The Value of ‘Ideas’

Sabio Lantz has a new post titled ‘The burden of the ‘burden of proof’‘ which lays out an idea I likely have thought about but have not laid it out so clearly. Here’s a quote of his from the blog:

In human markets, an idea wins if it has followers.  The number of followers only matters to the seller depending on what the seller values.  A small number of buyers, for instance, may offer the seller enough sustenance in terms of status, pleasure, finances or any number of other benefits  so that seller to consider themselves a winner.” (Sabio Lantz)

The point being made about ‘human markets’ is what is valued is not always true, it may not even be totally proven, but it has found some value in the human experience we call ‘community’ (ie: societal economies of trading and selling our goods and ideas). So doesn’t that also make it ‘of value’, maybe not ‘true’, but valuable nonetheless as determined by society?

Obviously it would be a grand world if the things of value were altogether ‘proven’ and those which were not were ‘discarded’. That’s just plainly not reality and reveals something about humans, they kinda like their mysteries to life, like they like the future not being known and written by the present.

I liked the idea and is yet another avenue for determining value of an ‘idea’.


38 thoughts on “The Value of ‘Ideas’

  1. Thanks for the mention SocietySJ.
    Yeah, people value paintball, fantasy movies, boardgames, and tattoos. “Truth” is rarely a commodity. No real need to even bring religion into the conversation when our silliness (as wonderful as it can be) is spread so wide.

  2. it has become a mantra of mine to the folks i council that ‘so often when we’re dealing in human relationships we’re not dealing in truth or fact, so don’t even bother bringing that up.’ the thought behind this is to get them to focus on their own feelings and what assumptions they brought to the table. taking this route often produces more results and paves the road to forgiveness and reconciliation than quibbling over ‘what actually happened’ because that is so obscured by their emotions and perspective that it’s a fruitless endevour; at least until the lines of open communication have been re-established and assumptions declared. or as Sabio put it, until the ground rules were established and agreed upon.

  3. Perhaps I am alone in finding it ironic that Sabio lists in his commentary policies Try to avoid logical fallacies while making a post on the value of exactly that – that popularity is of some equivalent value to what is true (to counterbalance the ‘burden of proof’ statement I made regarding acupuncture that led to his ‘market value’ post).

    The point being made about human markets has nothing whatsoever to do with the burden of proof as it is commonly used by atheists to counter unsubstantiated truth claims and not, as Sabio suggested, merely a rhetorical device. To pretend that the burden of proof is introduced in discussions about what is and is not true as a rhetorical device is inaccurate (to be incredibly generous of spirit with such a value-free description), and to then write a post about why popularity has value other than what is true is a neat rhetorical trick to divert from the issue that was at hand, namely, that the burden of proof rested on those who claimed that there was a causal effect by means of a natural mechanism to explain the supposed efficacy of acupuncture.

    The burden of proof is of central importance when discussing what is factually true. This does not necessarily apply, nor is even useful, to other areas of human interchange as Z1G so rightly points out. Nevertheless, what is true matters a very great deal to many areas of human endeavor, like deciding whether to leave one’s tenth floor apartment by window or door. The market place of popularity doesn’t alter what is factually true about the understandable and reliable consequences of undertaking certain actions. A reasonable warning to someone actually confused enough to consider the window an equivalent option should not be considered a rhetorical device, either.

  4. well tildeb, i think that things get so popular that they become true to people, that is what i was pointing out. there are many things out there both attributed to scientists and theologians that they simply never said. i could tell you all sorts of stuff people think are in the Bible, but aren’t. even when they’re confronted with the fact, they go right back to the same pattern because that is what has been established. even ways in viewing the world, same thing occurs. does it alter what is factually true? reality is a many layered thing. and i am not a reductionist materialist, so my answer is yes, it does. you can tell people left and right about evolution but until you hit them with how it affects their everyday lives, then it’s just a really fancy ‘theory.’ and since most people believe in walking out the door and view evolution as the window, looks like most people are going to take the door until they realize that what they think is a window is actually a sliding glass door.

    • I agree with your observation that things get so popular that they become true to people but it’s still important to remember why this remains a fallacy. It is exactly this misplaced trust that continues to create economic bubbles, for example. I think we’re better armed understanding that, but also understanding that what’s true isn’t always the only value or even the primary value in some circumstances. But let’s not pretend for one nanosecond that truth claims can avoid the burden of proof this automatically entails.

  5. I love that you state that things get so popular that they become true to people and then go into economics. the most subjective and emotion-filled science of all save psychology. markets don’t exist on their own, they exist for the very fact that they are popular. humans interacting with humans based on rules we made up and extrapolated as a whole and artificially determined.

    you can keep repeating “burden of proof” until your blue in the face without recognizing the phrase for what it truly is… a rhetorical conversation stopper.

    • Accepting this burden of proof is what differentiates good science from the claims of superstition. You may think of it as a conversation stopper but you really should consider it a life saver in a very real sense for it is this shouldering of such a burden that reveals why some truth claim is, in fact and demonstrably so, true. It is upon this foundation – establishing what is true – that all human knowledge is built. To suggest that this essential plank in the undertaking of good science is but a rhetorical device is factually wrong and separates those who are willing to believe in belief regardless of what is true from those who wish to truly understand and build applicable knowledge that works. This very important in order to appreciate why such knowledge is worthy of our most esteemed respect: it has earned it by successfully addressing the burden of proof. In stark contrast, anyone can believe whatever he or she wishes and avoid this burden entirely. But I fail to grasp how this shortcut to uninformed belief produces applicable knowledge worthy of respect. What I do grasp is how this classification that pretends establishing what’s true is merely a linguistic trick, a rhetorical device to ‘sell’ one point of view, belittles any means to differentiate between one person’s delusion/wishful thinking/assumption and what is demonstrably true/reliable/consistent for everyone everywhere all the time. There is such a method and it really does produce remarkable knowledge on which we base remarkable applications that work. But beliefs? Not so much.

  6. “It is upon this foundation – establishing what is true – that all human knowledge is built.” (Tildeb)

    I agree with this idea, proof is very important to making sense of what we ‘know’. Again, what can be counted as proof – since we are also dealing in a world of ‘ideas’ that are not so much proven as useful/valuable for community success (ie: economics or political arenas).

    I believe in scientific reasoning – and the idea of ‘burden of proof’ for what one claims is ‘true’ about this planet. However, I am well aware some things are not provable about this human experience. Some things are subject to the way one thinks about something (ie: music, film, and most arts areas). Is there a way to paint that is ‘true’? No. Music has rules but any good artist will bend them to find new ideas (ie: back-masking as done by John Lennon on Beatles albums).

    The thing about human society is we cannot strip away fact from fiction – that which is verifiably real/true and that which is verifiably false/made up. Cause we are dealing in societies of make belief to some massive degree – from our economics, to our politics, to our religions, to our ownership of land, to our ideas about what constitutes art, to our counseling, etc. Most of these are ‘ideas’ in the marketplace that are not 100% legitimately real/true about the intent they offer…they are versions.

    My point is – there is a nugget of truth behind something like politics and economics, they provide a form of governance and a form of trade for a community…however, there really is not ‘right’ way to approach those topics – since they function in human ‘ideas/values’ and not in scientific inquiry (ie: the world is round or gravity works like this). We just like what we think works best for us concerning those ideas…and that not ‘truth’ so much as it is ‘our values’.

    • It’s fine to say your favourite colour is green, or that you really enjoy a Beatles tune more than an AC/DC song. Neither is a truth claim but a personal comparison of a non empirical kind. And this kind of comparison is very much a central part of how we describe relationships between people. There is no burden of proof necessary to inform the opinion of likes and dislikes other than what satisfies the person stating a preference. And the key here is to recognize the personal preference. That frames the claim accurately. Your preference for green in no determines the value for my preference of purple. Both are simply personal preferences.

      But there is a burden of proof required if one makes a claim to fact. In this sense it is inaccurate to label the call for proof a ‘rhetorical device’ and I have yet to read of an atheist’s call for such proof in any regards except to matters of fact. Even the classification Sabio made regarding atheists using burden of proof directly implies that it is not used as a rhetorical device but in direct response to some faith-based theistic truth claim. For example, when one claims god is, or god has this intention or that nature, it is entirely reasonable to expect a call for proof to inform this extraordinary claim. It is merely an evasion tactic to identify this reasonable call for proof as a rhetorical device so that one can then dismiss exactly that which is necessary to differentiate the faith-based truth claim from a delusion or unwarranted, unreasonable assumption or assertion.

      Clearly, asking the two central questions (1) Is this claim true? (2) How can we know? about matters of faith-based claims of any kind (not just religious) hones in quickly on whether the claim itself bears any lasting value at all (hence Hitchen’s famous quip “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”) and if there is any lasting value to holding to that belief. I do know, from the atheist’s perspective, that honestly answering these two questions can and often does have a profound influence on people who once believed in some set of asserted faith claims but who also value what is true and knowable. Such an effect cannot be caused merely by a rhetorical device but by grasping why the burden of proof is such a powerful and important argument if one wants to respect what is true and knowable. For those who deem what’s true and knowable unimportant in matters of factual truth claims, then, simply put, their opinions do not matter because they’ve rejected the very basis of a reasonable discussion… one where reasons and honesty actually matter.

  7. Tildeb is right that the “Burden of Proof” as an agreed upon method of knowledge verification is extremely valuable. I think no one here contends with that. Don’t we?

    The caveates and complications are:
    (a) when it is not agreed upon
    (b) not all knowledge is susceptible (at any given time) to verification but strict scientific methods.

  8. Point (b) seems to be the one more contended on blog debates/discussions from what I have seen. The problem is that not everything is provable at that exact moment or may not be something we can ‘prove’ (ie: ideas).

    I notice this had to do with acupuncture, which I think could be a helpful thing, but is it backed by health institutions…kinda but not really. But its a topic like that where we meet a ‘gray area’ of proof.

    • Grey area? Umm… not really, SocietyVs, if one wishes to take the treatment beyond personal preference paid for out of one’s own pocket. In this sense, no proof is required. If someone in pain finds relief using acupuncture then that’s great.

      The burden of proof occurs when one claims acupuncture itself is efficacious. There is no grey area here. So far, proponents of acupuncture have failed to meet this burden of proof for efficacy. In this sense, there is no good evidence to have acupuncture treated like an efficacious therapy deserving of insurance or public money. I am well aware, however, that many insurance companies and some levels of public health coverage do indeed cover some part of this cost. But that burden still remains unanswered beyond the personal preference.

  9. Sabio, you boil it down to the essentials once again! love it! thanks! yeah, i don’t contend it’s a strong way, but we run into problems with a & b and i’d add another layer to B with themultiple theories of knowledge.

    tildeb only seems to hold up reasoning based on empirical things, which i highly highly value but also know it’s limitations. they don’t seem to be all that effective in areas of human interaction like psychology, sociology, and economics. to rule out acupuncture just because we can’t duplicate results (although it works) is silly, short-sighted, and potentially dangerous.

    • Z1 G writes about acupuncture: (although it works)

      See how effortlessly you fall into the assertion trap? This is a truth claim, that acupuncture and not something else ‘works.’ But it has not met the burden of proof to back up that claim. That’s not my opinion and the claim you make doesn’t elevate yours from being just your opinion, which you forgot to include to frame this claim.

      Also, I did not rule acupuncture out. Specifically, I wrote If someone in pain finds relief using acupuncture then that’s great. I also wrote that what’s true isn’t always the only value or even the primary value in some circumstances. In addition, I wrote that the burden of proof does not necessarily apply, nor is even useful, to other areas of human interchange as Z1G so rightly points out. Yet consider how conveniently you rephrase what I wrote regarding the role of meeting the burden of proof to establish what’s true in matters of fact in your mind. In spite of what I wrote you comfortably conclude that tildeb only seems to hold up reasoning based on empirical things and assume your mind is now the authority in this matter.

      Fortunately, what’s true and knowable does not depend on the authority of your mind but can and does stand independent of both thee and me.

  10. ha! you’re a funny guy trying to duct tape a counter argument with little to no contact points. had you read my posts on Sabio’s blog where i highly HIGHLY doubt acupuncture but surprisingly it is the only thing that works for me much to my consternation, against my reason, and despite my knowing that it shouldn’t work. is that an assertion? no. since it has been experienced on my part and also by Sabio.

    thus “what’s true and knowable does not depend on the authority of your mind but can and does stand independent of both thee and me.” is absolutely right and acupuncture is in the grey area you seek to deny. maybe we don’t have the right method to study it. i know my mind isn’t the end all be all, that’s my assertion from the get go. the human mind gets glimmers of truth and has a slant on what’s knowable (in a strictly anthropomorphic sense) but how you use it, i don’t believe the human mind can achieve that level yet nor for a while, if ever.

  11. “For example, when one claims god is, or god has this intention or that nature, it is entirely reasonable to expect a call for proof to inform this extraordinary claim. It is merely an evasion tactic to identify this reasonable call for proof as a rhetorical device so that one can then dismiss exactly that which is necessary to differentiate the faith-based truth claim from a delusion or unwarranted, unreasonable assumption or assertion.” (Tildeb)

    I agree with what you are saying here concerning ‘proof’ but what is acceptable ‘proof’ is also up for some debate – namely concerning theology.

    In the case of theology the claim is God is a ‘spirit’ – well since we really have nothing to compare that to the only ruling one can make is ‘no spirit?’. However, the argument for God is like the argument for energy – which no one can really ‘see’ but is a property we can make heads and tails to use thus proving its existence. Well, what if God works in the lives of people with them as a form of conductor? Or something like that concerning something the human mind has always labelled ‘super-natural’.

    What level of proof is warranted for claims about God then?

    • SocietyVs, people are free to imagine god anyway they want and be fully satisfied with their personal rendition. Your suggestion of ‘spirit’ is perfectly fine and I have no problem with these kinds of descriptions. Where I have a problem is when claims are made about effect in this universe by suggesting that this ‘spirit’ or what have you is in fact real and active and a cause for these identified effects. That’s a whole different ball of wax and it is then when the burden of proof falls on those who are attempting to link certain effects with a cause called god and a complete abdication of an explainable mechanism to link the two. I think this criticism is very important and deserves intellectual honesty addressing it.

  12. I don’t know if you boys noticed, but JS was good enough to put this comment on my post:

    Philosopher Bill Vallicella discussed this exact issue yesterday, and concluded the same as you did.

    “Burden of Proof” only makes sense within the context of something like a court case, where there is a judge and clearly defined rules. Atheists or theists trying to beat each other up with “burden of proof” are misguided.

  13. Nice try, Sabio, but a truth claim of fact about the universe (god is) is not subject to the same rules of procedure required of dialectical reasoning because there is no conflict of viewpoint. The arbiter that Vallicella insists must be present between atheists and theists is already present but not human; the arbiter is present in the reality of the universe. That is the procedural judge for truth claims of fact. Gravity is, and the fact of its effect – any more than the absence of god’s effect – is not subject to one’s viewpoint. To assume there is a conflict of viewpoint about a truth claim such as gravity as fact is an a priori argument. There is no arguing with gravity, no appeal to its judgement of procedure. It just is.

    So, no, the atheist request for proof about some theistic truth claim of fact about the universe is not misguided whatsoever (for lack of a human arbiter) but a logical and necessary burden placed on the person claiming god is.

  14. @ tildeb,
    I don’t know if you noticed, but I don’t respond to any of the details in your paragraphs. It is because of your uninviting style. I won’t engage in that sort of dialogue. I know you don’t think style should matter, but it does. My post basically addresses this art of conversation and the importance of relating and communicating. The agreement on how to engage is important. If there isn’t an understanding of what matters in both style and content then the result will be that people will waste hours thinking they are actually talking to someone when they aren’t. So instead, I won’t engage. I welcome friendly, polite conversation.

    • I don’t know if you noticed, Sabio, but I’m not commenting on your site. I find your insistence on what is and is not acceptable style over the quality of the content too… constraining. I know you think you have good reasons for your position and I think I have good reasons for mine and the two don’t get along on your site. Fine. It’s your site. I respect that. But I think it is telling that you feel quite comfortable continuing your sheriff duties elsewhere as if addressing my criticisms based on your dismissive esthetics is somehow more fruitful than addressing the criticisms themselves. I don;t think so. It’s just a diversionary tactic you have used several times now and I’m sure you’re getting as bored with reiterating it as I am responding to it.

  15. PS – tildeb. Please do feel free to engage Vallicella in the post linked above, I am following it. I would like to see how successful you are at engaging fruitfully there.

  16. ““Burden of Proof” only makes sense within the context of something like a court case, where there is a judge and clearly defined rules” (Sabio)

    I think ‘burden of proof’ should be used outside of court cases, but again, in a very civil way (as you pointing out within a few posts on here). I guess I wouldn’t want that line of logic to be a ‘discussion stopper’ between theists and atheists – which is sometimes the case.

    However, I also don’t want theists to be taking the easy way out concerning their own beliefs about God and how this impacts the lives of people around them. This is where I see the sense Tildeb is getting on about concerning ‘show me some proof for the belief’. I am kind of standing on that side of the idea concerning certain Christian beliefs (ie: the rapture for example).

    Where it does become fruitless is when the theists uses a certain ground to discuss from and the atheist has already thrown that evidence away as ‘meaningless’…which is usually the case with scripture being used in a convo. However, for the Christian this is part and parcel of the defense and really cannot be thrown out – which automatically makes the convo somewhat useless (to a degree).

    So what the rules are is sometimes everything in a conversation.

  17. 1) Is it true?
    2) How do we know?

    The second question informs the first. And it is here in the theism/atheism arena where people make the all-important choice to either grant respect TO some authority or FROM some investigative method. Which choice should we make?

    Well, I think when contrary conclusions meet we see the role of arbiter. In human interactions we can often find compromise and – even better – consensus if we are willing to submit to arbitration. What’s true doesn’t necessarily matter (or even be relevant) in this sense nearly as much as what works well enough.

    But when we inquire into how the universe is, there is no role for any human arbiter; there is judgement alone. Some conclusion about the universe and how it operates is either true or not true. The question then becomes How do we know? and the universe will tell us if our conclusion seems to be probably correct. The universe and how it works is the ultimate authority. So how do we get it to open itself up to our inquiries and reveal what is true about it?

    There are those among us who decide that the universe has, or is at least directed by, a creative agency with intentions specific to humans and draw from this decision all kinds of factual claims about the universe and our role in it. How do we know if any of this is true?

    Here we run into significant problems.

    In order to inquire into this original truth claim from which so much is derived we need a reliable method of inquiry. And we have one: methodological naturalism(MN). This method allows us to link causal effects by means of a mechanism that can be tested for reliability and consistency within the universe and judged by it to either work or not work here and there, yesterday and today, by anyone. So far, this inquiry has not yielded evidence of causal effect by some intentional agency separate in any way from the universe itself, although effect should be found if some of the claims about agency were in fact true.

    This conclusion is unacceptable to those who have already decided in the validity of an interactive creative agency. They cannot use the trustworthy method previously outlined in this case because it doesn’t reveal an interactive agency so, instead, they must choose to trust in the authority of those who have decided that the universe is, or at least directed by, a creative agency with intentions. In this regard of temporal authority from which to draw there is lots of useful evidence. Every question about the universe and how it operates can be answered by referring to the desires and designs of this interactive agency – regardless if the agency is true in fact. The only element necessary to receiving this full explanation about everything is to accept the first premise that such an agency is true. How we know that to be the true is now no longer a method of inquiry but a starting position, a matter of faith in the sense that there is no direct link between the effect caused by this agency discovered yet by MN but quite possibly in the future.

    As soon as any claim about cause and effect is introduced into the universe, it falls under the legitimate inquiry by methodological naturalism. When someone who assumes the premise of a creative interactive agency makes such claim of effect by this agency, then it is open to honest inquiry by MN. It is not exempt by some social privilege or interpersonal niceties but subject to the same burden of proof all other causal effects are subjected to under MN. It is intentionally dishonest for someone to claim exemption from this burden of proof for a truth claim made about some effect caused by this agency by pretending that such a burden is merely a rhetorical device for those who – for whatever reasons – do not believe in the original agency as well as any of the claims from authority derived from it. You will note that no such similar call is made that the truth claim derived from this agency’s authority suggest that the claim is merely a rhetorical device; instead, those people who have decided to believe in a creative interactive agency want to use whatever is handiest to bolster the case to believe in the premise but are unwilling to subject their claims from authority on a level playing field with those derived from MN. This is quite revealing, and leads to the legitimate charge of cherry-picking data. As the Sensuous Curmudgeon likes to call the method of inquiry many believers use to attempt to justify belief in a creative interactive agency:

    1. Select a conclusion which you hope is true.
    2. Find one piece of evidence that possibly might fit.
    3. Ignore all other evidence.
    4. That’s it.

    This not a conversational convention nor an honest inquiry into what’s true; it is a common method to protect cherished beliefs derived from self-appointed authorities (scripture, religious authors, pious leaders, etc) and the factual truth claims made in their name from legitimate critical review about

    1) Is it true?
    2) How do we know?

    If one doesn’t care about answering the first question honestly and respecting that answer, then there is no conversation to be had.

  18. “If one doesn’t care about answering the first question honestly and respecting that answer, then there is no conversation to be had.” (tildeb)

    Well that’s not true – I can tell ya that from 7 years of marriage.

    • Ha! (But I’ve covered that already.)

      Check out this appearance of design with pendulums (penduli?) Very cool. (And some people don’t like math! I know! Crazy talk.)

    • I thought so, too. After all, the undulations look remarkably like how a snake moves… the head at this end and later at that, coming towards us and moving away, single, double, and triple.

      It’s a reminder that we come equipped to be fooled, that we cannot trust what we assume to be agency, that what we think are patterns are in truth fluctuations that sometimes align giving the appearance of intention.

  19. One thing I find interesting in this conversation is the fact that acupuncture does seem to be considered a bonafide therapy, well, scientifically at least. Doctors use it, physiotherapists use it, Massage Therapists use it, Chiropractors use it. Regardless of the truth, it seems all these health care practitioners are just plain old loopy I guess.

    • Here is what I have found:

      A common error to make when interpreting clinical studies is to confuse non-specific effects – those that result from the therapeutic interaction or the process of observation – with a specific effect from the treatment being studied. While this is broadly understood within the scientific medical community, it seems that within certain fields proponents are going out of their way to sell non-specific effects as if they were specific effects of the favored treatment.

      This is perhaps most true for acupuncture. As has been discussed numerous times on SBM, the consensus of the best clinical studies on acupuncture show that there is no specific effect of sticking needles into acupuncture points. Choosing random points works just as well, as does poking the skin with toothpicks rather than penetrating the skin with a needle to elicit the alleged “de qi”.

      The most parsimonious interpretation of the evidence is that the needles (i.e. acupuncture itself) are superfluous – any perceived benefit comes from the therapeutic interaction. This has been directly studied, and the evidence suggests that the way to maximize the subjective effects from the ritual of acupuncture is to enhance the interaction with the practitioner, and has nothing to do with the acupuncture itself. Acupuncture is a clear example of selling a specific procedure based entirely on non-specific effects from the therapeutic interaction – a good bedside manner and some hopeful encouragement.

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