11 July 2019

Science and Authority

There's a certain "why the hell would anyone do that?" around cuts to education or children's programs.

We know with great confidence that relatively teeny social investments in child care and education have big valuable consequences; more education, greater economic success, mass escapes from poverty.  Even awful rich people ought to want a larger economy; that's more for them.

Universal education is inherently inimical to the rich.  The "harder to control the vote" part is something of a red herring.  It's really really easy for the rich to control who there is to vote for, even when you can't control the vote at all.

What isn't easy is the fundamental issue with education, which is that you're going to wind up teaching science.  The idea of falsification is everywhere; history, modern languages, the study of any of the classical antiquities, all of these have acquired notions about falsification and statistical methods.  Once you've got falsification you get the Hard Part, which is the idea that anything you think you know can be wrong.  It's not very likely something like quantum (where we've got a lot of decimal places and many many working machines) is wrong, but you can't actually assert that something is Correct.  It's 'our best understanding'.

This is indeed the Hard Part; it's not easy to do, it's interesting historically in the notable failures more than the notable successes, it's just generally a struggle.

It's a hugely productive struggle; it's a philosophical position worth striving for.  It's also utterly corrosive to the authoritarian "because I said so!", and the rich are all authoritarian.  (Certainly in the statistical mass.  If you're seriously rich, you make decisions outside your competence as a consequence of your wealth, so to a statistical first approximation to be very wealthy is to be incompetent and to need protecting from the consequences of that incompetence.)  They just can't allow a productive, powerful idea that, no, no, not because you said so, and not even; all knowledge is provisional, subject to falsification and revision and the increase of knowledge.

"Coming for the right to vote" is just the start; they're coming for anesthetized dentistry.  Because you can either have the idea of falsification -- facts are what you arrive at by a multi-person public process -- or you can have personal authority.  And the very rich must have the personal authority.


D. C. said...

I'm coming to suspect that the best counter to stated bullshit is not refutation, but "so how do you propose to test whether that's true?"

The answer isn't important. Infiltrating the question into a conversation is, however, subversive.

Graydon said...

+D.C. I agree in principle but want to not that "true" and "factual" are different.

"factual" is the collective, collaborative, public process; this is so (as far as we can now tell) irrespective of the contents of any one person's mind.

"true" is a statement about the inside of a specific mind, and "true" doesn't have to be factual. People will die over true when it's not factual at all.

D. C. said...

I love discussions with another precisionist (in the Doc Smith sense. Often conflated with "pedant.")

In the context used, it's both correct [1] and necessary since almost by definition we're not dealing with precisionists, so "true" is the closest we'll get to common semantics.

[1] In the sense you propose, with which I agree as long as we're being pedantic together.