The Big Guy Speaks

Vagueness

Extract:

“It would be a great mistake to suppose that vague knowledge must be false. On the contrary, a vague belief has a much better chance of being true than a precise one, because there are more possible facts that would verify it. If I believe that so-and-so is tall, I am more likely to be right than if I believe that his heigh is between 6 ft. 2 in. and 6 ft. 3 in. In regard to beliefs and propositions, though not in regard to single words, we can distinguish between accuracy and precision. A belief is precise when only one fact would verify it; it is accurate when it is both precise and true. Precision diminishes the likelihood of truth, but often increases the pragmatic value of a belief if it is true — for example, in the case of the water that contained the typhoid bacilli. Science is perpetually trying to substitute more precise beliefs for vague ones; this makes it harder for a scientific proposition to be true than for the vague beliefs of uneducated persons to be true, but it makes scientific truth better worth having if it can be obtained.”

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9 comments
  1. Lakshmi said:

    Interesting.

    • Hannes said:

      and: a vague belief keeps the thought process going or initiates it. An absolut belief usually ends the thought process which runs the danger that a re-evaluation is not even in consideration. In complex environments or cases precision will not help a lot. You can break down complicated processes and structures – analyse them into precise details. But not complex structures and processes. They need an evaluative system which is at least as complex as the complexity of the observed system. In most cases this is not possible (e.g. global financial systems … they proofed to be not complicated but extremely complex). If someone approaches such complexity with an absolut belief the chance is high that the belief is wrong (or at least captures only a very limited aspect of s.th.) or the subject simply not understood at all. A vague belief or knowledge is more likely to be closer to the essential truth … an idea of what it actually might be … and it keeps the thinker to continue to explore and understand the matter better.

      • unawoken said:

        Hi Hannes, nice comments! Welcome to my blog. If you don’t mind I will link your (awesome!) website from my blog. Yeah, I think holding absolute beliefs thought to be precise have been quite a problem in our civilized history 😐

  2. gn said:

    A belief is precise when only one fact would verify it; it is accurate when it is both precise and true

    When the belief is precise but turns out to be not true – is this belief
    1. inaccurate = vague?
    2. Still a precise belief but inaccurate
    3. vague
    When we say both precise & true- Isn’t the ‘truth’ subject to the same vagueness?

    From a statistical point of view- When belief changes from vague to precise, the sensitivity of a prediction based on the belief increases while the specificity decreases. is that correct?

    • unawoken said:

      “When the belief is precise but turns out to be not true – is this belief
      1. inaccurate = vague?”

      — No. It is inaccurate but not vague.

      “2. Still a precise belief but inaccurate”

      — yes

      “3. vague”

      — no

      “When we say both precise & true- Isn’t the ‘truth’ subject to the same vagueness?”

      — no

      I will think about your last question.

      • unawoken said:

        My answer to your last question is that sensitivity and specificity are related to the truth-value of the belief and not its precision.

  3. gn said:

    Thanks unawoken for your replies
    I am still in the realm of vagueness in my thoughts on this subject 🙂
    At first I did not understand your answer for my last question. So I started typing more questions….then I had to edit them & re-edit them & while doing that I think I understood your answer. 🙂

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