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The Profound Limitations of Knowledge


Fred Leavitt

The Profound Limitations of Knowledge explores the limitations of knowledge and argues that neither reasoning nor direct or indirect observations can be trusted. We cannot even assign probabilities to claims of what we can know. Furthermore, for any set of data, there are an infinite number of possible interpretations. Evidence suggests that we live in a participatory universe—that is, our observations shape reality.
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1. Introduction


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I trained as a scientist (PhD in psychopharmacology) but soon became disillusioned by drug research. Too many articles in top-notch journals were either methodologically unsound or fraudulent. So I studied research methodology and, to my dismay, learned that conclusions from other areas of science were also often untrustworthy. Of course, untrustworthy information is not restricted to scientific material. Long before Donald Trump began ranting about “fake news,” I had realized that the media and government spokespeople could not be trusted. Eventually, I came to the depressing conclusion that the amount of information stored in my little brain was probably matched or exceeded by the amount of stored misinformation.

Even when we (think we) know about some area, our estimates about magnitudes may be far off the mark and depend largely on whether we watch Fox News, CNN, or neither. In the early 2000s, Ranney and colleagues asked volunteers to estimate various socially relevant values.1 See how you do. The results are given in footnote 3.2 (The numbers have changed since then, but the relevant point is that people’s estimates are substantially inaccurate. That has probably not changed.) The examples are trivial considering where this book leads, but they’re still worth thinking about. ← 1 | 2 →

It’s a long way from poor data collection or even outright fraud to the bizarre subject matter of this book. Readers may agree that many alleged facts are inaccurate...

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