Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hypotheses vs. The Truth

My recent exchange with proponents of the “Japanese Capture” school of Amelia Earhart Disappearance studies has given me a good deal of food for thought. 

Why, I wondered, did they react so vehemently to my suggestion that they recognize their hypothesis AS an hypothesis, rather than as THE TRUTH?

Some of my Facebook friends and internet interlocutors said “they’re stupid; ignore them.”  But I don’t think they’re stupid, and it seems irresponsible to ignore them.

Some said “they’re defensive,” and I reckon that’s so, but it’s an answer that doesn’t answer anything.  Sure they’re defensive, but why?

I really don’t have an answer, but it struck me after awhile that my reaction to them was much like my reaction to religious fundamentalists.  I simply don’t understand how anyone can believe with utter unshakable certainty that they know THE TRUTH.  About anything.

I have relatives who are fundamentalist Christians.  They say, and I have no cause to disbelieve them, that they know of a certainty that there’s a God in Heaven who sent his son to earth to save us all.  I guess that might be true, or at least partly true, or metaphorically true, but I just don’t see any basis for concluding that it absolutely certainly IS true.  And I look at the history of, say, relations between the White Christian American mainstream and Indian tribes, in which Christianity was deployed as a “civilizing” strategy that just happened to deprive tribes of their lands and water and give them to – hmm, White Christian Americans, and I wonder whether those who thus deployed their faith knew what they were doing, or truly thought they were carrying out God’s Will.  And if they did think they were carrying out God’s will, why?  Similarly, of course, every evening on the news we see the fruits of another suicide bombing or two, each involving at least one guy who, to judge from what we’re told, is dead (sic) certain that blowing himself and a bunch of other people up will land him in heaven with seventy-five virgins.  I always wonder what happens when he works his way through them; is the supply replenished, or what?  The sheer logistics of the business would give me pause to reconsider; how can anybody be sure enough to push the button?

Obviously I am befuddled by religious fundamentalism.  I’m equally befuddled by atheist fundamentalism; how can anybody be so sure that there’s NOT a god of some sort in some kind of heaven – or in everything, as my animist friends posit?  How does one KNOW?

It's the same with true believers in Earhart-on-Saipan.  To me, Earhart-on-Saipan is valid as an hypothesis to be tested – I’m happy to accept it as that, and encourage people to test it if they can find data with which to do so.  Crashed-and-Sank is a valid hypothesis to be tested; it just costs a lot to do it. Earhart-on-Nikumaroro is valid as an hypothesis to be tested, and testing it is what TIGHAR’s Earhart project is about.  But for an Earhart-on-Saipan fundamentalist, it seems, things just don’t work that way: Earhart getting offed by the Japanese on Saipan is THE TRUTH, and if you don’t believe it, you’re part of a vast conspiracy designed to keep the American people and everyone else in the dark, because if they ever found out, well…….  And you're disrespecting all the people who say they saw her, or saw her grave, or saw her briefcase, or were told by their uncle that they saw her airplane.  And those people -- some of them distinguished military leaders -- cannot be wrong, because, well, they're distinguished.  

Hell, I don't even believe in papal infallibility.  

I’ve finally concluded, and I’d love to see some neuroscientist test THIS hypothesis, that our brains are simply organized differently.  Some people’s brains can handle uncertainty and multiple possible realities; other people’s brains are tuned in to The Truth – whatever that means to them.  One kind of brain isn’t necessarily better than the other, but I’m really coming to believe (My god, is this the TRUTH?) that the meat in my skull is just differently constructed than that in, say, Mike Campbell’s skull.  If that’s the case, then maybe it’s fruitless to argue; we can’t possibly reach a meeting of minds that understand the world so differently.


  1. There's your truth, my truth and the Creators truth. Take a look at Truth as one of the Creators Seven Gifts. VERY difficult to know the Truth about anything.

  2. But what about Tighar and its own true believers? Do you think Ric Gillespie welcomes ideas that run counter to the Nikumaroro hypothesis? Are all the skeptics of the Niku hypothesis that Gillespie banned from the Tighar forum really trolls?

  3. A. Wilson -- sorry I missed your comment until now. Whether Ric always welcomes counter-arguments is something that we actually argue about a good deal, but as a matter of principle TIGHAR is entirely open to contrary hypotheses -- as long as they're supported by something other than opinion, and have some hope of being tested. That's not to say we'll invest in testing them, but we're open to discussing them. As for troll banishment -- that's Ric's shtick, as is the Forum, which I gave up following because I kept getting into time-wasting obscure arguments, mostly with Ric.