A Section from The Conflict of Mind
If We Think for Ourselves Without Falsification, We’ll Probably Go Crazy.
Is the road to madness paved with verification?
1. Verification is where we try to find reasons to believe what we believe, while falsification is where we try to find reasons not to believe what we believe. If we try to falsify x and can’t, then we have all the more reason to believe it; if we try to falsify x and succeed, then we shouldn’t believe x anyway. We’re better off.
2. It could be said that falsification sort of entails verification, but verification doesn’t necessarily entail falsification.
3. Confirmation bias is always what other people have.
4. Both crazy people and geniuses think for themselves. The difference is that a crazy person tries to verify their crazy ideas, while geniuses try to falsify them.
5. No one naturally falsifies. Everything in us wants to verify. Remember: our brain is not mainly in the business of trying to know the deepest ontological truths of reality; primarily, it exists to help us survive. Verifying an ideology will help us survive, because it will help us find a tribe, and it is easier to survive if we have numbers on our side. Also, if we think there is a lion in the bushes and we try to falsify our fear, we may end up eaten. The brain would rather assume a lion is there and run versus be skeptical. Skepticism is rarely good if ever for basic survival.
6. If we want a happy relationship, instead of trying to verify that our spouse doesn’t care about cleaning the house (for example), instead try to falsify the premise that our spouse doesn’t care about the house. If he actually doesn’t, our premise will survive rigorous testing. If our premise doesn’t survive rigorous testing, aren’t we glad we didn’t accuse him of disregarding the house?
7. If we try to verify that our wife doesn’t like talking to us, we’ll focus on the times she doesn’t talk to us, whereas if we try to falsify that our wife doesn’t like talking to us, we’ll focus on the times she speaks to us.
8. We must falsify all the way down. If we verify x and then start falsifying x2 and x3 which assume x, our falsification will easily prove useless. If we assume “my wife doesn’t care about cleaning the house” and then try to falsify this premise, if we first haven’t tried to even falsify if it’s true that our wife should be cleaning the house (as much as we think she should, to the degree we think she should, etc.), then though it’s better that we’re falsifying versus verifying to some degree, we’re not doing it as well as we should. We must falsify from the bottom up.
9. In relationships, there is something about falsification that is more grateful than verification. Especially in relationships, verification makes us search for the negatives, while falsification makes us focus on the positives. If humans are naturally “upside-down,” per se, it would be appropriate that we need falsification to set ourselves “right-side up.”
10. Yes, I’m aware that we can reword premises to make something that we should falsify suddenly something we are verifying, and so on. Let’s skip the word games.
11. If we try to verify, we will be a puppet of our ideology, social conditions, biases, and the like, because these must be our “standard” by which we verify things. To verify, we need standards of verification, and these will inevitably reflect our biases. However, if we try to falsify, we must by definition be trying to falsify ourselves, and thus resist our ideology. We may not entirely escape, but there is at least a better chance.
12. What constitutes “hope,” “good,” “moral,” “prudent” — all values — reflect what we believe is true, and if we do not consciously consider what we believe is true, our ideology will select our values for us. And if we only verify, since verification must reflect ideology (us), when we verify what is “hopeful,” “good,” “loving,” and the like, we will work to shape those values into reflections of our ideology. If our ideology defines “the good life” wrongly, verification will only contribute to our trouble.
13. We do not critique an ideology by trying to verify a different ideology, for then we simply exchange one version of being controlled by an ideology with another. If there is any chance of escaping ideology, it is through falsification. If we try to critique Capitalism by verifying Marxism, we will prove ourselves just as likely to be in service of a Marxist ideology as we were of being in service of a Capitalistic ideology.
14. To falsify x, we must know x incredibly well, and if we are a Marxist but want to falsify Capitalism, we will have to enter into Capitalism: we will have to engage in empathy. We will have to know Capitalism from the inside out. Whereas verification does not require empathy, falsification requires a lot of empathy.
15. Falsification is useful in politics, academics, and relationships.
16. Verification must always verify ideology, bias, etc., because verification requires a standard to be possible, and that standard will be us.
17. We all operate within an ideology, but falsification can at least make our ideology visible to us. If we only verify, our ideology can stay “invisible,” because ideology is always only something “other people have” while we just “see the truth.” However, when we try to falsify ourselves, we suddenly force ourselves to face the possibility that we might be under the spell of an ideology too. Thus, the strings that control us can become visible; we can become free.
18. Verification makes us feel free, while falsification can make us see how freedom is contained.
19. Following Charles Taylor, Habermas, Peter Berger, Philip Rieff, and others, today institutions and social authorities are losing power and influence. They are becoming weaker. As a result, the individual is becoming freer, but at the same time, the individual is losing social support. As Hunter said, the foreground is expanding (individual freedom) while the background is shrinking (social support). This is great in that it increases individual liberty and reduces the chances of totalitarian control, but at the same time, increased individual autonomy is existentially difficult to bear (and can make totalitarianism appealing, as discussed in “Belonging Again” by O.G. Rose).
As a result, what I like to call “the social life of the mind” is weakening — we cannot rely on a “collective consciousness” or “social contract” to help us know what to think — while “the individual life of the mind” is expanding — we have to think for ourselves. In many ways, this is great — our individual minds our freer — but in other ways, this is very bad — conspiracies are rampant today, and experts are not taken seriously.
It is unlikely we can ever go back to a world where the background is stronger than the foreground, but does that mean our mental struggles are permanent? I think so, but if we all learn to practice falsification versus verification, perhaps we can be better off without “the social life of the mind” than we ever were with it. But if we don’t lean falsification, it may prove that we would have been better off if “the social life of the mind” never weakened. Alluding to Hume, it seems it’s better not to go on “the philosophical journey” at all than to stop halfway.
20. Without trust in experts, it is not possible for expert opinions to be accepted quickly and widely by the majority of individuals. Where “the social life of the mind” is weak, consensus is harder to establish. This increases freedom, but as Covid19 has demonstrated, this also makes it harder to get everyone on the same page (but that’s good for stopping totalitarianism).
21. Where “the social life of the mind” is weak — where the background has shrunk and the foreground has grown — is where falsification is extremely important. Unfortunately, since it is against human nature, it is unlikely the majority of individuals will engage in falsification versus verification, and thus unlikely the loss of “the social life of the mind” won’t prove to be a disaster, even though it will increase individual freedom.
22. Where there is only “the individual life of the mind,” epistemic ethics and epistemic tools will be of the utmost importance, but it will be up to individuals to decide if they will care to use them.
23. Verification serves “the background of our mind” (ideology) while making us not realize the background is even there. If we only verify, we only confirm the foreground, which makes it seem like there isn’t even a foreground, only “seeing” (as a fish which is always in water doesn’t even know water is there). Falsification though makes us “look back” on the background that we are serving, the act of which makes us realize there is in fact a “background” and thus also a “foreground” (only those who witness the background can even meaningfully say there is a foreground).
24. We could associate the background with the subconscious and the foreground with the conscious. Modernity entails a shrinking of the background in favor of the foreground.
25. The brain is a frenemy.
26. If we only have foreground, we’ll be existentially and mentally overwhelmed (for it is impossible to think without reference to any expert or authority at all). If we only have background, we’ll be under mind control.
27. Falsification is how we can exist in a world with an expanded foreground and little background and not fall into existential anxiety, widespread conspiracy-thinking, and the like. But what if falsification is only what a few rare individuals will do? Then it is hard to say what the future will hold.