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The Lounge: Chat. Relax. Unwind. > The Seductive Lure of Irrefutability

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message 1: by Graeme (last edited Dec 18, 2018 04:01AM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan (Yeah, OK, you probably got this far on the odd title, and wondering what am I smoking this time...)

We all like to be right. Agree? And, the best way to be experience being right is to be absolutely certain you're right, to know that whatever you believe you know is unassailable, is beyond all possibility of refutation - is irrefutable.

Now consider the following three ideas.

[1] The universe was created 10 minutes ago, along with all our memories, it only appears to be approx. 13 billion years old.

[2] There are two immortal sprites for every human being. They are invisible, and perch on your left and right shoulders. They make every decision for you, and provide you with the 'experience,' of making your own decisions. When you die, they leave and find a new human to operate.

[3] Everyone is simply a brain in a vat of nutrient fluids, all experience is fed to you by an Artificial Intelligence, providing an experience that mimics our current world.

Each of these ideas has an infinite number of variants, all of them make predictions about our experience of reality that are indistinguishable from the reality that we would hold as common and typical within our culture.

So are any of these ideas true? Who knows, they could be, but Occam's Razor would suggest that the simplest explanation is preferable - so we'll say not true (but we can't know for sure).

More to the point, we can't prove that they are false. The reason being that they are all lacking in testable criteria, they are all lacking refutation criteria - they are all - irrefutable.

So the next time, you're feeling the lure of irrefutability, and basking in the warm glow of certainty of belief - just remember - irrefutable ideas are basically indistinguishable from any of the above.

And if your belief is irrefutable - you are in the position that you can not discover if you are wrong.

And that lack of ability to discover that you are wrong makes you vulnerable to exploitation and is a fundamentally disempowered position to be in.

Think on that one.


message 2: by Nik (last edited Dec 18, 2018 08:37AM) (new)

Nik Krasno | 15746 comments Nice one, Graeme!
These illusions are sooooo real. Trump & especially Putin feel much longer than 10 min. Wouldn't be surprised if they were primary to the universe -:)


message 3: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6035 comments I get your point, Graeme. Maybe I'm just a brain in a vat or any infinite number of variations. But that doesn't help me navigate through what appears to be reality in this moment. I have to choose a point of view as if it were irrefutable (even though it's not).


message 4: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Scout wrote: "I get your point, Graeme. Maybe I'm just a brain in a vat or any infinite number of variations. But that doesn't help me navigate through what appears to be reality in this moment. I have to choose..."

I default to the 'world is real,' it's actually the simplest (hence preferable) hypothesis.

For most of my life it's been a conundrum for me how vulnerable people are to the idea that if an idea is 'irrefutable,' that this is a strength.

I'll explain with a comment below.


message 5: by Graeme (last edited Dec 19, 2018 11:08PM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan To get some additional perspective on irrefutability, let's consider what it means for an idea to be refutable.

To be refutable, an idea must rule out a logically feasible, physically measurable event*.

I.e. If my 'idea,' is true, than some event* can not happen.

If the ruled-out event can be observed, than the idea is proven false, and the idea has been refuted.

For example, I propose that there is no such thing as the afterlife, my idea holds that a ghost will never be observed.

If my acquaintance, 'Bill,' dies, and I'm at his funeral, and as the final sods of dirt are thrown onto the grave, an ectoplasmic manifestation that looks like Bill emerges from the ground, and swishes through the assembled mourners before loudly proclaiming "The afterlife is real." Then Bill turns away, a bright light shines down upon him, and he ascends and disappears into it never to be seen again.

This is seen by multiple witnesses who all report the same event, and it's recorded on video and audio - well looks like my idea that there is no afterlife is busted, falsified, and refuted.

Especially if this happens more than once (repeatability), and I can determine that there are no hidden tricks being played (controlled experiment).

P.s. logical feasibility matters, if someone says, my idea is refutable because it rules out 'Square Circles,' - Yes, well - that doesn't matter.


message 6: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6035 comments If I say, "I exist," is that refutable?


message 7: by Graeme (last edited Dec 19, 2018 11:50PM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Hi Scout,

The refutation would be your own non-existence, but then you wouldn't be around to ask the question.

I think your dealing with an excellent corner case (and a large one at that) of statements that are axiomatic.

REF: Wiki: Axiom: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axiom

An axiom or postulate is a statement that is taken to be true, to serve as a premise or starting point for further reasoning and arguments. The word comes from the Greek axíōma (ἀξίωμα) 'that which is thought worthy or fit' or 'that which commends itself as evident.


The act of making that statement, "I exist." demonstrates it's a fact.

(paused before editing...)

Reflecting on this further, the refutation event is not logically feasible as the two events are mutually exclusive.

[1] I statement that, "I exist," and
[2] I don't exist.

Can not both be true at the same time.

Hence, the statement, "I exist." is both strictly non-refutable, and demonstrable self-evident making it an excellent axiom.


message 8: by Graeme (last edited Dec 20, 2018 01:00AM) (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Refutability, testability, falsifiability as a valuable characteristic for an idea come into play when we move past axioms, and begin to deal with ideas that are less self-evident.

For example, it was long held that the Earth was at the center of the universe. A stable, stationary world about which the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars would move. This was all changed by the Copernican Revolution,

REF: Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coperni...
"Copernicus removed Earth from the center of the universe, set the heavenly bodies in rotation around the Sun, and introduced Earth's daily rotation on its axis."

What nailed the change in the end was Galieo's observations with his telescope. Again from the wiki link above,
"In 1610, Galileo observed that Venus had a full set of phases, similar to the phases of the moon we can observe from Earth. This was explainable by the Copernican system which said that all phases of Venus would be visible due to the nature of its orbit around the Sun, unlike the Ptolemaic system which stated only some of Venus's phases would be visible. Due to Galileo's observations of Venus, Ptolemy's system became highly suspect and the majority of leading astronomers subsequently converted to various heliocentric models, making his discovery one of the most influential in the transition from geocentrism to heliocentrism."

The geocentric Ptolemaic system was refutable, in that it made specific predictions (visible phases of Venus) that were testable (once the right instruments became available), and once those tests demonstrated that the Ptolemaic system was refuted it fell from favor.

The Copernican model had the following key features,

[1] It explained everything the previous model explained, and
[2] It predicted novel elements that differentiated it from the previous model (predictions that were refutable)
[3] New observations demonstrated the existence of the novel predictions, and refuted the previous model.

The explanatory power of science rests in the presence of refutable predictions and measurable observations.

Note that the Copernican model was preferable to the Ptolemaic model precisely because it carried greater explanatory power.

The Copernican model was completed with the work of Issac Newton and subsequently overthrown by Einstein and Eddington.

REF: Wiki: Eddington: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_...
", Eddington travelled to the island of Príncipe off the west coast of Africa to watch the solar eclipse of 29 May 1919. During the eclipse, he took pictures of the stars (several stars in the Hyades cluster include Kappa Tauri of the constellation Taurus) in the region around the Sun. According to the theory of general relativity, stars with light rays that passed near the Sun would appear to have been slightly shifted because their light had been curved by its gravitational field. This effect is noticeable only during eclipses, since otherwise the Sun's brightness obscures the affected stars. Eddington showed that Newtonian gravitation could be interpreted to predict half the shift predicted by Einstein. Eddington's observations published the next year confirmed Einstein's theory, and were hailed at the time as evidence of general relativity over the Newtonian model. The news was reported in newspapers all over the world as a major story."

And we have the same pattern. An earlier model makes specific refutable predictions, is replaced by a model that explains everything the previous model explained, and explains new novel phenomena.

Einstein's General Relativity replaced the Copernican/Newtonian paradigm.

Through these transitions we can see a growth in explanatory power allied with refutability, testability and ever more exact observation.


message 9: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 15746 comments Our consciousness ("I") with all its understanding of close and distant things depend on our sensors and chemical processes in the brain. Those hallucinating whether from fever or drugs see a different pic and have a different 'reality'.
It's natural to assume that the sun circles around the earth, because that's how we see it every day. A poor chap Giordano Bruno was burned by inquisition for his cosmic pluralism. It's sometimes tricky to disregard your own senses.
You need a degree of belief, that a microscope indeed magnifies things and presents a real pic, when you see through it otherwise invisible microbes.
If someone has a donated organ, does it make him 95% him/her and 5% another person?
Don't know if refutable, but everything's definitely questionable. Yet, in my opinion, we still need a system of coordinates (axioms, assumptions, whatever) to rest upon, but be ready to update it when enough info, evidence, theories are accumulated to support a change.


message 10: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11505 comments It seems to me that some of the idea proposed above are definitely not refutable, but the reason for that is it contains an idea that by itself has no output. Take Graeme's thought that the Universe was created ten minutes ago, and everything else we "know" was put there to test your faith. That can't be refuted because it does not add anything - there is no output dependent on it. Therefor we might as well consign that sort of idea to the "useless" heap.

However, when we get to quantum mechanics, somehow a lot of irrefutable ideas predominate. As an example, the value of a variable is determined on observation of the appropriate entity. How can you possibly know that it had no value prior? (This is the basis of the Schrödinger cat paradox.) Similarly, we say that the value of the wave function multiplied by it complex conjugate at a given coordinate gives the probability of finding it there. First, the experiments are not accurate enough to know, and then when you get the distribution of results from enough experiments, we say that the wave function has to be that which gives those results. How can you refute that?


message 11: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Ian wrote: "That can't be refuted because it does not add anything - there is no output dependent on it. Therefor we might as well consign that sort of idea to the "useless" heap...."

Which is my point.

Whenever we discover an idea has no accessible refutation criteria, we should be very careful with believing in it.

The thing is, in my observation, history is littered with ideas that do not lend themselves to refutation, and I often find people reveling in the notion that what they believe is irrefutable as if 'irrefutability,' is a sign of the strength of the idea as opposed to being a weakness.


message 12: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2281 comments Scout wrote: "If I say, "I exist," is that refutable?"

Hypothetically...how do I know you're not a bot posing as someone here?

Maybe I'm a bot and not a real person...

Maybe Graeme is a bot...his picture could have been stolen from the internet...


Hmmm....


message 13: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Yes, hmmmm.... Indeed. Perhaps Scout is the only real person in this group, and the rest of us are bots.

Unlikely, but possible.


message 14: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 15746 comments Don't forget also our vibrant extraterrestrial community


message 15: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan Indeed, Nik - Let's not forget them....


message 16: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2281 comments Full disclosure, I'm actually a ghost...


message 17: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan My goodness J.J. How tragic, I didn't even know that you'd died. Now I'm in mourning for the loss of a great friend. Vale thee well. We will sing a dirge in your honor. Hang the flag at half mast, and fire three volleys of gunshots....

The funeral barge is lit and is sailing into a cloud wreathed sunset. A fey queen guides the tiller, the faint glow of gold and red are but highlights in her hair...

(Sniff ... sniff ...)


message 18: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor | 2281 comments :D


message 19: by Graeme (new)

Graeme Rodaughan (Chuckle ... Chortle ...)


message 20: by Ian (new)

Ian Miller | 11505 comments Hmm, Graeme is showing a new talent: sniffing and chortling at the same time :-)


message 21: by Scout (new)

Scout (goodreadscomscout) | 6035 comments Snortling. I think I've done that :-)


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