Other ways of knowing

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"Other ways of knowing" are alleged methods of obtaining information by various "alternative" (or non-scientific/non-rational/non-logical) means. Mainly, these exist as an extension of the "non-overlapping magisteria" concept that separates the scientific and physical from the religious or spiritual and as such, allow practitioners of pseudoscience to get away with practically anything.

When these methods work, they are usually subject to confirmation bias and selective reporting, and when they don't work the excuse is that the "powers are blocked."


[edit] Culture as an other way of knowing

The slightly non-specious version of the claim is that literature and art are effective tools in teaching humans to be humans. Even a mostly-clear thinker like Christopher Hitchens was a huge advocate of the value of good fiction for humans to understand how other humans think. Or, as J. G. Ballard put it:[1] "Fiction is a branch of neurology." Stories are a hugely effective way of communicating ideas to humans, to the point that narrative bias is a major cognitive bias.

The error to watch for in this usage of the term is changing the meaning of "knowing" mid-argument:[2]

  1. Say that by 'knowing,' you mean something like 'learning something socially valuable' or 'experiencing something that changes how you think.'
  2. Get a scientist to agree that, yes, non-science subjects can give you that stuff. This won't be hard; probably nobody disputes it.
  3. Switch meanings and claim you've now shown that other subjects yield the same sort of knowledge science yields.

[edit] Other other ways of knowing

They include, but are not limited to:

[edit] When it appears to "work"

More-or-less by definition other ways of knowing cannot be falsified, and cannot be independently replicated, and as such are not scientific.

This, in turn, does not mean that information garnered by these methods is always incorrect, just that it shouldn't be trusted on its own. Mind reading, for example, can be classed as an "other way" but may be quite correct with the information it generates due to a person's good instinct or a method such as cold reading.

Rationalists are advised not to try these at home without proper supervision.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. http://www.jgballard.ca/non_fiction/jgb_notes_nowhere.html
  2. Argument nicked from "eric".
  3. Unless the only knowledge sought is a clarification of one's own emotional state. Even then, professional counseling is often superior to private navel-gazing.
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