Wednesday 27 March 2013

What are the epistemological implications of indeterminacy?

Ever since I attended university (for the first time), I have used this grand question to mock those who pontificate about esoteric erudition. Exploring the meaning of life comes crashing back to Earth when you discover you've run out of toilet paper.

Lately, however, I have been mulling over this grand question and just what it means for all of us as represented by the collective we and each of us as individuals. What do we know? How do we know it? Does our need for security, continuity, and certainty mean that we willingly make s**t up rather than face the seemingly undesirable state of ignorance? Do we parrot what other people say without reflection or verification as if the compulsion to say what we (supposedly) know could be considered something akin to Tourette's? Why is it so hard to say, "I don't know"? Ever notice how you stop somebody in the street to ask for directions and it quickly becomes obvious that they haven't got the foggiest idea where such and such is but they still try to tell you anyway? Please, I beg you, just say "I don't know" and spare us a lot of wasted time and pain. Don't vaguely point and say, "I'm not sure but I think it's over there." Ahhh!!!

epistemology = theory of knowledge

implication = likely consequence, conclusion

indeterminacy = indefiniteness, the quality of being undefined

How does being undefined affect our knowledge? What effect does the unknown have on us personally or collectively? Does the indefinite somehow scare us or bug us to the point where we consciously or unconsciously decide to believe something, believe anything rather than face a situation where we just don't know?

The Earth is 6,000 years old
James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland) created the Ussher Chronology, a literal interpretation of the Bible recording dates and ages. This work concluded that the world was created in 4004 BC. That seems pretty definitive and I think we can lay that one to rest.


But the keyword is literal. Is the Bible "the" word of God? Or is it the word of men attempting to put down in words their interpretation of what they think God was? Is the Bible an accurate historical record? Or is it the inaccurate passing of tales from one person to the next? Is the Bible the unblemished record of the times of our ancestors? Or is it a book which has changed due to inaccurate or personalized translations or been modified because of political influences?

Do I accept the Bible "as is" or do I say, "I don't know"?

And my personal view? The Ussher Chronology due to its scholarly approach and erudite treatment of the Holy Scriptures lends a great deal of gravitas to the six thousand year argument. That unto itself is enough to convince many a folk but I would point out that all of this is based on the premise of the Bible being accurate. A logical deduction based on a faulty premise does not lead to the truth.

Now, after all that, don't get me started on those who use the Bible to justify their stance against abortion, contraception, homosexuality, sex education, and God knows what else. We're all going to Hell in a handcart? It depends on your definition of Hell.

The Forty-Seven Percent
47% of the American people do not pay taxes. What does that mean? How do I interpret that? Should I investigate so I can truly understand what's being said? Should I verify the statement to even prove if it's true?

47% of the American people do not pay taxes. So said the Conservatives. So said Fox news (Sean Hannity among others). So said the GOP candidates during the 2011 campaign for the Republican representative. So said Mitt Romney. These people are moochers who will never fend for themselves and will always look to the federal government for charity. Shouldn't everyone pay taxes? It's not fair. It's un-American.

47% of the American people do not pay taxes. I investigate. Tax here refers to federal income tax. 47% do not pay federal income tax. They pay state taxes. They pay municipal taxes. They simply do not pay federal income tax.

Why do these people not pay federal income tax? I investigate. Their income is so low; they get tax credits which reduce their taxes to zero. Or they are so poor; they pay no federal income tax at all. The law grants them an exemption so they are legally not bound to pay taxes.

Who doesn't pay? I investigate. Retired people. Veterans. Unemployed people. Poor people. And soldiers currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, the men and women of the armed forces currently deployed overseas fighting the good fight and defending truth, justice, and the American way are exempt from paying federal income tax. They are part of the 47%.

The Conservatives, the Tea Party, and Mitt Romney called them moochers who will never fend for themselves and will always look to the federal government for charity. Why would they say this? Why would they jump to a conclusion without investigating the truth?

If you are poor, if you income is low, the law, yes the law states you don't have to pay federal income tax. No one is cheating. No one is mooching. The law is the law. But in the eyes of the right, something is wrong. These people are poor. They are free-loaders.

Why did Romney go after the 47% so obviously the poorest of the country? Why did Conservatives buy into this idea that these poor are moochers? The chief executives of the U.S.’s top 14 financial companies received about $2.5 billion in cash (salary, bonus and stock options exercised) from 2000 to 2008. (Bloomberg) Part of the 47% earn less than $20,000 per year.

Huffington - Sep 19/2012
Single Mother, 47 Percenter: 'Sometimes You Do Need Help' by Catherine Pearson
[Janelle Matous, a single mother,], 30, has a 4-year-old son and is a full-time student studying photojournalism at the University of Texas, where she maintains a 3.7 GPA. She also works 20 hours a week at a non-profit, earning $18,000 a year. With loans and grants, her annual income is just around $22,000. Each month, $900 of that goes straight to her rent. ... Matous said she pays Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, but does not pay income tax. She also gets government help with day care expenses, an earned income credit, and is able write off certain expenses, such as her school books. She does not think she should have to apologize for any of this.

But the true absurdity of this analysis of the 47%? My research showed that loopholes in the tax laws allow the rich to also escape paying federal income tax. Yes, they are part of the 47%! According to an article by Tom Herman in The Fiscal Times, more than 10,000 Americans who earned more than $200,000 in 2007 paid no income taxes to the U.S. government. (Wall Street Journal)

Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer is one of 42 female CEOs out of the top Fortune 1,000 companies. She is the youngest CEO. Yahoo is a floundering company which has been through a number of CEOs in the past five years. Mayer is the third CEO in 2012 alone.

Mayer is brought in to turn around the company. Yahoo is in trouble and needs to do something, probably something drastic. Mayer discovers that remote workers are abusing the system. How? Reportedly some of them are collecting a paycheck but never show up for work. At all. Ever. Mayer checks logs for remote access and finds out they never even connect to Yahoo's systems. At all. Ever. And reportedly some of them have other jobs to boot.

Mayer is given the task to turn around Yahoo. She decides to do what Google does: minimise telecommuting to foster a collaborative environment. She rescinds all telecommuting. Everybody goes nuts. It's the end of life as we know it. Self-proclaimed experts everywhere tell us how wrong Mayer is and how their lives are better for telecommuting. Yes, their life. Their one life. Nobody talks about Yahoo's problems. Nobody talks about managing a workforce of 14,000 people. Nobody talks about when telecommuting is useful and when it's not useful. Nobody talks about the differences in industries and how telecommuting may work there but not be good for collaboration as exemplified at Google. And especially nobody talks about how the waitress serving me my hamburger can't telecommute. Or how the nurse, the teacher, the plumber, the electrician, the bank teller, and a host of other jobs which require a real live person to be on-site to do the work can't telecommute. Yes, nobody talks about how telecommuting is only applicable to people working in information services. With a broad brush stroke the self-proclaimed experts vilify Mayer and promote telecommuting as the saviour for all workers and the, the in air quotes, way of achieving that ever elusive life-work balance: how to have kids, take care of your home, cook dinner, and get paid. Fist pump, rah rah. Telecommuting: it's like winning the lottery.

Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.
-Vin Scully (b 1927), American Sportscaster

Final Word
What do we know? And does our abhorrence of ignorance mean that we develop and apply explanations for things when the correct answer is really "I don't know"? I have been flabbergasted at what comes out of people's mouths. Not just misinformation, but hurtful opinions even outright lies all based on unverified assumptions or speculation. We collectively seem to repeat stuff without ever questioning whether what we're saying is in fact true. But oh my do we stick to our guns. I have stood in front of people who could in no way know what the right answer is but repeat over and over again that their answer is absolutely one hundred percent correct.

What I wrote above is so brief. I could have put together a book of all the examples I have run across over the past few years and there seems to be no end to it. Yes, it is common knowledge that two plus two equals four and I think we can all agreed that this idea is verifiable but from there we embark on a voyage of the misinformed.

How long did it take the collective we to accept that the Earth is not flat? When did we learn that the Earth is not the centre of the solar system? (400 years ago Galileo was locked up by the church.) 130 years ago, women suffered from "hysteria". But these are old issues and I'm sure everyone will chuckle about them. But what about today? What about the current issues?

All homosexuals are pedophiles. All Muslims are terrorists. Gay marriage threatens the American way of life. Sex education promotes promiscuity. Vaccinations cause autism. 9/11 was a government conspiracy and the twin towers were brought down by a controlled demolition. Pornography is bad (but 50 Shades of Grey apparently reawoke the sex lives of American women). Dopamine explains sex addiction (but dopamine, as part of the brain's pleasure mechanism, also allows us to enjoy ice cream). Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. You must put oil and salt in the water when boiling spaghetti noodles. Blah, blah, blah.

Superstition is very much alive in the world. We see coincidence and think we know why something happened. We do not realise we are guessing; we are trying to fill in the blanks and make sense out of unexplainable all while not understanding that we do not understand. Cum hoc propter hoc. "With this, because of this." Correlation does not imply causation. Just imagine that a couple of hundred years ago, it was thought that a tobacco smoke enema (you heard me) could cure all sorts of ailments even being an effective treatment for drowning. While silly now, what's not to say that what we believe today is not silly?

I am convinced that a thousand years from now, people are going to look back at us and laugh at our ignorance. What passes for common knowledge is sometimes ridiculous. Personally, I don't know and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Too bad you're still convinced the Earth is flat.


Wikipedia: Ussher chronology
The Ussher chronology is a 17th-century chronology of the history of the world formulated from a literal reading of the Bible by James Ussher, the Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland). The chronology is sometimes associated with young Earth creationism, which holds that the universe was created only a few millennia ago by God as described in the first two chapters of the Biblical book of Genesis.

my blog: What the @#$%^* do I know about religion?)
Is the Bible the word of God? The answer is very much dependent on which end of the spectrum you're at. If you are a fundamentalist, the Bible is THE word of God and I'm going to Hell for even asking the question. At the other end of the spectrum, the Bible is an inaccurate document written by man (well, men) and is their interpretation of both historical events and what God, if He exists, meant. It has been rendered inaccurate by the faults of transcribing the texts, of translating the texts, and of various political interests who changed the Bible to suit their needs.

MotherJones - Sep 19/2012
Full Transcript of the Mitt Romney Secret Video
Romney: There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

my blog: Romney caught on video: 47% of Americans are Losers
Just how much out of touch are the Republicans? Watching this video of a rich guy, a multimillionaire rich guy estimated to be worth $230 million giving his take on the state of the union is jaw-droppingly unbelievable.

my blog: Marissa Mayer: Has the smoke cleared yet?
Yahoo! has 14,100 employees. That's a lot of employees. I wonder what they're all doing. Marissa Mayer makes a decision and public vilifies her for it. Hmmm, do I know what's going on at Yahoo? Is Mayer's decision a threat to working mommies everywhere? Does Mayer deserve the scorn of the world? 14,100 employees. Hmmm, I wonder what they're all doing.

my blog: Telecommuting, Marissa Mayer, and Working Mommies
Marissa Mayer is hired as CEO of Yahoo to turn around the floundering company. Discovering a problem with staff abusing the right to work remotely for the company, she rescinds all telecommuting. Every self-professed pundit about modern work practices, amateur and professional alike, goes ape-shit condemning this woman left, right, and center about her supposed blow against the hardships of today's workers especially today's working mothers.

my blog: Movie Review: Hysteria (plus my ramblings about the female paroxysm, er, orgasm)
Female hysteria? Once upon a time the medical profession determined that a wide variety of symptoms such as faintness, nervousness, sexual desire, insomnia, fluid retention, heaviness in abdomen, muscle spasm, shortness of breath, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, and "a tendency to cause trouble" were representative of this supposed illness. Defining exactly what this malady was remained elusive but the cure said it all. The proscribed remedy was for a woman to undergo "pelvic massage", the manual stimulation of the genitals, by a doctor until the patient had a hysterical paroxysm (orgasm).

my blog: The Tobacco Smoke Enema: Blowing smoke up my... what? Really?
It would seem that the North American Indians introduced tobacco to Europeans for more than just smoking. They used it as a medicine including the introduction of smoke in the rectum to stimulate respiration. ... The English physician, Richard Mead (1673-1754), a then well-respected scholar of medicine, was apparently one of the first experts to recommend tobacco smoke enemas to resuscitate victims of drowning.


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