This review was written by Eugene Kernes
Genre = Philosophy, Epistemology
“Deducing a pattern, a possible relationship between variables that had seemed unrelated, is hailed as discovery of THE relationship between them. The discovery of a possible cause for the events of previously unknown origin is hailed as discovery of THE cause. We seek to find patterns even when there are none.” – Fred Leavitt, Chapter 3: The Illusion of Knowledge, Page 16
“We felt superior to those unenlightened folks. We were mistaken. Everybody clings to irrational, unjustified beliefs. They make the world comprehensible, so they are rarely challenged. Reevaluation might lead to the realization that they are false.” – Fred Leavitt, Chapter 6: Pillar 2: Religious Faith, Page 25
“There are no infallible methods of verification. You cannot apprehend her sensations. Even two brains hooked together and exposed to identical stimuli would not experience identical feelings.” – Fred Leavitt, Chapter 10: Pillar 4: Empiricism Except for Science, Page 103
Excerpts with permission from the Author
Meet the Author
This book questions everything that you think you know. What we know comes from four sources, and neither source can be completely trusted. Each has many problems. The four sources are innate knowledge, religion, reason, and empiricism. Being radically skeptical means having doubt in all beliefs, as the premise of fallibilism claims that there is no conclusively justifiable belief. Being open-minded means accepting that there is no basis for estimating the incident or magnitude of deception or barriers to knowledge. As the mind searches for patterns, the mind will find patterns even when there are none. Concern for truth does not shape worldviews. Worldviews are shaped by a pretentious need to understand.
Innate knowledge comes from genetically tailored knowledge. There is some knowledge that come prepacked to use for future generations. Behaviors that are known before interacting with the world. The problem is that they are not always right and can be misused. They are also limited, as the world provides many different events which require interactions that are not innate but learned.
Religious knowledge comes from beliefs about faith which leads to explanations about death, history, and appropriate behavior. They may be irrational and unjustified beliefs, but they make the world comprehensible. Everyone has those believes whether they are religious or not. Because these beliefs make the world comprehensible, they are rarely challenged which makes it hard to reevaluate them. Having a religion can help keep groups together as they have something in common, enabling coordination. Trusting the words of authority is valuable for survival, but it can also lead to gullibility which continues throughout life. The benefits of religion is that they can help get people to act in their own best interest. To care for the wellbeing of the community. The lessons of religion may be fiction and create illusions, but illusions help people keep optimist and foster happiness. Without illusions, people tend to be depression-prone.
The problem with religious knowledge is that it can contribute to social problems rather than minimize them, as most violent crimes are done by people who are religious. Religious institutions depend on income like any other institution, but this dependency means that they can legitimize very terrible acts. The more cherished the beliefs, the more people persist by ignoring and actively avoiding information that challenges them. There are also many religious books which claim to represent reality, and the books are different and do not agree with each other.
Reason determines knowledge from mathematical and logical deductions. Simple observations can determine complex relationships. The narrow visions of scientists and philosophers can be even narrower than theologians who value reason and observation alongside faith. The preeminence to logical analysis and sensory data requires truth that acts like faith in reason and empiricism. Self-deception, not holding an accurate world view, can sometimes be more optimal than seeking truth through reason. Certain lines of reasoning are motivated by beliefs systems, which individuals try to confirm rather than seek potentially compromising challenges to ideas.
Inductive arguments come from logically inferring a conclusion from two or more premises. The conclusion never lead to certainty, no matter the strength of the premises. All reason commits at least one of three fallacies which collectively are known as Agrippa’s Trilemma. The fallacies are infinite regression, uncertain assumption, or circular reason. Infinite regression means that claims need to have supporting evidence which it self needs to be supported. Uncertain assumptions are the self-evident beliefs that are used as starting points. Circular reasoning tries to fit claims into a coherent system but many of the claims can be consistent while untrue. Logical arguments can rearrange information, but do not add any information, while the premises needed to come from somewhere.
Empirical knowledge comes from sensory information. The way in which people interact with the world is through senses. The problem is that senses are highly limited, which cannot observe the whole reality. Different animals perceive the world differently, and each cannot explain the complexity of the whole. There are infinite interpretations that are compatible with perception, of which many are in conflict. Identical stimuli will cause different feelings to different people.
Science and reason have many conflicting views. With philosophers giving precedence to reason, and scientists giving precedence to empiricism. Scientific hypotheses and theories can be tested, but they are based on invalid confirmatory syllogism. Scientist need to publish articles to be competitive, but that means they and their colleagues value quantity over quality. More and more papers are being published without rigorous checking for errors, or searching for alternative explanations. Many scientists who are supposed to be independent fact checkers, are usually under the influence of a profit motivated corporation or themselves have motives other than efficacy research. Making the research even more precarious is the impact of minor differences, as minute differences in initial condition can have vastly altered consequences. Another problem with research is that it needs to be replicated, but replication is discouraged. The claims being made about discoveries are usually dramatized. Rather than finding a potential pattern or cause, they become seen the explanation for the pattern or cause.
The media is meant to provide a check on claims of politicians, corporations, and others. The problem is that the media cannot be completely trusted. They cannot report on all stories and facts, and usually filter the stories they select through an ideological background. Framing issues to suit their audience. With many articles being deleted that did not support their advertiser’s ideology. As many decisions are not made public, the media has limited access to information. Even if information could be obtained, media personnel are lazy with limited resources while pressed by deadlines, causing them not to do proper investigations. Focusing on easily explainable stories than those that take time.
The internet provides sites based on individual view history, which means that the viewer gets more of the same information. Misinformation goes uncorrected as contradictory evidence is ignored. People also become resistant to easily refutable attacks on their knowledge, but this causes them to withstand better evidence, which causes them not to be persuaded to further appropriate evidence. In such a way, many conspiracies that had initially weak evidence, were refuted but were actually correct. History books provide information that comes from authors efforts in obtaining supporting documentation. The problem is that the chronicles of history can be inaccurate.
A problem with the book is that it is not always gentle about explaining the limitations to knowledge. In many cases, strongly held beliefs are attacked vigorously. The author acknowledges that the people who hold such beliefs are not likely to continue reading the book. This makes it appear that the book is written as validation for those who already agree with skepticism than for those who would like to consider learning and trying out skepticism. The book contains many examples, usually to support the claims being made. The problem with so many examples is that the general skeptical understanding can be lost in the details.
Questions to Consider while Reading the Book