What Do You Know?

Dad used to ask me, "What do you know for sure today?" He was not given to joking around, but he always asked that question with a little smile, like it was some kind of secret joke. He didn’t ask the question very often, either, so it always came as a little surprise. At the age of ten, I just hemmed and hawed, and I felt uncomfortable; I didn’t know the answer. As a teen-ager, I believe that I resented the question because I had begun to think about it, and I still couldn’t answer it.

It’s a good question, and a good trick to make a kid think, although I would phrase it differently for an adult. How do you know for sure that what you think you know is true? I have learned that this is not an easy question to answer; I have read maybe a hundred pounds of books out of the ton of literature on this question, and I’ve only come to a handful of "for sure" answers.

Scientists have developed a method for coping with the issue of truth in knowledge. First, somebody observes something in nature that calls for an explanation, like why is the ocean horizon on a clear day curved, not straight? Second, some guesses, hypotheses, are dreamed up, like maybe the Earth is round, maybe the Earth is a flat disk, or maybe somebody’s vision is defective. Third, some kind of test of the hypothesis is devised, like send a ship out there to see if it falls off the edge, or if it comes back with relevant information. Fourth, make more observations of the likely facts to verify the hypothesis, like sail out of sight of land to see if the horizon is curved all around. Fifth, make a simple statement of the truth so that anybody, anywhere, anytime, can verify it, like the Earth is a sphere. That would be knowledge, for sure.

That would also be pretty simple science, for as we learn more, the more we have to learn. One of the big arguments in science began in the Seventeenth Century: is light a wave, or a particle? Folks devised tests to prove it either way, so the argument raged until a bright young man in the Twentieth Century said that light is both, depending on how you test it. This didn’t go down well with the "what my net can’t catch isn’t fish" crowd, and the scientific method itself was called into question, as we have seen in the global warming controversy. How ever the Uncertainty Principle may have undermined confidence in the scientific method in the "softer" sciences, it has enabled physicists to make new discoveries about the nature of the universe we live in, and observational facts still count.

Early success in physics led to the emergence of chemistry from its ancient cocoon of alchemy by using the scientific method. Imitation in biology, and the applied technology of medicine, led to mixed results; Pasteur’s hypothesis tested true, while Darwin’s hypothesis tested plausible, yet remains doubtful. Meanwhile, medicine rests on solid science in some areas, like bacteriology, while it embraces popular fads in treatment based on statistical results of trial and error studies that are too often biased, and even fraudulent. Hypotheses in the subjects of psychology and sociology cannot be tested, so these are not sciences, but only the selective subjective speculations of some individuals about the nature of mankind. Then we arrive at political science, a dreadful oxymoron, and a fraud.

I believe that the scientific method is a valid intellectual tool for discovering the truth as long as the knowledge we’re searching for is not charged with political intent, that is, somebody’s desire to use it to justify their coercion against other people. Politicians don’t use the scientific method, politicians appeal to sentiment to get their way, and they seldom resort to factual evidence to support their arguments. This tactic has been adopted by many special-interest groups as well, both among the elite and the common people; pseudo-science is so politically correct that it is not to be questioned, and students who are drilled in it have no way to discover the truth unless they defect from the group, and think for themselves.

So a President can lead us into global warfare on the basis of no evidence whatever, and get away with it, because people believe what he says is true. But what he says is not true, and there is abundant evidence for that. He’s making it up, he’s fabricating evidence, he’s lying, as they have all been lying to us for decades. Maybe we’re so used to fabrications that we’ve forgotten how to look for the truth. "The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed," said Adolph Hitler. His successors in political crime have learned this lesson well; they are telling us some whoppers these days.

What do you know for sure today?

Thanks, Dad.