Saturday, August 29, 2020

490. Conspiracy theories

We are plagued by conspiracy theories, such as the one that the earth is flat. Such theories have always been around, in political intriges, but now they are more pervasive and have more adherents. Why? I have heard the following argument: formerly, only political, scientific and intellectual elites had access to much information, and to airing their views in publications, but now virtually all information is accessible to all, on the Internet, and anyone can propound his views on social media. One no longer needs to be a specialist to vent a view. That is no doubt part of the reason, but there is something more fundamental.

Science tries to falsify its theories, while conspiracy theorists try to confirm it, and there is so much information, that one can find evidence for the most absurd views. I once heard someone claim that there are military bases of a foreign civilization on the moon. His ‘proof ‘was a photo with rectangular shapes on the moon. I told him that if there are many random shapes, there is bound to also be a rectangular one

True, it is not individual scientists that falsify theories, they are too vain for that and want to corroborate their theories for their reputations and careers, but it is the community of scientists that falsify each other’s theories. Openness to criticism is essential for science, while conspiracy theorists close themselves off for it, and pay attention only to those who agree, in ‘filter bubbles’ on the Internet.

I admit that truth is problematic. In science also, observation is ‘theory laden’: it is interpretation from a theoretical perspective. But that has been exaggerated. It occurs only occasionally, and most of the time rival theories are subject to the same ‘facts’. One must be open to those.It is not true that every opinion is as good as any other. I adopt the defnition of truth of the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey as ‘warranted assertibility’: you must come up with arguments such as facts when not problematic, logic, plausibility, i.e consistency with other well supported theories, and whether something ‘works’ in application. Conspiracy theories fail to do that.

Conspiracy theories are also presented as absolute, incontrovertible, and final, while a scientist grants that his theory is likely to be contradicted in future. Science is never final and is subject to improvement or replacement. That has regularly occurred, in the history of science.Tue, perhaps,. scientists have not always made that clear, and neglected to contradict the widespread belief that a scientific theorry is the final truth, and has been proven so. When people finally caught on that this is not so, this degraded the opinion of science, and they equated opinion with fact.

The drive behind this is that people seek certainty and security.and abhor relativism, variablity and instability. There was religion for that certainty, and then, to some extent, science. There is no chance. Shit does not just happen. There must be a cause, reason, or better, yet, a design by some hidden evil: Jesuits, Illuminati, Jews, top capitalists. There, one can also celebrate one’s jealousy and fear

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