Posted by: dacalu | 13 March 2012

Measurement

Tonight, I’d like to share a metaphor, a story about hanging a picture.  Two common ways of doing this involve using a ruler or using a stud-finder.  When I want to hang a particularly heavy piece of art, I’ll try to find a stud – one of the wooden supports that holds up the wall.  Now the studs are usually a standard distance apart, so if you want to find one, you could use a ruler to measure the distance from a corner or another picture.  Alternatively, there are funny little devices called stud-finders.  A stud-finder has a magnet inside that picks up brackets, nails, and screws in the studs.  Alternatively, you can just knock on the wall to see where it sounds hollow.

The point of all this comes from the fact that I can’t see the studs.  I need some tool to indicate where these putative pieces of wood.  (I also need to assume it’s wood frame construction.  Sometimes, it’s adobe or cinder block or concrete, but I’m guessing you, like me, usually assume wood frame unless there’s a clear reason to think otherwise – i.e. bricks.)

I see epistemologies – ways of knowing – as tools in my tool box.  The methodology and assumptions of science turn out to be exceptionally useful.  At times I’m even tempted to say that science provides the bes multipurpose tools I have.  Still, it’s not the only tool I have.

Some readers have read my words on a system of atoms and a system of agents as a dualism.  I have probably encouraged this by clumsily calling them two worlds when I meant two worldviews.  I think there is only one thing to be observed, one fixed reality, a definite location for that piece of wood in the wall.  I know, though, that the thing itself is obscured (either by drywall or observation bias or Francis Bacon’s idols…).  So, I pull out different tools in different situations to learn things about the hidden world of the wall.

Those of you familiar with stud-finders will know they are incredibly useful when building.  You’ll also know that they tend to be pretty finicky and walls that have many nails in them require very careful use of the tool.  It’s entirely possible, when using a tool incorrectly, to get misleading measurements.  I think we do this with science all the time, so I want to have other tools, if possible, to back it up.

Mind you, I don’t think all tools are equal and I’m fully aware that certain tools are completely useless.  You won’t find a dowsing rod in my physical tool-box, and you won’t find Ouija boards, Quintessences, or Consubstantiation in my philosophical tool-box.  Some things are just shoddily made and not worth keeping around.  Other tools will only be useful in rare situations (like a hexagonal screwdriver) or for people with very specific skillsets and very specific problems (like a sundial or a sextant).

One of my goals in life is to provide as many people with as many useful tools as possible.  I think it makes for better reasoning and better choices.  Many of the issues I covered in Tuesday’s Christian were issues that become problematic because different perspectives yield different answers.

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