Re: Rationality, Miracles and ETI
Tue, 2 Nov 1999 15:52:40 -0800

Dan Fabulich, <>, writes:
> On account of this, there can be more than one true explanation of
> phenomena, because both are equally rationally acceptable. More relevant
> to this conversation, however, is this: if a given claim would NOT be
> rationally acceptable under ideal epistemic conditions, then the claim is
> false. The important result here is in Eliezer's claim above, that even
> if the Matrix Hypothesis were somehow "proven," he'd still use human
> legend rather than intervention to explain/predict. (Me, too!) In
> Putnam's terminology, Eliezer would NOT rationally accept a Matrix
> Hypothesis, even under ideal epistemic conditions. Therefore, since truth
> just IS rational acceptability under ideal epistemic conditions, the claim
> is false, full stop.

It doesn't seem to me that this reasoning leads to the right answer, though:

Someone comes to me and tells me a story of a woman floating in the air, brilliant lights shining all around her. I am very skeptical about this and tend to believe it is not a true story. Then I learn that the woman was on a stage, and standing beside her was a magician waving his wand. Now the story becomes much more plausible, because now I can see that there are technological means which would accomplish what earlier sounded like something which would defy the laws of physics.

In the Matrix, if someone tells me that they say a person leap 50 feet through the air, I would be inclined not to believe him, if I thought the world was "real". But if the Matrix Hypothesis were proven, I would change my view and I would say that this is a very real possibility. Such things are possible in the Matrix, but not in the real world.

In each case, I gain knowledge which turns the event from an effective impossibility into something which is technologically possible. This forces me to re-evaluate the probability of whether it occured.

A priori, if I hear that Jesus healed cripples with a touch or walked on water, I find this to be virtually impossible to believe. However, if I come to believe that aliens were present on the earth at the time who had the technology to accomplish this, it forces me to give a much higher degree of credibility to the story. It is no longer impossible, it no longer defies the laws of nature.

I don't understand this notion of "ideal epistemic conditions", but it seems to me that accepting the presence of super-advanced technology forces us to give credibility to otherwise impossible tales.