Spit or swallow? The rational standpoint @ ignorance

According to his legend Socrates was known as the wisest man in the world after his meeting with the Oracle at Delphi. The rather modest insight of Socrates that gained him that privilege was “the only thing I know is that I don’t know anything”, which wouldn’t impress your lower grade teacher very much, but it obviously worked on the Oracle.

Now Socrates wasn’t speaking about his general lack of education but the uttermost philosophical consequence of knowledge; we cannot make any unequivocal statements of our reality [ontology]. But, on the contrary, we can make absolute statements on issues where we master the axioms, for example in math or language.

Climate science is somewhere in between philosophically and, because of the extreme polarization, in a big brown puddle of mud metaphorically. It would be nice if both sides embraced the Socratic wisdom of admitted ignorance sometimes.

I’ve thought about what to do as an observer on an issue like climate change. Is it reasonable to demand from the public to learn the details of climate physics and empirics? It doesn’t matter because it will not happen. The alternative is adherence to authority or sound scepticism. Science is not about consensus, quite the opposite. But in a field of science in uniform agreement the rational thing must be to swallow or to do the homework yourself.

Now uniform agreement is probably not likely in the real world, at least not very often. It is easy to believe that anthropogenic global warming is settled science, but it is more likely that it’s merely settled politics and settlement in the eye of the public.

Scrutinizing the anti-intellectual consensus in the western world on several controversial political issues it’s not hard to imagine such an explanation without diminishing it to mere conspiracy (which has such a bad connotation). In public affairs it’s a means of gaining institutional credibility and funds, personally it’s about social status and confirmation among peers. To every differing opinion there’s also the moral condemnation. 


This is a rather amusing example of how the described motivations induce change in the public sector:

US: “The Pentagon is ordering the top brass to incorporate climate change into virtually everything they do, from testing weapons to training troops to war planning to joint exercises with allies. It says the military will not be able to maintain effectiveness unless the directive is followed. It orders the establishment of a new layer of bureaucracy — a wide array of “climate change boards, councils and working groups” to infuse climate change into “programs, plans and policies.””


SWE: The Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten) must integrate a gender perspective in all forms of ”war planning, intervention, education and training”. There must be strategies to incorporate a gender perspective in all aspects of the battle.

One must be severely delusional to believe that this is about core military tactics rather than politics.

Climate change
The climate is always changing. We observe that the Earth has warmed approx. 1c since 1870. What’s the null hypothesis of that? Natural variability. For example the activity of the sun, our position in the galaxy, short- and long term cycles of the oceans etc. After all, the Earth is recovering from The Little Ice Age that ended in the mid 19th-century, and some warming must be expected.

Now what is the alternative hypothesis of the observed warming? Basically, everything else. A reduction of emissivity or albedo due to “terraforming” (paved roads, croplands etc.), urban heat islands, corrupt data, carbon dioxide, increased consumption of X etc. The number of variables that correlates with temperature since the beginning of industrialization are countless.

Maybe it’s not all that common to reason in terms of such conjectures in our daily lives. It is more plausible that several views and values can be reduced into a mere reflection of the mainstream news coverage or the cinema blockbuster. While that’s surely effective in invoking an emotional response it’s not very likely to stimulate the logos of your grey matter.

Article in Swedish newspaper 1938: ”Why has the Cold Winters disappeared?”, preceding the 1940-70 cold period. They also predicted the melting of the entire Arctic glacier, proven wrong for 80 years and counting.

Reasonable doubt
When there’s doubt the base premiss must be to hold on to the null hypothesis, not to form your opinion on the latest doomsday article on flooding or ice sheet melting, or even apocalyptic movies with Hollywood hunks like DiCaprio. The reason being; causality is implied but not proven. Or put differently; to spit – not swallow – the mainstream consensus.


I don’t know.



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