If the difference between science, and, indeed, logic, and everyday judgements had to be summed up in one phrase, I’d pick Confirmation Bias. Viewed from the place where we understand that we humans tend to believe what we want to believe, the whole rigmarole of theory => tests => data => conclusions can be seen as an attempt to short circuit our passion for leaping to conclusions. To get to the starting line, we need clear definitions, well-thought-out tests, careful collection of data, and rigorous reasoning. And even that’s not enough, as the history of science shows: we need, desperately, CRITICISM. We will miss something, guaranteed, unless we, the logician, the scientist, at least keep that Good Angel of Criticism in mind, that voice speaking for our opponents and reminding us to think how this is going to look to them. Then, and only then, would the prudent soul throw it out for public criticism.
And put it out there they must! The hallmark of anti-science, of Lysenkoism, is attacks on critics, claims of special esoteric knowledge that magically immunizes your theory from all attacks. Nobody needs to silence their critics if their evidence is strong. Nobody needs official government backing of their position if they’ve made a strong case.
All this came to mind as I read today’s post by Severian. I, in my dark little heart, really, really want there to be a Night of the Long Knives – far from me and mine, of course. This is not only profoundly uncharitable, but raises the issue of confirmation bias: every time I see any of the former golden boys or girls in trouble, such as Cuomo is facing now, I start thinking and – forgive me! – hoping that a whole bunch of people who deserve it are going to get it at the hands of their former ‘friends’. Then, as long as I’ve decided to go there anyway, that the tables then turn, French Revolution style, and that same Committee for Public Safety set for Step One falls into the hands of people who see that its only a matter of time until they’re next in line for the guillotine, and therefor decide that the Cult of Reason wasn’t such a hot idea after all, and anyone associate with that sent to the front of the line. A feeding frenzy results, in which, like the fall of Belbury in That Hideous Strength, Our Betters are murdering each other because they know if they don’t, they’re next. And then they’re next anyway.
Alas! Lewis pens an ending where the only thing left of Our Betters are two smoldering craters where the University and Government Institute used to stand. I’m not sure I can see things working out so neatly here in the real world. Perhaps the most real thing in that whole fairy tale is that Curry, the officious and manipulative don at Edgestow, whose machinations were instrumental in assembling the Progressive Element at the college and welcoming the N.I.C.E to the neighborhood, survives. He puts on a good face, mourning the loss of the College (and the many people there who died!) while imagining his statue standing the the new college quadrangle, as he, the lone survivor, rebuilds Edgestow and is remembered as its second founder. History is full of Richard Richs.
And we should pray for these people and ourselves! Lord, remember your promise of mercy! Do not judge us as our sins deserve. Rather, for Your Name’s sake, forgive us all, especially those most in need of Thy mercy! Send Michael and the Heavenly Host to cast Satan and his minions out of our country, and bind them and cast them into Hell. Grant us the strength to suffer what we must, to Your glory. Your will be done.