Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Belief in the Unfalsifiable



I           INTRODUCTION

What would you think if I told you there is an ugly, self-sustaining, omnipotent invisible force that explains everything. It frames every argument, structures language, and every element of human experience. It is like the air we breath, most of the time we do not think about it or know it is there. It has an amazing ability to control the brains of women and men, framing every belief, value and cultural norm human beings experience since the dawn of time. It's barnacles are entirely invisible. You cannot touch it, feel it, taste it, or even smell it. It has no shape, color, form, or mass. As scientists, forget about trying to use the scientific method to study it because it cannot be studied.  Imagine something so powerful, omnipotent and invisible that it is able to inundate every single collective achievement made by humanity since the day we jumped down from the African trees and started walking on two feet.

This impressive thing explains everything. However, as it cannot be quantified or studied in any empirical manner, one must construct auxiliary hypothesis answering questions that cannot be answered in a research facility. When we start to question it, when we ask "how can this one thing explain everything?" they become angry, defensive, and create safe, exclusive groups. Behind the walls of these exclusive groups, believers congratulate each other on their intelligence, wisdom, and berate those who are just too blind to 'get it.'

People believe in my invisible, all powerful thing because they selectively notice information that is consistent with its existence, and ignore whilst undervaluing/ignoring information that is not consistent with its existence. Within their exclusive groups, they pander anecdotal stories proving the omnipotent invisible force is real. They feel victimized when anyone questions the existence of the invisible thing. Most of you probably think that I am talking about God.  But you know what. I am not writing about god at all, I am writing the social theory of patriarchy.

This article will examine Patriarchy as a theory that is beyond falsifiability. I will make no value judgement for or against patriarchy as a legitimate social system. I will consider the fact that it is real and not real, has power over human behavior and little power over human behavior. As a person who values fairness, I will treat patriarchy with as much fairness as I can muster. For now, my personal beliefs about patriarchy are irrelevant, and will be discussed in the End Notes, after the conclusion of this blog. 


TOO MUCH EXPLANATORY POWER

When Karl Popper first discussed what he considered to be a problem of ‘soft’ sciences, he offended a lot of people. That was probably a good thing. If we are not offending anybody, then we are doing something wrong. In his lecture, conjectures and refutations, Karl Popper said that social sciences and psychological sciences posing as science had more in common with primitive myths than real science. He said that some sciences resemble astrology more than astronomy, alchemy more than chemistry. Each of these disciplines happens to explain everything within the fields to which they referred.

Ironically, several months ago I wrote a blog about visiting the tomb of my favorite playwright Molière in Paris.  Molière once wrote, “Sur quelque préférence une estime se fonde, et c'est n'estimer rien qu'estimer tout le monde.”  Translation: to esteem everything is to esteem nothing. Centuries later Karl Popper touched upon the same sort of ideas. This leads us to the premise of this essay: is it rational to believe in any theory that explains everything?




FALSIFICATION CHECKLIST

According to Karl Popper, we must be cognizant of the following list of checks and balances. When a person believes any –ism or any –ology, keep this short list in your pocket and refer to it when needed.

·         It is easy to obtain confirmations when we look for them. Patriarchy may very well be alive and real, but mountains of confirmation and anecdotal stories do not prove patriarchy is a real omnipotent force.
·         Confirmations should count only if they are the result risky predictions, that is to say we should have expected an event that is incompatible with the theory. An event which would have refuted the theory. For example, when Einstein tested whether mass bends light, there was a real possibility he could have been wrong.
·         Every good scientific theory is a prohibition, forbids things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.
·         A theory which is not refutable, by any conceivable event is not scientific. Irrefutability is not a virtue of a theory, but a vice.
·         Every genuine test of a theory is a test to refute it. Testability is falsifiability. If there is no possibility your theory could be wrong, do not bother running the test.
·         Confirming evidence should not count unless it is the result of a genuine test.

To sum it up, the criterion of a theory is its falsifiability, refutability or testability. If a person is insulating the theory from being tested, or contrives some reason why it cannot be falsified, remember this is a soothsayer strategy.

If patriarchy is in fact an all-powerful world order, then those who believe in it should be willing to put it to a test where there is a chance that the test will show patriarchy is not real. My conjecture is that feminists will escape falsification by destroying any testability of ‘the patriarchy.’

AUXILIARY BELIEF SYSTEMS

When a theory cannot be put under the microscope and tested, believers construct an alternate belief system to hold up their pet theory. Certain beliefs within the auxiliary system can be tested for falsification. For example, there are many schools of psychology that can be measured, tested, graphed and falsified. An auxiliary hypothesis must be created to sustain belief that patriarchy is controlling our brains. A simplistic example of the auxiliary system is this, “Jane Sue was being sexually harassed, she just does not know it because she cannot identify it.” 

One of the more humorous examples of auxiliary belief systems comes from the book Logically Fallacious.
Example #1:
I have tiny, invisible unicorns living in my anus. 
Auxiliary Belief System: While it may actually be a fact that tiny, invisible, mythological creatures are occupying this person’s opening at the lower end of the alimentary canal, it is a theory that is constructed so it cannot be falsified in any way, therefore should not be seriously considered without significant evidence.
Example #2:
Priests can literally turn wine into the blood of Jesus.
Auxiliary Belief System: Surely we can examine the liquid and see if it at least change chemically, can we not?  No.  Because transubstantiation is not about a physical or chemical change, but a change in “substance” -- which, of course, is not a material change and therefore impossible to falsify.  Furthermore, the claim is not that it “might be” happening, but it certainly is happening, adding to the fallaciousness of the claim.  And of course, the only evidence for this is some ambiguous verses in a 2000 year old book -- so ambiguous that over a billion Christians don’t subscribe to the belief that transubstantiation occurs.  So we have unfalsifiability, belief of certainty, and very weak evidence.
UNFALSIFIABLE VS. FALLACIOUS

A fallacious argument is an argument that is always going to be wrong no matter what the situation. Any logical fallacy can be used as an example. If you follow the link to the webpage, Skeptics Guide to the Universe, you will find twenty of the most common logical fallacies. These arguments are all examples of fallacious arguments. They must not be confused with unfalsifiable theories.

I am not saying patriarchy is imaginary and completely without merit. In fact, Karl Popper would disagree with that statement as well. Many social sciences, economic theories, and psychological sciences certainly do have merit. If a theory cannot be falsified, this does not mean it is worthless. I want to be crystal clear that unfalsifiable claims may also be fallacious, but they are not always fallacious just because they are unfalsifiable.  

Scientific theories that can be falsified are typically hard sciences, such as biology, geology and chemistry. Scientific theories that cannot be falsified tend to be psychology, economic theories, political theories, sociology, and anthropology. These fields are judge based on their perceived methodological rigor. Before I go on, I must add that Karl Popper himself said in Conjectures and Refutations, that he finds soft sciences to be valuable and legitimate. Just because they cannot be falsified, does not guarantee that they are wrong. What he does say, quite clearly, is that we should be wary of any theory that explains everything.

The concept of Patriarchy falls under the social sciences. Therefore, it is not a natural science like biology, chemistry, or physics. For the purpose of accuracy, we must have a clear and precise definition of patriarchy so that we know if any element of this theory can be tested for falsifiability. The theory is compatible with most human behavior, it is practically impossible to describe any human behavior that does not verify patriarchy.

Patriarchy is a social system which is male-focused, male-centered, and male-identified. Patriarchy requires the participation of women and men in order to function. The idea is that men cast all women as naturally ill-suited to take leadership positions in society. Patriarchy relies upon gender stereotypes (men are in control, independent, powerful, dominant) while the women are (nurturers, caregivers, homemakers). Patriarchy enforces the Madonna/Slut complex, which states that if women are not virgins then they are sluts and whores. The view on women normalizes gender stereotypes, restricting women’s choices, opportunities, and ability to stretch their own wings and exercise their own independence and personal expressions in life.
From my interpretation, patriarchy is an all-powerful, omnipotent, invisible thing that we cannot refute because it is all encompassing, influencing every aspect of human experience. The mere definition of patriarchy treats it like a mind virus that infects our brains as if it were HIV. Patriarchy theory is compatible with most human behavior, it is practically impossible to describe any behavior that cannot verify patriarchy. Patriarchy is doing the exact thing Karl Popper said we should be concerned about, it answers everything. Patriarchy is in the plants, the trees, the air, the soil and even in the water that we drink.

When a person refuses to see patriarchy it is because they are refusing to see reality. I observed black and white thinking in many forms, some call it ‘all or nothing’ ‘win or lose’ or even ‘red pill or blue pill.’ Human experience has more than two options. Any person who has this black and white, simplistic type of thinking has in truth accepted a very immature way of seeing the world. It is immature to infer an individual cannot see patriarchy because they choose not to. It is juvenile to presume that patriarchy must be in everything, answer everything, and everyone who does not see it has either taken the wrong pill or stuck their head in the ground like an ostrich.

Popper argues that in some scientific theories, be them natural or social sciences, adherents see a constant stream of confirmation that their theory is real. For example, feminists see patriarchy in everyday language, when ‘he’ is used as a pronoun rather than ‘them, they, or she/he’. They see patriarchy when one says ‘men and women’ rather than ‘women and men.’

Freudian psychologists see constant confirmation of their theory when patients talk about their mother, fear of swimming, and repressed memories.  Cultural anthropologists, who subscribe to structuralism, see confirmation that the structure of culture and society also structures human identity. Popper wrote, "if we are uncritical we shall always find what we want. We shall look for, and find confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories." That being said, any pet theory that cannot be confirmed does not hold much weight in the realm of scientific inquiry.

 As a linguist, and author of the Polyglot Experience, I see evidence of ethnocentrism in linguistics, namely Anglo centrism all the time. Nobody is immune from confirmation bias - not even me. 

In the financial section of every newspaper, capitalists and socialists observe a constant stream of confirmation that their theory is correct. Capitalists choose to see how socialism is bad, ignoring all the evidence of how it is good: like the post office, public water, roads, currency, and libraries. Socialists choose to see how their quality of life is better, yet ignore the fact that they will never be able to create the same technology as capitalist societies.

Karl Popper argues that there is no real value in having one confirmed belief, after another, after another and another? We could have a mountain of confirmed beliefs, and that mountain is even greater proof that the theory is true? The problem arises when proponents of patriarchy constantly seek out cooperating evidence that sexism and oppression are happening. They examine every flirt, joke, or unwelcome advance.  As time goes on and they age, they will find more and more and more and more and more confirmation that patriarchy is real, and being a woman so terrible.

II          REFUTING ABSOLUTE PATRIARCHY

Absolute patriarchy as a theory cannot be falsified, yet elements of it can be falsified. In part two of this essay, I will describe two ways in which I will falsify certain elements of the social theory of patriarchy. I will refute the patriarchal position that men are powerful and the idea that our world is full of sexual double standards.

MEN ARE POWERFUL

The very basis of patriarchy is that the world is male focused, centered and identified. Men are expected to be strong, confident, independent, in control of their emotions, hold positions of power and exercise power over others. The reality, is than many men are not these things. Many men are weak, insecure, dependent, sensitive, have bosses that they must answer to and do not have power over others.
Even when we come across a man who is the boss, he is not the boss in every element of his life. There may be many instances in life where he must answer to another person, regardless of that person’s gender. As men age, we find that they become even less powerful, in control, independent and unfeeling. We find that they enter a phase of integrity vs. despair.

SEXUAL DOUBLE STANDARDS

In 2003, The Journal of Sex Research published a peer reviewed article, Sexual double standards: A review and methodological critique of two decades of research. The article discusses pervasive double standards in American culture. The argument is that women and men have been subjected to different rules for sexual behavior. Women are called ‘sluts’, and stigmatized for engaging in sexual activity. The male counterpart for Samantha from Sex in the City is not a ‘dirty slut, whore’, but we have no problem considering Samantha a slut. As a woman, I find these double standards to be appalling.  (Crawford & Unger, 2000, p. 288). Women were faced with a Madonna/whore dichotomy: They were either pure and virginal or easy sluts.
These double standards would cause any feminist to jump up and shout, “Patriarchy! There it is! The Proof!” Not so fast. A similar study published in the Journal of Research also found a pervasive double standard in Western Culture, such that men are rewarded for sexual activity, whereas women are derogated for sexual activity. The study found that those dirty male sluts who are picking up elegant ladies to copulate with in nightclubs, are not considered to be dirty whores by mainstream society. This pervasive belief in the double standard results in a confirmation bias, such that people notice the double standards and fail to notice information that refutes it.

In the study, participants read vignettes about a target man or a woman that contained an equal number of positive and negative comments regarding the target's sexuality. Participants recalled more information consistent with the double standard than inconsistent with it. The vignettes about men contained just as many negative comments about male promiscuity, but the participants failed to recall them. What does that tell us? The study backs up what Karl Popper was talking about. People go through life seeking out to confirm their beliefs and do not see all the things refuting it.

SUMMARY

This article discussed what it means to falsify a theory, auxiliary belief systems, and unfalsifiable beliefs vs. fallacious beliefs. The title of this article is: Belief in the Unfalsifiable. My interpretation is that although some beliefs cannot be falsified, that does not make them fallacious. When we discuss belief in any manner, we must maintain that belief (little b) can be altered when one is confronted with new evidence whereas Belief (big B) is something taken on faith. I am not concerned with Belief (big B) because in this entire essay, I did not once discuss religion, god, supernatural events or faith. This essay discusses other beliefs (little b), theories about society, politics, race, gender, and human thought. The introduction of this essay alludes to faith, but as we discuss Popper, and question one’s belief in patriarchy we know that it is not something to be taken on faith because there is evidence of patriarchy in the world.

The social theory of patriarchy should be treated like any other social theory. Sometimes it is real and sometimes it is not real. I do not see the problem with the idea that sex (genitalia) is biological but I do see a problem with the argument that gender is always a social construction. A few years ago I read Why Gender Matters, and found it to be a well researched book. Author Dr. Leonard Sax discusses how biology plays a crucial role in how girls and boys learn, respond to discipline  listen, take risks, express aggression, feel, think and act. He addresses a host of issues including emotional, physical and intellectual development of girls and boys from a biological perspective. The book is not well received because many people want to believe that girls and boys behave differently because they are socialized. While Dr. Sax's work can be subjected to falsification, the idea that gender is a social construction cannot be tested, verified, or falsified. 

This does not mean that gender is more of a verb than a noun. Nor does this mean that the subordination of women to men is entirely fictional. In fact, there is a tremendous amount of evidence around the world proving women are subjected to humiliation, discrimination, exploitation, control and violence. Women are suffer unequal treatment, access to education, decision-making abilities and ability to earn a living because of their gender. We cannot deny these things are happening right now, every second of every day. What we can deny, is that patriarchy is responsible for it. 

We can say that we will examine individual crimes against women on an case by case basis. We will confront all unfalsifiable beliefs, regardless if they are economic theories, psychological theories or in this case, the social theory of patriarchy, on a case by case basis. If we believe in the unfalsifiable theory, we will maintain only a (small b) belief, and never a (big B) Belief. We will not say that any unfalsifiable theory explains everything in one fell swoop.

END NOTES

In the introduction of this article, I promised to discuss my personal views about patriarchy. My personal views are irrelevant to the argument made herein, and should not be considered as a means of supporting or refuting anything I previously discussed. 

I think that patriarchy is a real social system, but that it exists at varying degrees across cultures. I do not think that any social system has so much power that it shapes our thoughts, and causes a person to behave in an unfair manner. I think that it is flawed to presume that patriarchy explains everything, it certainly does not explain why women do horrible things to their children and family. Patriarchy does not explain why men are predisposed to violence, or why most rapists are men. I think we should look at people as individuals and not as a gender. I find gender wars to be very destructive  especially for women and men. I do not think that patriarchy is a sexist concept, because I think it is real and observable, more so in non-western cultures. 

I would argue that any social system, regardless of its size and scope, is harmful if it oppresses, humiliates, and seeks to control another group of people. 

For the pleasure of my readers, I have included a set of Karl Popper quotes and expressions. Feel free to copy them, post them on Facebook, twitter or any social network you so desire. Thank you for reading this blog, it was a pleasure writing it

-Naomi Chambers














11 comments:

  1. This is good. I mean really, REALLY good. It summarizes my thoughts on the matter that I've had swirling around and unorganized in my head for some time now in a perfectly correct and accurate way. It's the main reason I reject feminist "theory" as invalid. I've seen you in a couple of your husband's videos on yt, but did not expect you had this much insight and intellectual rigor. Well done.

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  2. This is a great post, but it looks like it's not should up in your blog feed. Was that intentional?

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  3. This was a great read. It's almost as if I'm confirming my own worldview. I'm not sure how much experience you have with contemporary psychology though, because psychology has actually taken this criticism seriously. In part because it's become possible for them to do so through a closer connection with neuroscience. Not that this applies to the whole field by any means, much still shares the weaknesses of the social sciences, but it is widely acknowledged that Freud is a stellar example of bad methodology, and falsifiability is a goal even in the most absurd corners of psychodynamic theory.

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  4. This is not an effective critique — you've simply written a madlib diatribe against a poorly understood notion of "patriarchy." Substitute that word for any other "unfalsifiable" term (racism, bigotry, homophobia) and you realize that this essay can be used to dismiss other forms of social dominance.

    Yes, it is true that patriarchy is not a complete monolith. It is found in varying degrees within different segments of society. Because it is so diffuse, you say that we need to constantly check for confirmation bias, which is true enough. But what are you really arguing? That we should dismiss any use of the word patriarchy simply because there exist instances which contradict masculine authority? I'm not so sure.

    Patriarchy indeed is not some abstract, total notion. It is present in the very social mechanisms which allow, for example, the Republican Party to rally against women's health on the national level. But you did not contextualize your use of patriarchy within any critical framework. You only summoned up a magical "interpretation" that completely obscures any discussion of the real, material ways in which patriarchal attitudes are expressed in social structures. The whole essay comes off as apologetic.

    BTW, the first comment reeks of misogyny and confirmation bias.

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  5. First, you've got a pretty big logical error, ``A fallacious argument is an argument that is always going to be wrong no matter what the situation.'' A fallacious argument may very well have a correct conclusion because truth functional logic is truth preserving, not falsity preserving. So if an argument is logically fallacious, that does not indicate anything about whether or not it is wrong but only that the conclusion does not necessarily follow given the premises. If the logic is not valid, then the conclusion we reach should be a fairly mild one, that we know nothing about the conclusion based on what we know from the argument. But the conclusion may very well be correct and it is possible that that we can know that the conclusion is correct based upon things from outside the argument presented.

    Second, Popper's theory of falsification is itself unfalsifiable as Popper himself conceded. This means that we have to be very careful in its application. Popper used it as one of the demarcations between science and non-science but not between what can be rationally justified and what cannot be rationally justified. To do the latter would mean that Popper's entire philosophy of science were irrational because its key principles, such as the principle of falsification, cannot be falsified.

    Third, the story of the 20th century philosophy of science is largely a growing consensus that all of science falls into the trap of being non-falsifiable. This started with Piere Duhem and his astute observation that in physics the outcome of an experiment cannot be known with certainty to falsify the hypothesis because it could also be the case that it falsifies the way that the observations were made (e.g. the instrumentation) or the theoretical system upon which the observations rest. By the fifties, WVO Quine was making essentially the same claim much more boldly, ``any statement can be held true come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments elsewhere in the system.'' This is true no less of concepts like Patriarchy than it is of concepts in physics and chemistry. By the end of the twentieth century, most thinkers were moving away from the ideas of Popper and towards notions like instrumentalism where any pretense that science could be considered to be true was dropped in favor of the idea that science is merely useful.

    Consequently, I tend to be a fan of philosophy of science in the vein of Paul Feyerabend and his much misunderstood aphorism, ``anything goes.'' The problem is not so much that ideas such as ``Patriarchy'' are unfalsifiable or unscientific but that once any worldview is settled upon as ``the answer,''' investigation into alternatives is cut off and, because they are cut off, progress is stifled. This is as true for the followers of Popper as it is for the most rigidly dogmatic and radical second-wave feminist. From this point of view, the problem with patriarchy has less to do with whether or not it can be falsified and more to do with the way that it limits inquiry by eliminating some ways of looking at the world. And that problem, it shares with pretty much any conceptual structure, including Popper's formulation of the scientific method. The distinction between them is not one of kind but one of extent.

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  6. "Third, the story of the 20th century philosophy of science is largely a growing consensus that all of science falls into the trap of being non-falsifiable."


    LLLLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLL

    Besides the bickering voices in your head, a growing consensus among whom exactly? Clueless postmodern/semiotics/"cultural anthropology" navel gazers who've never done single experiment in their entire professional careers? Please.


    "But you did not contextualize your use of patriarchy within any critical framework."

    lulz, see Naomi you failed to sufficiently embed your arguments in the horseshit "critical theory framework" dogmas this person requires to actually listen to them. It amazes me retards like this can even graduate high school, let alone are awarded degrees at university.

    "BTW, the first comment reeks of misogyny"

    See how that works? You're skeptical and critical of some unfalsifiable nonsense "theory" dreamed up by the fevered ramblings of ideological dogmatists, therefore you hate women. LOL. And feminists wonder why the number of people willing to identify themselves with the label of "feminist" is falling all the time. Hmmmmm.

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  7. ``Besides the bickering voices in your head, a growing consensus among whom exactly? Clueless postmodern/semiotics/"cultural anthropology" navel gazers who've never done single experiment in their entire professional careers?''

    As mentioned, the process started with Pierre Duhem who was a physicist of some note. And many of those that followed down that path, e.g. Paul Feyerabend did have training in the sciences before jumping ship from the physical sciences to the philosophy of science.

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  8. Please stop being so emotional.

    This essay is discussing patriarchy in a philosophical/critical context. Therefore, you have to define your terms so that other people can know exactly what your arguing for or against. Naomi offers this definition: "patriarchy is an all-powerful, omnipotent, invisible thing that we cannot refute because it is all encompassing, influencing every aspect of human experience." What? Who exactly thinks this?

    And most importantly, how is this definition at all exclusive to patriarchy? Can't it be applied to any other "unfalsifiable" term as a way to shoot down any discussion of it?

    The point of critical essays is to allow more work to be done on any given topic, not to be an end-all be-all statement. This essay does not offer such discussion. It merely states: 'Not everything can be attributed to patriarchy; we must deal with individual circumstances case by case.' Okay, but this is only an opinion. You can simply state it without feigning philosophical inquiry - which is built on knowledge and understanding, not on opinion. That's why you need a critical framework outlining what we know about the topic at hand, if only to completely tear it apart. Without it, you're arguing from a void.

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  9. Thank you for drawing attention to one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century. I chanced on a copy of "The Open Society and Its Enemies" when I was a senior in college, wherupon my mental life turned a corner.

    Falsifiability is an excellent methodological principle in practice. From it, we learn that all scientific knowledge is provisional, until disconfirming evidence comes along. This keeps us humble, and open to the restless reinvention of science. (A fair bit of the science I learned as a young man a generation ago is now obsolete.) Scientific work can topple a theory, but can never "prove" one. I call science the interrogation of Mother Nature. She can be an cooperative witness, mainly by pretending to be obtuse. But she cannot lie.

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