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Science, truth and rationality

We have the capacity for logical thinking, and if it is to be useful to us, it has to be fed by facts, but how do we get those?

This article was prompted by the Spirituality: The Enemy of Veganism YouTube by Earthling Ed/Ed Winters. While ostensibly a criticism of ex-vegans using spirituality as an excuse to give up, this was a highly emotive rant rating spirituality as anti-science and pseudoscience, rather than just pointing out that those ex-vegans might be rationalising their new stance as some spiritual awakening to justify their change of mind about wanting to eat animal products again. Ed went on to embark upon a major diatribe about how science was the only objective and rational stance upon which veganism can truly be based. But is so-called science really that absolute?[1]

For most of human history, we have relied upon our senses showing us what we consider truth. That generally works for physical forms, or at least what we can perceive of them. Things get fuzzier when we start to ponder upon what we can't directly perceive with our senses because we largely get into the realm of opinion and consensus, which is not truth but conjecture. However, if we ponder upon subjects long enough, we can come to a consensus that seems likely to be the truth, and that is mainly because we can make predictions from that that do predictably produce consistent outcomes.

The ultimate expression of this process of observation, contemplation, discussion, evaluation and consensus is called the scientific method, with the body of the resulting conclusions called science. However, while it might indicate truth, it is not truth per se, but a representation of it. We think we know the truth, but all we have done is make a lot of assumptions about something that our senses can never know directly. That this generally helps us to work in the world with some certainty is extremely useful and constructive, but it is still us thinking we know.

While there is a huge body of knowledge accumulated over time, any one person is generally likely to be familiar with very little of it, but they will know much more about what they deal with daily, which is what they intimately rely upon. When people talk about science, it is not a solid lump of truth, but an amorphous mass of data that may be true but has gained validity as a public reference because many have assumed it to be true.

We exist in a haze of wishful thinking about most of the technology we use because we assume that those who tell us about it know the truth. Most of our lives are lived in profound ignorance of that huge body of knowledge, yet we assume it is all true. This is not unlike most Christians, who profess to believe that the Bible is all true, yet have not read it all, or even much of it. This is trust and not truth.

And this applies to what we may believe about veganism, as while we may profess to be basing our choices on that massive personally unknown we call science, we are probably only using a simple premise, like not causing suffering to animals, as the main reason. This is entirely reasonable, especially since it reduces the whole issue to a concept simple enough to not have to continuously scan evidence to make sure we are actually basing our choices on the latest scientific consensus. Science per se is too big to know, so we are fooling ourselves if we think we can really be rational with it.

We can only be rational with what we actually have had experience with, and try to live our lives in accordance with what we have deduced is important from that experience. That experience may include studying what others have researched, but then we have to acknowledge that the process by which they gained their knowledge may be flawed, so making it not entirely truthful in an absolute sense, but probabilities. We have to live with that and trust that our decisions lead us to the outcomes we want.

Probably the only thing we can be sure about is that science is a massive bunch of probabilities against which we have to stack up against our own experience, which is another bunch of probabilities. This makes trusting absolutely in so-called science something to have some healthy skepticism about, and seeing that when people are making appeals to science as something true and infallible, they are making an appeal to false authority. We should take into account the opinion of others who have studied what we don't know about, but that is different from blind acceptance of what they say.

We live in a sea of uncertainty, but use what we make sense of it to make decisions about our future actions. As we apply our own version of the scientific method, we come to build certainty about ourselves and the world around us. That is us trying to merge the subjective with the objective in a working synergy. Thinking we are being perfectly rational and objective is a delusion, and trying to hold others to that is grossly unfair and unrealistic.

We are all in a living experiment, and the reasons we tell ourselves or others for our actions will likely involve a significant amount of rationalising. Accept reality and be easy on ourselves and others, as then we will have a chance to make a world that will work for all of us.

  • β€’Scientology – the billion-year contract
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  • β€’Masking identity
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