Monday, March 10

16:00 + some odd minutes

(Yeah, now that you mention it, I do have an alarming tendency to take a single point out of context and beat it to death instead of addressing an entire argument.)


I am saying that reputation counts. If we were Vulcans, anyone could say anything and we could evaluate their statements with pure logic. But if somebody talks about a master race descended from Plutonians who run a shadow government intent on tilting the Earth's axis, then begins to discuss theories about physics, how much would you trust their statements about physics?

Thing is, this is where we drift back into the territory of pure ad hominem. Yes, "reputation", or at least prior knowledge about a speaker, is useful. It can lead you to ask what people's real motives are. It can help you to see their arguments in a different, maybe more helpful light. It can help you reduce the inevitable confusion that language introduces by meaning slightly different things to everyone. And yes, it can serve as a warning that perhaps you ought to be careful, really careful, about what this nutjob is saying - or that maybe, all your instincts to the contrary, this chick has a good enough track record that it's worth your time to listen, because it could just be that she knows something you have missed. All that's true, but it can also be dangerous, *especially* that last bit.

Logic does not indicate and (more importantly) experience does not show that people who are raving lunatics are more likely to be wrong about everything, or that people who know what they are talking about are never raving lunatics.

Posit a somewhat eccentric and by many accounts unpleasant practitioner of alchemy who believes that the course of history is literally encoded in the physical dimensions of a building destroyed some 1600 years before his time. Feel like taking his advice on physics? How about math?

If Isaac Newton is not a strong (or recent) enough counterexample, I submit Ezra Pound, Bobby Fischer, and Wernher von Braun.

(Whoops. The Second Temple bit the dust in, I think, 70 CE/AD. Newton lived 1642-1727, so adjust that 1600 years bit as needed for your own chronological comfort.)