In my quest for knowledge, I seek true beliefs and strive to hold only true beliefs. I work to integrate my beliefs into a single consistent and interconnected network of reliable information. I know how I know because I consistently apply the following principles to evaluate new information and reevaluate existing beliefs.
Reality exists and is coherent. The existence of a single, unified reality entails the principle of consilience whereby evidence from independent, unrelated sources can converge on strong conclusions.
Knowledge pertains to matters of fact. Ideas, statements, claims, or beliefs may contain matters of fact, opinions, or controversy. They may also be stories, poems, jokes, riddles, rhetoric, paradoxes, allegories, myths, songs, other art forms, dreams, recollections, hopes, hallucinations, nonsense, or fantasies. These guidelines for knowing pertain only to matters of fact or claims of fact.
Direct experience is compelling, useful, and often tricky. Direct experience is more reliable if it is repeated often rather than rare or unique. My beliefs that fire feels hot, ice feels cold; apples fall and smoke rises; the sun appears each morning and disappears each evening; rocks are hard and heavy, and pillows are soft and light originate from my many direct experiences with these. We can be easily misled by relying on interpretations rather than objective observations. It can be difficult for us to see beyond illusions. Perceptions are personal, and it is an error to generalize perceptions beyond your direct observations. Reality precedes perception and reality exists independent of our perceptions. Although reality precedes perception, each of us is easily captivated by the vividness of our own perceptions.
Thinking scientifically provides the most reliable methods for evaluating matters of fact. This entails valuing:
- Evidence over ideology;
- Relevant expertise over authority;
- reliable sources over unreliable sources;
- replicated, reproducible, systematic, and representative observations over anecdotes;
- conclusions supported by consilience over anecdotes;
- sound arguments over specious arguments, motivated reasoning, and fallacies;
- sound arguments over exercises of power, appeals to loyalty, friendly persuasion, coercion, or public opinion;
- a global perspective over a narrow scope;
- intellectual honesty over rhetoric and drama, and
- facts that correspond to reality over stories that are merely coherent narratives.
Understanding what there is establishes strong likelihoods for what there is not. Absence of evidence after a rigorous search provides evidence of absence. It is unlikely the Loch Ness Monster exists.
Because each of us is subject to many cognitive biases, we have an obligation to seek falsification rather than confirmation, especially of beliefs we find comfortable. As difficult as it often is, critical thinking must prevail over wishful thinking.
Although I am conscientious in seeking true beliefs, I strive for humility. I recognize that I am largely ignorant, most knowledge is unknown to me, there are many unanswered questions, unsolved problems, and conjectures; research is ongoing, and many controversies are honestly debated. I do my best to suspend judgement and describe the nature of my uncertainty before offering an opinion on unsettled issues. When I don’t know the answer to a question, I say I don’t know rather than tell a story.
Beliefs that are more important generally deserve more rigorous verification than trivial, irrelevant, or unimportant beliefs.
I review and refine these methods as I gain experience in using them.
This is my theory of knowledge. This is how I choose my beliefs.