The first principle

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Richard Feynman, physicist


12 thoughts on “The first principle

  1. Some ways to avoid fooling oneself:

    1) Remind yourself you do not know anything for sure.

    2) Keep the historical, factual basis for one’s theory separate from the speculations of the theory itself. In other words, keep opinion and fact separate in your mind, and “on paper”.

    3) Remember your opinions may be incorrect. Admitting that often to yourself, and publicly, is good insurance against fooling oneself or others.

    4) Remember contrary opinions may be correct. Read them carefully, and keep an open mind.

    5) If you write and/or publish anything, be sure to make it clear you adhere to 1-4. This will keep you from painting yourself into a corner, and from letting anyone do it for you.

    There is nothing wrong with exploring possibilities, which in this case are many. There is everything wrong with assuming you have the answer, to yourself or others. You will never be fooling yourself if you remember, simply, you do not know anything beyond: It’s a book of vellum, with stuff in it.

  2. This final part is only true for those people who happen to consider all possibilities of equal value.

    Probability is the key heuristic we have for preventing us from crumbling under an infinity of marginal possibilities. in short, probability is what gives us epistemological hope in a complex world.

    I think Feynman’s quotation is aimed far more at false certainty than as some kind of caveat against using probability in reasoning.

  3. But since (outside of mathematics) perceived relative probabilities are always subjective, then assigning them is as open to error as any other decision. One can choose the items and their relative merit when listing features to input in calculating probability, based on many factors, slewing the perception back and forth between more or less probable.

    The other problem is in applying probabilities to an object or event which may be unique (without one knowing in advance it is unique). A rare or unique occurrence can not be uncovered by using probabilities. The results will always attempt to “force” the item or occurrence to match something more common, more probable.

    The Antikythera mechanism is a good example of this. Since nothing from the time it was actually made, was known, it’s probability of being what it actually is, was “zero”. Which is why for a long time it was assumed that it happened to fall on the wreck, and was from a later time. It took someone (Price, right?) to see past what it “probably” was, to what it really was, as unlikely or impossible as that seemed.

    One of a kind items elude the eye of probability. If the VMs turns out to be unique (as ironically many seem to sense it is, anyway), probabilities will not help determine what it is… even if they were not as subjective as I feel they are, to begin with.

  4. The point you appear to be missing is that although historical probabilities (“what probably happened”) are of a different category to scientific probabilities (“what should happen if…”), they are nonetheless both used for broadly the same prupose.

    The flaw here is your apparent belief that because the former cannot be reduced to the latter, then it is of no value. Both do exist, and both are useful heuristic tools in getting closer to the truth.

  5. No, I did understand you, and did not miss your point. We just look at it differently. We simply disagree (surprise!) on the value/detriment relationship in using probability in this endeavor. You find it useful, I find it a hindrance.

    But that is a good thing… to have many different outlooks and approaches. If I had yours, I would be where you are, and vice-versa. Then what? It’s good we are not all on the “same page”. Multiple outlooks cover more ground.

    All the best… Rich.

  6. It’s sensible to accept that it’s probably possible, until nonsensically accepted as either impossible or probable… that I agree and disagree, as applies.

  7. Ha.

    And Elmar, nice to see you back at your blog… any new thoughts for us? Has your time away given you any new ideas, or did you cleanse your mind of all things Voynichy while gone?

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