Showing posts with label Hume's Razor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hume's Razor. Show all posts

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Podcast - Hunting Humbug 101: Episode 31 - Change your mind?

Are you a closed-minded naysayer? Probably not - but there’s a reasonable chance you might be accused of being one if you identify yourself as a skeptic. “Prove” you’re open-minded by coming up with a list major changes of position you have made in the past. That way when someone says you’re closed-minded - you’ll be able to respond with specific examples of things you’ve changed your mind about. That’ll learn ‘em one.

In this podcast we (Jef, my old mate Ben, and me) discuss things we’ve changed our minds about and why. We also discuss some of thinking strategies behind these decisions - specifically Occam’s razor, Hume’s razor and Playing the devil’s advocate.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

9-11 Conspiracy theorist - Aka cretinous cretin who badly needs (brow)beating

If you believe in government cover-ups apropos to Sept 11, UFOs, faked moon landings etc., raise your hand. "You are a moron." Now, I know that for me to say this might seem somewhat hypocritical (see Personal Abuse), but there you go…

Some humans are so devoid of thought that it is actually impossible to reason with them. If this is the case, then on occasion, I feel the need to unleash upon them all my (underhanded) tactics of fallacious argument (one can use knowledge of poor reasoning for good, or for evil). Conspiracy theorists are so stupid (Personal Abuse), that it's best to not let them get a word in, just shout them down with your points (Browbeating), then when you're done, walk away, ignoring anything they have to say. If need be - if what they say is so offensive - take it a step further and give them a head-butt (actual beating of brows). (Disclaimer: the last part was only to illustrate my disgust with certain types of these people, such as "distortatured" 9-11 conspiracy theorist Dave von Kleist. In no way do I condone actual beatings, as much as they may be asking for it.)

Writing on conspiracy theories is something I've been meaning to do for some time, but a show I caught 20 minutes of this week - 911 in Plane Site - gave me the required impetus. It was actually quite offensive, suggesting the US government, CIA and military orchestrated 9-11. Amongst Dave's claims was that military planes flew into the World Trade Centre, and a bunker buster bomb was used on the Pentagon. The show was entirely a fiction, with so much Deck Stacking that it has a chance of winning Best Film at Cannes and Best Documentary at the Oscars (which is very impressive for only one work of fiction).

The favourite trick of the host Dave, was asking rhetorical questions, beginning each by loudly saying: "Question!" (Much as Americans - the ones on TV anyway - tend to end their spoken sentences when they're angry by saying: "Period!") Very annoying.

Well, I've got one for Dave: "Question! Where are all the people who were on-board the flights that were hijacked?" I guess being conspiracy theorists he'll say: "They were abducted by Aliens. The government knows about it too, but they are covering this up as well!"

As I've said, this show was entirely a fiction, so I'm not going to treat it with any seriousness. It's not really possible to reason with such people (as with fundamental Christian creationists, UFO and moon landing conspiracy theorists etc.). However, here are four points about such beliefs in general:

1) A wise man once told me, if it's a choice between a conspiracy or a "stuff up" (he actually used a less polite term), then go with the "stuff up" every time. 9-11 was a monumental stuff up by intelligence agencies.
2) The White House couldn't cover up something as small as (known to only a couple of people) Bill Clinton's "extra-curricular" activities and an intern with a love of cigars, and yet, supposedly, they are covering up 9-11?
3) Apply Occam's Razor: "If there are two (or more) equally valid, but conflicting hypotheses for an observed phenomena, one should choose the hypothesis that requires the least number of steps to explain it." If you have different explanations for something, all of which can explain it equally well, then you have no reason to choose a complex reason over a simple one.
Conspiracies never have equal explanatory validity with the standard explanations. However, if we are to grant a conspiracy - such as 9-11 in Plane Site - equal explanatory validity to the official version for 9-11, we can apply Occam's Razor and still refute it. By definition, conspiracies are always more complex than the standard explanation - given that conspiracies always involve steps to cover them up. More steps, more complex. To rationally believe a conspiracy, it must have better explanatory power than the standard explanation. But, of course, they never do (which, presumably, is why they're not the standard version!).
4) Apply Hume's Razor: "If we are asked to believe X, in deciding whether to believe it (give provisional consent) or not we should ask: is it more likely that X is true, or that the evidence for X is mistaken (or can be interpreted in a different or more realistic way)?" If it seems that it's more likely that the evidence is wrong, then we don't believe X. Is it more likely that the conspiracy is true or that the evidence of the conspiracy is mistaken (or can be interpreted in a different or more realistic way)?
Putting it simply - extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Conspiracies such as the 9-11 in Plane Site show certainly fall under the category of an "extraordinary claim", yet their evidence - even with their deck stacking - is not extraordinarily convincing (and at times, quite laughable).
The official version - Al Qaeda (who have claimed 9-11 of course) hijacked and crashed 4 planes - is far more convincing. It's not that extraordinary - Muslim terrorists exist, have been and continue to be suicidal, and state their hatred of America and the West on a regular basis. However, it would be extraordinary if the evidence from 9-11 was faked, mistaken or could be interpreted in a more convincing way.
Now, if you choose to use any of my points, if you are ever stuck talking to a conspiracy believer, remember you will only be going about it the right way if you browbeat them down using these three easy steps:

1) Shout your points at them, 2) Don't pause for breath so they can't respond, and most importantly, 3) At the end of every point you make, give your newfound friend a supercilious look and state his (or her) name - "Dumb-ass!" Eg: "You believe it was military planes that flew into the WTC, yet they used a bunker buster on the Pentagon? Why wouldn't they just use a plane on the Pentagon too? Dumb-ass!"

Update: 9-11 Conspiracy theorist - Part 2

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Examples of Hume's Razor

In his work "Of Miracles" Philosopher (and avid wig wearer) David Hume nominated a principle which has since been called Hume's Razor:

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless that testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish."
If we are asked to believe X, in deciding whether to believe it (give provisional consent) or not we should ask: "Is it more likely that X is true, or that the evidence for X is mistaken (or can be interpreted in a different or more realistic way)?" If it seems that it's more likely that the evidence is wrong, then we don't believe X. Putting it simply - extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

9-11 Conspiracy theorist - Aka cretinous cretin who badly needs (brow)beating