my personal favourite, Richard Dawkins (whose approach to science would have had Popper, described as a ‘truth heckler’ by Dawkins, vomiting on his shirt front). How much self-doubt do they ever express or subject themselves to? And above all, do they ever ask themselves that very simple question

What if I’m wrong?



Tony said...

While reading this, I stumbled over that. Thought this might fit in here.

(Don't ask, I have three Firefox browser windows open with around two dozen tabs open, one of them playing George Carlin - Owners of This Country on MyShower...)

Tony said...

And the first link on "More Videos" at Putfile was this.

Stef said...

very educational, thank you ;)