Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Problem With Non-Standard Knowledge Claims

There are plenty of well-intentioned people in and around the independent and alternative media communities who deal in subjects where claims of knowledge stem from sources that cannot be independently verified. They're making knowledge claims, by and large, through very personal experiences that cannot be externally validated. Many of these claims are due to ecstatic experiences--visions, voices, inspiration, shamanic journeys, ceremonial acts, etc.--that observers cannot follow, save by the exact replication of the experience, and that is unreliable due to individual differentiation. While I don't dismiss out of hand such sources, I avoid them because it is very difficult to construct a valid argument when you cannot cite a source other than these. (Not impossible, just difficult; you need to know what you're doing.)

By comparison, if I make an argument using sources that I can link to or otherwise cite, then you can easily follow up on that link or citation and see the evidence for yourself. The source of my knowledge claim is external to me, does not rely on an experience that is--for all intents and purposes--one that is unique to the individual, and therefore does not rely on my specific perspective to show my claim to be valid or not. This is one of the many, many reasons for why I prefer to present others who stick to the usual standard knowledge claim sources and do so myself as much as I can. That said, I again remind you that out here in the frontier you can, and will, need to become familiar with non-standard sources. If you don't know anything about meditation, get familiar with that. If you don't know the basics of shamanism, get familiar with that. Various forms of magical practice? Get familiar with that. You don't have to practice it yourself, but you should know what's being talked about when the subjects come up; it's one of the good ways to discern a sincere speaker with a fake.

That's the other big problem with non-standard sources for knowledge claims: falsifiability. If I cite a paper or a book, but I misrepresent what that sources says--out of incompetence or malice--then you can rebut that claim by proving that the source I cite doesn't say what I claim it says- you can prove my claim to be false. Try that with a vision experienced while in a meditative trance. When arguing that the global financial system is now what we're told that it is, claiming that your knowledge came through a channeling session with an entity from a distant world just won't cut it with most of the people whom you want to convince with your argument. Getting it in prayer, or while in a sweat lodge experience, or during an Ayahuasca experience, or performing a ritual magic ceremony, or any other non-standard source just won't cut it either. Like it or not, you're playing the game of Convince The Audience, and the audience is made up of James Randi clones.

What this means, in practice, is that this is a pursuit where your store of value--your money--is your credibility. The standard knowledge claims build up credibility by ensuring that their sources are falsifiable, and then by encouraging (via making those sources easy to independently verify) others to do just that. The non-standard knowledge claim makes this difficult at best because repeating the experience as exact as possible still fails to account (because it's not possible to do so) for the differences between individuals and their unique perspectives, and when such difficulties are made so much more difficult due to the claimant willfully obscuring their sources then that is when a cynic and a skeptic come into accord about suspicions of the claimant being a fraud.

It is wise, therefore, to make certain that the sources for our knowledge claims be as easy for others to investigate as possible. If you seek to use non-standard sources, then you would be wise to lay the groundwork for the reliability and integrity of those sources so that others can investigate as you did; if not possible, then you would be wise to limit that source to what can be independently verified (and omitted if not viable at all). To do otherwise is to fall under the sway of Empire, and Empire must fall.

No comments:

Post a Comment