Friday, March 09, 2007

Recognizing Truth

Astronomer John Pratt, who specializes in religious chronology, has an interesting article on how to recognize truth. I give fair warning to those that are not religiously inclined, that Pratt’s article includes a religious view. I also give fair warning to those with a religious view that Pratt includes positive mention of paranormal events. But being a PhD, Pratt includes a scientific view as well. In fact, he attempts to provide a whole and rounded view of the matter, rather than a narrow approach. Indeed, he rejects a narrow approach, arguing that truth is truth regardless of its source.

Pratt begins by exploring how we learn as infants and moves on from there. He notes that our five senses can be easily fooled individually, while we are less easily fooled when multiples of these senses are involved. He discusses the validity of intuition and conscience, although, some would reject these sources or perhaps describe them differently.

After citing this Wikipedia article about ESP, which takes a level approach to the topic, Pratt includes a fun story (in footnote #4) about a school science fair experiment that employed Rhine’s forced-choice model and produced Rhine’s sheep-goat effect.

“A friend of mine helped his son do an interesting experiment for a junior high science fair. He offered grade school children a candy bar if they could roll a certain number with dice. He found that the older children could not beat the laws of chance, but that several in kindergarten and first grade easily cleaned him out of candy bars, far beyond the laws of chance.”

There are several potential criticisms of this experiment and what it means. For example, how was the roll of the dice controlled? Following multiple controlled tests over many years, Princeton researchers concluded “that humans could alter the behavior of random number producing machines very slightly, changing about 2 or 3 flips out of 10,000.” But I don’t know if they included young children in their tests.

Maybe I’ll try this little dice experiment with my own kids. They have a broad enough age range to provide a fair test. And I think I could easily devise a contraption that reliably rolls dice randomly. If nothing else, it would be a fun family activity.

Sorry for the detour. Pratt applauds the fact that teenagers learn to question authority and begin to think for themselves. He discusses the value of both left-brain and right-brain learning and decries attempts to focus only on one of these to the exclusion of the other. “The right brain can process many pieces of information at once, whereas the left is best at looking at things in a series one at a time.”

Delving into left-brain approaches, Pratt discusses logic, citing a variety of logical approaches, and notes that few today have ever had a formal course in logic. He mentions questioning all new premises, reasoning from extremes, and thought experiments. He discusses the value of the scientific method, but is careful to say that it is inadequate for discovering every kind of truth. He notes that some matters simply cannot be tested using the scientific method, but that this does not necessarily render them untrue. He also discusses the importance of proper context.

Pratt hits upon several right-brain systematic approaches. He cautions against allowing emotions to become a controlling factor, because they can cloud our perception of reality. Right-brain thinking does not mean emotional thinking. Pratt mentions drawing a picture, pattern matching, dreams, learning from nature, appropriate regard for authority, and divine revelation. Don’t read too much into this. Read what he has actually written and judge it for yourself.

I particularly enjoyed Pratt’s discussion of questioning new premises, reasoning by extremes, and thought experiments. He uses these methodologies to explore the statement, “All life is of equal value,” which probably can’t be answered through the scientific method. In a few paragraphs, Pratt effectively demonstrates the absurdity of this statement.

Pratt says that he has worked on this article for a couple of years, and that he still finds no consistent “sure-fire way to recognize truth….” Instead, he shares “a variety of techniques, all of which seem to work sometimes.” He seems to acknowledge that his discussion is incomplete. While incomplete, it is thought provoking and provides some good tools for discovering truth. I recommend Pratt’s article to those interested in recognizing truth.

1 comment:

Reach Upward said...

I tried the die rolling game with my kids using a Trouble game board with a die popper. That provides a good randomized function that is simple enough for preschoolers to do.

The most important results were that my kids loved it. But after a while, they each scored enough pieces of candy as to reduce the incentive. Economists call this the diminishing cost of marginal utility.

Each kid took turns picking a number, popping the die 10 times in a row, and scoring a piece of candy each time the number they selected came up during their turn. We went the rounds enough times to establish a good pattern. Then we tried some variations. I had everyone try to 'help' the person whose turn it was to get that person's desired number. I tried having everyone prevent the person popping from getting the desired number.

The results were that there was no appreciable difference in success rates between any of the ages for any of the permutations, and each person's results didn't statisically vary from chance (one in six). Although my first grader at one point had a remarkable run of five successes in ten tries, his overall result was normal, just like everyone else's.

This does not necessarily mean that psychic projection is impossible. It simply means that I was unable to produce the same results as the boy that did the science fair experiment. It may be that my kids have no gifts in this area. Or that the environment in which I performed my experiment was unsatisfactory. Or some other factor was at variance. As the experts are wont to say, more testing is warranted. :)