Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Uncertainty is not an argument for the status quo

The cognitive errors that lets some take demonstrations of uncertainty and confuse them for arguments for continuing the status quo:

(For the following, substitute for "plausible" the phrase "developed/confirmed to such a degree that it is perverse to withhold provisional assent")

1) To inform a rational choice of actions, plausible full narratives compete solely with other plausible full narratives. If I open a door, and in the bright light of the room see a breathing tiger across the room, it is rational to step back out of the room and close the door. Any demonstration of uncertainty of my ability to tell a living tiger from a amusement park animatronic tiger is not an argument to stand motionless at the open threshold. The demonstration of uncertainty can be used to choose between plausible full narratives by discounting some narratives, but it (the demonstration of uncertainty) doesn't have the power to construct a plausible full narrative in opposition to the one under consideration, much less make the opposite of the considered action rationally attractive.

2) Rational action and rational inaction are both born of rational choice. By changing the language, changing the viewpoint, changing the scope, we can phrase action in terms of inaction, and inaction in terms of action. So what is temporally/culturally/situationally described as an action/intervention is under no extra burden of rational justification than what is likewise described as inaction/absence-of-intervention, and inaction does not have a lesser burden of rational justification than action. (Imagine that the decision to burn fossil fuels is remade on the 1st of each year, for example, with a corresponding decision of how much. So burning fossil fuels in the new year is the intervention, and we wish study if that intervention is rational.)

3) Demonstratively persuading plausible full narratives are not in competition with a swarm of idiosyncratic narratives that are each in contradiction with all others of the swarm. The contradictions inside the swarm renders the whole swarm repellent to the rational. From the swarm should emerge a small number of demonstratively persuading plausible full narratives, first, to challenge the mainstream narrative, second. Or else it is more likely the idiosyncratic narratives are just a symptom of the opposition to the mainstream being handicapped by debilitatingly idiosyncratic minds, incapable of meaningful rational persuasion.

Consider the inability to construct a plausible full narrative for a wide conspiracy to assassinate JFK from those who find fault with details of the many investigators that agree that Oswald was the sole gunman. Consider the inability to construct a plausible full narrative for a wide conspiracy throughout the US government to bring down the Twin Towers by controlled demolition from those who find fault with the details of the many investigators. Consider their pathetic nature. Likewise, note that those who would dispose of the mainstream narrative about carbon emissions and climate disruption and ocean acidification shirk from the burden of supplying an persuading plausible full narrative in opposition. How quickly they rush to use the art of controversy! Is it because they have no alternative?

Inspired by comments to the blog posting...

Only In It For The Gold: There Are Skeptics and Then There Are Skeptics

People who do not support vigorous policy can only be skeptics if they offer very high certainty that the science is biased to overstate the risks. Nobody does this very successfully. Some pretend to do this; at least their position is coherent, if not very well supported.
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