Saturday, December 27, 2008

The importance of a skeptical attitude

Karl Popper has been an influential philosopher of science because of his insistence upon empiricism and falsification. I have long (naively) assumed that an emphasis on falsification is best for the group but relies upon each individual subjugating her own interests. However, as Popper explains in Conjectures and Refutations,
The critical attitude may be described as the conscious attempt to make our theories, our conjectures, suffer in our stead in the struggle for the survival of the fittest. It gives us a chance to survive the elimination of an inadequate hypothesis--when a more dogmatic attitude would eliminate it by eliminating us.
If you are publicly skeptical of your own ideas, then they can turn out to be false without ruining your reputation. Viewed in this light, a skeptical and scientific approach is not selfless, it is indeed selfish! Perhaps this is obvious to other people, but it was non-intuitive to me.