On Superstition

Superstition

Typically, when people talk of Superstition, they mean the pejorative sense of the word: Religious or supernatural belief or some other form of violation of Occam’s razor. The Online etymology dictionary says the following:

noun of action from past participle stem of superstare “stand on or over; survive,” from super “above” (see super-) + stare “to stand,” from PIE root *stā- “to stand” (see stet).

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=superstition

If you take the dictionary definition however, it tells a story that leaves no different outcome:

Excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the supernatural.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/superstition

In reality, I would suggest the following hypothesis:

Superstition ought not only to define irrational belief in the supernatural, but any belief that is unsupported by reason. Moreover, in my theory of knowledge, superstition takes the form of any irrational conclusion born off a lack of understanding (willful or other) that leads one to an extreme reaction or conclusion. The condition should always be a form of absolutism, that despite claims to the contrary, is immovable.

Hatred is a key component for Superstition to be realized fully, as superstition left alone is never truly harmful, but when it spreads to others, it becomes like an infection, of which hatred is the primary symptom. Most contagious of sicknesses, hatred afflicts both the wise and the unwise; the dumb and the smart, the rational and the passionate, the religious and the irreligious.

It is an inescapable emotion that humans feel primarily when their core beliefs are threatened. A belief that cannot be shaken nor disturbed is a belief that is poorly justified. If Socrates was capable of ignoring those who said ill of him, to the point of willingly sipping the hemlock with hardly a battle, beyond the historic (but disputed) debate that was his judicial hearing, it seems possible that a belief may be so profound that it need not be questioned or justified.

If something is objectively defined, it need not be supported further than it already is. When I spoke of Rousseau and his take on the “dangerous pyrrhonism” that came with the enlightenment and scientism (which began in part with Saint-Simon).

https://www.jstor.org/stable/139396?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Skepticism as a weapon

The reason why I claim this to be a “dangerous pyrrhonism” is that any form of extremism is dangerous. Whether it be radical positivism (the likes of which Scientism is) or radical islamism (as an exemple), the dangers of lingering too long in either extreme results in social and cultural rammifications that cause more trouble than they fix. For example, you could imagine that should scientism be the ultimate source of knowledge, everyone would have embraced it, and it would be self-evident, like gravity is self-evident to any human being (not infected with the flat earth theory).

When for example, one uses a false compromise to settle a dispute that they feel is going nowhere, one’s critical view is as follows:

A and Z are propositions.

Both propositions are part of an extreme in a spectrum of propositions.

Propositions that are unable to resolve their differences should meet in the centermost point to fix the problem.

A and Z are unable to resolve their differences.

Therefore, the solution resides in or around the proposition N.

The problem with such an argument is it presumes that when two sides of a story are unable to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion, one must take bits and pieces of either propositions to resolve them. That is what can be called a “false compromise” or a “ballance fallacy”.

Note that I do not think this means whoever thinks this way is wrong, but that it is not a rule of logic that SHOULD apply to every single argument that is found. For example, if you were to witness a woman being abused, and you asked the question:

  • “Why are you beating her?”

And the abusive spouse responded:

  • “Because I was cheated on!”

And then you asked the woman and she responded:

  • “He doesn’t care about me!”

Would we be capable of reasonably arguing that this woman should find a middle with which to both make her husband happy and herself as well?

You could certainly posit that this needs to be done, but abuse is a criminal offense, so no matter what this man might say to defend beating his wife, he should be charged for battery. This is a false compromise. When faced with a dilemma, our option is generally to choose one or the other. In divorce, there is an agreed settlement that provides a certain amount of goods to one party and a certain amount to the other. The middle-man here is the judge that carries out the sentence, and this person is clearly identified with the power to decide what is best for both sides.

That is why the ballance fallacy is only a fallacy in figurative terms, as it may very well apply in different situations.  A justice system is built upon the principle that both parties in an exchange should have equal outcome. In the case of a murder, for example, the judge cannot simply order the murderer to prison for life. They must level with the victim and the defendant, to see what sort of settlement or sentence can be carried out, to the satisfaction of both party.

It happens, not always, that in the case of certain types of murders, the murderer is given a rather minimal sentence due to “mitigating” circumstances or evidence. A judge therefore is a necessary middle-man that may still prove to be flat out wrong with their judgement, but is necessary.

When Scientism appears in such a debate, it cuts off the middle-man in this way:

Propositions that are unable to support themselves with provable evidence should be disregarded.

Proposition A and Z are tidally locked.

A is supported by scientific evidence, Z is not.

Z should be discarded.

The problem with such a hypothesis however, can be pointed similarly here:

Propositions that are unable to support themselves with provable evidence should be disregarded.

Proposiation A and Z are tidally locked.

A and Z are both supported by scientific evidence.

Both positions are valid.

Now, if A and Z are extremes in the same spectrum of belief, as in Scientism and Religion, and some scientific evidence exists for Religion and some scientific evidence provides weight to Scientism, how can we disregard either position? The problem is not in whether the evidence for either position is worthy of note, but rather in the hypothesis itself.

Propositions that are unable to support themselves with provable evidence should be disregarded.

This very notion is at the core of Scientistic belief. The problem I have with this, on an epistemological level is that “evidence” is up to interpretation, even in the field of hard sciences. You require rigorously trained minds to properly interpret the information in those fields, and they make or break a paper, for certain. It is however erroneous to presume that such a methodology can apply to everything or that once one acquires a scientific study that supports one’s views, then the opposition has been defeated.

Scientism and Superstitious Beliefs

On the contrary, what makes and breaks scientific discovery is the replication of data and experiments. Some experiments cannot be replicated, such as in Political Science, where history provides the only means of which we can base our theories, as well as polls and surveys. If you went out of your way to reproduce the exact same results as another study in any social science, you would be attempting to perform a biased study. It would defeat the very purpose.

The aim should not be to try to prove something but rather to investigate the data inductively, and then make a theory based on that data, deductively. It must be stressed that one of the very powerful preservatives of superstition and thus hatred, is our ability to interpret things at will, to fit our own bias. Scientists being humans, can fall to this bias either through excessively following models of scientific research or by simply disregarding any data that does not agree with this bias.

Once again, a confirmation bias is not bad, on its own. If for example, it is proven that proposition A is always true, inductively, it makes sense to follow along with it. It does not serve any purpose to question that belief every time we make new assumptions. Would you, for example, expect steak to taste like steak today and then like candy the next? It could happen, but you wouldn’t be irrational to believe that the steak would taste like steak.

When confirmation bias is coupled with superstitious belief (i.e. a belief that is born off of incomplete data and misinterpretation of facts), it can become harmful. You can probably understand here that evidence alone is not enough: You MUST have the capacity to understand these facts. Even if you were to paraphrase an authority on the subject, if you cannot make sense of that authority’s statement, and instead misinterpret what they are saying AS fact or as demonstration of falsehood, you become an infected element of Hatred.

Simply for having misunderstood something? No, but for having taken your misunderstanding as a rigorous interpretation of facts given to you, yes. It is unfortunate, but not everyone can understand the highest level of any alma matter quickly. We would like to believe ourselves capable of such, but the fact of the matter is, this isn’t our fault necessarily.

When we begin to think about complex matters, our brain takes one of two routes. There’s the easy shortcut, that permits us to use our supposed powerful analytical skills, and then there’s the more difficult route that allows us to access the higher levels of understanding we aspire to.

The first part, you’ll have guessed, is the confirmation bias. The second part is the one that is contrary to our nature as animals. Our brains are wired for survival, and thus any form of thought that takes longer than we’d like it to, forces us into looking for that easy way out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZ50yy65e3U

I suggest watching the video above for more on this.

So, for example, when our views are challenged, the prospect of being wrong goes into a sort of “troubleshooting” filter. We start by wondering if this is a known issue that has already been resolved in our minds before. If it has, we find that last conclusion which worked and apply it to the situation.

If the situation is not yet known and we’ve never heard this point of view before, our first reaction will then be to see if any known solutions apply to it. Pending the results, we may simply suspend our judgement until we figure out whether we are right, but we won’t actively seek out the conclusion, because it might falsify our beliefs.

In the event that we don’t look for the conclusion, we make it ourselves, and as such an erroneous conclusion to an unknown issue will make us think that its solution has already been found before, because the conclusion we have in our mind is the right one. Thinking about it a bit deeper would cause us to have to rethink our system, start from the basics, then work our way to resolution.

The basics are everything. You can not ever reach the higher spheres of learning if you do not grasp the basics of a specific field of study. At one point, someone will point it out to you, and these little conclusions you’ve found that supported your view will all crumble the moment someone presents contradictory reasoning, that actually makes more sense than what you have.

Sure you’ll feel like an idiot for a moment, but at least with the basics, you can appreciate the beginning of the full picture and really begin to dissect opposing views. Superstition thus exists here when we are unable to grasp the basics, but assume a greater truth about a subject we have yet to learn anything about.

For ex.: If a person gets into a car accident, we will think of prior statistics that people who are in car accidents often drink, and our first question will be to ask: “Was he drinking, when he got into an accident?” Rather, in asking the question, we’ll also formulate the conclusion “he was probably drinking”. Condemning, without prior evidence, this person’s action even though we have no information.

Our intuition is perhaps the greatest tool to use when we want to quickly decipher problems and troubleshoot adequately. Still, the other problem with this is that our intuition is inductive. So, in X% of cases, situation Y was resolved by doing A fix. Like the chicken who runs around the farm, we think the farmer is nice up until he takes us back into the barn and cuts off our head.

Being able to make abstraction of facts and imagining them in different scenarios actually helps us think better about what we perceive as received ideas; things that are true unto themselves, like axioms, because they simply make sense. Something making sense should immediately trigger our epistemic alarms. We need to substantiate something beyond it simply making sense. It has to be backed either through sufficient reason or via external evidence.

Should we take Occam’s razor at face value, there is never any need to implement any other layer but what induction provides to us, but sometimes we are stuck in a hole where induction can do us no good. We have no choice but to resort to deduction. The point I am making here for my readership is that there is no one unique path to knowledge, and much as we’d like to think the current iteration of the scientific method is the only one, it certainly is very good, it will not remain as is forever.

It should not be transmitted as the sole arbiter of reason, as science is a tool and tools can be misused.

In closing

I have covered the subject of Scientism before on this blog but the fact of the matter is that it must be studied more profoundly than it has. My dissertation on hatred has allowed me to research extensively the need for humans to hate, and social studies indicate that we will find any which reason to separate “good people” from “bad people”. New Atheism seems inclined to reduce questions to “falsifiable” and “unfalsifiable” attributes, making the range of discussions they can engage in rationally diminished.

My research has thus far shown me that in understanding the historic developments of science, New Atheists have understood the implications of such discoveries, but have skipped quite a few steps of Occam’s razor, in terms of social sciences, to define what needs to be cast out or not. A belief that is on its own superstitious cannot be discarded, but it needs to be highlighted. As I feel the belief in God is already being given a run for its money, I cast my attention on New Atheism but more specifically “Scientism”, which I consider to be an infection that has turned many such Atheists from a spiritual religion to a materialistic religion.

The lack of spirituality in the latter means an overall lack of compassion in its followers. Indeed, many are there who follow such paths that identify with nihilism, excessively so, and choose to tell believers to “make their own path”, as if to become “übermensch” themselves, via Nietzsche’s infamous interpretation of the Good Life. Simply put, however, humans are psychologically incapable of making sense of a universe, so mercilessly cruel, that they must resort to a God claim, for their sanity to remain.

In short: It is insane to posit that conscious biological life, imbued with conscience and thought and reason would be capable of accepting the fatalistic fate that naive realism would condemn it to. Maybe one day we will transcend this ancient reliance on superstition, but it appears to me that like the swinging pendulum, we are simply moving between beliefs, each seeming more right than the last, with superstition remaining at the heart of our systems.

It is only with philosophy, I wager, that we can truly remain capable of critical thought, not as to permit the most insane of claims about reality, but as to accept the unacceptable, if only to humor it and then discard it, because we could not imagine the most insultingly vapid claim, unless it was given to us. Only a shift if socio-cultural trends will allow us to see whether the paradigm profits naive realism or a new form of spirituality.

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