Monday, August 28, 2006

Skepticism: So Illuminating!

` This post was written in March, long before my Skeptics and True Believers Noci-Notes. If you were too lazy/busy/apathetic to read them, it can be used for a remedial catching up. Of course... I need to catch up with finishing those! And I will, too!

` How do scientists figure things out? And why don't most other people actually know?

"Ooh! Shiny!"

` So, what is Skepticism? This post actually describes it quite well, if I don't say so myself. Here's the short and long of it, for anyone who doesn't feel like wasting time:

Skeptical Philosophy:

` Roughly the opposite of all things faith-based, the philosophy of skepticism states that no objective knowledge can be absolute... well... probably.
` The irony.
` The very idea of uncertainty is at its center. Science is based on this principle: You don't start with knowing something; you start by asking a question with an open mind. And while knowledge can be fairly objective - meaning that many people can independently find the same result - you can't know for sure if it's completely true or not.
` Humans aren't the ultimate authority on reality, but we manage.
` That is why, to be safe, it is assumed in science that the very best theories and facts (and factual theories) are only 99.999% true. This is just in case they turn out not to conform to reality well enough, which means that they can be changed or even discarded. This is why scientists really don't like know-it-alls and self-righteous individuals who pretend to be all-scientific.

Skeptical Inquiry or Scientific Skepticism:

` When a skeptic says; 'I'm skeptical' it literally means; 'I am perfectly willing to accept that, but you have to show me first.' In other words; 'I need to make sure.' To the skeptic, when evidence for something is not conclusive, it is better to not know than to believe foolishly.
No, not because of insecurity or paranoia - it's actually very practical for anyone who's curious about stuff that... well, probably ought to be questioned. [Or even stuff that isn't!]
` ...Skeptical Inquiry, as its name suggests, is actually a method of inquiry, rather than a standpoint, and it is what most people mean when they say 'I'm a skeptic.' It's a practical application where you question how truthful a claim is and seek to falsify it via the scientific method. The more times you fail to do so, the more it would appear that the claim is true.
` In other words, you can't know if something is true, but you can still work out its probability through a process of elimination.
` Since science does not by principle claim to have absolute knowledge - as knowledge is ever-growing and ideas are ever-changing - subjecting something to scientific tests and accepting the results (assuming no one screws up) is how the method goes. It does not matter what the person who practices this method intuits or wants to believe - as they say, there are no 'sacred cows' allowed.

` This means that the approach of skepticism is provisional - things can turn out differently than you may expect, and that's okay. You accept whatever you find, and the way you find something fit to accept is by making sure everything is accurate: gathering as much data as possible, not leaving anything out, and testing every known explanation for some type of phenomenon you are presented with.
` You can be fairly sure that something can be considered a fact once you confirm it to such an extent that it is reasonable to agree. Still, facts are provisional, meaning they are still subject to challenge.
` Skepticism is all about working to get to a conclusion which is, in all likelihood, true, even though it is still considered possible to be falsified. This is why skeptics and scientists sometimes use words like 'probably' and 'maybe' and 'most likely' even when talking about the most well-established facts and theories.

` Inquiry with no biases, and no lapsing into denial if you didn't like the results! That is the surest way to get as close to the truth as possible.

` Note: This post was originally created partly so that I could post these photos from January. Grah.


Galtron said...

Skepticism. Yes. Shiny.

Aaron said...

Maniacal Spoony.

S E E Quine said...

` ^^