EPISTEMIC CLOSURE

“If subject S knows p, and S knows that p entails q, then S can thereby come to know that q.”

“The term “epistemic closure” has been used in US political debate to refer to the claim that the belief systems of political conservatives are closed systems of deduction, which cannot be affected by empirical evidence.”

Thanks, Wikipedia!

I’d say that’s a fairly accurate definition. And, since the recent election is being widely regarded as the triumph of geek computer science nerds over the macho “I got a feeling – I’m gettin’ a vibe” school of Republican thought, let’s talk about this mystery equation using a real-life example!

In reference to Obama’s unexpected win, Bill O’Reilly said, “…The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff, they want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.”

Okay. Subject S (Bill) knows p (“50 percent of Americans want things”), and S (Bill) knows that p (“people wanting things”) entails q (“people voting to get things”) then S (Bill) thereby comes to know q (people vote for Obama because he’s gonna “give them things”).

There’s only one problem, but it is a big one. Bill “knows” that “50 percent of Americans want things.” But that doesn’t work within the parameters of the formula. The formula only works with situations that are empirical in nature, objectively measurable, like “50 percent of Americans have coins in their pockets”. You could actually measure that, and actually draw some accurate, if meaningless, conclusions from the results.

But when you START with a stupid generalization, nothing else in the formula is going to work in a real way, because what you “know” only functions in the little closed system you have created with other people who also “know” the same stupid generalization. Unfortunately for Bill, people voted Obama for a LOT of DIFFERENT reasons, most of which were also probably not particularly empirical in nature – “He seems like a nice guy.” “I’m a brown person and he’s a brown person, so I am voting brown.” “His wife is a classy lady.” “My kid got to stay on my insurance at a critical time, so I’m grateful for Obamacare and rewarding him with my vote.” And so on, in as many permutations as there were voters.

Presto! Recipe for conservative disaster on Election Day! I guess those geeks actually had something goin’ on after all, right, Bill?

Oh. He can’t hear me because he is stuck inside his own little universe-within-a-universe with the rest of the folks who got “vibes” and “feelings” and based their expectations on magical thinking. The inhabitants of this place have been blocked from the perception of their own errors in judgement because they could only feed each other the pap that made perfect sense in their own self-enclosed world, but not in the wider world the rest of us inhabit. At the moment, these folks are blinking and blinded, like newborn colts, having been dumped into the harsh light of a new, unexpected environment. Maybe we can communicate when the shock wears off.

But I guess that depends on THEM.

Leave a Reply