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November 20, 2006


How can you know anything at all? You'll need to take a stand on fundamental epistemology at some point - for example, whether there is any such thing as absolutely certain knowledge, and if so, how it is obtained, and whether you can know that you have it - if these deliberations on rationality under conditions of uncertainty are to have a basis. I would suggest that the issue of fundamental epistemology be revisited periodically, perhaps once a month.

Every web forum and blog out there contains claims which could be true or false. Do you advise them also to discuss epistemology monthly and to take a stand on it? If not, what makes us any different?

This is a blog about belief and truth. Furthermore, it's promoted by an institute whose interests include human cognitive enhancement; any consensus about epistemology that emerges here will potentially determine what it defines as cognitive enhancement; and if the institute becomes influential, that definition will in turn potentially determine the nature of the would-be enhancements that are carried out in real life. I care about these issues, and believe that our current intellectual culture has a few weaknesses in its epistemic foundation that could be fixed, and see this blog as potentially important; but also don't want to see its relatively technical theme overwhelmed by discussions about first principles; thus my proposal.

I'll try to step up to Mr. Porter's invitation.

My current view is to try to make as much use of Jaynes & Bretthorst (thus, "Bayes") and Bartley as I can muster. Thus my epistemology includes the belief that there might be such as thing as absolutely knowing, without being able to prove that there is, and conceding that I might be proven wrong somehow -- that there is no such thing.

There appears to be an ineluctable gap between logic and the world as it probably "really is", but I refuse to be daunted _or_ to climb into the Objectivist space capsule that denies so much of what we are learning about perception and cognition. Keeping the distinction clear between validity and truth is also key.

I'm not well versed in a lot of the canon / prior art in philosophy, because I find most of what I've encountered impenetrable or flavorless.

My approach includes making my heuristics available to periodic examination and criticism, and skepticism that I can be my own best critic. This was not an approach for which I got much credit in the few Philosophy courses I took in college. Based on that and parallel experiences with commonplace "scientism" vis-a-vis actual scientific thought, I suspect Pirsig's notion that most "Philosophy" departments mostly practice "philosophology" might be well founded.

Mr. Porter, what level of discourse are you expecting here? :)

Mitchell and Michael, at least four of the contributors here are professional philosophers, so there is a decent chance that some of the issues you care about will be addressed here from time to time. But that said, epistemology is not the main focus of this forum.

This post of mine seems relevant: Why and how to debate charitably[1]. Following the advice there is a good way to overcome bias in the context of an engaged debate with someone.

No HTML comments? Poor form.


Chris, your post on how to debate charitably is indeed relevant.

Michael, I'll answer you in email.

Is this blog self-contradictory? In order to combat bias, don't you first have to be biased against bias? Am I making any sense here?

Zhong, it seems you think all opinions are necessarily biased.

Yes. Isn't that the definition of "opinion?"

What exactly is "bias" and what is wrong with it? Bias and disagreement is what makes the world fun.

I've been assuming that "overcoming bias" is about overcoming insidious or debilitating bias. I have a preference for the flavor of blueberries over raspberries, but that's not necessarily an insidious bias that threatens the quality of my thinking or my experience.

To approah te idea of knowing truth by removing our own biases, would, i feel be like removing noise from a radio broadcast, after which, true or not, we ought to have a better time listerning to the music or truth, so revealed.

Such a state of clarity, would reveal, i think, sights of true splendor and be worth while. But after some time, we may feel the instinct to add a little human niose once again and see precisely what our own contributions to the universe actually do to the whole picture. ( ok, now were in the tv age now).

would we not come to find that our perturbations, when in a certain harmony of those of the pure truth previously revealed, provided the most satisfying state for us to exist in?

In this light, i feel the most relavant course of action would be, to find a clear definition of the exact natute of the noise we make , and just as in any fault finding scheme, turn them off one by one, and see what they do!

It would be qite something for us to be able to circumvent the folly of our own biases ourselves, but as a first step, a clear map of what the actual biases are would be useful. I wonder? does anybody have a map of the human soul?

What if bias were removed fom the human mind andan incredible new theory of everything were suddenly to burst onto the global scene prescribing with infallable logic, ethical and moral perspectives and behaviour far from that maintained in the currect status quo.

How would the modern world cope with a new 60's, lubricated by the internet and high drug availbility and usage. could the search for truth be about to explode in our faces?

Surely an orgaisation such as yours ought to be considering contingincies for this, it may alrady be too late?


Rainsmith, random comments about the blog are probably better placed at our monthly "Open Thread" posts, the most recent of which is here.

To be considered as a poster, please send a link to your thoughtful essay on this topic (published elsewhere is fine) to

An essay seems a bit strange of a qualification, since most of the posts here seem to be relatively short ones, not long essays. Would, say, three brief example "this is what I would post if I were a contributor" posts be fine as well?

The study of bias is moving out of philosophy and psychology and into neuroscience. Thanks to what has already been learned from brain research (esp. split-brain studies and fMRI research) it is now possible to theorize that our brain processes ideas unconsciously by comparing them with existing beliefs and generating an emotional cue (satisfaction, annoyance, anger, outrage) that allows the left-brain interpreter function to generate conscious pro or con arguments to justify the emotion. ... Thus, we are all biased, and yes, we are intrinsically blind to it.

If you are unfamiliar with the left-brain interpreter function, read any of Dr. Michael S, Gazzaniga's books for the general public, from "The Social Brain" (1985) through "The Ethical Brain" (2006).

If you are interested in a summary of what neuroscience has learned about our brain's functioning and how it makes possible a "Tribal Programming Theory of Human Behavior," I recommend my own book, "Man by Nature: The Hidden Programming Controlling Human Behavior."

Adam Leonard

The neurons in your brain are biased toward certain other neurons. That's how it works. Bias is fundamental. Embrace it. It will embrace us back. It's time the human super organism wakes up.

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