Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Healthy Skepticism

While reading the book Sophie's World which is an easy to read summary of western philosophy, I stumbled across a story similar to the following. A person sees a stone falling. Every time he picks it up and lets go of it, it falls. He performs this experiment over and over again, and every time the stone falls. So, he concludes there must be a natural law that says "Stones fall to the ground".

Imagine now a chicken. Every day at 5pm comes a lady, usually with a straw hat, to the chicken coop and brings food. Every day. The chicken follows this experiment. It never fails. As it turns late afternoon, the lady comes and brings food. It asks other chickens as well, was there ever a day the lady did not come in the afternoon to bring food? No. The lady always comes. So, the chicken reaches the conclusion there must be a natural law that says "In the afternoon someone brings us food". Of course one morning, the lady comes with a knife, carries the chicken into a separate building and cuts its throat.

Lesson? We must be very skeptical of everything. Ever heard sentences like "given long enough time the stock market always goes up"? Looking at a chart, housing prices in the 20th century have always gone up. Water is a unlimited resource. The recession will be over shortly. We have a true democracy. This evil country has weapons of mass destruction, they are a danger to our security, hence we must attack them to free their poor suppressed citizens.

We are told so many lies. Whatever you see, hear or read; always be skeptical. Ask yourself why something should be as portrayed. Is it really a law of nature? Or is it something that happened to happen frequently in the past? And if something happened frequently in the past, I bet it happened frequently because some people with power wanted it to happen frequently so that they can take advantage of it. Further questions would be: Who is benefiting? Who has the power to manipulate the issue? What are alternative approaches? What is the externalized cost of this action or product?

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