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Common knowledge doesn't exists

Over the weekend my wife and I visited some relatives living in Regensburg and we have had some good discussions about several topics – from blood cholesterol level to politics to the magnetic polar reversal scheduled for December 21, 2012.
I noticed: common knowledge doesn’t exist. People know, what they want to know. They filter and interpret facts according to their believes. A common body of knowledge doesn’t exist for human mankind, nor for any group of people, for any culture, community or company. People are different, and everyone is having his own version of the truth.
I was reminded to this when reading this quote today by Edwin Abbott Abbott:
Men are divided in opinion as to the facts. And even granting the facts, they explain them in different ways. ––Faust, lines 354–59.
For every fact you can come up with evidences, but you can also come up with evidences to refute it. It is more a question of belief which evidence you accept and who you trust, who’s book you read and who’s you criticize, probably without even reading it. Do you trust your doctor more than one who you don’t know and who has written a book titled “The Cholesterol Lie” ? Do you believe those who announce world’s end knowing that so far the world never ended before, which of course is no evidence that some time in the future it might happen ? Do you think our politicians are telling us the truth, our leaders really lead us, scientist and experts acknowledge wisdom and insight more than their carrier ?
“I know that I know nothing” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. This is probably the only truth you can come up with, besides certain facts from mathematics where true evidences really exist – as far as I can tell.

4 blog comments below

@Amagard. I really like your blog posts, this one in particular is VERY interesting. Makes one think. Helps connect some of the dots. This portion resonated very well with me:
“I know that I know nothing” said Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust. This is probably the only truth you can come up with, besides certain facts from mathematics where true evidences really exist – as far as I can tell.

I'm a great fan of Von Goethe. Faust however is a bit depressing for me.

PS: Hope you are thinking of entering Nameless' creative short writing competition below as I have a feeling that you'd probably be able to come up with something very meaningful (if you have the time to do the writing of course). Very Happy
deanhills on Wed Dec 21, 2011 8:26 pm
Fantastic read, amagard! Very insightful to the human condition.
standready on Thu Dec 22, 2011 12:17 am
Hmm, so I guess its up to me to take issue? Fine.
OK - firstly, just because a challenge can be made to a fact, doesn't mean the challenge is worth anything, let alone valid. Anyone can challenge General Relativity, Quantum Field theory or any other theory in physics. It is extremely probable that their challenge is completely worthless - from experience I'd put the probability somewhere around 0.9999999x, where x is some value between 0 and 9 - in other words its pretty much a dead cert.

There seems to be some weird belief that opinion is actually important - that simply because one HAS an opinion it must be worth listening to. Hell, some bunnies even think that their opinions are on a par with people who actually know what they are talking about and that their particular prattle overcomes some silly mistake that Einstein made, or some miscalculation that Schoedinger missed. Such people are generally known as numpties, pet theorists, or simply morons (depending on a number of factors, such as how charitable one feels; who else is present; the precise level of delusional crap in the 'theory'; and the number of times this particular moron has previously pestered one with his - and it will almost certainly be a HE - 'advanced theories').

To be quite clear, in science any opinion based on ignorance, guesswork, intuition or 'common sense' is about as valid and useful as a chocolate fire-blanket - it is worthless. It is actually quite astonishingthat people who are usually ignorant of even basic concepts of science, can, with little apparent discomfort, delude themselves that they have a valid opinion on a scientific issue.
Perhaps it is evolution that accounts for the fact that these people are very selective about their self-declared expertise. They are rarely experts in any craft field, or in medicine and surgery. Perhaps selection pressure has weeded-out the more uicidally deluded numpties and shifted the group to disciplines which are extremely tyechnical and mathematical (allowing them to kid people around them that they are expert by talking confidently about 'quantum superposition, 'relativistic synchronicity', or even 'polarised energy vortices'* without actually putting them in too much real danger.

In fact, selection pressure (if such it be) has resulted in the numpties now being clustered around a small number of disciplines. Most are normally 'expert' in one nor more of the following:
Relativistic Twaddle, Quantum woo-woo, 'Energy abuse', Alternative Medicine (note that the numpties expertise is usually expressed by the Nt equation:

To finish - I certainly agree that 'common sense' is no longer a widely traded currency. It never was much use in science, of course, since the universe doesn't seem to have arranged itself to fit our extremely limited and parochial notions of what makes sense.

I also agree that people, generally, are really crap at maths and therefore completely unable to intelligently dicuss, let alone critique, any theory in the physical sciences published over the last century. This is worrying and has led to a massive gap between the scientifically literate and the scientifically illiterate. To be incapable of algebra and basic calculus means that one is incapable of making much contribution to science - unfortunate but true. It really does seem that the universe is, at a really deep level, only describable using the language of maths. As a struggling autodidactic student of maths myself, I might wish it were otherwise, but it aint.

Answers? Nope, I'm still too busy running like mad to get a faint understanding of the questions.

* Yep - these are all real terms that people have used in dicussion with me here on Frih. ius never sure whether toi give them a chocolate and a pat on the head, smiling sadly at their relatives in condolence, or strike them forciblyand repeatedly around the skull area, whilst dressed in academic robes, in the hope that old Skinner's experiments might work on lesser intelligences as well as it did on rats, leading to the moron being behaviourally conditioned to stay away from academic institutions and staff. This latter method is attractive because it would, obviously, double the productivity of the physics department overnight....
Bikerman on Thu Dec 22, 2011 1:57 am
Thanks for the great comments folks, especially Bikerman, I agree to a lot of your thoughts. I remember one of my managers long time ago was a master in participating in discussions while knowing just a little about the particular topic: he just grabbed the books we had been reading and read the table of contents only to pick up the right words to enter the discussion ...

I must say: physicist start to loose me. Whenever I read about all the theories about how the universe started, works, and might end I get real dizzy. In 2012 actually they try to find evidence of the existence of the Higgs-Bosom, the last type of particle in the Standard Model of Physics so far only announced thru theories. Will be an interesting year though !

deanhills, thanks for mentioning this writing competition. Indeed sounds interesting. Hopefully I find some time for it and also a good idea what to write.

With best regards ... Axel
amagard on Mon Dec 26, 2011 6:36 pm

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