Showing posts with label THIS-BLOG. Show all posts
Showing posts with label THIS-BLOG. Show all posts

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Ways of Thinking About History, Take 2 (part 1?)

History and Systematization

I will always be enticed by the dream, of a grand system for discovering, from history, how to make a better world.

At the same time, nearly all experience tells me this is a foolish, often dangerous, chimera.

To systematize, seems to be an irrepressible urge, evident in many people, and a part of the design of human beings. This urge has given rise to religions, cults, literary salons, 'think tanks', universities, philosophical societies and their journals, those arrogant 'master narratives', grand unified field theories, scientific and historical conferences, and paranoid fantasies.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Is this a Real Project? Or What?

Whenever someone charges at the world waving the flag of truth, they almost never mean truth in and of itself; they mean some particular claim that for them burns so bright as to blot out everything else. 
Trying to get a handle on truth in and of itself seems to me a lot like wrestling Proteus, or the "Old Man of the Sea", as described by Menelaus in the Odyssey. The Old Man can answer any questions if captured, but capturing him means holding on as he changes shapes from a horse to a serpent to water to fire to whatever until he is worn out if one has the strength to wear him out.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Where to Begin (a "Truth Project" worthy of the name)? (#5)

Over the years, my thinking on why I should bother have developed and gotten clearer.

Theoretically,  with the Internet, we have immediate access to almost infinitely more "information" than was at our fingertips even 30 years ago.  But most people will probably agree that "most people" (but a different "most people" from themselves) are systematically mislead by information sources they trust.

Where to Begin (a "Truth Project" worthy of the name)? (#4)

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.
Francis Bacon, The Advancement of Learning (1605), Book I, v, 8. [Link on the right is to a free Kindle version - help yourself]

Over the years, my thinking on why I should bother have developed and gotten clearer.  Like most pithy sayings, Francis Bacon's overstates the case.  Still, I like it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Where to Begin? #3

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."
--Thomas Jefferson to W. Jarvis, 1820.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Where to Begin? #2

The vast majority of people would prefer a simple comfortable life.  Why are so many diverted into some radically different, destructive and self-destructive path?

Where to begin?

It is December 3, 11 years after "9/11".  What is the world like today?  There are so many contradictory opinions.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Practical Epistemology Recycled

[Originally posted April 2010, but has been reworked a couple of times.  The original (with some comments) is at]

Wikipedia defines epistemology as "the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge". Traditionally it has led to questions like whether we can really know anything, and discussing the qualities of different kinds of knowledge like logical or mathematical knowledge.

How much attention has been paid, however, to the question "Who can I trust?" -- perhaps far and away the most important epistemological question that anyone can ask.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

To Take Control of Your Own Destiny, Take Control of How You See the World

Take Control of How You See the World.  Huh? You may ask, or maybe just "easier said than done".

The most common human reaction, when we begin to feel like we have been systematically lied to by the "mainstream" whatever, is to quickly jump ship to some leaky lifeboat of a new system of explaining everything (or at least everything that matters), which, more likely than not, will be more of a deceitful mind-controlling system than the one we started with.

I call this pseudo-skepticism.  It might also be called "Out of the frying pot, into the fire".  If we drop the assumption that the "new system" will be worse, we can call it an epistemic break.

Cases in point:
  1. France, late 19c: From awe of the king, and belief in the Catholic priests to one system, then another (the French Revolution went through several distinct epistemic breaks, or at least changes in who controlled the center of action, and tried, at least to define truth (their ideology).  The last couple of phases involved were most preoccupied with trying to kill off ideological rivals.  The epistemic break became so extreme and disorienting that time was redefined: the year was declared to be "Year 0", and a new calendar, abandoning the names of months associated with the old "superstitions" was declared.  It did not stop until Napoleon was emperor, which started a new era in which millions would die.
  2. Russia, 1917 and thereafter: From awe of the Tzar, and belief in the Russian Orthodox priests to belief in Marx and Lenin's all-encompassing all-explaining system, and belief in the "Dictatorship of the proletariat", and giving all power to the most ruthless faction so they could nationalize and/or redistribute everything, and ultimately to worship of the new "Red Tzar", Stalin whose power was unimaginably beyond that of the old tzar.
  3. U.S. 1970s: From mainstream Christian to Jim Jones disciple to mass suicide.
In the U.S., we have had plenty of epistemic breaks by one faction or another which separates itself, sometimes physically (or just with mental armour), and goes into their own separate reality.  The results are sometimes amusing (in a sad way) but occassionally horrific.

So far, we have been luck not to see a mass stampede of an epistemic break taking the whole nation on some nightmare ride.

Sometimes I use the internet to go in search of people who might be thinking along some of the same lines that I am.

I struggle to find words for a lot of my thoughts.  Sometimes a phrase emerges, and I go looking on the internet for instances.  One such phrase was the "Echo Chamber Effect" -- I don't think I knew the actual phrase when I tried to put my finger on something that was bothering me -- which lead to a post on this blog, and also an odd relationship with a blogger who always refers to Obama as Il Duce. He had written something about the Echo Chamber Effect before I did.  I think he's wildly misguided on most things (at least the ones he talks about on his blog), but we manage to have conversations from time to time.

A wikipedia article on "Echo chamber effect" begins with:
The term "media echo chamber" can refer to any situation in which information, ideas or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission inside an "enclosed" space. Observers of journalism in the mass media describe an echo chamber effect in media discourse. One purveyor of information will make a claim, which many like-minded people then repeat, overhear, and repeat again (often in an exaggerated or otherwise distorted form) until most people assume that some extreme variation of the story is true.
My friend, the Christian Libertarian (and I suspect Jonah Goldberg disciple) "The Lurking Vulture" starts off his meditation on the subject with:
In what perhaps may be an apocryphal quote, Pauline Kael is supposed to have said regarding the landslide victory of Richard Nixon over George McGovern in 1972, "I can't believe Nixon won. I don't know anybody who voted for him

From my echo chamber posting:
Part of the point of a "Truth Project" is the hope that people on both sides of many issues - those who aren't active and conscious propagandists at least, really would want to know the truth if it turned out that everything they think is wrong ... if they'd even consider the possibility.
But here is what worries me:
There is something a little special about the internet. If you have to find books and magazines in libraries and bookstores (unless you only go to Islamic bookstores / Christian bookstores / "Radical" bookstores ...) you go to a store and you have to at least walk by books and magazines with other points of view. On the internet, you can go to your favorite blog, and never go anywhere except via links from that blog (or from your other favorite blog).
I have been an autodidact on a number of subjects, especially history.  Autodidacts, by coming at a field without being plugged into the culture of the field, sometimes have brilliant insights.  There are, however, many more crackpots.

I spent a few years long ago studying mathematics with people on their way to doctorates, and got a real appreciation for pedagogy from that.  I'd have gotten nowhere without the culture of professors and textbook writers who have thought deeply about how to pass on the subject.

History was more autodidact-friendly, although an awful lot of autodidact historians have a bug up their ass about some particular obsession, which usually makes for really annoying and not very enlightening historians.

Often the idea of the autodidact serves as a romantic idea that lets us fantasize that we don't need other people.

I found an article,

Autodidactic and Alternative Schooling Meta-Learning

The author has put some deep thought into what makes self-learning work or not work.

I think maybe I will do better to work with google hits on:

   google { facilitating self-learning }

(1) Facilitating self-learning or autodidacticism, and (2) the attempt to restructure the world of media(?), and also our cultural biases and practices, so that individuals will have a greater tendency to converge on truths, rather than separating into warring "echo chambers" are, I think, closely related enterprises.

[to be continues]

Friday, February 25, 2011

Back to Truthology: "The Real Truth Project" Needs to Become a Reference Site

I still believe in the critical need for work on "Practical Epistemology", or maybe I should drop the Latinism and call it Truthology.

A blog should be a small part of that project.

About 15 years ago, I started the web site, or JMISC.NET (one is a synonym for the other) to explore and try to understand and share understanding of the period around the 1830s, with frequent excursions a couple of decades in either direction.  The title page said "Tales of the Early Republic", and I spent a lot of time looking at "miscellaneous" period documents, and, on an email list called "Jacksonian Miscellanies", publishing excerpts from these documents, with some commentary.  There were newspaper stories on spontaneous combustion, some very odd poetry, which was welcomed as filler material for newspapers in those days, a dueling manual (A high percentage of "Southern Gentlemen", including many congressmen had fought at least one duel -- in the majority of cases nobody died though injuries were common).  I got to have a mailing list of several hundred people, including many of the best historians of the era.  After a year or so I began going to conferences of the leading historians of the era, and in time it seemed to me that around half the people I met there were aware of my work, and very encouraging.

I started out not knowing anything about this period.  What it took was a lot of patience, reading historians past and present, but always going back to the original sources when I wanted to make a contribution, finding something that cast a surprising light on things, and putting it into one of my "Jacksonian Miscellanies" posts.  And meanwhile, gradually building a encyclopedic framework for jotting down detailed information as I learned of it.  What was New York like in 1830?  Well for one thing, New York much less than half of Manhattan Island -- not the other way around.  What sort of roads existed between Boston and Portsmouth, Maine.  When were they first connected by railroad?  What were the issues of religious controversy?  I built up a file of particular schools and colleges, small town, even particular churches and who had served as minister there and what their politics were.  I never knew enough to write a work giving important insights into some particular issue, but could hold my own in conversations with historians.

Ultimately, I need to build up TRTP (The Real Truth Project) to be something like that.  And it is mostly too abstract for me to try to deal with the issue of truth in general.  If I spent too much time on that plane, I would probably end up building all encompassing ideologies, like those of Karl Marx and Ayn Rand, that in my opinion cause people to lose sight of the real world, with disastrous consequences.

So there will have to be more specific sub-projects, one of which, is to try to map the landscape of America's (especially, and sometimes the world's) wars of ideas.

The resources will be extremely incomplete for some time to come, but I hope there will some useful things from the beginning.

Where to begin? I am going to take a look at "Watcher" organizations that try to map out the vast landscape of organizations characterized as "Right" and "Left".  Those who lean more or less "left" have organizations that try to compile a picture of funding sources in the network of organizations on the "right".  And vice versa.

E.g., the "Media Matters Action Network" has a section called "Conservative Transparency"  ( collects information on "conservative" or "right" leaning organizations of all sorts.

I am developing my own understanding of it at this link.

Other groups that watch and analyze other groups include:
  • Source Watch at ("left").
  • Capital Research Center at ("right").
OK, that's a wrap - a not insignificant start I hope.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Overview of "Right Wing Forwards"

Am I nuts to see these right-wing anonymous emails as a major source of the insanity that permeates our politics today -- the labeling of anybody who'd consider a return to 40% tax brackets for multimillionaires as Marxists or at the least "dangerous ideologues" never mind the 90% rates still current in Eisenhower's day?

In the 1st Spring and Summer of the Obama administration, I started getting these things forwarded from my parents, who were always Republican, but never inclined to this sort of extremism, and my mother, at least seemed totally taken in by them, and this was exactly when "tea partiers" started going to congressman's "Town Hall" meetings to discuss the issues of health care, and drowning out any voice but their own.

My strong impression is that there is quite a consistency to a large number of these messages that indicates someone is churning them out regularly -- someone who absolutely knows he or they are spreading lies, and I am trying to come up with tactics for exposing it en masse, but nothing will happen unless first my intuition can be confirmed that this having a tremendous impact, and may well be a sine qua non of the Tea Party movement.

I think this tool is being wielded like one of those utterly brilliant on-the-cheap tactics, that when nobody suspects their existence can turn the world upside down -- like, say, getting suicidally inclined fanatics to learn how to pilot an airliner, taking over planes with a handful of men with boxknives -- too little metal to trip the old metal detectors, and you know the rest.

Yes, it's an extreme comparison, but frankly if Americans lose all ability to think clearly and govern this country sanely, the results can be (or have they already been?) far greater than the damage done by all the terrorists in the world.

I have a notion of how to test the hypothesis fairly cheaply (beyond my means, but cheap as polling studies go), which I've tried to share with various parties.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"Epistemology of Consensus"

This is from very early in my blogging

This is still very sketchy and evolving, but I'm putting it out just in case someone stumbles upon it and has a reaction.

I wanted to explore the phrase "Epistemology of Consensus". Has it inspired any serious philosophical current?
At the time I posted this, I found just seven google hits for the phrase.

Here is some exploration of the idea which may seem like wild ravings, but I post it in case someone stumbles across it who sees some kind of sense in it, especially if they will send me their thoughts.

I think as a practical matter, the way we decide what we think we know in our everyday lives is very much a matter of epistemology of consensus.
Also, another posting
suggests that in early stages of human development we relied on quite a PURE epistemology of consensus.

The Enlightenment helped spawn a "meme" (not, I think, a gratuitous use of that overused word) that is quite the opposite of Epistemology of Consensus. Now Enlightenment philosophers had good reason for attaching the consensus of their time, but this has become a sort of cliche, and frequently in my opinion, applied inappropriately -- the idea of the lonely genius who alone understands how it works -- surrounded by nattering idiots. This is often how the Glenn Becks of the world seem to see themselves (They think they're Galileos!!).

Daniel J. Boorstin however gave an accessible alternative view of the Enlightenment in The Discoverers, when he gave institutions, like first scientific journal, the Journal of the Royal Society, the salon movement, and other institutional constructs a central role.

Summary of the Seven Google Hits I Found (on 8/9/2010):
+ (Human Nature and Truth as World Order Issues by Miriam Steiner).
+ ASTRO.TEMPLE.EDU/~msolomon/cv.doc (Miriam Solomon CV):
+ (Article or chapter:
"From New Technological Infrastructures to Curricular Activity ...
Contained in book Designs for Learning Environments of the Future
2010, 233-262, DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-88279-6_9 (Springer-Verlag).
(Excerpt from _Natural Law Theory: Contemporary Essays_,
Russell Hittinger 1992
If there exists a law of nature, it presumably exists
independent of our theories about it. But our theories about it
have so drastically restricted the meaning of 'nature' in human
actions to a political epistemology of consensus about basic good
or needs, that discourse about the role of the virtues, as comple-
tions rather than mere recognitions of needs, will have to find a
language other than that of modern natural law theory.

(Uses "Epistemology of Consensus" as an epithet directed at Paul Krugman).

MY THOUGHTS: The hits probably represent several different people's independent coining of the phrase. Not surprisingly, it occurs as a term of abuse in
HTTP:// written by a Von Mises-ian pseudo-skeptic who is "skeptical" about the consensus of the scientific community, but swallows the "Oregon Petition" whole.
NOTE: I've been toying with this phrase pseudo-skeptic, as it seems so many people from the Glenn Beckians to new-Agers (and there are indeed New Age - Glenn Beckian - NRA members -- like some friends of ours who edit a "Metaphysical newsletter", where by metaphysics I think they mean what I would call "Weird shit").
Anyway, the pseudoskeptic, as I look at him, tends to be skeptical about "mainstream" sources of news, theories, or wisdom, while latching onto some collection of arbitrary sources with far less claim to rigor than the sources they are so skeptical about. (Not to say the mainstream is beyond criticism)