Experience vs. testimony [was Re: aluminum foil on the walls]

Robert J. Bradbury (bradbury@www.aeiveos.com)
Thu, 16 Sep 1999 01:26:25 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 15 Sep 1999, Spike Jones wrote:

> Modern technologists and even many modern scientists carry
> superstitious religious memes.
> What I find the most disturbing of all is that superstition does not
> seem to be dissipating nearly as quickly as I would have expected
> with the advance of science and technology. Superstition seems
> to be a stubbornly persistent aspect of human nature, one that will
> be carried into the next century.

Ah, Spike, you have voiced **the** fundamental problem we face as extropians. Since one of the major axioms of extropianism is to "value rational thought", the problem lies in discovering exactly *who* is capable of this.

For *most* people, what they consider "rational" is what they "experience" to be true. Gravity makes things go down -- I experience that so it must be true. Electricity or gas makes stoves hot and hot things burn my fingers -- I experience that so it must be true. If I forget to put the brakes on in my car and it runs into another object and makes a big mess, there must be something involved with inertial energy that must be true.

But someplace not to far beyond the above descriptions one runs into the limits of "personal" experience for the average person in the population. After that one enters the realm of newpapers claiming hermaphrodites can fertilize themselves, men can walk on the moon and FBI agents are part of a government conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens (spanning the credibility range from unlikely to likely to possibly).

How do you deal with individuals attempting to invoke rational thought when so much of rational thought depends on the belief of what others have told you? And if you believe what others have told you, you may just as well believe the garbage as the stuff that is really serious.

Rational thought is counter-intuitive. How can you say something that is heavier than air should actually fly?

Eric had it absolutely right in one of his discussions where he argued that you have to rate the raters. If you can get a number of trusted opinions that an opinion is trustable than that can give you high confidence in it. Then you have the problem of getting the average person to trust opinions of people they don't know over people they know.

How do you get the average person on the street to believe something in Science is any more valid than something in the National Enquirer???