Feser and the Galileo Trap

File:Bertini fresco of Galileo Galilei and Doge of Venice.jpg
Galileo showing the Doge of Venice how to use a telescope.

Edward Feser here tackles the irrationality on daily display via the Covington Catholic affair, and references a more detailed description of skepticism gone crazy:

As I have argued elsewhere, the attraction of political narratives that posit vast unseen conspiracies derives in part from the general tendency in modern intellectual life reflexively to suppose that “nothing is at it seems,” that reality is radically different from or even contrary to what common sense supposes it to be.  This is a misinterpretation and overgeneralization of certain cases in the history of modern science where common sense turned out to be wrong, and when applied to moral and social issues it yields variations on the “hermeneutics of suspicion” associated with thinkers like Nietzsche and Marx.  

Readers of this blog may recognize in Feser discussion above what I refer to as the Galileo Trap: the tendency or perhaps pathology that rejects all common experiences to embrace complex, difficult explanations that contradict them. In Galileo’s case, it happens that all common experiences tell you the world is stationary. Sure does not look or feel like we are moving at all. That the planet “really” is spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and whipping through space even faster proves, somehow, that all those gullible rubes relying on their lying eyes are wrong! Similar situations arise with relativity and motion in general, where the accepted science does not square with simple understanding based on common experience.

Historically, science sometimes presents explanations that, by accurately accommodating more esoteric observations, make common observations much more complicated to understand. Galileo notably failed to explain how life on the surface of a spinning globe spiraling through space could appear so bucolic. By offering a more elegant explanation of the motion of other planets, he made understanding the apparent and easily observed immobility of this one something requiring a complex account. But Galileo proved to be (more or less) correct; over the course of the next couple centuries, theories were developed and accepted that accounted for the apparent discrepancies between common appearance and reality.

We see an arrow arch through the air, slow, and fall; we see a feather fall more slowly than a rock. Somehow, we think Aristotle was stupid for failing to discover and apply Newton’s laws. While they wonderfully explain the extraordinarily difficult to see motion of the planets, they also require the introduction of a number of other factors to explain a falling leaf you can see out the kitchen window.

Thus, because in few critical areas of hard science – or, as we say here, simply science – useful, elegant and more general explanations sometimes make common experiences harder to understand, it has become common to believe it is a feature of the universe that what’s *really* going on contradicts any simple understanding. Rather than the default position being ‘stick with the simple explanation unless forced by evidence to move off it,’ the general attitude seems to be the real explanation is always hidden and contradicts appearances. This boils down to the belief we cannot trust any common, simple, direct explanations. We cannot trust tradition or authority, which tend to formulate and pass on common sense explanations, even and especially in science!

Such pessimism, as Feser calls it, is bad enough in science. It is the disaster he describes in politics and culture. Simply, it matters if you expect hidden, subtle explanations and reject common experience. You become an easy mark for conspiracy theories.

I’ve commented here on how Hegel classifies the world into enlightened people who agree with him, and the ignorant, unwashed masses who don’t. He establishes, in other words, a cool kid’s club. Oh sure, some of the little people need logic and math and other such crutches, but the pure speculative philosophers epitomized by Hegel have transcended such weakness. Marx and Freud make effusive and near-exclusive use of this approach as well. Today’s ‘woke’ population is this same idea mass-produced for general consumption.

Since at least Luther in the West, the rhetorical tool of accusing your opponent of being unenlightened, evil or both in lieu of addressing the argument itself has come to dominate public discourse.

A clue to the real attraction of conspiracy theories, I would suggest, lies in the rhetoric of theorists themselves, which is filled with self-congratulatory descriptions of those who accept such theories as “willing to think,” “educated,” “independent-minded,” and so forth, and with invective against the “uninformed” and “unthinking” “sheeple” who “blindly follow authority.” The world of the conspiracy theorist is Manichean: either you are intelligent, well-informed, and honest, and therefore question all authority and received opinion; or you accept what popular opinion or an authority says and therefore must be stupid, dishonest, and ignorant. There is no third option.

Feser traces the roots:

Crude as this dichotomy is, anyone familiar with the intellectual and cultural history of the last several hundred years might hear in it at least an echo of the rhetoric of the Enlightenment, and of much of the philosophical and political thought that has followed in its wake. The core of the Enlightenment narrative – you might call it the “official story” – is that the Western world languished for centuries in a superstitious and authoritarian darkness, in thrall to a corrupt and power-hungry Church which stifled free inquiry. Then came Science, whose brave practitioners “spoke truth to power,” liberating us from the dead hand of ecclesiastical authority and exposing the falsity of its outmoded dogmas. Ever since, all has been progress, freedom, smiles and good cheer.

If being enlightened, having raised one’s consciousness or being woke meant anything positive, it would mean coming to grips with the appalling stupidity of the “official story”. It’s also amusing that science itself is under attack. It’s a social construct of the hegemony, used to oppress us, you see. Thus the snake eats its tail: this radical skepticism owes its appeal to the rare valid cases where science showed common experiences misleading, and yet now it attacks the science which is its only non-neurotic basis.

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

41 thoughts on “Feser and the Galileo Trap”

  1. It is interesting though how even in such an ‘enlightened’ essay as this (post) the implication is that “they” are stupid, are thinking or reacting about things incorrectly. Will it ever end? Lol.

    1. I have to say, though, that the criteria for something merely being a ‘mass hysteria’ is based itself in a bunch of people getting together and saying that “ours” is correct. How do we overcome this seemingly eternal problem with humanity ?

      1. I distinguish between gullible and smart. Smart doesn’t help with gullible; sometimes, it makes it worse.

        I suppose part of the answer is to make it shameful (again) to bow to group think. This would require kids to learn, at some point, what group think and shame are….

      2. I think whatever great ideas we might have about what would be good for humanity, will never take.

        And yet it’s always been that way I think also. People think they know what’s best, most people never act that way, and life goes one for a new set of idealists that everyone ignores. Lol.

        No one has any input Becuase we are merely like plants living. Reproducing …our way is just manifested in this ‘thinking’ that sees itself as affecting something through cause and agency. But the truth is that humanity it like every other object living or not in the universe. Doing its thing for however long the universe has it. 🦄

      3. “…as the dog returns to his vomit, as the sow returns to her mire..”

        Of all the doctrines of the church, one would think that original sin would be the one that everyone (however grudgingly) agrees is correct. But they don’t, so there you are.

  2. Oh hey: by the way, I couldn’t bring myself to read the whole essay because I get a certain anxiety reading on a device after a certain amount of time. So I would probably say I read about half of it in all but I skipped to different parts and I pretty much like the just that I got of it so I reposted it. But, personally, if I have a long essay to post I usually chop it up into two or three posts over two or three days because for me it just makes easier reading and it makes people actually read what I wrote. Just a thought. 🤘🏾

      1. Yes. Lol. You’re right. I got caught up in reading one of your link essays and so that made it feel to me like it was superlong.

        So far is the Covington link and that guys point, and then your point:

        It’s funny because I am kind of reading your essay with a certain irony that I’m not sure you see. I’m not sure because it feels to me like you’re arguing that the kids weren’t doing anything wrong or that the tendency is to, maybe, just see the kid staring at the Indian with just a smile of contentment and not a smug smile. I’m not totally sure and you can correct me- it seems to me that you’re saying that the simple explanation is that a drunk Indian walked over to a group of white people and cause problems and then the media took hold of the reactionary and inciting picture to make a story or something like that.

        I too thought twice. But then there is also an even more simplistic description which I am again not sure that you were noticing know your person that wrote the essay concerning specifically the Covington high school thing.

        The simplest understanding is that trauma carries through groups. That there is not one common reality of scientific truth that is not accompanied by an assumption of power.

        The simplest explanation is that white males can do whatever they want and the assumption will be that they are innocent and less someone uses the method that white people can’ The simplest explanation is that white males can do whatever they want and the assumption will be that they are innocent.

        This is the simplest explanation. And so I think there’s a certain amount of irony to your article and the article of your link because it seems to me that you were saying that that is a more complex explanation of what is occurring.

        I’m focusing on the Covington link and around your essay here because again I too had to think through what was happening.

        And my conclusion is that those kids were raised with a racist View upon the world. And that the liberal media worked against itself by blowing the situation out of proportion.

        One cannot put native people on the same plane of “rational simplicity, as we might want to place the whole world of human beings One cannot put native people on the same plane of “rational simplicity, as we might want to place the whole world of human beings.

        I mean you can but then you are calling simplicity basically what you see is true, and you’re not actually seeing what is most simply occurring in that situation.

        .

      2. ….ah. But along that same irony; In the scenario of Galileo or even Copernicus, the church simply would not see what was true of the situation because they resorted back to what was simple to their view and what Galileo was showing them was just could not be comprehended because the simplicity of their view told them what was true, where what is actually true is what they were seeing through the telescope that Galileo was explaining
        .

        It is the same with systemic racism. Can people simply will not understand how their view could be racist because the simplicity of their view, as it is the view that is in power can, will not allow the more true and simple version of events which says that the people with the make up America great again hats on our racist and we’re treating the situation from a racist standpoint .

        The criterion for truth does not stand in the corner of the racist of you to say that that American Indian was lying because the simple fact is is that the racist simple version of events is in capable of understanding the actual true scientific matter at hand in that actual situation.

        And so I’m wondering if perhaps this is what you’re saying?

      3. If I might try again: The Truth is not viewable through the lens of power. In fact, the burden of responsibility for truth lay not in the oppressor who imposes his view, but in the oppressed to create situations of challenge to the oppressors game to help the oppressor to see through his own lies which have been erected for the purpose of his own insecurities.

        Here, science in on the side of the Native American. Not the trump supporters. Not the liberal media who is complicit in maintaining reactionary ignorance.

      4. Copernicus had a church gig – he was a canon, who was generally (but not always) a priest, assigned a comparatively cushy job that left lots of free time for study and writing. His talents were recognized, and the church thus subsidized his research and writing,

        He published his book upon the urgings of a cardinal and bishops, was buried with honor in the church to which he was assigned as canon. So why his name would come up in this context is unclear.

        True, 73 years later, in connection with the Galileo affair, his book was put in the Index until several sentences, which claimed the theory certain – which, at the time, had yet to be proved – were corrected. Future editions were so corrected, and it was taken off.

        Galileo is similarly wildly misrepresented, as the actual, well-documented history of what happened does not all square with the modern mythology. See here for example: http://tofspot.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-great-ptolemaic-smackdown.html
        It is long, but well worth the read.

        I’m pretty sure I don’t understand the rest of your comments. The idea that some people are hopelessly trapped in their views by some historical accident of birth or class or any other grouping will, if taken to its logical conclusion, preclude the possibility of any communication or understanding at all between any two people, since no two people completely share the same experiences. If communication can take place at all in any circumstances, then some basis for that communication exists that overrides class or race or any other considerations. Thus, the burden is on the side of whoever claims that race or whatever has prevented understanding, to show why, in this case, that rubric should be applied. Otherwise, the claim is merely one from authority, which I take is not an acceptable argument to either of us.

        But as I said, I probably don’t understand what you mean here.

      5. Perhaps my history is off. But generally speaking I was under the impression from what little I know of history that at least one of those two scientists were persuaded to renege on their observations by the church. Copernicus was dissuaded to have the sun the center. No?

        Perhaps I’m wrong.

        My point is that it is really easy for a white man to come to all sorts of rational conclusions about how people are supposed to be in the world. And all this great rationality and scientific truth and levelheadedness never understanding how his view might be wrong.

        The logical conclusion is that no one is communicating, you are exactly right.

        But aside from that overgeneralization of the contradiction of terms of your understanding of truth, and perhaps mine as well, that argument only works in so much is I don’t want to believe that I can be wrong.

        Just because I might be wrong doesn’t mean that the whole universe collapses. What it means is that I might be wrong, What it means is that I am putting up a very large defense and saying “the universe” when what is really going on is I’m deathly afraid that “my universe” will collapse what it means is that I am putting up a very large defense and saying “the universe“ when what is really going on is I’m deathly afraid that “my universe“ will collapse.

        Our system is based in the assumption that the white mail is always assumed innocent and that anyone else has the burden to prove that they are innocent.

        If you can’t see that then I would say that I am not involved in any sort of conspiracy. But indeed this is the reality that’s in front of me. If you are unable to admit that or you want me to prove it to you, then your reality has failed to account for a significant part of the universe.

      6. I am able to see when I’m wrong and I’m able to challenge myself and my belief. I admit when I am ignorant of things. Are you so open to being incorrect? And ignorant when it is applicable ?

      7. I mean look at the Cavanagh hearings. What was the conclusion? The white man wins and the woman gets pity. Poor ignorant white man who’s integrity is being accused. Poor woman that she was abused by someone; but were used to that: boys will be boys! Cavanaugh is an arrogant idiot who wagged his dick around and all the men got behind him. If you don’t agree with that then, what can I do? Nothing Becuase you have to white male privilege backing you. There is no getting beyond that wall.
        And what about the Covington high school? The kids are innocent and the Indian man is a drunken fool liar?

        This happens all the time everywhere. Open your eyes. See things for what they are and believe people when they say things. The burden of proof is never on the white man. It is always the task of everyone else to prove how they match up to the white man’s standard of truth.

        All everyone else in the world is asking for is for the white man to give them the benefit of doubt because the whole of Western history has been that the white man always gets the benefit of the doubt.

        So they will stop asking. Science is on their side.

  3. Just like Galileo: he It his responsibility to reveal the oppression. The Church would never be able to see the truth. So the same with that situation at the Lincoln Memorial: it was the job of the Healer to create the condition which challenges the small view.

    But what happened is the liberal media in its rush to expose racism actually functioned to hide it again, to enfold the truth back into the status quo of institutional racism because the political polemics of Neo liberalism and conservatism really work together.

    Ok. I’m done.

  4. I think it is improper to lump the Covington high school incident into the I think it is improper to lump the Covington high school incident into the” vast unseen conspiracies”.

    The reason why is because it’s not that there is this common scene that everyone knows about and then underneath or behind the scenes there is this truth, at least with the Covington situation.

    It is more that the people who cannot see think of that anything that questions their authority of you is a “vast unseen conspiracy”. But the fact of the matter is that the only conspiracy that is going on is by those people who want to say that what they cannot see amounts to some sort of unseen conspiracy.

    K. Now I’m really done lol.

    1. Hmmm. Seems about right. It is also nearly the mirror image of one branch of modern politics, where intentions, if they don’t exactly equal results, certainly outweigh them and prove moral superiority.

      Put the two together, and you’ll think results prove the intentions of your opponents, while intentions trump the result of your team. This seems to describe a good bit of our current political environment.

      1. Well… It isn’t just the Galileo trap, it’s the … I don’t have a catchy word for it. Call it the Trump effect. The giant rampaging elephant that, in the wake of his path, opens new sightlines.

        Three years ago I would have said that pizzagate was pure conspiracy theory. The part about Felonia von Pantsuit running a child trafficking ring with her pervy allies out of Comet Pizza IS (Money-laundering, now…). Then came Weinstein et al., and… turns out there is a conspiracy to protect serial molesters and pervs amongst the Clintonistas.

        Three years ago, I thought the Deep State people were chasing white rabbits. Now we have the FBI scandals et al.

        And yet the bogusity of various bogus-sounding conspiracy claims is still real. And yet, and also: so many of the leaders of our institutions (civil: United Way, religious: must I give an example? Business: Hollywood, and government: Ms Clinton ) are in bed with the Father of Lies.

        So… what is a poor reasonable woman to do? Good essay mind. Lot’s to think about.

  5. Interesting how the Catholic Church was so willing to give up thier ideal that the earth was the center of the universe. Are you going to tell me that it didn’t systematically persecute the Jews also?

    1. That the earth was at the bottom of the universe was taught by the Greeks. It was the settled, consensus science for a millennium or so. Empirical proof of geomobility would not be had until the late 1700s and early 1800s, when the last of the falsifications were themselves falsified.
      +++
      When Emicho of Leiningen began killing Jews in the Rheinland instead of going to the Holy Land and fight well-armed muslims as he had promised, the bishops did what they could to protect them. So much so that when Bishop Ruthard of Mainz hid over 1,000 Jews in his cellars and in his great hall, Emicho’s mob attack the cathedral. Similar events took place at Speyer, Worms, Coblenz, and elsewhere. Emicho later got his at the hands of the Apostolic King of All Magyars.

      The same is true about the popular attacks on Jews during the Black Death. Thw push came from the commoners and the Churchmen tried to protect the Jews. The Pope even opened his castle at Avignon for a refuge for the Jews.

      History is seldom neat and evenly categorical.

      1. Yup. True.

        And the white racist kids get the benefit of that “seldom neat”. As well as the innocent rational white man.
        Every time.

        Wait. I can’t help it:
        Cavanagh is a sham. Lol. It’s like so disgusting I am ashamed to be an American. And then there’s Trump.

        Ok. Thank
        You for the education.
        It is interesting.

      2. You seem familiar with Studies Studies. Every time? Every? Your persistent association of ‘rational’ with ‘white’ strikes me as throwing shade on non-white folks. But what that has to do with geomobility I don’t know.

      3. I suppose I am reacting to you due to a few calls for me to resend my accusation of the Covington kids and chaperones racism. And so I see a kind of liberal equivocation that just says “hey it’s all good we’re all rational people here”. You should apologized to those innocent children who are just expressing their American rights of free speech.

        And I say no I’m not going to apologize to them except in so much as they are children and they’re not yet responsible for their actions. They have been taught that they are correct and that people of color are automatically less than and deserving of suspicion. What has failed is Covington high school and the adults that are teaching them how to behave in our society.

        So while I may agree with the overall point of your essay, I do not think that the racist viewing of these kids is incorrect or part of some conspiracy.

        I think it is in actuality. There’s a picture that I have posted on my blog on a post of Covington high school kids in black face around at a basketball game around The opposing teams player who is a black kid where he appears to be perhaps checking the ball from a foul or out of bounds..

        That was aloud. Under the guise that hey we’re all rational and understanding people here and hey it’s all in good sport of the game, of the audience and everyone participating equally.

        That narrative is flat out bullshit. Just like the Virginia governor excusing himself and the other person for wearing blackface and a Ku Klux Klan even if it was 30 years ago. The reason why we take down the confederate flags it’s not because were disrespecting the people who may have a heritage and a valid heritage around the confederate flag; it’s because it’s more important socially to show respect to the people that have been injured, and to place in a real context capitalist segment of society which is always benefited from a privilege that that flag is representing to our society.

        So really I’m just having issue with perhaps the point of your essay and you’re lumping the Covington incident as some sort of irrational conspiracy.

      4. I don’t think we are communicating. Like you yourself said at the beginning of our interaction: there is no basis for communication. The basis is merely an assertion of propriety over what would otherwise be human exchange of ideas. We are not exchanging ideas because you already know everything.

        Talk amongst yourselves. It’s a party 😄

      5. We cannot communicate so long as you do not acknowledge historical facts. The ancient Greek model of the world put the earth the bottom, which the medievals interpreted as the most ignoble position.. The humanists of the 16th century were criticized by the physicists for raising the earth into the heavens to glorify man.

      6. Ok. I can appreciate the haziness iof actually history compared to the made-ready over simplifications that often come to us.

        So maybe we get back to my question about your post: can you sum up in short your point?

      7. I can appreciate the haziness iof actually history compared to the made-ready over simplifications that often come to us.

        History is not always hazy. We know precisely what the medievals [and Arabs] made of Greek geostationary models and that being in the “center” was not their way of thinking [except for Pythagoreans and neoPythagoreans]. Earths fell toward the center of gravity. That was “down.” So earth was at the bottom of the world. They did not picture the “solar” system from our bird’s-eye view. To them, stars moved back and forth across the sky and the mathematical model was just that: mathematics, and it only mattered if it predicted the risings and eclipses to useful accuracy. They did not believe that the usefulness of a model obligated the physical world to go along with the gag.

    1. Please look up Erastothenes. It is good to know that you do not know and wise to remedy it. As the Persian poet wrote:

      He who knows not, and knows not that he know not
      Is a fool: Shun him.
      He who knows not, and knows that he knows not
      Is a child: Teach him.

  6. OK yeah so there is two people and myself. There is the person who is blog this is who put the post. And then there is another person who is also commenting who I thought was the same person who wrote the post.

    😄. So hopefully we can sort out my comments

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