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Entry 1107, on 2009-10-28 at 12:02:21 (Rating 3, Skepticism)
Everyone has philosophical perspectives or a worldview whether they explicitly understand that or not. Many people seem so apathetic that its hard to label them with a worldview at all but maybe apathy itself could be considered as one. So what I plan to do here is explore my philosophy or worldview (which I don't necessarily know myself at this point but hope to discover as this blog entry proceeds).
First I am a rationalist. According to Wikipedia rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification", or a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive". Many people who aren't rational will claim to be (I've heard people claim that belief in creationism is rational) so it really requires an objective, rational (getting a bit circular there) assessment to know for sure.
I'm also an empiricist, specifically a scientific empiricist. From Wikipedia again we get this definition: empiricism emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. This seems to partly contradict rationalism but let's not go there!
So I don't rate ideas very highly unless there is objective evidence they are true. Some people claim I miss out on some subtle aspects of reality this way but I counter that by saying if a phenomenon is so subtle it has no measurable effect on the real universe then it actually don't exist in any real sense.
The world views above naturally lead to atheism but that is a label I avoid because its more about what I'm not than what I am. I currently see no reason to think there is a god but so what? I am prepared to change that idea if the evidence changes and I also see no evidence for the tooth fairy existing. Should I also be labelled an afairiest?
I am also a political liberal. Liberalism, according to the dictionary is being "open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values" or "favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform". I don't know how useful that definition is because many conservatives and libertarians would also say they support those views but I oppose a lot of what they believe.
I heard an interesting anecdote about liberals in a recent podcast. A radio producer was being challenged about why he used so many conservatives as talkback hosts. The explanation was that conservatives are better for the job because they have more fixed views and are more likely to cause controversy because of that. By contrast liberals make an effort to consider all sides of the story so they are more likely to have at least partial agreement with others and reduce the conflict and therefore the entertainment value of the program. Of course that higher entertainment value comes at the expense of fairness and accuracy!
Maybe most importantly I am a skeptic. That word has several possible nuances in its meaning. I don't mean the philosophical skepticism which denies the possibility of all knowledge or the popular meaning of someone who doubts the validity of everything, what I really mean is thinking about the validity of new information or ideas instead of just accepting them. For example I never believe anything I see in the media until I have a chance to verify it on the internet or another independent source.
That doesn't mean I ignore everything in the media. If the sports news reports that a sports team won a game I accept that because its easy to validate and unlikely to be controversial. If the media reports a UFO was sited I will definitely want to do a bit of research to find out what other perspectives are available on the story, and in every case so far there has been another perspective which inevitably involves a prosaic explanation. But that might not always be the case which is why I research the story instead of just discarding it.
The difficulty with skepticism is not so use it as an excuse for disbelief. A friend I recently debated global warming with (he's a denier) refused to answer the question I asked which was "why did a recent study show 97% of climate experts accept global warming is real and caused by human activity". He eventually dispensed with this inconvenient fact by saying "I'm deeply suspicious of all statistics that quote wide numbers of opinions as being in concert to the tune of 97%. It's truly most unlikely".
That's not skepticism, its just pure, blind stupidity. I would be prepared to put a small bet on this: I he received a survey indicating 97% of experts supported something he believed in he would suddenly find that statistic quite persuasive!
So skepticism is great but it must be used fairly and evenly. None of the climate change "skeptics" I have met ever qualify as true skeptics, for example, because they are far too selective about how they apply their skepticism. Unless you are fully skeptical (including poorly supported scientific findings) you really shouldn't use the tag "skeptic". I use "denier" in this case instead. They love that!
Which brings me to my last label. I'm sarcastic and a bit of a smart-ass! Yes, this isn't a formal worldview but I enjoy using humour to make a point and sarcasm to highlight the inconsistencies in other people's opinions. Unfortunately that sometimes means I aren't quite as objective, respectful, or careful as I should be but, no one's perfect and you've got to have a bit of fun some times!
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