Some books stand out, not necessarily for their compelling style, but for the insights they offer. “The Knowledge Machine” by Michael Strevens delves deep into the interplay between systems thinking and human nature, starting with a thought-provoking idea: most people lack the inherent drive to pursue knowledge. It's the systems in place that propel them forward. At the heart of the book's argument is the 'Iron Rule': the idea that scientific explanations should be grounded exclusively in empirical evidence, sidelining personal biases or philosophical interpretations.
Progress, as we understand it, is underpinned by scientific thinking. Yet, this mindset isn't innate. Children are not born with a scientific temperament; in fact, they often exhibit the opposite. Even adults, who may apply scientific rigor in one domain, might abandon it in another. This raises a pertinent question: How many truly adhere to the Iron Rule? The book indirectly suggests that only a minority might be genuinely committed. Protecting this principle is akin to sheltering a rare, fragile flame rather than preventing the collapse of a robust structure.
Historically, figures like Francis Bacon believed that once introduced to the Iron Rule, its rigorous application would feel obvious. However, all of my experience suggests that people (even smart people!) are not only bad Baysians, they aren’t even interested in trying. In the Bad Old Days, scholars revered the wisdom of the ancients or the elegance of their own theories. Even today, in numerous fields, while statistical nods are customary, they often remain secondary.
The solution? Finding a universally acceptable game to play, where disagreements exist but are channeled through deeply ingrained rules to power more experimentation. That creates more data. A few funerals later, and society has forgotten we ever had a disagreement!