The Importance of Epistemic Humility

In one of his interviews, Milton Friedman was asked if he would stop someone from doing something that he, Friedman, knew to be wrong. Is it his moral duty, the interviewer pressed on, to prevent someone from doing what could lead to harm. Friedman replied (and I am paraphrasing here; I will find the exact quote later) that yes, it was his moral duty but he added, “But how can I be sure that I am right? How can I know for certain? Because I can’t know for sure, I should resist the urge to interfere with another.”

This is what I would call epistemic humility. Epistemic — of, relating to, or involving knowledge and cognition. Humility — the attitude that acknowledges weakness or incompleteness in one’s capacities. Epistemic humility is when you know that you don’t know, and resist the pretense of knowledge.

People who hold absolutely rigid views on matters that are intrinsically unknowable or incompletely known cause a lot of misery. They lack the wisdom to realize that as imperfect beings we are subject to all sorts of illusions and have at best an incomplete understanding of the world. We have to be especially wary of our beliefs. Bertrand Russell was once asked if he was prepared to die for his beliefs and he replied, “Certainly not, after all I may be wrong.” That’s prudent.

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Is a vaccine a public good?

Prabhudesai asked: Is a vaccine a “public good”?

In economics, goods that are non-rival (consumption of the good by someone does not decrease the amount available for others to consume) and non-excludable (no one can be prevented from consuming) are called pure public goods. By that definition, clearly a vaccine is not a pure public good.

A good that is non-rival but excludable is called a “club good” — a large park in a gated community, for example. A good that is rival but non-excludable is called “common pool” — a pasture for grazing cattle with no fences, for example. 

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Elementary, my dear

On top of being one of the greatest physicists of the 20th century CE, Feynman was a brilliant teacher. He presented complex ideas in elementary terms. Of course, one needed bring intelligence to the table. Best if one had an infinite amount of intelligence when it came to understanding the most elementary ideas.

“I am going to give what I will call an elementary demonstration. But elementary does not mean easy to understand. Elementary means that very little is required to know ahead of time in order to understand it, except to have an infinite amount of intelligence.”

Don Boudreaux on “Covid Tyranny”

tyranny-brancoDon Boudreaux over at Cafe Hayek makes very important points:

A government that acts without rules, that consistently changes course in favor of exercising ever-more and longer-lasting power, and that now refuses to publicly state guidelines for ending its unprecedented assault on ordinary human liberties is tyrannical. I don’t see how this word fails to accurately describe today’s British government – as well as many other governments across the globe. Continue reading

Fagradalsfjall

From the wiki

Fagradalsfjall is a shield volcano and tuya with multiple prominences located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, around 40 kilometres from Reykjavík, Iceland. Its highest summit is Langhóll (385 m / 391 m). A volcanic eruption began on 19 March 2021 in Geldingadalur to the south of Fagradalsfjall, which is still emitting fresh lava as of 27 March 2021.

Update: Another video. This one is from a drone.

Barbaric Religious Discrimination of India

Hitler discriminated on the basis of religion — as does the government of India. India is a disgraceful state. Indians tolerate religious discrimination. Indians lack basic morality and humanity. Indians should be ashamed of their uncivilized backwardness.

Discrimination in the private sphere may or may not be morally and ethically excusable. But state-imposed policies that discriminate for or against particular segments of the population is unambiguously wrong, immoral and barbaric. Regardless of whether the discrimination is legally sanctioned or not, it is morally odious in principle and is pernicious in its effect on society. State sanctioned and state imposed discrimination among citizens on any criterion is bad in general but it becomes absolutely unacceptable when the criterion applied is religion.

What deserves unconditional denouncement and unreserved condemnation is when a self-professed secular state discriminates on a religious basis. No state in modern times can claim to be civilized while blatantly committing the crime of discriminating against segments of its population based on religion. The Indian State should be roundly criticized for breaking a universally recognized norm in this regard.

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Don Boudreaux on Externalities

I have long held the belief that a reasonably educated person — regardless of his professional specialization or occupation — should be familiar with the basic principles of the natural sciences (physics, biology, etc.), the social sciences (psychology, economics, etc.), know how to do arithmetic, know something about law and history, philosophy, etc.

I confess that I was not “reasonably” educated when I graduated from engineering school. Other than what I was minimally required to learn — the basics of science, engineering and math — I knew hardly anything else. Today I would judge my 20-something year old self as a barely educated, mostly ignorant person. Fortunately for me, I am naturally thoughtful, curious and quite intelligent, which allowed me to overcome some of my deficiencies. I was doubly fortunate in being able to learn economics — first neoclassical and eventually Austrian. Now I consider myself a reasonably educated person. And getting more educated by the day. Continue reading

Don’t be silly, People

The 1962 movie “Lawrence of Arabia” by David Lean is an all-time favorite. Peter O’Toole is superb as T. E. Lawrence and the cinematography is epic. It’s one of those movies that appears on practically all “Top 100 Movies” list.

The wiki notes (click on the image on the left):

“The American Film Institute ranked Lawrence of Arabia 5th in its original and 7th in its updated 100 Years…100 Movies lists and first in its list of the greatest American films of the “epic” genre. In 1991, the film was … selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1999, the film placed third in the British Film Institute’s poll of the best British films of the 20th century, and in 2001 the magazine Total Film called it “as shockingly beautiful and hugely intelligent as any film ever made” and “faultless”.” Continue reading