12 May 2011

from Lawrence, this Sunday meeting, at the CENTRO SEGOVIANO + Assumptions

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are again meeting at the Centro Segoviano, last Sunday we
had a good meeting.

Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao

This brings me to the topic of our meeting: Assumptions. These are
certainly curious epistemological events in our brain. Some might say
that they are induction in disguise, but in my short essay I go beyond
this idea.




The success of human beings stems from our ability to process and
achieve both quantitative and qualitative information and knowledge. Of
course, brains of all biological creatures can achieve this in their own
specific context.

However, humans can both collectively and individually learn and access
information and knowledge from other people. This ability to share new
experiences, information and knowledge means that we are in a constant
state of change and improvement.

0f course, change and improvement does not mean that what we are doing
is good. Nor that these are, overall, better. What this means is that
things become different over time and sometimes they become better, most
times it is just a grind.

However, the problem is that no matter how powerful the brain is, the
chances are that we physically cannot process all the relevant
information in real time that will help us to take one course of action
and not another. Those who have tried to book a hotel on the internet
for their holiday will know what I mean. It is just impossible to
consult all the possible sites and consider all the possible offers,
hence the aggregators even if the information is the same. And that
without calculating the probability of the weather being nice when we
arrive at our destination, the chances that our plane will arrive and a
few thousand other things.

One way of dealing with this is to pay more attention to new information
and accept as given information that has proven its worth over time (see
information theory). It makes no sense to calculate the probability of a
plane arriving at our destination, but it makes a lot of sense to check
if our hotel is near public transport or the beach as the case may be.

Assumption are these events or information that we accept as given and
therefore do not need to question them or investigate them. It is
reasonable to assume that the plane will arrive at our destination, but
not reasonable to assume that the luggage will arrive with us. Hence, it
is good advice to always carry a pair of undies in our pocket when

Assumptions are an epistemological issue and not a metaphysical one.
Assumptions are not things or events in the world out there, but events
and state of affairs in our brains.

The problem with assumptions is that they are so powerful and so useful
that at face value they seem reasonable and important for our life and
progress. But when assumptions fail they fail really badly. That
assumptions have risks is therefore in no doubt, but for us what is
relevant is what underpins our assumptions.

A question then arises, do we assess the risks associated with
assumptions consciously or unconsciously? Indeed, do we assess the risks
associated with assumptions?

Since assumptions are really based on past occurrences of the events or
the information we are assuming we can conclude that failed assumptions
are really a failure of a pattern or induction from repeating itself.
Again, we might be mistaken in thinking that a pattern is similar to a
previous one, when it is not, or simply a pattern was indeed similar to
past events but something interfered with it.

In both cases it is an epistemological failure, but the nature of the
information is very different. In the first case, we mistakenly think
that a pattern was similar to past patterns; maybe it is even a
cognitive problem. We miss read the situation and by implication gave
the situation the wrong meaning or understanding.

For example, if I buy a cheap ticket to a far away destination from one
of the low cost airlines, then it should not come as a surprise if the
plane on the day does not arrive at my destination. Low cost carries
have been known to change their schedule on what seems to passengers a
whim or a frivolity. This, I would argue is a foreseeable risk and
therefore a case of acting erroneously. A plane ride with a low cost
airline is not really a plane ride at all, but maybe a bet on some
future event.

However, if I bought a standard economy ticket with a reputable airline
but on the day there was a volcanic explosion and planes had to be
diverted, then flying on this day would have been one of those
assumptions that maybe we had some of information about the volcano but
really impractical to assess the risk of it exploding on the day of our
trip. Hence, something interfered with established patterns.

Since assumptions have an associated risk factor attached to them, how
we assess the risks affects what assumptions we make. But, is it
reasonable to argue that we have to assess the risks associated with
assumptions? And wouldn't this be counterproductive since the point
about assumptions is not to spend time considering them?

And since many of our assumptions backfire, does this imply an element
of unnecessary risk taking about our epistemological state of mind,
maybe even recklessness on our part. Or are assumptions so necessary for
our life to function that they are just as good as being made
unconsciously and maybe even a determined feature of biology.

Maybe what matters is not that assumptions are necessary, but that not
all assumptions are worth making. The crux of the issue is which are
these assumptions are not worth making? And isn't that a risk laden
strategy anyway, since all assumptions have a risk to begin with?

Of course, we do not make assumptions in a vacuum. Many of the
assumptions we make involve other people and the cooperation of other
people. If our plane is to arrive safely this implies that the pilot, or
in today's high tech planes, the IT engineer, are not drunk or careless.
This introduces a curious moral issue. Assumptions are no doubt things
we do purely for our own convenience and most probably our benefit. But
if our assumptions imply other people doing things correctly then surely
this means that our personal convenience imposes moral and even, in some
cases, legal duties and obligations on others.

It might be argued that rules, regulations, conventions and agreements
are precisely tools and strategies we employ so that people are obliged
to do their duty without us having to assess the risks associated with
all the assumptions we make. But even this argument has its drawback: an
obligation or a duty is not a fact in reality, it is promised but not
necessarily promising.

But do we have moral obligations when we make any assumptions?

Take the case of the low cost airlines as an example. We know that some,
if not all of them, tend not to always prioritise the comfort or good
experience of their passenger. They certainly get you to your
destination safely, they have no choice, but this assumes that they have
a plane available, it will take off heading for your destination, your
flight wasn't overbooked or you won't be bumped off, or your holiday
money wasn't gobbled up on some spurious irregularity in your luggage.
Etc, etc. Of course, these things also happen with regular airline, but
in that case you would be justified if you hit the roof and beyond. I
have no experience flying with these airline and I am only using these
as an example based on reliable information, such a s court reports. I
could in fact have used the fast food industry for my example. End of

So, knowing that low cost airline are more likely to make life more
difficult for passengers than say reputable airline, do we have some
moral duty not to create business for these airlines, or any company
that regularly mistreats its customers? Our assumption that a low cost
airlines will still get us safely to our destination, seems to reinforce
the belief that passenger do not care about being mistreated. So our
assumptions played a role in making others to be mistreated or
exploited. Some might argue that being mistreated by these low cost
airlines is part of the fun and people travel with them at their own peril.

But the same goes for goods made by slave labour, child labour or
companies that discriminate against minority groups. If people still buy
goods made by slave labour then the slave master might feel justified in
thinking that employing slave labour is ok. Except in this case our
assumption that buying cheap goods is good for us, implies a serious
imposition on others. Maybe these type of assumptions have a double
jeopardy moral implication: bad things done to workers and an
opportunity for the mater to employ slave labour.

Returning to the theme that assumptions are based on patterns, we must
concede that regularity is a very powerful attraction and the
convenience of assumptions are also a powerful attraction. The
advantages of regularity are well known by us and can easily be
identified, maybe in the same way that ancient Greek sailors saw
advantages in following the call of the sirens on the high seas. Indeed
are assumptions the equivalent of the call of the sirens and therefore
the cause of our downfall?



from Lawrence, this Sunday meeting, at the CENTRO SEGOVIANO + Assumptions

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