Thursday, February 2, 2017

Know Your Propaganda – 'Arguing from Ignorance' – What is it and where have we seen it?

Have you ever heard the statement, “There's no such thing as monsters”? What about, “It's impossible to travel through time”? Many of us have heard these statements, either from our parents at bedtime while they are trying to get us to go to sleep or from a closed-minded friend during conversations about the unknown. We've probably heard such statements lots of times, but what happens when we try to prove them true?

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You Don't Know what You Don't Know

When trying to prove any point, there are a number of things we may want to keep in mind, but for now we'll just talk about one. This is a fallacy called arguing from ignorance. To put it simply, this is when a person makes a solid claim simply because the opposite of the claim hasn't been proven. When a person claims universal nonexistence of UFOsfor examplesimply because they don't know anyone who has seen one, they've just argued from ignorance. This is completely contradictory to elementary logical. Let's break this down a bit more. Here is the website, Logically Fallacious.

Argument from Ignorance

(also known as: appeal to ignorance, absence of evidence, argument from personal astonishment, argument from Incredulity)

Description:  The assumption of a conclusion or fact based primarily on lack of evidence to the contrary.  Usually best described by, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Logical Form:X is true because you cannot prove that X is false.
X is false because you cannot prove that X is true.

Example #1:Although we have proven that the moon is not made of spare ribs, we have not proven that its core cannot be filled with them; therefore, the moon’s core is filled with spare ribs.

Explanation:  There is an infinity of things we cannot prove -- the moon being filled with spare ribs is one of them.  Now you might expect that any “reasonable” person would know that the moon can’t be filled with spare ribs, but you would be expecting too much.  People make wild claims, and get away with them, simply on the fact that the converse cannot otherwise be proven.

We may note that the argument from ignorance applies to both universal existence and nonexistence. A positive statement such as the following applies: "You can't prove that Bigfoot doesn't exist. Therefore he does." This is also an example of an appeal to ignorance.

In essence, we learn that the universe is full of countless possibilities, and that making any universal claim based solely upon lack of evidence to the contrary is an irresponsible choice for us to make. Though such flawed claims may help a child go to sleep at night, or help shady politicians manipulate their audience, these claims are largely useless to those of us who are responsible and honest. So we know now that we can't make universally negative claims that we can't prove, but what if we did have proof?

Proof Positive

If you caught that the question above was a trick question, pat yourself on the back and then listen to this. The fact is that in the tangible world, you cannot have negative proof. Now what does this mean?

It means that it is only possible for proof to add to our knowledge base. Proof can't take our knowledge away. This adds to the above principle that it is logically impossible to prove universal nonexistence in the physical universe. So when we say, “There is no such thing as monsters,” this is a flawed and irresponsible statement because it's impossible to prove. Again, it might work in putting a child to sleep (and often puts us to sleep as adults), but there is no way to prove it.

Let's get some more definition for this concept of positive proof. We turn to for an explanation. In this excerpt, the author has just finished explaining that it is quite possible to prove negative existence in abstract contexts such as in math. The physical world, however,  is a different story.

Things become difficult outside of math and inside science. Here the statement "you cannot prove a negative" applies because we are now dealing with real world observable evidence. All evidence is unconditional, in that once we see it, we have it, and it is true.  Evidence is falsifiable, but never false.  There is no negative evidence, and this is the underlying positivism of nature.

Evidence also only adds up. It never multiplies or divides or subtracts. It only adds information, that either backs what you were hoping it backs, or something else. But it always backs something. Of course, what it backs is open to interpretation, manipulation, and error, but these are all of our trivial problems. Nature is incapable of lying, and can never contradict itself. We may not always understand what it is saying, but it only speaks truth.

Given the fundamental tenet of addition that you cannot add positives and get a negative, we can bring it all together and get this:

a) evidence is unconditionally positive
b) evidence only adds
c) positives never make a negative

=>  Evidence only has positive inference.

And that is why you cannot prove a negative with evidence in science. 

So we see that evidence is only additive by definition, and again, it is logically impossible to submit any scientific proof that takes away our knowledge even if that evidence is contrary to rest of our evidence. No amount of documentation, evidence or testimony can prove a universal point negative. However, this does not apply when referring to the existence of say an object in the room we are standing in or in a specific area.

It is very possible to prove whether there is or is not a chair in the far corner. I can also prove that I don't have food stuck to my face. I think you get the idea. If there is any limitation of area specified in the statement, then the statement can be proven. This is the logical basis by which legal cases are determined. “Was the crime committed in this place, by this person, and with this weapon?” This, we can disprove.

Eyes Peeled

There are lots of people who attempt to claim universal nonexistence in order to manipulate their audience. Pseudoskeptics, for example, pretend to have more scientific knowledge than they actually do. Many times, these people will claim fictitious scientific superiority over everyone who disagrees with them. They attempt to control the thoughts and ideas of those around them by deliberately arguing from ignorance.

You will hear people claiming that some concept is impossible. They will say that there is no such thing as UFOs or that free energy is impossible simply because they have never seen it. In fact many of these people actually believe in some of the concepts they argue against. However, they refuse to admit the possibilities either due to their overgrown ego or their fear of change. (Usually, it's both.)

Pseudoskeptic are often hired by corporate entities, and have the specific task of discouraging people from thinking outside the current paradigm. This is done primarily because the current paradigm has been obsolete for a very long time, and the only reason we are still using century old technology is because our ignorance is profitable to numerous industries. Consequently, we are prevented from having cleaner, safer, and more equitable technology in our everyday lives.

The world of pseudoskepticism is one of numerous places where we see the fallacy of arguing from ignorance. This fallacy typically takes on a whole new meaning when actual professionals attempt to use it. I will say this: If ever you see a trained scientist, doctor, detective, lawyer, a politician, or any scientifically trained professional using fallacies such as these, be on alert. There is usually a specific reason for this.

In all valid training for scientific professions, the knowledge and skill of logical proof is foundational. One cannot become a scientist, a doctor, a forensic specialist, or hold any other proof-based profession without having extensive knowledge of how to prove a point. So if any for these individuals to casually use logical fallacies either directly equates to negligence or dishonesty.

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It is one thing to misspeak once or twice, but if say, your dentist or legal adviser regularly uses these fallacies, not only should you find a new one, but they should have their license to practice, revoked. Either their fallacies are accidental, or they are deliberate. (It is debatable whether or not one can have half of an accident, but in this case, I would say not.)

The ability to prove a valid point is a basic necessity in any aspect of the reliable professional world. Any scientifically trained person or public figure who has the ability to maintain their logical and ethical integrity is typically a good source of information. For those who do not, it may be time to trade up.
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Thanks for reading.


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