Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Truth Seeking

In a courtroom, neither the prosecution nor the defense are trying to discover the truth. They are trying to make their narrative of what happened as convincing as possible to the jury. Back when Serial was a thing, I remember an episode in which they broke down the location of the cell phone used by the guy who was later convicted of murder. They did this by looking at which cell towers the phone pinged throughout the day. This data was used by the prosecution, placing the phone at or near the crime scene when the crime was committed...but the data wasn’t used transparently. The phone pinged the tower near the crime scene, then it pinged a different location, then it pinged the first tower, then somewhere else. In reality the phone could have been there or not, since they weren’t sure exactly when the crime took place. The prosecution only presented the pings that helped their case and omitted the rest. The defense could have presented the rest, but I don’t think they did.

So why do I bring this up? Well, it’s how I see disagreements play out, especially on the Internet. One side looks up data they think helps their narrative and present it. If they find anything that goes against their narrative, they omit it. I don’t think this is ideal for a courtroom, but at least then there is a jury. In the case of these disagreements, the defense is actually trying to convince the prosecution and vice versa. Fat chance. In the case of public debate this becomes less asinine, as the public, if they are indeed watching, can be considered the jury. I still wish it was another way.

Instead of thinking we’re in a courtroom, let’s think we are in a lab. The scientific method was established in an effort to remove biases and discover how the world is independent of perspective. As peers we can review each other’s factual conclusions and leave opinion at the door. We should look at every tower pinged and work out their statistical significance.

...but maybe you already know the truth. What you believe is right.

That might be, but know that the other side of the argument is often just as convinced of this as you are--whether the topic be religion, politics, or the merits of country music. I can’t ask you to be open to everything, that would be hypocritical. There are things I’ve been exposed to hundreds of times, examined the evidence from all angles, and thought long and hard about; but when something new is brought up, even if it is just a new layer of something I already thought I knew, I try to consider it fairly. Don’t seek to confirm, seek to understand.