think. Message Board › What is evidence/truth
It is with certain amount of trepidation that I write a “summary” of my thoughts from the last two meetings, to a certain extent I am interpreting views that have been delivered by others through the group so be aware if you see your own words appearing, mangled and misused, I apologize as this is purely my own fault.
Over the last two meetings we have delved deeply into the concepts of Truth and Evidence, which in many ways are reflections or supporters of the other. A basic tenet of “good” evidence was that it be true (lower case) and the only way to strive for (but never quite reaching) Truth was through the acquisition of said evidence. What follows is my attempt to condense a number of the concepts we discussed into a single mildly bizarre analogy.
It is in a strange time and place that a group of sentient beings discover a box that routinely and regularly emits numbers ranging from 1 to 9. On the box an inscription is written: “The mean average of the emitted numbers is the path to true happiness, there is a set limit to the number of emitted numerals”, naturally this gets the sentient beings quite excited, all of them have different ideas of what “true happiness” entails but all are quite sure they want a piece of it. Each sentient being sets about measuring the numbers emitted from the box in the hopes of reaching true happiness (better yet if it's before their peers). It is swiftly seen that certain individuals are not quite going to make the journey.
The first being came from a very strictly superstitious upbringing and so discounts all mentions of the number 31 since this number is considered unlucky and could have no place in an attempt to find true happiness. Their average swiftly becomes widely different and is discounted by the others. This is an example of superstition preventing individuals from reaching truth.
The second being very desperately wants a very specific number to be the average since that is its birthday. So this being starts ignoring some numbers that don't bring the average closer to its birthday. Once again their average becomes widely different and the rest of the beings take care not to spend too much time around the second being. This is an example of confirmation bias preventing individuals from reaching truth.
Eventually a second box is discovered close to the first. However this box delivers letters instead of numbers. The beings confer for a while and two main camps form. The first camp start establishing a strange branch of mathematics to interpret the letters in bizarre ways that affect the average. The second camp decides that they do not care about the letters since it is incoherent data that is not relevant to their goal. They decide to not incorporate the data into their average. In time a faded inscription is found stating “this box writes bad poetry” and the first camp embarrassed, remove the letters from their equations. This is an example of irrelevant data being a barrier to reaching truth.
As yet more time goes on a hapless intern of one of the individuals that have now formed entire research groups stumbles next to the box and knocks the box to the ground. There is naturally a great deal of panic for a moment but when the box is righted all are happy to see that the numbers still continue on. Except that now a portion of the display has been scraped clean and they can see that there is actually another digit they've been missing all this time. The box was in fact giving them numbers between 1 and 99. They swiftly return to their old records and begin modifying old figures by an order of magnitude and then make some clever estimates around where the average would actually lie given this new information. This is an example of a dramatic shift in a theory due to new information becoming available due to new technology or accident.
A time comes when the individuals that have faithfully kept their recordings of the box work together, comparing readings to remove possible errors. They've discovered that the average is somewhere around 42. They know that this is not precise, since new readings are given all the time, but so many numbers have been given that only small refinements are made. It is believed by most that these refinements will go on forever. However their approximate number has been found to have numerous uses in strange place. They've used it to revolutionize their world and create a high standard of living for all. Even the individuals who continue to insist that the actual number is the day their prophet was born in the old times of the box's discovery. They haven't found the absolute truth, but they're close enough to work with what they have.