Thursday, September 30, 2021

Re: Empiricism is Silly as an Epistemic Basis, by APXHARD

18 March 2022: fixed a broken link.

Here is another in my series of comments I decided not to leave on people's blogs, and instead wrote here as blog posts (see also Hero's Journey vs. Absurdism vs. Ancient Judaism). The post I would have replied to in this case is APXHARD's Empiricism is Silly as an Epistemic Basis.

I didn't post this one because it was too long (I thought) and also a little bit off-topic. But mainly too long.


I like empiricism when it implies things like "everything that exists is consciousness because that's all we experience" and is broadened to include noetic perception (things we perceive by believing that they exist or are true, like memories or concepts) as well as sensory perception, since that's part of what we actually experience. The consequence of holding to this kind of empiricism (in my understanding of it) is an openness to something like Platonism (I can "noetically see" democracy or algebra for instance, just as I can "sensorily see" my laptop as I type this). From this point of view, empiricism is a good epistemological stance because experience is all there is to know.

But the version of empiricism you are talking about involves something like verification. Public, based in sense perception and not shared noetic perception.

At some level, experimentation and perception merge. If I want to "test" that the word "that" is written in this comment box as I type, I just look and it's there. I'm not sure that there's a more rigorous way to test that, and if there is, the basic component parts of that test have to be taken as "bedrock" at some point, have to just be perceived to be true. In that sense, we empirically prove 2 + 2 = 4, just by seeing it to be true, just like we empirically prove any of the tenets of logic, or anything that really follows from deductive reasoning. We test that 2 + 2 equals 4 to us, and very consistently it does.

(Perception can be valid even if uncorroborated.)

I think that there may be such a thing as materialism bias, which gets us to prefer to see the physical world "out there" and ignore the things we see which are not "out there", but rather "in our heads". But really it's all perception, and there's a kind of continuity and unity to what can be known.

Having said that, some perceptions are more trustworthy than others, and materialism bias protects us from taking seriously some untrustworthy perceptions. I think our culture (parts of it) decided a long time ago to not listen to certain possibilities. Maybe if you don't believe in ghosts, they don't haunt you (whether that really means there are no ghosts or not, you don't know and perhaps don't care).

If you don't trust at all, you die. A definition I like for trust is "receptivity to enhancement". If you're not receptive at all, you don't breathe or see the world as a place to find food. Without constraints like death (or experiences as bad as death), we would be free to be as free in believing as we want, and as strict as we want. But there's a kind of deep reality that says "To have life, you need to not believe everything, and also, you have to trust something to have life."

I like looking at things through the lens of "everything is uncertain, so what do we do practically? How do we choose to see the world, given that uncertainty gives us degrees of freedom?" We choose "practical epistemologies" to help us make decisions. The one I like best is one of love / altruism, which says "believe in the world to the extent that, just in case it does exist, you do help the people / sentient beings it represents to you."

If it matters whether you regard something as trustworthy or not (in order to avoid harm or seek enhancement), enhancement (and harm) matter. Harm and enhancement occurring to others matter no more or less than such happening to you. So harm-minimization (or the maximization of some essential enhancement) then shapes how I see reality, how seriously I take skepticism, and how freely I believe things. There's some real risk to being too skeptical or closing off some aspect of reality, as well as a risk of being too credulous or letting ideas (or worse, other beings) take over my mind.

The endpoint for me, of these kinds of thoughts, is not materialist or physicalist. I believe in God both because there is a certain amount of evidence (following from, for instance, the idea that everything is consciousness), and because the consequences of not believing could include harm for God or for other beings whose well-being is affected by the fact (or, speaking uncertainly, the live possibility) that God exists. I "practically believe" (through practical epistemology) that God exists, closing the gap between the evidence and whatever level of certainty is needed to live. This could be labeled "faith", but it's one that has the tonality of responsibility. It follows from being responsible for the world, rather than from letting go of responsibility for the world, or wanting to feel good in a practical, egoistic way.

I think empiricism is the only possible epistemic basis, but not the definition of "empiricism" you were talking about. (Everything we know about comes through our perceptions, and even our theories or deductions about reality we only know through noetic perception -- they are instruments for noetically perceiving the realities they talk about.) I think holding truth to a standard matters, but not divorced from how effective we are in helping.

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