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Looking for sourced answers or article references for this question, please.

Why should someone believe another person's assertions? I would imagine that the answer is because most of the times when I have been able to verify other people's statements, I've found them to be true. This becomes more likely as more people corroborate on a particular thing. But can this be quantified in probabilistic terms (in other words, the probability that someone is telling the truth) in order to balance such a likelihood against other prior possibilities?

Furthermore, there are whole disciplines where I know that I'm not qualified to validate _any_statements made by any of the experts in that field, such as that of quantum mechanics, but trust the 'establishment' of the scientific community. While sometimes claims of 'the scientific community' are verifiable, there are whole areas where, from my own perspective, they are not. How can I evaluate the claims of such 'experts'? Would I be more justified in believing in bosons than in cold fusion? What probability should the uninitiated give to scientific claims?

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    Seeing that philosophical skepticism has been around a couple of millennia longer than the scientific method has been identified, perhaps attempts to convince you to place faith in anecdotes are absurd. As Wittgenstein said, If you do know that here is one hand, we’ll grant you all the rest. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Here_is_a_hand – ben rudgers Aug 11 '14 at 5:15
  • @benrudgers not sure what you're driving at... What does one sentence have to do with the other? – This lad Aug 11 '14 at 5:49
  • Bosons and cold fusion are lesser epistemological concerns considering the difficulty of proving that we know anything about the world. Out of curiosity what research have you already done? Have you read Moore's Proof of an External World? Or Descartes first meditation? What groundwork have you laid? – ben rudgers Aug 11 '14 at 5:57
  • @benrudgers neither of those works are directly relevant. Perhaps my questions wasn't clear... Given the existence of an external world and everything of that nature, I still shouldn't necessarily beleive everything people tell me. Do you believe everything you hear? So then, how can I quantify the probability that what I hear from others is correct? – This lad Aug 11 '14 at 12:47
  • The question "How skeptical should I be?" has been the subject of a great deal of philosophical thought. If that thought is not relevant it is hard to see how the question is philosophical. Any philosophical investigation stands in relationship to Kant and Hume and Plato. The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past, as Faulkner might say. Serious thinking requires heavy lifting. Otherwise, simply recursively apply the same purchase process used to buy 'the external world and everything of that nature.' – ben rudgers Aug 11 '14 at 13:43
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You simply can't do it uninitiated with any particular degree of reliability. You can notice all the amazing techno-wizardry that is commonplace in our lives, realize that this all came from science, and decide that scientists get a lot of things right and therefore you should believe them when they more or less agree with each other. (This is a reasonable but weak Bayesian-style argument. I'm sure it's been made somewhere than can be referenced, but it's not worth chasing down a reference for a fairly obvious and unsatisfying point.)

If you want to do any better, you simply must know more. About science in particular, the question is: why is science reliable? When is it reliable? How can we distinguish between the reliable and unreliable bits? Scientists themselves are only sometimes the right people to answer these questions; you're probably better off first turning to philosophy of science: Popper, Kuhn, Salmon, among others. And you should note how scientists have noticed themselves making errors and how they're trying to fix the problem. First you'll notice that there isn't full agreement on how to make sure a conclusion is reliable (oh dear!). But there are patterns that seem to help and you can ask: does this conclusion seem to have arisen from science conducted using the patterns that make science reliable?

You still won't be perfect in your judgments, and you still might need to ask people with domain-knowledge about related fields (e.g. ask some physicists who are experts in fluid mechanics what they think about string theory), but you'll do far better than if you're uninitiated.

  • Thank you, I wanted a sourced answer merely because I'm curious in seeing how anyone has quantified such knowledge which is relevant when it might contradict other knowledge – This lad Aug 15 '14 at 3:25
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Why should someone believe another person's assertions? I would imagine that the answer is because most of the times when I have been able to verify other people's statements, I've found them to be true.

Showing a position is true or probably true is impossible. The idea that it is possible and desirable to prove ideas true or probably true (justificationism) is wrong. In reality, you can't prove any position or show it is probable. Any argument requires premises and rules of inference and it doesn't prove (or make probable) those premises or rules of inference. If you're going to say they're self evident then you are acting in a dogmatic manner that will prevent you from spotting some mistakes. If you don't say they are self evident then you would have to prove those premises and rules of inference by another argument that would bring up a similar problem with respect to its premises and rules of inference.

In reality all knowledge is created by conjecture and criticism. You notice a problem with your current ideas, propose solutions, criticise the solutions until only one is left and then find a new problem.

A person should adopt a position as a result of it solving a problem and having no known criticisms. Whether the assertion comes from another person is not relevant.

See "Realism and the Aim of Science" by Karl Popper, Chapter I.

This becomes more likely as more people corroborate on a particular thing.

No. The majority of people in the past had ideas that we now think are false. Either they are wrong or we are but in either case lots of people believing something has no bearing on its truth.

But can this be quantified in probabilistic terms (in other words, the probability that someone is telling the truth) in order to balance such a likelihood against other prior possibilities?

No. An idea is either true or false, it doesn't have a probability.

Furthermore, there are whole disciplines where I know that I'm not qualified to validate _any_statements made by any of the experts in that field, such as that of quantum mechanics, but trust the 'establishment' of the scientific community. While sometimes claims of 'the scientific community' are verifiable, there are whole areas where, from my own perspective, they are not. How can I evaluate the claims of such 'experts'?

Your qualifications are irrelevant. What matters is whether your ideas are right or wrong.

You have several options.

(1) Don't evaluate their claims at all. If you have no problem to which quantum mechanics is relevant then you don't need to have an opinion on it.

(2) Read stuff they write for popular audiences (e.g. - "The Fabric of Reality" by David Deutsch, Chapter 2) and see if the explanations they give make sense or not. If you think a particular position makes sense (i.e. - solves the problem it set out to solve and doesn't contradict other knowledge) you can adopt it.

(3) Learn quantum mechanics if you want more detail.

  • We're coming at this from two totally different perspectives. Of course ideas are either true or false, but since I don't know whether an idea is one or the other, I'm forced to assign each idea a probability of how likely it is true. – This lad Aug 11 '14 at 14:25
  • Using your theory of knowledge-gaining, let's say I have an idea, and then it becomes criticized. Each criticism, in theory, makes it less likely to be true. But all criticisms aren't the same, there are strong criticisms and weak criticisms. Thus, the criticisms too have higher or lower probability of being correct. When the criticisms have a higher likelihood of being correct than the original idea, I reject the original idea. See what I mean? – This lad Aug 11 '14 at 14:26
  • And it just so happens to be that the way I see it, quantum mechanics can't be understood or evaluated without being able to solve differential and partial differential equations. I have trouble despite my background in calculus (partially because it seems like it's all made up just to make the math work out). But of course, quantum mechanics was just an example – This lad Aug 11 '14 at 14:29
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    You say you don't know whether an idea is true or false, but you can know that as long as it is understood that the knowledge is a conjecture. You say each criticism makes a theory less likely to be true. If a theory has an unanswered criticism, then it is false. A variant that answers the criticism may be true. This is not the same as the original variant being true. There are no strong or weak criticisms. There are criticisms that have answers and criticisms that can't be answered except by ditching the original idea. – alanf Aug 11 '14 at 15:57
  • Probabilities can only be assigned in the light of explanations and so cannot be assigned to explanations. Quantum mechanics can predict the probability of an event such as a radioactive decay. But if you don't have an account of what is happening in reality that predicts probabilities then there is nothing to determine what number you should assign as the probability of X. So there is no probability that quantum mechanics is correct, nor is there any such probability for any other theory. – alanf Aug 11 '14 at 16:00
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I'd broadly agree with the answer above. In the case of believing scientists or experts in scientific fields I would add that your 'wisdom of crowds' probablistic approach is still valid there but the work is largely done for you by the peer review process. Assuming that you trust the expert you are talking to to tell you the truth (as it is understood by the scientific community) and not try to advance some private agenda then you can also trust that he has the consensus of his peers in his chosen field behind him when he tells you something is right or wrong.

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    I like to imagine this so called 'scientific community' as an underground coven of hooded figures. Initiated members are referred to as 'peers', and that the 'review' process is actually a ritual involving animal sacrifices, incense, and incantations done by these 'peers'. – This lad Aug 11 '14 at 15:16
  • @Matt - Hahaha. That sounds far more interesting than procrastinating grad students or postdocs desperate for a glowing recommendation reviewing papers that were sent to their professors and passed off because the professor hasn't enough time. – Rex Kerr Aug 12 '14 at 19:34
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You don't have to believe anyone. And as long as you don't have to make any important decisions based on your beliefs or non-beliefs, you are fine.

The problem is that you have to make many decisions in your life. And sometimes there will be decisions where 99.9% of the population are not capable of evaluating properly which is the right decision, but altogehter you have to make so many decisions that nobody would be capable of evaluating each of them properly. And since you can't evaluate what is right yourself (because it goes way over your head, or because you just don't have the time), you can make decisions based on guesses, or by believing someone.

The only thing you have to figure out if you don't want to rely on guesswork is whom to believe. And that's difficult. But given the choice between believing a scientist who doesn't dress very well and has a funny beard, and believing a well dressed and good looking TV personality who speaks with lots of confidence, it's obvious to most people whom they should believe. (Unfortunately, for many the person they obviously believe is not the one who has a clue and actually knows what they are talking about).

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When you TRUST someone else, your mind are wide open to believe on what other people are telling as assertions.

With a Philosophy that says that "you always need to Think by Yourself", it's acceptable that every assertion coming from another person need to be verified in your own values system.

Maybe you are asking this question because are missing the value system that's say what you want to assert from others people for your own propose.

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