Posted by: graemebird | November 7, 2008

Epistemology Chit-Chat.

Its always good to get a chance to talk about sound methodolgy. Since we puny humans aren’t given to automatic knowledge if we don’t have sound methodolgy we are just stooging ourselves and any feeling of certainty is a complete illusion.

The correct methodology is to develop competing paradigms in parallel and to rank and re-rank those paradigms in accordance with the new data as it arrives. Even if rank order isn’t changed by the new data its important to understand if the new data appears to close the distance in plausibility between the ranked paradigms.

If you are entering a new controversial subject that you do not understand even a little bit at first its important to take on the various controversial positions and apply this technique as if the entire research project was in your hands. Usually you find who is bullshitting and if both sides are inadequate.

For example with global warming about 3 months into trying to get to the bottom of it I got already to a stage where I kept waiting for the alarmists to come up with their killer factoid. It was as though they were holding out on me. But even after a year the killer factoid was still outstanding. In fact its better to know almost nothing and go into the controversy only armed with the right epistemology. Because that way you get to begin the ranking process, right from the start. And in practice you will soon get a good handle on what seems to be the stronger case.

However the ‘bird law of persistent public controversies’ is that the alleged CONSENSUS view is always more wrong then the recognised alternative. And the recognised alternative is usually insufficient in some way.

In any case the above isn’t the last word on epistemology. And to find out more about the subject its good to tease some things out with a bit of chit-chat. For a bloody bleeding change some fellow showed up and actually showed an interest in these subjects. So here’s what I made of what he had to say:


“………….And yes D-Blakes made himself very clear. And its all good stuff. Lets go through it:

“The COHERENT THINKING METHODOLOGY– is that based on the thesis of coherentism? Coherentism is the thesis that a conclusion is justified by being coherent with the rest of a person’s beliefs and background assumptions. Coherence is usually explained in terms of things like logical consistency, simplicity, and explanatory completeness.”

Right. And yes as defined this coherentism that you speak thereof, which I would just simply say is internal-logical-consistency….. Well yes this is necessary but not sufficient. From an almost moral point of view if someone has internal logical consistency, unless they have some sort of ideology that might be clear and presently harmful, then one ought tend to have some respect for their viewpoint. In practice though, people who tend to be consistent 95% of the time are often hiding some massive inconsistency and when you confront them with it out comes the defensive behaviour. And you see them acting in a sort of “fundamentalist way”

But consistency cannot get anyone rightful certitude. Only full spectrum convergence gives one rightful certitude. I’ve sketched out a POSSIBLE scenario that would explain the existence of what appears to be the remnants of a lunar base. But this being consistent with all the known facts, and not contrary to any known fact, CANNOT make me rightfully certain about it.

And after all, I also included two other paradigms in parallel. But there is just not a whole lot more that can be said about the other two. Except that the three of them together, carve out broadly, almost the entirety of the universe of possibilities. Not in the specifics but broadly.

Whereas the earlier reactions I got to the photos were quite ridiculous.

“In other words, it’s justified to conclude that Mars was at one time an interstellar outpost if that conclusion is logically consistent with the rest of one’s beliefs, if it’s simple, and if it reduces the number of unexplained facts and coincidences one believes in.”

I wouldn’t say that. A conclusion sounds like CONVERGENT EVIDENCE AMOUNTING TO PROOF. Well actually its almost there apart from the two other possibilities. If the other two possibilities are not even close its pretty hard, from where I sit to think of a reasonable-sensible fourth.

You see being COHERENT wouldn’t normally come close. But because we are at a loss to find a fourth broad paradigm, and the first two seem pretty lame, then its hard right now that the third cannot be the case, except if it is actually the case that we have had a lack of mental resourcefulness on the part of myself AND my critics. and this lack of mental resourcefulness has meant that no-one has come up with a good fourth paradigm.

So no, its not really about a single, internally-consistent and logical conclusion, being presumptuously assumed to be true. As this COHERENTISM, if taken seriously, would imply. Its not so much about JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS, as these alleged coherentists would appear to have a habit of doing…..

Its more like we are at a loss to make a good case for paradigms 1&2 and we are at a loss to find a serious paradigm 4.

We might say it was really dumb elves what put them there. To escape the idea of intelligent life. Or we might say that God put that jive there to test our faith. Well thats paradigm 4 & 5 right there. But they don’t appear so convincing either.

So again. No its not a case of coherintism (by your definition of the phrase) but a case of finding it damn hard to see the alternatives. Or to find a serious counter-case.

“The standard weakness of coherentism, as I’m sure you’re aware, is that a conclusion coherent with your beliefs may not be coherent with someone else’s,…….”

In practice thats not much of a weakness. One ought judge ones scenarios against reality. Not against the other guys. For one thing in this case the other blokes haven’t come up with a coherent counter-scenario. So the situation of judging ones broad paradigm against the other blokes paradigm hasn’t arisen. We have just had absolute gibber from the others.

“… if they have different starting assumptions…..”

They won’t put their starting assumptions on the table. So the question has not arisen. Their thinking would be taken into account. Particularly as it might lead to something (and this is important) OUT OF LEFT FIELD THAT HAS COMPLETELY SLIPPED MY MIND. This can happen all the time.

I thought about monetary policy for twenty years without ever following the reasoning of 100% backing through. I felt like such an idiot when I found out about 100% backing. And prior to that I thought I had the most well-considered positions on monetary policy around. TWENTY YEARS.

It is here we must be humble. Since a new paradigm can seem to come out of a clear blue sky, as it were. Leaving us dumbfounded at our former blindness. In a way I’m fair begging for my critics to come up with such a different slant to the problem. And so far they have not done so.

” Conclusions, it seems, are justified relative to a person.”

No thats no good. One million people believing one million stupid things and convincing one million others cannot change the history that was or influence reality except via influencing the public debate.

“Two people may disagree, but as long as each person has beliefs that are logically consistent with each other, etc, we can’t say that either one is being unreasonable, or reasoning poorly.”

Yes thats true. That was my starting point. But they both cannot be right. And more than likely they are both wrong at least in some respect. But CONVERGENCE ought to allow us to figure out which of the two, has some aspect of their reasoning which is untenable in terms of the facts of reality as they are known.

“For example, someone with different starting assumptions might look at the same evidence you’ve looked at and conclude that aliens are not responsible for the Martian outposts, but rather, flying Ninjas.”

Well thats what we want to hear. If someone has a good flying Ninja paradigm lets have out with it. Like that could be paradigm six. After the elves and God.

“As long as his assumptions are consistent with one another, we have to say that this is a reasonable conclusion.”

In practice they won’t tend to be will they. I mean we could catch up with people studying Ninjitsu and ask them if they are able to fly and get by without oxygen and they would likely tell us no. Still they could be bullshitting us one supposes.

“But flying Ninjas? That’s crazy.”

“I know. This is the weakness of coherentism.”

The weakness really is in your definition. You’ve used a word for “internal-logical-consistency” and come up with the idea that this is some sort of ‘ISM”. Like some sort of school of thought that people actually adhere to.

The situation is far more simple than that. The situation is that from the point of methodology internal-logical-consistency is necessary for sound methodology.

Its necessary for sound methodology. And its necessary to get to rightful certitude. But it is NECESSARY BUT INSUFFICIENT TO GET TO RIGHTFUL CERTITUDE.

The whole of what you are talking about ought simply to be condensed to the above. Its a bad mental habit to attribute a school of thought entire to INTERNAL-LOGICAL-CONSISTENCY, and then use the name you’ve given that alleged school, as a way of dismissing the need for this trait.

Any school of thought that does not have internal logical consistency is a school of thought that practices bad methodology. Hence while some of their conclusions might turn out to be right by sheer chance, the school of thought itself has nothing really to say about methodology.

But we can say very clearly that internal logical consistency is necessary for good methodology but insufficient for rightful certitude. To get to rightful certitude we rank and rerank competing paradigms in parallel as to plausibility as the new evidence rolls in. And we find we can be rightfully certain about a proposition if we have full-spectrum-convergence for that proposition. As well we ought to usually be able to say what paradigm is the default paradigm.

“(Another way of pointing out the weakness is to note that for any finite amount of evidence, there are an infinite number of theories logically consistent with the evidence.)”

Not really. Not in broad brush. Since your evidence is coming from convergent angles there is usually only a few reasonable paradigms that present themself. In this case I can only even GENERATE three reasonable paradigms. If the rest of the people out there were putting in the hard yards we might find others. And we might be on our way to finding the solution to this mystery.

” Normally coherentists…..”

Settle down. There is no such thing. No such school of thought. There might be a fictional character that is like that. Sherlock Holmes would have this view of things. Elery Queen. Miss Marples. People like that in these early detective stories. But you cannot be seriously telling me that this is a school of thought.

Whereas this alleged school of thought is wrong yet at least they have some of the methodology right. And any school which poo poohed their methodology of placing importance on internal-logical-consistency would be a school of thought that had their methodolgy wrong. But as we have asserted internal logical consistency for each of ones paradigms in parallel is necessary for good methodology and necessary for rightful certitude BUT INSUFFICIENT for rightful certitude.

“…….get around this by saying that they are arguing based on assumptions that the vast majority of human beings already accept……”

Well people can accept things and these common assumptions can be complete bullshit. But I’m pretty sure that there is no such school of thought as what you are claiming.

“….. Even the most ardent advocates of ninjitsu admit that Ninjas cannot hold their breath for significantly longer than an hour. And their maximum flying speed is considerably slower than that of a 747. The flying Ninja hypothesis is clearly inconsistent with facts like these…..”

Right. But we really aren’t interested all that much even if they claimed otherwise.

“But someone could still have an extraordinarily abherant system of beliefs, and the flying Ninja hypothesis would be consistent with that belief system.”

Right but not with reality.

” So my question is, does the COHERENT THINKING METHODOLOGY rule such a person irrational (that is, does it go beyond mere coherence in the requirements it puts on drawing good conclusions), or does it say that such a person is reasoning well, albeit in a highly idiosyncratic way?”

Well he should have sorted the facts out by now. And if he believed that some of these fantastical things were possible they would be sterilised into another paradigm in parallel. And now we get to one of the reasons why the practice of setting up competing paradigms in parallel is so necessary to any investigation. Any investigation where you want to find the truth and not spend too much money finding it. One reason is PRECISELY to segregate these assumptions that people aren’t yet able to agree on……. or more importantly assumptions that we DO NOT YET HAVE FULL SPECTRUM CONVERGENCE FOR.



1. I’m thinking its not productive to call this of which we speak COHERENTISM. We are talking about the idea that internal consistency is necessary but not sufficient to give us rightful certitude. And we might say that Sherlock Holmes appears to believe that internal consistency is all that is needed. Instead of calling this character fault COHERENTISM we will call it “The presumptuousness of Sherlock Holmes.”

2. To overcome the presumptuousness of Sherlock Holmes we develop and rank internally consistent paradigms in parallel. We need at least three. But six would be better. Even if we have a couple of paradigms we think are just dummy paradigms.

3. One advantage of this is it overcomes, to a great extent, the weakness we have that we are dealing with many assumptions that we do not yet have full spectrum convergence for. Hence though all parties may in practice agree with these assumptions they are being presumptuous to do so. We can sterilise assumptions of this sort by segregating them to a paradigm in parallel.



  1. The shape of things to come. Zimbabwaen economists don’t talk any different from our own. And Germans in the early 1920’s were probably better educated than we or the Americans are today.

    A few months in Zimbabwe:

  2. What happens is that the better connected can borrow more earlier and then have their debts erased. So this sort of thing becomes a habit. Now in the states the better connected, that is to say the bankers themselves, have practiced outright public stealing in broad daylight, augmented by interest rate subsidies, augmented by their ability to create new money, augmented by policies that will cause inflation down the track. This is the banks taking control for their own benefit and not that of the US citizen. So whilst there is still time to establish a reserve asset ratio and deregulate in nearly all other respects, and so take measures to avoid future inflation…..

    … Since we know that the banks are working for their benefit and not for the US citizens benefit, we ought not expect them to do so. What we ought to expect them to do rather is start monopolizing on gold and silver.

    Now another thing. These INSANE stimulus packages that are rolling out every few months. The ones that Paulson has launched, and that idiot-Marxist Obama will continue…………. these insane policies are more than sane from the bankers point of view. Since what they will do is ensure that the government, including pretty much all public sector workers, are in the exact same boat as the bankers, and in aligning their interests one to the other.

    We can call this an institutional pull. Since I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind closed doors. All we can say is that if a reserve asset ratio isn’t established sometime soon then “all else follows with complete certainty, even in the midst of chaos.”

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