Certainty Ratings: The Case for Epistemological Modesty


Life is complicated, as people are quick to say. What this means in the real world varies for almost every case. One common type of complexity is seen in logical oppositions. To express this point, let us begin with a question.

What is the logical competitor of a decentralized system? The typical answer would be the polar opposite: a centralized system, but this is not necessarily the case. The logical opposite of a decentralized system is a “not decentralized” one which includes an entirely centralized system but not solely that. Extrapolate! This issue of logical opposition is the primary challenger to purity if we assume that purity exists in a market structure.

Competition is fierce because purity of any form competes not only with “impurity” but any ideas in that space. In other words, what is pure is competing with what is “not pure.” Thus, it is virtually impossible to maintain purity, especially ideological ones. This also shows the problems of absolutes.

The question then becomes, how should we think, much less speak, if all we say faces severe competition from sources that are or might be even more fierce. Well, competition brings us squarely into the neoclassical domain, where we can apply the classic supply and demand model to analyze the problem. Think of each idea as a firm, and each thought uttered in the marketplace of ideas as subject to competition where only one idea (or a basket of ideas) can win the day. Each thought or idea becomes a price taker where the price is the certainty rating you allot to that specific thought. Automatically, each view is weighed according to its prevalence and also its competitors. Meaning, because humans are social beings and cannot exist alone, we weigh highly, thoughts or ideas that everyone agrees with and, by virtue of living, end up with a weighted average of all ideas everyone agrees with and is useful in the real world (which is essentially what a belief system is). Thus, when you think a thought, automatically allot some base certainty rating and falsify as you go.

That said, it is possible for there to exist an idea so dominant that logical oppositions either do not exist or the competition in that space is trivial. These are usually heavily tested models, hypotheses, and theories. It is, therefore, reasonable to use these as the backbones of your thinking. Even the idea of logical oppositions is one of these elusive ideas. It is, in a roundabout way, a call for epistemic humility as well as rigorous reasoning through the scientific method. This is difficult to do but valuable nonetheless.

Suppose you think through what this means for a person’s worldview. In that case, one can’t help but wonder what characterizes the ideas in people’s minds because people can be wildly inconsistent in their professed beliefs (guilty). Are the ideas in people’s heads analogous to cells in one well-functioning body? Or an ecological landscape where ideas compete but also work together at some margins. The answer lies in a synthesis between both dialectics. A synergistic compromise of some form where the ways in which ideas function in individuals clues us into a more profound synergy between those ideas. Just like a couple of cells do not produce you, a couple of ideas do not produce you.

In the end, life really is complicated and a constant updating of the model, although difficult, is necessary for the survival of our species.

Recall: One’s meta goal in life should be to find the most accurate model of the world possible and act by it.

Certainty rating: 89%


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