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Old 07-05-2011, 02:24 PM
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Default How do you deal with uncertainty of facts?

It is obvious to most by now, I think, that we are living now in an age of uncertainty. 50 years ago, people believed the scientists and the media, the chemists predicted a golden age of "better living through chemistry", the physicists declared the energy problem solved by nuclear power, the communists were the evil empire and the increasing mechanization of production was a bliss that would allow us all to work less. People could support a family with just one persons income. Since then, I believe uncertainy and paranoia has grown incredibly. Adam Curtis does a good job in examining the sources for this. One reason is governmental people with a paranoid attitude, another is the cold war and I think other ones are actually deliberate misinformation by those who profit from it, misinformation due to the participatory nature of the internet (which kind of confuses people if facts presented in a blog are credible or not) and denial in the face of multiple crisis that seem to converge now.
So now we are living in a world in which people are confused as they get at the same time contradictory information on many immensly important topics. Examples are climate change (will it turn Earth into a Venus, will it not happen at all, is it human made, are we facing a new ice age), nuclear power risks (is Plutonium the most toxic substance on Earth, is radiation incredible dangerous, do low level of radiation improve your health, are we all dying from cancer because of the bomb tests, did 43 or 1.000.000 people die as a result of Chernobyl), pesticides, herbicides, GMOs, nanotechnology, economics, social and political matters (capitalism, communism, socialism, social democracy,...).

In a way, this is "democratic" or rather distributed - everyone can access all kinds of information and form an educated opinion and then act on that. In theory this is what should happen in a democracy - that all participants look at all the information and form a well founded opinion that they then use to vote. This is not happening and maybe it is not possible. Instead of forming a well educated opinion, many people will not even try to do so or they will jump to the first polemic announcement made by a person or group they like. This has become more about factions than about facts. And even if some of the people form a well educated opinion instead of echoing something they heard of Fox News or on Al Jazeera or on Russia Today - they are disempowered to really act upon it as a minority. To make things worse, this whole problem seems to have not only completely engulfed politics, media and economics, it also seems to invade science, which was seen as the rational, objective force that could clarify the decisions by evidence and probabilities. So now there are scientists speaking strongly positive or negative about nuclear risks/climate change/economic theory/genetic modification/industrial chemistry/vegetarian lifestyles/alternative energy solutions ... and so on.

What do you think is the way to deal with this? To me it seems like humanity is watching a car crash - it is horrible but at the same time one has to watch it and one is stunned by it. We look at a big screen of flickering lights or different colors, at a control station in which the scales fluctuate between 0 and 100, needles jumping up and down, digital displays running random numbers as if possessed by a frantic demon. And at the same time the alarm bells are going off and warning lights blink in our faces. We look at the people around us who are either confused or just look at one readout and dedicate themselves to act upon it. Meanwhile the vessel controlled by that room is heading into unknown waters it seems.

This was metaphorized very well in Avatar when Trudy steered the copter into the mountains, all instruments going haywire and she says that she will have to fly on visuals only - but could not see anything. We never got to know how she really solved that problem, but I think it signifies the situation we are in globally.

Personally, I also just try to make sense of it all, try to get information I can rely on, but also cannot exclude that I at times am pulled into that factionism in some points, especially if it happens to exist within my realm - science. I try to use intuition, general knowledge, a holistic view of the whole situation, educated guesses in addition to the facts and try to decide with those which information I can trust, which are dubious, which are false, but it is incredible tiresome. Yes og course, if it is in "Nature" or "Science" or "PNAS", I do trust this, but no one ever can actually read all the papers that exist in respect to a topic. I do feel a sense of panic at times, as it become sincreasingly obvious to me that it is next to impossible to really get to know everything enough to really be sure. So I try to look at what is happening, what has happened - at the now and here as well as at the past. This at least is more reliable than predictions of the future though of course one inadvertently tries to extrapolate this. What kind of helps me is if I get facts from both factions that are similar enough once one ignores the suggestions and recommendations these factions attach to it. So it is a fact that 90% of the fish are gone and that there are millions of dams blocking rivers and that there are tons of pesticides brought up that are poisenous - but this is working with a skeleton of information if no additional bits add to that in terms of what the effects are. Another good one is if some faction has a long record of exposed lies, this destroys their credibility (e.g. nuclear power industry).
So then I do also refer to an emotional/intuitive side for guidance at times, a side that looks at these skeleton information and feels about it - I feel sad about the dams in the rivers, I feel grief at the loss of species and at the landscapes destroyed and I feel sick at the sight of too much grey concrete... But of course this is not something I can use as a basis for arguments it seems, as people want to get the objective "truth" - something that is elusive by nature and as I pointed out hardly reachable due to the formation of factions with different interests. I think evidence based, observative science is extremely valuable and it is a major base of my conclusions and view of the world, but I think that for one part this is not enough and for the other part I feel that for actual happenings in the world, it does not always matter - knowledge in that case is not power.

So how do you here deal with that situation - how do you deal with uncertainties, issues of trust, deliberate or natural confusion in the public discourse and with the emotional (or even spiritual) side of it? How do you form your personal opinions on something, what is your guidance?

Thank you
Aurora
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Last edited by auroraglacialis; 07-06-2011 at 08:37 AM.
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Old 07-05-2011, 11:39 PM
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I live every day like it's my last. Talk to my friends and family, do what needs doing, go outside for hours daily, enjoy myself. It helps to alleviate the problems (at least for me) of our modern world.

Hopefully, all this uncertainty is a precursor to a greater age for Humanity, and hopefully Earth.
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Old 07-06-2011, 10:17 AM
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This may seem like somewhat of a copout, but I try not to get involved in an issue without first knowing both (or all) sides of the story. Or, if it's such a massive global cluster**** that no single human can understand it completely (ie politics) I try to stay out of it, or, failing that, try not to uneducate people that have more of their facts straight than I.

And really, there's no way to escape uncertainty; complex systems breed disorder.

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Old 07-06-2011, 03:37 PM
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I always try to properly understand something before taking sides.
Maybe what's needed is an IQ and political awareness test in order to allow people to vote or reproduce
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Old 07-06-2011, 07:37 PM
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Unless it's relevant to my life in some way I take no sides and do not care, usually.
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Old 07-06-2011, 11:03 PM
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How to navigate confusion...well, I always try to seek out as many points of view as I can, I like to see who is discussing what about a particular topic and if that discussion appears to be credible, according to my best judgment. I keep in mind that not all information is given equal space to live, and likewise there is some misinformation to be wary of. (Misinformation on climate change comes to mind.) But again, it all takes judgment, and I can only hope that my judgment is as rational and objective as it can be.

Ultimately, I must always acknowledge that I do not know everything, and hence I never like to presume that I am an expert on anything.

Don't know if I answered all your questions, but hopefully that made sense.
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Old 07-06-2011, 11:47 PM
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You know what'd be good? If someone who genuienly had an idea about world issues and politics got into power.
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Old 07-07-2011, 08:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Advent View Post
You know what'd be good? If someone who genuienly had an idea about world issues and politics got into power.
Aurora for president?
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Old 07-07-2011, 09:11 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Advent View Post
You know what'd be good? If someone who genuienly had an idea about world issues and politics got into power.
Nah, it'll never happen
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Old 07-07-2011, 05:02 PM
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Thank you empty glass, that is quite how I think it is going as well. One has to trust the own judgement of the reliability of ones sources and on "common sense", I would say. In a way we all however have to act upon intuition, even if that intuition is only telling us which "facts" we are going to accept and which not, which sources we accept and which not.
You and HNM make a point about getting a lot of knowledge and try to be objective and rational about everything and this is what I try, too - I try to find sources that I think are credible and test facts for obvious flaws. But in the end, it seems that in all of these topics and with all the intentions to be rational and objective and scientific and getting the facts straight, we all are in the end not as rational and objective as we'd like to be. We never can be. None of us can read all the studies on one topic, check for all the data and methods or even reproduce that. No one can do that, we ALL rely on information from a source we trust. This is about trust and in a way intuition. In that state of confusion we debate here about topics. What amazes me often is how there is a correlation with the importance of a topic and the extent of difference between the view points taken up. We probably all agree on it being a bad idea to dump oil into a pond, thats a no-brainer, but when it comes to the topics of this age, global topics, nuclear power, genetic alteration, energy, oil, society... the uncertainty increases. One should think that the more people work on that, the more scientists study this, the more papers and research is done, the clearer the picture should get, but often at that point the confusion gets greater, not less - what do you think causes this and how on Earth can we still then think that putting more effort into more research will really help? At least this seems to be true in politics where the climate change deniers seem in the US at least to cry as loud as the scientists.

And even among scientists, you can probably find a scientist for every opinion you want to be suppoerted. Maybe there are even some out there who think that mountains are coming from the shrinking and wrinkling of the Earth as it cooled down - but at least there is a consensus reached in a way. So that gives some hope that consensus is possible. But this may only be because for politics it does not matter how mountains came to be.
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Stop terraforming Earth (wordpress)

"Humans are storytellers. These stories then can become our reality. Only when we loose ourselves in the stories they have the power to control us. Our culture got lost in the wrong story, a story of death and defeat, of opression and control, of separation and competition. We need a new story!"
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Old 07-07-2011, 10:55 PM
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I think this is the most important thing we can all do. Become as knowledgable on the issues as possible, get all sides of the issues, and take a side (or not), but never stop questioning.

Though on a side note, whatever you do, stay away from the mainstream media. It's filth, plain and simple. In the US, major media is owned by only 5 companies, so obviously there's going to be a lot of special interests mixed in there. I like sticking to alternative sources (Alternet, Salon, Al Jazeera [alternative in the US, at least], RT, Mike Malloy, etc).
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Old 07-08-2011, 12:29 AM
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My Way of thinking is just flowing with the stream of Time... if there is a rock i try to avoid it, if its not possible, i blow it up or surrender - and thinking still of a way to blow it up - After all, i am the Villain

Quite Simple and Effective.
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Old 07-08-2011, 12:45 AM
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Deosn't uncertainty imply that it's NOT fact?
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Old 07-08-2011, 12:56 AM
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well, one can even go so far and say uncertainty is so uncertain that it is also able just to say there is only certainty - because everything is too uncertain to not be certain
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Old 07-08-2011, 04:47 PM
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Well what is "fact" - nothing that comes from science is fact, it is all just theories backed up by a lot of data and people. What we perceive ourselves is fact to us in that situation and in that context. Phenomenology certainly is a valuable tool and I really believe that this is important, but in the context of the complexity of this world as it is now, this hardy is applicable in all cases. so we do have, it seems, to accept uncertainty at the basis of our discussions and decisions, as nothing written in books or papers or told on media is really ever certain.

But there is a point to that. Namely that it is not really applicable in a debate to say that something is fact or that someone else has the facts wrong because there are no fixed facts. One can ask for a valid source (which I usually try to give if I talk about facts), but one can rather often find a source that says the opposite as well, as there is no such thing in literature as a fact. There is always uncertainty and to ask from someone to prove conclusively and only based on facts alone that a certain way to view things or certain decisions are valid, valuable or make sense is to give him an impossible task. And I think this is why some of the debates go slightly off hand. Because everyone involved somehow expects the other to make his point based on facts that are 100% certain. There will never be a 100% certainty if there is anthropogenic climate change, there will not even be such a certainty that the formula gor gravity is what we think it is or that the fish in the ocean are really gone because of overfishing. But still we have to act on these incomplete facts that are connected to uncertainties. We cannot avoid that.
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Stop terraforming Earth (wordpress)

"Humans are storytellers. These stories then can become our reality. Only when we loose ourselves in the stories they have the power to control us. Our culture got lost in the wrong story, a story of death and defeat, of opression and control, of separation and competition. We need a new story!"
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