Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On humility

In spite of our need to remain humbled by our limitations as finite cognitive processes, it is perfectly permissible for us to think that we have better ideas than other people. After all, if we're not all that confident in our present assessments of the environment, then we shouldn't be presenting said assessments to the public. It is not okay for everyone to "have an opinion" on every conceivable topic. For example, because of my ignorance regarding the reliability of one spaceship over another for the purpose of getting to Mars, I keep my mouth shut on the matter; to do otherwise is to promote information pollution (side note: this is why the idea of a representative democratic republic is a poor one).

Conversely, if someone is confident in his assessments of the environment -- due, in part, to peer review and repetition -- then we should not scorn him for this, or reference his alleged "superiority complex." Of course, we should not take him -- or his independent peers -- at his word, but dismissing someone merely because he thinks that his ideas appear to be more rational than yours is a fallacy. "What, do you think you're better than me because you believe this stuff?" is not a valid argument in any scenario, and least valid where the purveyor of the assessments has no vested interest in proving his superiority.

I will say that suffering contains value instead of that it's my personal opinion that suffering contains value not because I know for a fact that suffering contains value, but because prefacing every single statement with "Gee, I guess this is kind of possibly right, but it's just my opinion, so feel free to think whatever you want and not listen to me!" would be tremendously impractical and counterproductive. Basically, the impractical part lies in the politically correct tedium of it all, while the counterproductive part lies in the ensuing "You can think whatever you want" clause, with the latter promoting the meme that all ideas are equal.

No two ideas are equal where their qualities or quantities differ in any way whatsoever, and the only apparent reason for why anyone thinks otherwise is because they associate ideas with personal identity and individuality. If no one defined themselves by their ideals or ascribed any emotional significance to the fact that they held those ideals personally, then no one would cast random accusations of superiority complexes whenever someone else felt confident in an idea; in essence, no one would ever feel threatened by new information or in any way consider it a weapon to be wielded in some struggle for social dominance. It's like gift-giving: If everyone were to give gifts out of kindness instead of to display their philanthropy to a social circle, then no one would raise an eyebrow or accuse any gift-giver of ego-boosting.

There is a clear difference between knowing that you're right and seeing the data as pointing in your direction more than in the other directions. Decision-making is a matter of both quality and quantity, and most of the time, the involved quantities cannot be represented by a binary quandary. If my idea is a 7 and yours is a 6, who's to say that there isn't an 8 out there somewhere, awaiting discovery? Even if I'm less wrong than someone else, that doesn't mean that I'm right. Approximation is all that we can do with science -- for now.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Problem-solving reminders

Two of the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to problem-solving are as follows:

1. There would be no need for retroaction if we were an adequately proactive species. Both kinds of action are presently necessary for addressing problems (or symptoms), but preventing a problem before it even begins should obviously take precedence over addressing it as it emerges, over and over again. For example, police are currently necessary for arresting civilly restless people, but if those people were to have been brought up in a more methodical and socially healthy environment (we could expound upon this for quite a bit, but that would require its own post), then there wouldn't be a need for police -- or the need would be greatly reduced, anyway.

2. Even after a problem has emerged, and we are socially obliged to be retroactive about it, we should still focus on the source of the causal chain rather than the continuously generated symptoms, or end products of the chain. For example, no, we can't rewind time and raise hardened criminals correctly, but we can still do something so that more of them don't emerge in the future. This is definitely something that police do not do at all.

There are three approaches to problem-solving, and all are valid, depending on the scenario:

1. Prevent the problem from starting; use your foresight.

2. Once the problem starts, clean up its manifestations everywhere that they appear in as practical a manner as is possible. Don't overdo it, because you might generate more problems by focusing so much on symptoms.

3. Try to stop the problem at its source after it has started.