There Is No Truth In The ‘Real World’

The model of the world that I believe is most useful is that of many interacting entities of different capabilities, interests and views.  There is a physics-chemistry subsystem that we can model reasonably well with mathematics, but above that the accumulated complexity in the system means that no Y effect only has one X ’cause’ and no X cause has only one Y effect that it causes.

In a world of partially-caused effects, we can only have partially True statements of the kind “In this situation, X was a cause of Y’.  But even that is far too strong a statement, not supported in either the logic of multi-cause-effect systems nor in real life.  In both of those, we can never know we have identified all of the possible causes, much less all of the possible interactions.  If you have not identified all possible causes of a Y effect, you cannot say X caused Y, only that X covaries with Y. “X covaries with Y” is a truth, but not especially predictive of a system-level solution to a question such as ‘what is an efficient way of controlling the value of inflation as measured by the CPI’.

Thus, just because X appeared to cause Y in 1000 previous cases, unless you have an independent cause and effect chain of evidence and logic to support the statement, you still can’t be sure. And medicine and every field of science have many, many examples of chains of evidence and logic that strongly supported a position, yet turned out to be wrong because of an un-discovered relationship.  It is a standard way to go wrong, and there is no way to protect yourself from the error except being super-skeptical.  There is a cost to that, of course, so understand that skepticism is an insurance policy, it is foolish to be under-insured.

The universal advice of the expert is “It all depends, you have to think long and hard for every problem, even easy ones can cause huge failures”.

You cannot possibly measure all of the inputs to an event.  You cannot possibly measure all of the first, second, third, … -order events that result.  You cannot possibly compare the many facets of any current situation to prior situations in sufficient detail to do more than inform you of some possible outcomes, but you can have no assurance that any of the actions that ‘worked’ in the prior will work in this one.  In fact, they often end up working perversely.

Think a moment, let that sink in : you can never know you are right, and a priori will likely be far more wrong and in more unexpected ways than you can ever be right.  Indeed, that is not the normal outcome, but that outcome for that reason costs investors and insurance companies a lot of $ every year.

That is abstractly correct, which abstractness is what we are saying we can reason about only poorly.  Indeed, most of the time, in the small scale of our lives, we can depend on X to preceed Y and Y to proceed reliably from X. Put seeds in the proper soil and water properly and plants grow and crops result, reliably enough that civilization can grow.  Attention to those small-scale questions eventually produced a growth rate that got us to the next levels where they could consider bigger problems, despite the many crop failures that no one saw coming.  Societies know how to deal with those, or they didn’t last.

Big BUT : that  has not worked at all reliably for affairs above the local and concrete.  As soon as the problems get even a little abstract, like ‘how to encourage families to have more children’, we are using concepts like ‘family’, which is built into our genome and yet also is very fluid and changes continuously despite having deep cultural roots that influence every possible ‘something’ that you might do to reach the goal of more children per family.  Worse, it seems to me that the errors accumulate as the abstractions cascade.  Economic policy has drifted further from reality than family policy.

Thus, every statement about what should be done, or what the future holds, is a mere hypothesis.  Hypotheses exist to be carefully checked, not believed.

I harp on ‘what is reality and how can we know it’, and ‘what are the limitations of our thinking’ because so much of the world’s thinking is misleading, and I think much of it intentionally so.  All evil, it seems to me, begins with someone believing something without evidence or logic.

Civilization cannot be based on belief, it must base itself on continuous careful checks against reality.  Too much of our society is not doing that, does not know that needs to be done.  “What are your measures and why?” is always the measure of real progress.

Later, this is a an example.  I remind you that examples of nearly everything are easy to find, so don’t be too impressed.  Especially when that is such a small subset of the overall failure of public education, for which there is no positive evidence at all, it is uniformly the worse for the very people it is claimed to be most important for, the poor and minority.  Only Progressives, Left and Right, believe it to be sufficient, as shown by the consistent course and trends over the years.

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