Tag Archive | knowledge

Truth is an Illusion

I love science.

I really do, and I don’t think that anyone who pays attention to me can doubt that when I say it. What I’m about to say may come across as exactly the opposite–as someone who doesn’t love science–yet it’s because of my respect for the scientific method that I write this in the first place.

Jokingly, I wrote on Facebook yesterday:

The only time anyone is absolutely wrong is when they assert something as absolutely true.

It’s funny because it’s true.

Now, there is one caveat to a statement like that, and it deals with perception. Yes, I’m talking about perception again. Anything that is dependent upon perception is contingent upon perception, and can only true if the perceptions involved are true. Let’s take Einstein’s General Relativity as an example. As a theory, it can only be true if my perceptions about the universe are correct–if there really is a moon orbiting an Earth orbiting a sun, and all the other things. Whether my perceptions are correct, however, can never be determined.

That’s not enough, though, and it’s not really what I’m discussing today. It’s interesting from a philosophical standpoint, but of no practical use.

A lot of people make fun of the Amish for their almost random decision to stop progressing technology around 1864, as though that level of technology was not too much and not too little. It seems silly to us, and, I would say, it is silly, but we do exactly the same thing with our science.

Every single scientific theory that we hold true today exists because it turned a previous scientific theory that we believed was true on its head. There are no exceptions to this, and probably the most glaring example is the Bohr Atomic Model, which people in chemistry classes throughout the nation still learn about (in fact, my college Chemistry classes taught us the Bohr Model), which presents the image of a nucleus, which consists of protons and neutrons, being orbited by electrons on several different layers. We now know, of course, that this is not true. “Electron cloud” is a more accurate description of what electrons do than “electron layers,” and there’s no such thing as a proton or a neutron–both are combinations of quarks. It’s similar to how we once, thousands of years ago, concluded that all rocks are made of compressed sand, only to learn much later that the sand itself is made of other things and that there’s no such thing as a “sand particle.”

This is not a new thing. Even Einstein observed it, and used the analogy that science is like walking around the path of a mountain, slowly ascending. When you look around at the terrain nearby, your conclusions are limited by what you see. But as you continue to climb, you see that the terrain you saw when you were lower on the mountain is actually less of “what there is” than you thought. We have a long history of believing that the horizon we currently see is the true edge of the world. We have the same problem when it comes to science, believing that whatever we happen to think at a given moment is the truth.

There is a reason that science as a field designates its highest certainty as the theory rather than the fact, and this is exactly why: a theory is only true if all the gathered evidence that went into producing that theory is actually the way it is perceived. Einstein’s General Relativity does a fantastic job of explaining what we’ve observed, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct or true–in fact, we could very easily find out one day that gravity exists because subatomic gremlins hold things together. That’s not likely, granted, but a theory is simply an explanation. There is no way of knowing if it is the correct explanation.

Take, for example, the statement “2 becomes 20.”

How did I get from 2 to twenty? One hypothesis would be that I multiplied 2 by 10. This makes a prediction: if I have 3, then, according to this hypothesis, my end result will be 30.

Suppose, though, that I give 3 = 15.

Uh-oh. You have more evidence and information now than you did when I said 2 = 20 and decided that I’m multiplying by 10. What is your explanation now? What will I do to 4? Would you guess “10”? Would you guess “40”? Would you guess some other number? What hypothesis would you suggest to explain how I got from 2 to 20, and from 3 to 15?

Suppose I give you 4 = 40. Things are starting to become clearer, aren’t they? And then I give you 5 = 25. Now you have enough to actually piece it together. I’m multiplying even numbers by 10, and multiplying odd numbers by 5.

But for a brief period during that, your hypothesis was that I’m multiplying by ten–and you undoubtedly would have believed that hypothesis to be true. Yet it was wrong. Further information revealed that the hypothesis wasn’t correct. This is why “theory” is the highest tier of certainty. Any hypothesis is 100% dependent on the amount of information available.

A scientific theory is not “the truth” or “a fact.” It’s a reasonable explanation that happens to fit the evidence that we have available. Even if that evidence we have is all-inclusive (which it isn’t, never has been, and probably never will be), this doesn’t imply or suggest that the explanation we have proposed is correct–it’s simply an explanation. It is an explanation that fits the evidence, but this in no way suggests that it is true. We have confused “could be true, based on the evidence” with “Yes, that’s absolutely true.”

My fear is that we seem to be moving toward a second Dark Age, one that is being brought about because of faith in “science.” Because people have mistaken “This could be true, based on the evidence” with “This is absolutely true,” they become no different from the dark age priests who asserted absolute truth and condemned as heretics any who dared oppose them. Right now, that innocuous post on Facebook, I’ve defended from two people already, one of whom continues to insist that “truth” can be obtained, despite how that flies directly in the face of the scientific method.

It seems to be leftist reactionism, in fact–a retaliation against the “anti-science” bent on the right. The further the right goes into “science isn’t credible,” the further the left goes into “Our religion is law, heretic, and our religion is science.” I’ve seen people post about GMOs, vaccines, and climate change in regard to the scientific predictions of today’s solar eclipse, as though “science” is as certain in regard to these prior things as it is with the latter. This… isn’t the case at all, firstly–solar eclipses are predicted mathematically. Thus far, the mathematical predictions regarding climate change have been… Well, let’s say “not correct.” Remember how the polar ice caps were supposed to have melted by like 2010 or something?

The most alarming thing, I think, are the tons of people who praise science and the assertion that “Vaccines are perfectly safe.” I’m neither pro nor anti-vaccine. I don’t have children. Vaccines don’t seem to have caused me any problems, so I really don’t give a shit. I’ve not researched it extensively because I don’t really give a shit.

However, I do know–because I have a scientific mind–that anyone who asserts that “vaccines are absolutely safe” is full of shit. It’s impossible to prove a positive claim. It’s impossible in both theory and in practice. These modern day adherents to the religion of science are professing absolute truth, are professing to know something that their very own religion confirms is impossible to know. It doesn’t particularly matter to me whether vaccines do or don’t have negative side effects. However, the statement “Vaccines do no harm” is pseudo-science. It’s magical woo. It’s bullshit.

And let us not forget that, for decades, “high fructose corn syrup” was “perfectly safe.” Oops. We turned the nation into obese diabetics. Moreover, “anti-biotics” were “perfectly safe.” Oops. We caused the evolution of viruses that have the Promiscuous Gene, which, because it’s promiscuous, is causing an alarming and terrifying spread of antibiotic-resistant viruses and bacteria. “Oops” indeed. Our “perfectly safe” antibiotics probably will have killed us all, in the end. Once upon a time, even smoking cigarettes was “perfectly safe.” Aspartame is now considered “perfectly safe,” though it was, 60 years ago, considered a poison. Fluoride in the water is considered “perfectly safe,” even though it’s the same crap dentists tell you “Don’t eat or drink for 30 minutes” after they put it in your mouth. So I think the phrase “perfectly safe” is not something that anyone should use if they wish to be taken seriously.

What is my point?

I don’t really have one, except to say that…

Nothing is known, because nothing can be known, except those very few things that transcend perception. Everything else can only be a possible explanation for what is observed, and will be entirely dependent upon “what is observed.” Since “what is observed” is never the totality of what can be observed, it’s inevitable that the explanation will be changed to fit observations made further down the road. And even then, even if we could gather all evidence, it would still be contingent upon the perceptions of the person observing the evidence, which cannot be demonstrated as valid.

And that’s among the truest statements that “science” could possibly say.

Absolute certainty doesn’t exist. Reasonable certainty is all there is.

Free College is a REALLY Stupid Idea

No, it’s not really stupid because it’s socialist in nature. It is socialist in nature, and that is, itself, pretty stupid. However, even if we accepted the idea of socialism, the notion of free higher education is nothing short of stupid. It is also backward and is a great example of how the state and its many institutions and institutionalized practices keep society from properly evolving. If the state hadn’t morphed into a nanny government, the solution I’m about to propose would already have manifested, because it’s both obvious and logical; it’s literally the next step in social evolution, but instead everyone is looking to the government to solve a problem that the government honestly can’t solve.

To ask for free college is to basically be someone shortly after the automobile was invented, demanding that the government provide everyone with a horse-drawn cart. You’re asking for something that is mostly obsolete now and is going to become increasingly obsolete as we move into the future.

The Internet has changed everything. In fact, the World Wide Web will go down as the greatest invention in our species’ history, so overwhelming is its scope. We have not even begun to realize the full impact of the Internet, and this is one such example. It allows a person in the middle of nowhere in Mississippi to communicate through video chat instantly with someone in Siberia. The impact of something like that has not yet been felt, but future generations will take it for granted, and I firmly believe that it heralds the eventual end of war. “The Russians” are no longer some strange, foreign people–they are people we play video games with, that we are friends with on Twitter and Facebook. They are not boogeymen any longer; they are real people. It becomes a lot harder to let your government drop a bomb on someone’s city when you were talking to that someone last week during a chess match, you know?

This has only now started to become apparent, but it’s no surprise that millennials are among the loudest peace advocates everywhere in the world, from the United States to the Middle East to China. Succeeding generations will be even louder in their criticisms of war, because for the first time in human history, we don’t have to take our government’s word for it that “China is like totes 4 real raping and eating babies!!11one!!” because we actually know people in China. Earlier today, I played chess against someone from a country whose flag I didn’t even freaking recognize–but I’d recognize it if President Obama declared, “Yeah, we’re gonna drop some bombs on this place.”

“No!” I would say. “You can’t do that… A real person lives there…”

It’s a beautiful thing, the Internet, and we must protect it from all encroachments of government. There has never been a tool more powerful at our disposal. Under no circumstances should we allow any government to touch it. But none of this is my point–it’s just generally background because it’s true. In the year 2500, people will look back and identify the Internet as mankind’s most profound achievement, because an end to war will be just one of its many remarkable benefits.

Another is that it has placed the sum of human knowledge literally at our fingertips. I remarked recently:

I’m supposed to believe that the same people who can’t be bothered to take four seconds to click New Tab and look something up on Google before sharing it on Facebook when the sum of human knowledge is available for free at their fingertips will spend four years in college if it’s free? Yeah, okay.

There’s an important thing here that has to be addressed; we can’t just pretend like it’s not true. Anything you want to know is available on the Internet. No matter how obscure the knowledge is, and no matter how advanced it is, the information is out there, somewhere, on the Internet. And it’s free. If you have an Internet connection, anything that you want to learn about… can be learned… for free. Right now. “Free education” people want? You can’t get better free education than the Internet; you literally cannot.

College is a tremendous investment of time and energy. It is an investment of such magnitude that it makes a simple Google search insignificant. Let’s not be mistaken about this: there is strong overlap between people who want free higher education and people who can’t be bothered to look things up before sharing them on Facebook. I have no data to back this up, but considering how extraordinarily common it is that people share things without looking them up, it is virtually guaranteed that there is high overlap. People will gladly share posts about how three prominent Wikileaks administrators totally died under mysterious circumstances and it’s Hillary’s fault rather than looking it up and finding that the three people referenced all died of explicitly explained causes, two of which were cancer, for fuck’s sake. Yet they would… like totes 4 real… invest four years of their life into going to college.

If only it was free!

Now, all that said, the solution.

Colleges and universities are obsolete. Unless you’re seeking a Master’s degree or a Doctorate, there is nothing you can learn in a college or university that you cannot learn for free on the Internet. If you’re seeking a 6 or 8-year degree, then, yes, a good chunk of your work will involve original research, a dissertation, a thesis, and ultra-advanced learning that either isn’t readily available on the Internet or can’t be verified. Once we start getting the mathematics of quantum neutrino fields*, yeah, there’s a place for a university to fit in.

What we need is to adjust to the Internet and the new education paradigm that it has created. I would gladly go toe-to-toe with any political theorist or economist in the world. I would stake my self-education against their university-education any day of the week, and I say this for two reasons.

First, I’m probably smarter than they are. I don’t mean this as a statement of arrogance, but one of fact; as a MENSA member, the odds are in my favor. These are also fields that I have explored extensively, going through the whole process of the Dunning-Kruger Effect and coming out on the other side, educated. Plus, much of what modern “official” economists say is nothing more than scientific woo.

Second, while I was in college I took Macroeconomics I and Macroeconomics II as electives, and passed both with As and never even purchased my book for the classes. So I actually had the chance to stack my self-education against the system’s education, and I came out on top. I’ve written about changes in Supply curves having effects on equilibrium prices, after all. So I know from first-hand experience that motivated self-education is not only adequate; it’s probably preferable. Because it’s free, it’s definitely preferable.

It would be the height of stupidity to throw a bunch of money at the current education institution in order to prop up a system that is already obsolete. Intelligent people go where the knowledge is. Through the last several centuries, universities were “where the knowledge was.” So intelligent people who wanted to learn naturally went to universities. This is no longer the case. The universities surely still have knowledge, but they are not the exclusive holders of that knowledge anymore. Why on Earth would we even consider paying gigantic, extortionate, exorbitant fees and tuitions for knowledge that we can literally have for free already?

That’s… stupid.

It is. It’s supremely stupid. It’s short-sighted, simplistic, and stagnant. Short-sighted, simplistic, stagnant, and supremely stupid.

Are you familiar with CompTIA and its certifications? It has several: A+ certification, Security+ certification, Network+ certification… The list goes on. I’m not A+ or Network+ certified, because I don’t need to be. I was stupid and did waste the time going to college to get a degree that A+ and Network+ certifications are considered equivalent to. In fact, people really like the A+ certification; I’ve often been encouraged to get it anyway.

What is that, if not exactly what I’m proposing for other fields of study?

Rather than spending 4 years attending the University of Missisippi, study what you want to study, and then pop in there 5 or 6 Saturdays in a row, take the tests they deem appropriate. If you pass, they give you an Economics Certification equivalent to a BA. Already on college campuses, you can “comp” your way through several classes–I comped through Trig to take Calculus, after all. All we need is a system that allows you to comp the entire education program. What does it matter? If you have the knowledge, then you have the knowledge, regardless of whether you spent 4 years studying at home in your spare time, or 4 years studying at the university.

But that’s exactly it, isn’t it? The University of Mississippi would hate this. They could never charge $48,000 for you to take the tests and get your Economics 4 Certification. They’d probably not get away with charging $1,000 for that. CompTIA’s A+ exam is generally considered expensive, and it’s only $199 and you can typically get vouchers that knock off a huge portion of that.

Now we’re getting to the root of it.

Colleges and universities have a vested interest in keeping this certification thing down. How much money did ITT Tech lose to people who checked around for tech jobs and discovered that an A+ certification is generally considered equivalent to a 2 year degree, and sometimes a 4 year degree? Now start applying this to all fields. How many pharmacist assistants would skip college to simply get a certification, if they could get a Pharmacy 2 Certification for $600 by taking a test three weekends in a row? How much money would universities and colleges lose?

Millions. Billions, even.

Their tuition numbers would dwindle, with only people seeking Master’s and Doctorate’s degrees actually attending universities, and even they would comp through the first 4 years and get certifications instead. How would universities and colleges react? Why, they would lower their tuition fees, of course!

Because that’s what people do when Demand drops.

Stop asking the government to give you a horse-drawn carriage for free, and instead look into how you might acquire an automobile. These systems are not in place. We desperately need them, though. And they will rise, as free market solutions to the problem, just as CompTIA and its tech certifications rose as free market solutions. However, we’re all looking in the wrong place. Don’t demand that the government give you money so that you can prop up an obsolete system.

* Wanton burrito meals?