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- Henry David Thoreau
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Not only do two wrongs not make a right, but what is even worse
is that they are often only the beginning.
- Michael Armstrong

Self-Deception
07/12/2018

If you flatter yourself that you are an intellectually responsible seeker of the truth, consider this:

In 1669, The distinguished English physicist, Robert Hooke, made a wonderful discovery. He obtained the long-sought  proof of the Copernican heliocentric theory of the solar system by demonstrating stellar parallax—a perceived difference in [the] position of a star due to the Earth's motion around the Sun. One of the first to use a telescope for this purpose, Hooke observed the star Gamma Draconis and soon reported to the Royal Society that he had found what he was looking for; The star had a parallax of almost [30] seconds of arc. Here, at last, was impeccable experimental proof of the Copernican theory.

This heartening triumph of empirical science was only momentarily dashed when the Frenchman, Jean Picard, announced he had observed the star Alpha Lyrae by the same method but had failed to find any parallax at all. A few years later, England's first Astronomer Royal, the brilliant observer, John Flamsteed, reported that the Pole Star had a parallax of at least [40] seconds.

Hooke and Flamsteed, outstanding scientists of their day, are leading lights in the history of science. But they fell victim to an effect that, to this day, has continued to trap...scientists in its treacherous coils. It is the phenomenon of experimenter expectancy, or, seeing what you want to see. There is, indeed, a stellar parallax, but, because of the vast distances of all stars from Earth, the parallax is extremely small—about [1] second of arc. It cannot be detected by the relatively crude telescopes used by Hooke and Flamsteed.

Self-deception is a problem of pervasive importance in science. The most rigorous training in objective observations is often a feeble defense against the desire to obtain a particular result. Time and again, an experimenter's expectation of what he will see has shaped the data he recorded to the detriment of the truth. This unconscious shaping of results can come about in numerous, subtle ways. Nor is it a phenomenon that affects only individuals. Sometimes a whole community of researchers falls prey to a common delusion...

Expectancy leads to self-deception, and self-deception leads to the propensity to be deceived by others. - Broad, William, and Wade, Nicholas, "Self-deception and Gullibility," Betrayers of the Truth (New York,1982), pp. 107-108.

Although I have unshakeable belief in my own reasoning ability, I find that I cannot accept it as either perfect or complete, and cannot and do not get comfortable with the outcome until I have affirmation/confirmation(?) from some other person that is capable and that I trust. I have made too many careless mistakes in the past for this to be anything other than foolish. This applies to ALL areas of intellectual activity in ALL of the realms, be they philosophical, theological, or relating to physical theory. Of course there are always varying degrees of conviction, and I do not abandon my positions for any other reason than rigorous logic and reason that shows them to be false or incomplete. And I can hold my convictions in the face of ALL other minds claiming they are wrong, until they engage with me to reason together, and we come to a mutual better understanding. I am actually eager to do this, because I have faith that the truth is always good and valuable, and more so than my own ego gratification.

The world is a noisy and confusing place, where thousands of voices using dozens of well-tested approaches and ploys are appealing to our self-interest and angst, claiming they have the truth and that we should travel down their path. If a person wakes up at some point and begins to challenge what they have been programmed to believe, that is a traumatic enough experience, fraught with resistance from church and society, family and friends. On top of that, they have all this noise, confusion, and all these voices to contend with. But as if that is not enough, now we know it gets worse! There is this ever-present tendency for the above described self-deception. It seem like seeking the truth is not for the weak or faint-hearted!

What to do? Maybe this is where real prayer starts.

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