Truth course

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Subtitle: Finding reliable knowledge in a huge and deceptive world.

For a number of years, I've wanted to save students from a great deal of wasted time and energy following philosophical, religious, economic, pseudoscientific, political and other dead ends. Instead, I'd rather jump-start them into modern positions of skepticism, scientific knowledge, history and other fields while vaccinating them against the most pernicious frauds and giving them the tools to test these for themselves.

I'm thinking of creating a course which will eventually result in a textbook. The goal would be to exercise high-level thinking skills for evaluating the differences between reliable knowledge (such as science) and unreliable knowledge (such as creationism.)

I'm still in a brainstorming and resource acquisition phase, and I'm looking for collaborators.

Contents

Ideas for an elective class (or book) on truth and knowing.

  • intellectual toolbox
  • multidisciplinary
  • key elements of the following thinkers in the following fields:

Objectives

  • critical thinking about numerous subjects
  • modeling tools to get beyond simple dichotomies
    • UML parsing of lengthy arguments
    • flowcharts
    • hierarchy and its alternatives
      • parable of the most important organ
      • ecological models of society, rather than simple analytic
        • macroeconomics
  • encouraging research to make informed assessments
  • fluency in some modern ideas
    • Stove's conclusion
  • writing
    • concision

Content

  • how well do we know what we know
    • how do we learn
      • How Do You Know?: The Economics of Ordinary Knowledge by Russell Hardin
      • memorization
    • how do we process
      • storytelling
    • provenance: sources of information
    • ask for some definitions, ask whether examples match
    • problems understanding text
      • contextual
        • changes in language
  • the problem of ideals
  • how do we actually think?
    • not deductively
  • folk knowledge versus modern knowledge
    • see consilience
  • idea of relationships, as opposed to reifications
    • property as a real thing, versus as a relationship
    • meaning of life: to whom?
  • subjectivity as opposed to objectivity
  • conspiracy theories
    • god of the gaps
    • butterfly's dream
    • evil demon deluding us
    • brain in vat
    • solipsism
    • green man behind our heads
    • fossils as false evidence
    • patterns in conspiracy theories:
      • untestable "answers" to challenges
      • requirements that defy common sense
    • Six Ways to Debunk Any Conspiracy Theory
  • categories of truth
    • mathematical truth
      • based on assumptions
      • logic
        • deductive
        • inductive
        • abductive
          • As such abduction is formally equivalent to the logical fallacy affirming the consequent or Post hoc ergo propter hoc, because there are multiple possible explanations
      • versus validity (see http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/leglreas.htm)
      • symbolic logic
      • proof is computation (string transformation)
      • many other logics
    • Venn diagram of reasoning
      Venn diagram of reasoning
      • No real-world premises are true: all break down at some point.
      • Examples of invalid real-world assumptions (premises):
      1. The sky is blue.
      2. The sun rises in the East.
      3. All swans are white.
    • Thus we are reason ing about the real world with "some: Some A’s are B’s, Some B’s are C’s, Therefore some A’s are C’s. This is fallacious.
      • Easy to show with two linear, 3 circle Venn diagrams, one with A and C overlap, the other not.
      • Standard 3 circle all overlapping Venn diagram shows other possibilities. There lie the errors.
      • Many of our methods of reasoning are heuristic (usually valid guesses), not logically valid.
    • science: difference between truth and honesty, lack of perfect proof
    • historical truth
      • often very weak beyond primary evidence
      • frequently story telling
    • legal truth/proof
    • philosophical truth
      • which is often truthiness
    • religious truth
  • conditional truth
  • intersubjective corroboration (verifiability, confirmation)
  • relativism
    • The fact of relativism should not
    • be used to disparage what is intersubjectively verifiable.
  • self-correction
    • Brin's accountability forums.
      • elections
      • courts
      • science
      • markets
    • hill-climbing, maxima, etc.
  • deception -- everybody lies
  • denialism (http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/)
  • manufacturing doubt of science
  • brainwashing
    • "Releasing The Bonds: Empowering People to Think for Themselves" by Steve Hassan.
  • reasoning
  • Aristotelian reasoning (see Popper)
  • fallacies of logic
  • informal fallacies
    • http://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/
    • Gigerenzer et al. on efficient reasoning
    • As such abduction is formally equivalent to the logical fallacy affirming the consequent or Post hoc ergo propter hoc, because there are multiple possible explanations. Science is abductive,
  • rhetoric
  • truth on the web
    • assessing web and other information
    • what distortions there are on the web
    • what distortions there are in other media
      • historical documents: written by victors
      • newspapers
      • dictionaries and other references as arbiters of meaning
  • surveys and their fallacies
  • Misinformation and disinformation pages in wikipedia
  • propaganda
  • framing
  • problems of understanding
    • historical changes of meaning and usage
    • incompatible models, frames
    • codes, phatic language, etc.
    • multiple and hidden meanings
  • ontology
  • learning
  • consequentialism
  • skepticism
    • 3 types (Kurtz): if you can't keep them straight, can't
    • understand skeptical argument
      • extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and that what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence (Hitchens)
  • pragmatism
  • seeing is believing, observational error, value based observation
    • witness reliability, magic tricks, delusion, confirmation bias,
    • selective observation
  • testimonials
  • The Big Important Ones in DAILY LIFE
    • nutrition
    • medicine
    • politics
    • finances
    • religion
  • religion, humanism, atheism, agnosticism
    • I don't know, and you don't either.
    • alternatives
    • the emperor (religion) has no clothes (no visible god)
  • pseudoscience: recognizing pseudoscience: asimov/clark's rules
  • origins
    • wedge, ID, abiogenesis, cosmogeny, evolution, monty hall fallacy
  • politics
    • errors of populism/democracy/rulers
  • truth about humans
    • what we are, are not
    • how that is exploited in fallacies and commerce (fraud)
  • rights
    • natural rights: opposition to divine rights of kings
      • nonsense upon stilts
    • social contract
    • positivist rights
    • semantic stop signs:
      • Jonathan Wallace has asserted that proclaiming some rights as 'natural' is another way of saying 'Stop asking questions' and 'I have won this argument.' "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." [equal as opposed to royal/commoner, but we want government to treat us as equal and create equal rights]
  • statistics, probability
    • monty hall fallacy
    • Bayesianism
  • economics
    • theoretic vs econometric
    • orthodoxy vs heterodox
    • economic man assumptions
      • maximizing what?
  • human nature
    • On Human Nature
    • bad models
  • psychology
  • advertising
  • newspapers and other publications lie
  • the web of a thousand lies
  • the camera DOES lie
    • how to lie with images
    • how to detect fake images
  • public relations
  • fringe groups (LaRouche, cults, etc.)
  • race/culture/ethnicity
  • sexual relationships
    • the rules
    • are men and women different
  • is-ought problem
  • no objective center: only subjective centers
    • location: here, US, earth, etc.
    • scale: objects in human scale, no microscopic or astronomical
    • organization: individuals, not cells, atoms, ecologies, species
  • our notions of right and wrong
  • taste and value
  • how much of what we know is true?
  • philosophy
    • From an Enlightenment or Positivist point of view, which is Hume's point of view, and mine, there is simply no avoiding the conclusion that the human race is mad. There are scarcely any human beings who do not have some lunatic beliefs or other to which they attach great importance. People are mostly sane enough, of course, in the affairs of common life: the getting of food, shelter, and so on. But the moment they attempt any depth or generality of thought, they go mad almost infallibly. The vast majority adopt the local religious madness, as naturally as they adopt the local dress. But the more powerful minds will, equally infallibly, fall into the worship of some intelligent and dangerous lunatic, such as Plato, or Augustine, or Comte, or Hegel, or Marx. David Stove, The Plato Cult, 1991
  • follow the money
    • to find qui bono
    • to suspect propaganda
    • Adam Smith and pareto economics
  • ethics
    • Prisoner's dilemma comic as a start: show how golden rule applies.
  • strategies for discerning the truth
    • references + textbooks
  • what good is truth? what good is knowledge?
  • what will we choose and why?
    • we are individuals
    • but of a social species
    • that sanctions antisocial behavior
    • coping with other's beliefs in untruths
  • how and why we actively CHOOSE to believe falsehoods
    • (see Shermer)
    • self interest
    • active vs passive acceptance of falsehoods (reorganize)
    • confirmation bias
    • humans use non-monotonic heuristics, seldom logic

Resources to use

Assignments

e

  • Show how a simple feedback system cannot be properly argued with a yea or nay approach. Relate to a real-world example. Bring back this theme for essentially all real-world discussions.

Resources

Critical Thinking Projects

  • How does wikipedia attempt to maintain accuracy in the face of anarchy? Proselytizers, saboteurs, etc. How do judges, lawmakers, and executives? Democracy? Science? Other Brin categories? What is wrong in wikipedia?
  • How does the jargon of a creationist or libertarian (with all their redefinitions and dog whistles) compare to the jargon or "terms of art" of lawyers or other fields?

Miscelaneous

  • A Peek Inside the Strange World of Fake Academia
  • Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?
  • The Debunking Handbook
  • Calling Bullshit in the age of Big Data College course
  • David McRaney, "You Are Not So Smart" (46 fallacies and cognitive biases)
  • Guy P. Harrison, "50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True"
  • Darryl Cunningham, "Science Tales: Lies, Hoaxes and Scams"
  • The idea of "very serious people" whom we should pay attention to, and the others we should ignore. Hippie punching.
  • Push to war, and how that stiffles dissent.
  • moon hoax not S. G. Collins explains why the moon videos could not be hoaxes.
  • "The Assault On Reason" Al Gore
  • There are no moral facts
  • http://www.edge.org/q2008/q08_3.html#metzinger
  • understanding in context: see boondocks "lucy" comic
  • http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=51
  • (How Much Modern Medicine is Evidence-Based)
  • Compare conservapedia and wiki4cam to wikipedia
  • magicians as specialists in fraud by misdirection and misperception
  • God only seems nonexistent
  • Heuristics for detecting lies.
    • Is it in a normal college textbook?
    • Are academic and other experts in the field consulted?
      • 700 billion bailout of wall street
    • Are the "dirty hippies" opinions excluded in favor of
    • "serious people"?
    • How can they know that?
    • Where did that number come from?
    • Qui bono?
  • Heuristics for rapid decision making.
  • partial knowledge/differing viewpoints
    • blind men and the elephant poem
    • different mathematical representations
      • some tasks easier with different representations
        • card backs versus cheaters logic
  • Where do we go now that we know the truth?
    • We cannot go alone: organization needed.*The story of suzie on youtube (atheism)*

hp

  • On Truth (Hardcover) by Harry G. Frankfurt (Author)
  • Bullshit and Philosophy by Gary L. Hardcastle, George A. Reisch
  • Alex Carey, "Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty"
  • http://xkcd.com/628/
  • even skeptics have their own idiocies:
    • Maher on vaccines: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=1251
    • "Unfortunately, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years since I became more involved with the skeptical movement, it’s that being an agnostic, atheist, or skeptic is no guarantee against falling for pseudoscience."
  • Shermer, Penn and Teller on libertarianism
  • Arthur Goldwag, "Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies: The Straight Scoop on Freemasons, The Illuminati, Skull and Bones, Black Helicopters, The New World Order, and many, many more"
  • how and what versus why: science not for why, because that's a question about

intentions.

  • Ask students what organic means, as in organic food. Then have them research i

t.

ml

  • Bad Science (Paperback) by Ben Goldacre* health quackery
  • Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion by Gary Taubes
  • Example of surviving passenger claiming a miracle: what about the otherpassengers who died?

labels

  • Doonesbury 2/13/11, 3000 dead from 9/11, 270,000 dead from gunfire.
  • We economists do not like lexicographic preference offerings precisely because they lead to catastrophe--to results that nobody can with a straight face say are good or moral. Or, at least, we think that such are insane: the sign of an unbalanced mind.
  • And it is--the fact that philosophers and lawyers claim to believe in lexicographic preference offerings is a sign that (a) their minds were unbalanced to begin with or (b) their professional training has unbalanced their minds.
  • How to determine if it is science-based:
    • Is it in science textbooks? For example, nutrition?
  • How 1+1=2 doesn't hold for many types of things:
    • small water drops
    • infinities (counting numbers versus even numbers)
    • bunny rabbits
  • It is just a mathematical model that we use for some (many) applications, and

not some ultimate truth.

  • science
    • Unnatural Nature Of Science
    • vs technology
    • scientism
      • invented by a schoolteacher!
    • whether to trust in science or scientists
      • fallibility of scientists
        • old generation dying off
        • investment in old paradigms
        • corruption and idiosyncrasy (Linus Pauling)
      • more than one route to understanding
        • different levels of study
        • competing methodologies
  • Modern vs traditional frames for social relations established by long-term propaganda
    • fealty/honor/royalty
    • markets/rights/liberty
    • patriotism/duty/community/citizenship
  • who benefits from these frames
  • The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True [Hardcover] Richard Dawkins
  • Robert Trivers, The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Self-Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life.
  • Can we trust skeptics? No: not even them. The vary all over the map.
    • Libertarian idiocy from Shermer, Gilette, etc.
    • Bill Maher wierdness.
    • Many other disagreements in the skeptic community.
    • Why do skeptics disagree?
      • They are only human.
      • When you are united by rejection, that doesn't direct you to accept anything in particular.
      • Baby with the bathwater: some skeptics reject far more than is really indicated.
      • It is easy to reject second best solutions even when first best solutions are not available. (Economics, fallacies of argument.)
      • Differences in values.
  • Dumb trend projection is people's tendency to view trends as structural. Examples of this include: "Housing prices have never fallen; hence they will never fall." "This stock returned 17.2% over the past three decades; hence it will continue to do so." "The center of gravity of the global economy is inevitably shifting to Asia." And so forth. But in reality, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Or, to put it more pithily, "The trend is your friend til the bend at the end." http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/what-happened-to-japan.html
  • Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life, save only this, that if you work hard and intelligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole, purpose of education. —John Alexander Smith, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford, 1914,
  • Timothy Caulfield, "The Cure for Everything: Untangling Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness, and Happiness"
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/20/opinion/testing-standard-medical-practices.html
  • Münchhausen Trilemma
  • Turtles all the way down
  • xkcd on clinical testing
  • "The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date" Samuel Arbesman
  • Walter Lippman, "Public Opinion"
  • Philosopher: "What color is the sky?" Student: "Blue." Philosopher: "Let us then proceed from the fact that the sky is blue to reason thusly...." If only the student would observe that the sky is not always blue: it can be gray on a cloudy day, it can be black at night, and sun, moon, stars, clouds, birds, etc. can all make it different than plain, solid blue. If we say the sky is blue, that is not a fact: it is a vague observation or generalization, ignoring the many exceptions, ignoring the scientific explanation of scattering of sunlight and privileging daytime over nighttime conditions. It is not a valid premise that philosophy can be built upon. Most philosophy actually starts with such invalid premises, and it is not too difficult to spot them.
    • Is this what Socratic dialog exposes?
    • If this why Socrates claims how little he really knows? (may have the wrong philosopher here)
    • Tradeoff between generality and accuracy?
    • Why does this not apply to science?
    • Or is it true that hardly any philosophy starts with such clear premises, and never states the premises precisely because it would be so easy to spot why they are invalid?
  • Morton's Demon
  • http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/07/reasons-matter-when-intuitions-dont-object/
  • All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin
  • The Trial of Israel’s Campus Critics
  • we are the weird much psychology is based on students, and not representative.
  • CHARLIE MUNGER ON THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMAN MISJUDGMENT
  • What’s Natural About Natural Law?
  • Our brains, and how they're not as simple as we think
  • Candida Moss "The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom"
  • Lawrence Wright, "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief"
  • The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense
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