I'm going upstairs
January 30, 2019 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Michael Gungor, Mike McHargue, Hillary McBride and William Matthews of The Liturgists Podcast try to answer the question How Do We Know What We Know?
Barry Lam of the podcast Hi-Phi Nation enters the Chamber of Facts to determine how people understand information.
Chris Hayes talks with journalist David Roberts on Why Is This Happening podcast about Assessing America's Information Crisis
DAVID ROBERTS: "And so, they don't believe. And all the evidence flying this way and that, and all the arguments and framing, oh my God, so many discussions of framing, all that stuff just turns out to be more or less useless. "
Is America Facing An Epistemic Crisis - ongoing?

Shane Parrish asks How Do You Know That You Know What You Know?

danah boyd outlines how How Critical Thinking and Media Literacy Efforts Are ‘Backfiring’ Today

cf. Sarah Perry: The Limits Of Epistemic Hygiene and Ritual Epistemology - "
In everyday life, arriving at true beliefs is often less important for a person’s values and goals than behaviors, institutional participation, and rituals."
posted by the man of twists and turns (15 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
eponysterical. or not. can't be sure.
posted by not_on_display at 8:16 PM on January 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Wow, this is great and can't wait to really tear into it as this is a post that requires some time.

I only read the last link but it hit home hard. All I really know with any certainty is that I don't know anything. And the ongoing, often depressing, existential crisis I've struggled with my whole life over how very very little I know has been quite amplified by the ongoing political turmoil over the last few years and the constant, extremely laborious efforts to discover and doublecheck for facts and "truth", and to look for the "complete" picture. I want the evidence, and so often it's conclusions that get presented instead, which I don't want. These efforts and the efforts following them to form/discover my own "opinions" and beliefs regarding those facts have taken an enormous toll on my mental and physical health. And that toll means sometimes, I must grudgingly admit, I do just want to be told what to think by those who do possess the knowledge I so fundamentally lack. Sometimes I just want to believe the meme, hahahaha! But I so distrust my own perceptions at times due to my lack of knowledge, and feel so hampered by how the little knowledge I possess affects my constructs, that I often and frequently alienate myself from any kind of trust - from finding to forming - in what Perry calls the "social exploitation" of others' knowledge. Yet not knowing anything means I want to devour as much knowledge as I can, which then often leads back to questioning what I don't know, and the nagging feeling there's more evidence, more knowledge to be discovered. . . Sometimes it's alright and works out. Sometimes, though, what I think of as the "little sine wave of doubt" sets in and the questioning and persistent feelings of complete ignorance begin to amplify those little waves until I'm drowning. The cycle can be vicious and maddening, even more so because obviously at the same time I'm doing this I'm acutely aware that I can never learn everything about the whole world and of course I need to trust in those do know something about their particular corner. But it then will circle back to how do I know?

Ugh. Yet as frustrating as it can be at times, it doesn't compare to how it feels watching those like my parents and the rest of the right pretty much en masse without a single moment of questioning swallow their daily ration of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News et al. - watching that happen in real time creates such a feeling of wrongness and bewilderment that it's almost physically intolerable. Part of that feeling is the strong desire to combat it, if that's possible, but how? And does it need combating? Could it burn itself out? etc. Again, things I don't know - but I know in in my bones that the situation is terrifying, a conclusion that didn't come easily (for me, because of that restless want of evidence I can be slow!) but has arrived with almost as much certainty as the knowledge that I don't know anything.

So thank you very much for this interesting looking deep dive - maybe there's some answers in here - or at least interesting ideas to think about, and even if the ideas are not good news, ideas themselves can be a relief because they lead the way towards the big picture (one hopes).
posted by barchan at 10:10 PM on January 30, 2019 [9 favorites]

I am fascinated by this topic, write on and through the subject and am deeply thankful for your work. I also feel exhausted just thinking about reading this stuff, before I've started, and that's kind of the problem, isn't it?
posted by msalt at 11:54 PM on January 30, 2019

Worthy subject for discussion but Chris Hayes comes across as very pompous.
posted by Narrative_Historian at 1:00 AM on January 31, 2019

As a devout agnostic regarding knowledge, there are only a few things I claim to believe with certainty, and those things are regarding my absolute belief in a the existence unalienable shared human values which I assert we all have to accept for ourselves and others to live in this world. I hold those beliefs as truth because they arise from the acceptance of uncertainty regarding all else and how knowledge is contingent. If that's true for me, then it follows I have to accept the that's true for others as well and allow them the same dignity of life I'd ask for myself. It's only in the denial of the knowledge, rights, and life, the assertion that "I" know the one true answer and "others" are lesser, that I will hold as unquestionably wrong. What I hold for me, must be held for others as well up to the point they seek to deny me what they hold for themselves.

The rest I hold as likelihoods, some very strong, some weak, but none definitive. Because of that I don't take claims on face value alone and try to keep from coming to decisions until necessary, then making the best choices I can with the information I have, accepting I still may be wrong. I accept trust and inference are what I rely on in forming my decisions. I base decisions on trust on my own observations of the world and human behavior, including my own. I assess claims through inference of the claims themselves and how likely it would be for those making the claims to be putting forth falsehoods either for gain or out of failure, and look for alternative possibilities to the claims that may better explain the assertion. I accept as likely that where the amount of distrust required is too great and/or the alternatives too weak to provide a better option than tentative acceptance.

Knowledge is tentative, open to revision when new information presents itself. Uncertainty is the default state one must learn to embrace and take to heart. Were that belief shared widely, we'd have to face each other and the world more openly and accept questioning and the limits of our individual experience and perception with more goodwill.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:20 AM on January 31, 2019

From a famous Bruno Latour article, Why has Critique Run out of Steam, which has become prophetic:
In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact—as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past—but from an excessive
distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we now have to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices? And yet entire Ph.D. programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always prisoners of language, that we always speak from a particular standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives. Was I wrong to participate in the invention of this field known as science studies? Is it enough to say that we did not really mean what we said? Why does it burn my tongue to say that global warming is a fact whether you like it or not? Why can’t I simply say that the argument is closed for good?
posted by 3zra at 3:06 AM on January 31, 2019 [7 favorites]

I have been waiting for an NFL football "What is a catch?" thread for about 2 years now. Here it is at last!
posted by srboisvert at 4:57 AM on January 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Is America Facing An Epistemic Crisis?

How would I know?
posted by Segundus at 5:54 AM on January 31, 2019 [11 favorites]

related FPPs above and below :P
posted by kliuless at 5:57 AM on January 31, 2019

The Latour article is great, as is the longer-form We Have Never Been Modern, which explores similar themes in more depth. Harootunian's History's Disquiet also gets into similar themes.

Chris Hayes (like Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias, IMO) is part of the fucking problem he is trying to expound on.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:06 AM on January 31, 2019

title is from anotherpanacea's blogpost Ideology and Self-Sealing Arguments, quoting Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Robert Fogelin: "Here self-sealing is achieved through an ad hominem fallacy. We might call this self-sealing *by going upstairs*, because the theorist is looking down on the critic."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:12 AM on January 31, 2019

We need to teach radical skepticism in elementary school, so that when someone trots it out in the real world to say "who knows anything anyhow?" people immediately remember that time, rather than imagining that this is a mature philosophical response to the limitations on the knowledge of truth by someone who will face consequences should the truth turn out to be inconveniently knowable.

Maybe even cstross's combat epistemologists for tougher cases...
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:06 AM on January 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

radical skepticism

Descartes introduces the idea in his Meditations: “Surely whatever I had admitted until now as most true I received either from the senses or through the senses. However, I have noticed that the senses are sometimes deceptive; and it is a mark of prudence never to place our complete trust in those who have deceived us even once.”

If Descartes were consistent, he would have had to go on to consider that, at some time, arguments that seemed to him to be valid turned out to have hidden flaws, and that ideas that seemed "clear and distinct" turned out to be problematic (unclear or indistinct, I suppose). Therefore, by analogy with the argument he makes for discarding knowledge from the senses, he'd have to discard philosophical reasoning as well, in his search for indubitably certain knowledge. This of course reduces the whole project of the Meditations to absurdity.
posted by thelonius at 11:26 AM on January 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

Nicely put. Here’s a thought that I am not sure about but here goes (just spitballin’): doubt is precisely what makes us human, and what makes humans wise (sometimes).

Extension: what makes dogs endearing is that their evident confusion looks like doubt.
posted by msalt at 12:13 AM on February 1, 2019

doubt is precisely what makes us human, and what makes humans wise (sometimes)

and so begins the dragon's path! :P
posted by kliuless at 1:23 PM on February 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

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