Let's say, for the sake of argument, that I live in a world divided into tribes with strongly-differing views. My tribe says that many of our opponent's values are immoral and much of their leadership is corrupt; they say the same about us. My tribe says that our opponents often make up falsehoods easily refuted by known facts; they say the same about us. My tribe says that our arguments are based on principles of logic that have been accepted for millennia, while theirs appear to be absurd gobbledygook; they claim the opposite is true.

No one that I know of, on any side, has found a way to reconcile these differences or devise a compelling alternate viewpoint. One of the things we all agree on is that one side must be predominantly in the wrong, and the other side right.

I sincerely believe the key elements of my position; therefore I infer that my opponents are lying and/or insane. I consider myself to be a rational person who follows the scientific method; therefore I must test the possibility that I am wrong and attempt to find errors in my hypotheses.

Is there any way for me to determine whether or not I am insane, my perceptions are faulty, and/or my entire method of reasoning is fallacious?


1 Answer 1


Sure there is. But the thought pattern described prevents many people in either tribe from accepting it. It goes like so.

First there is internal consistency. The notions of each tribe must be expressed in unambiguous symbols, and the rules for manipulating these symbols specified. If such a process cannot be applied, or the tribes refuse, then the process stops right there. Both tribes are labeled insane, and they are shunned. The logical systems are then examined to find internal contradictions, and remove them. Once this process is progressing significantly, the two systems are examined to see if they really are still distinct. In many cases in the past, this has revealed the systems are not distinct. Different schools of math, for example.

Second is empirical testing.

You have a notion about reality. This notion tells you certain things will happen. The "opposition" tribe has a conflicting notion. It tells them different things will happen.

You each write down your prediction of what will happen in a situation. You seek a written prediction from each tribe, in advance of checking the results. You find a situation in which the predictions are unambiguous, in that it will be impossible to mistake the results if they happen according to the prediction.

Question: What happens if you throw this object in an ordinary wood fire? Prediction A) The object will catch fire within 10 minutes. Prediction B) The object will never catch fire, and will be unharmed after days in the fire.

So you toss it in the fire. If it catches fire in two minutes, beer and pretzels for team A, and sadness for team B.

In the case of predictions that cannot be distinguished, then the two tribes believe things that are indistinguishable. This contravenes the premise. In that case, we conclude that the two tribes are just unpleasant people that are better avoided.

If there are no testable predictions available, them both tribes are insane. That is, their notions do not contact reality. Insisting on the truth of statements that cannot be checked against reality is insanity.

  • 1
    I think you will not find a lot of people agreeing with you that faith is insanity, something your last sentence strongly implies.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 4, 2020 at 22:18
  • 1
    Holding any belief as true in spite of the evidence is definitively not a very sane attitude. What this attitude is called is irrelevant.
    – armand
    Feb 5, 2020 at 4:00
  • @PhilipKlöcking Are there places where you live that require a pedestrian to cross the street? The people who manage it, and keep on managing it, agree with me.
    – puppetsock
    Feb 5, 2020 at 16:03

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