This post is an elaboration of #3 from a list of things I’ve learned late in life.
How do we test the reliability of human knowledge? Don’t we have to first demonstrate what is true, then assess the percentage of the world that disagrees with that truth?
No. All we have to do is to determine the percentage of believers holding a world view that is logically exclusive of other dominant world views. Consider the logically exclusive religions of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Since Christianity has the largest market share of 33%, the percentage of humans who hold a false world view is at least 66%.
The interesting thing about this fact is that all of these world views are most commonly propagated though parents or through trusted members of society. Over 66% of the world’s parents and community leaders are spreading falsehoods, a pretty dismal percentage.
Are parents and community leaders malevolently attempting to spread lies to advance their own agenda? I would suggest that this is not usually the case. Nonetheless, they are propagating lies that spread across the generations, and are held with an absolute confidence that is indistinguishable from the absolute confidence held by believers in other belief systems.
From this we can draw the following conclusions.
1: Social institutions such as the family and religion do not very well serve the function of assessing and conveying truth. The function of such institutions is the preservation of social cohesion, and this may be best preserved with the sacrifice of objective truth. For anyone interested in exploring objective truth, family and cultural traditions are demonstrably a very poor source of such objective truth. Yet, many seem to defend beliefs based on their religious or political heritage as if it were a duty. This is self-deception at best. A subjective appreciation of one’s heritage is natural, but an objective quest for truth acknowledges the poor track record of social institutions to propagate objective truth, and seeks more objective sources with much better track records.
Approximating objective truth will involve minimizing subjective contributors to our world view, and attempt to employ only proven objective sources of truth. These objective sources are much less emotionally accommodating than the warm comforts of social institutions, but the result will be a world view that most accurately reflects truth, and subsequently provides the predictive power and warranted confidence that optimizes the freedoms and potential pleasures in life. This objective assessment of truth is prior to the subjective life built on its substrate.
Therefore, skepticism of the social institutions we were raised in is quite warranted.
2: The emotion of “confidence” that is often invoked as the final arbitrator of truth is faulty; it does not correlate with truth. This emotion of certainty is too often conflated with some mysterious mechanism of truth validation. No. Emotions never validate truth. Truth has no epistemic relationship with our emotions. The intellectually honest individual restrains his confidence to the degree of objective evidence available. Absolute certainty is rarely appropriate. It is this misuse of confidence to give legitimacy to our beliefs behind the 66+% (it is entirely possible that all religions are wrong) of humans who must logically hold a false world view. Skepticism of our emotions of “certainty” and “confidence” is quite clearly warranted, and once again it becomes apparent that it is the proven objective sources of knowledge that deserve our respect rather than our own subjectivity or the subjectivity inherent in social institutions.
Question everything. The warm affirmations of a parent or a pastor in support of some world view are only dangerous temptations to take an emotional shortcut to truth. Any “truth” thus accumulated is highly likely to be, at best, distorted to accommodate the demands of human emotions, and will fail in the long-term to constrain our decisions to what will actually be in our best interests.