[ExI] The Total State

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Tue Jun 3 05:13:48 UTC 2008

Fred writes

> Can I strongly suggest that everyone slow down for a moment
> and make sure that they are not coming conclusions that are not
> supported.

That's easier said than done!  :-)   In reality, of course, there are 
many different levels and extents to which "support" for some
hypothesis or conclusion exists.

But it's even more important to remember that at all times advancement
proceeds evolutionarily, namely, that conjectures stand until refuted.
Ultimately, it doesn't really matter how much justification can be
mustered for an hypothesis or where it came from. What matters
is whether it can be successfully assailed, and brought down by
weight of evidence, quite the familiar axiom of Pan Critical Rationalism.

> Consider that if persons in a lower socioeconomic level are
> incarcerated at a higher rate than those at a different socioeconomic
> level and if a demographic subgroup is disproportionally represented in
> the lower socioeconomic level then members of the subgroup will likely
> be incarcerated at a higher rate [even if they didn't commit more crime].

Very true. But the question immediately arises as to *how* significantly
socioeconomic level by itself impacts incarceration rates---all other things
being equal. And even if it turned out that it seemed to, would that factor
automatically be more privileged than correspondingly well-studied factors
on sensitive issues such as race, gender, or intelligence?

The raw statistics in this case, of course, hardly help anyway since cause
is not clear from effect, e.g., the criminal behavior and being poor could
in some substantial part be caused by a third factor.

> Thus merely looking any single factor alone might lead to unsubstantiated
> conclusions.  Thus the key indicator may not be a particular demographic
> such as race or immigration status; it might be something else.

Right. We can be almost sure that a number of factors will be involved,
not just one, if for no other reason than that simple explanations (pace
extreme bias against them from cultural sources) would have likely already
been agreed upon, with the debate having shifted elsewhere.

> I strongly suggest we all try to maintain high standards in our analysis.

That's a pretty good idea!

And also, we all should also maintain high standards in the care
with which we write our posts; in fact, the more I think about it,
it's pretty sensible to maintain high standards in almost everything,
except for the purely frivolous. We could just have fun!
In which case no effort at all would be needed!  :-)

> One thing I try to do is to see if I have incorporated some idea
> such as racial and ethnic differences uncritically into my analysis
> when other factors may provide a better understanding of the
> issue under consideration.

That is very true. In fact, we should try to avoid uncritically
incorporating *any* suppositions into our analyses. I get the
feeling from the wording of that, however, that perhaps racial
and ethnic differences are explanations to be taken if not as a
last resort, then at least to be appealed to only after more
privileged ones. For example, let's suppose that we were a
group of detectives debating whether or not one of our suspects
were implicated in the crime and someone said,

   "One thing I suggest we do is to see if we have incorporated
   some idea such as DNA testing uncritically into our analysis
   when other factors may provide a better understanding of the
   issue under consideration."

Again, that would be perfectly true. But it would also indicate
a certain a priori skepticism on the part of the speaker towards
DNA testing (which might or might not be warranted depending
on the decade during which the investigation was taking place).
In other words, why exactly did the speaker pick out DNA
testing to use in an otherwise perfectly valid generalization?

We must also always keep well in mind that some kinds of 
explanation hurt people's feelings more than do others. For
example, in the 19th century religious sensibilities were often
deeply offended by conjectures concerning geology and the
age of the Earth.

But in addition to merely hurting people's feelings, it can easily
be the case that were the public to accept certain truths, it could
have demoralizing effects. Conceivably, we could be better off
not knowing certain things.

Thus these two phenomena---our distaste towards hurting
people's feelings and our fear of causing social turmoil
---can easily, even unconsciously, conspire to push certain
kinds of conjecture or explanation out of consideration.
But on a forum such as this, where the truth is the *only*
thing we care about, such squeamishness definitely has to
be put aside.

Therefore we must always endeavor, at least here, to say
exactly what we think could be the truth, regardless of other
considerations, and let the criticism fall where it may. It's not
easy, of course, but throughout history the path of progress
has never been easy---or necessarily comfortable.


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list