On Experts, Reviews, and Drive By Shootings: Part 2.2

Part 2.2: Epistemology and some Problems with Knowing


Recently, Roger Skoff offered up a caricature of an argument around the so-called “expert” and skewered some of the challenges that appertain thereto. I then took it upon myself to elaborate. Um. Yeah.

Let me offer up again that apology I made in advance. Okay? Okay.

So, this whole “knower and knowing” section took a lot more words than I thought at first blush, so I chopped it in half. Just trying to help!

To review: in the last section, we poked a stick at reviewers. In this section, we’re going to turn that pointy bit around and talk some trash about the Knowing, calling on some challenges we all seem to face with getting there. Wherever “there” is.

On what you (don’t) know

Opinions are like assholes, everyone has them. Sharing them is as natural as breathing, and if you’re a Gen X’er (or younger), you’ve probably overheard some version of this platitudinously bullshit line:

Well, you’re entitled to your opinion and I’m entitled to mine.

This is usually tendered as a game-ender, a more or less polite way to terminate a conversation that seems to have run out of constructive or logical argument. It’s a way of saying, “I know you think you’re right, but I’m just not going to believe it or you so you may as well stop talking,” or the more familiar, politically sensitive, version “Let’s just agree to disagree.”

school-prayerAs you can imagine, this kind of move make me reach for my demon-killing knife. As if anyone has some kind of right to believe … well, whatever it is they choose to believe. As if beliefs are like socks — let’s have a drawer full, because you just never know what we’ll need!

But are beliefs justified by volition alone? Are you somehow entitled to a belief? Any belief at all?

Me? I believe in magic. Sorry about your cat! (I’m kidding).

I think the problem is that we were coddled as kids. My whole generation, probably. “You can be anything you want” and “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” and “everything happens for a reason” — all are poisonous little bromides that usually are only helpful because they’re delivered in a soothing, positive and hopeful tone of voice. All three are patently false, and like the bit about opinions, it’s namby-pamby feel-good nonsense that the weak-minded use to wrap themselves up in, like some kind of magic security blanket, a kind of fingers-in-the-ear along with the chant: “La la la! I’m not listening! La la la!”

And no, just for the record, there’s no such thing as “your truth” you can retreat to. Words have meanings, else language isn’t shareable. You want to go that route, you and your colorless green ideas can sleep furiously. Because Language. Yep, it’s what’s for dinner. And in language, particularly this one, terms like “truth” really do have bounds. Apologies in advance about your belief systems, but you’ve been led astray.

strong_opinionsAnyway, opinions are durable. Unfortunately, I think it’s fair to say that we are rather pointedly obdurate about them. This is something that we’re seeing quite a bit of in studies of political partisanship. We cling and cling and nothing can shake our faith. Because faith is the most important thing in the face of a strange and terrifying world. Faith not in God, no, but in the belief that we have not been wasting all our time being stupidly, pointlessly, and publicly, wrong.

Guess what? You’re wrong. Pretty regularly, too. Don’t panic! It’s okay — shit happens. But, that said, you’re not done — throwing your hand up and saying “oh well” is not on the menu of acceptable responses. Because Truth, that’s why. No, you do not have the right to be wrong. The fact that it’s your opinion does not in any way clothe that belief in some kind of special underwear. If and when you’re ever faced with evidence inconsistent with your beliefs, you are pretty much compelled to address that inconsistency. If it turns out that an adjustment is required, you must do so forthwith or else be justifiably mocked and preferably ostracized. This is doubly true if you’re in public office, but whatever.

There is nothing privileged about your beliefs. I don’t care if they’re about God, your Dearly Departed Mother, or about audio cables. If you have evidence that appears to directly contradict your beliefs and you do not accommodate that evidence in some meaningful way, then you’re a tool and cannot be taken seriously.

Now, this doesn’t mean that all evidence is created equal. This is, quite frankly, where experts tend to come in. In the equation of knowledge versus belief, there’s only one thing that really matters: justification. This is a philosophical road fairly well-traveled and speaks to the reasons for holding the belief in question: (1) what is your evidence, (2) where did it come from, (3) and how did you come by it. Logic, experience and expert testimony are usually the (only) accepted bases for justification. For what it’s worth, this is precisely where clever little heuristics like “parsimony” and intricate verification structures like “Science” come into play. And this is why experts carry so much more weight, too — they’ve seen more, done more, been around more, [insert x] more than the average Joe. So, their testimony counts more.

It’s like a weighting scale. If my buddy tells me the local Tex Mex place is “great”, I’m curious. But if that buddy happens to be a professional chef at a competing restaurant, I’m going. Remember that bit about Robert Parker in Part 1? Yeah, it’s like that.

Side note: Like many things, this bit about weighting is not really subject to debate and your opinion here isn’t really relevant. This is epistemology, and like Science, it holds whether you choose to believe in it or not. Again, what we’re engaged in (like it or lump it) is how we discriminate knowledge from beliefs. And in that calculus, experience just counts more heavily. In fact, in many instances, it’s the only currency worth accepting.

Here’s the short form about Science and Faith, and no, they’re not the same. The difference is fairly simple and comes down to this: “What would it take to prove [x] wrong?” If the answer to that question is “nothing”, you’ve now moved past argument into poetry. Have fun. And yes, that’s pretty much it.

Stop hating on your experts. They’re the only ones that can save you from yourself.


A bit on “how they know it”

So. Experts. We hate them even though that’s self-defeating. Complicated creatures are we.

But let’s talk a bit about knowledge. Informal-like. No need for algorithms or formula. Let’s just talk about inputs. Stuff goes in. In where? Let’s keep it simple and say “your head”. Stuff goes into your head and you … well … you do stuff to it. Process. Parse. Analyze. Match. Whatever. That stuff going in? Experience. Usually, we take sensory data as input, but we could stretch things and say that “thought experiments” ought to count too. You know. Logical exercises. These are different from things we directly experience, but sometimes a “eureka” moment doesn’t actually require an apple bouncing off your noggin’ before you see a bit deeper into the fabric of the Universe. And that’s interesting.

thought-experimentThat kind of “thought experiment” that leads to insight, understanding, or something, is something we can label. Typically (historically), that label is a priori, a nifty Latin phrase that means “from before” where “experience” is the thing they’re referring to. This gets contrasted with a posteriori, which “from after” — again, we’re referring to “experience”. What gets labeled a priori or a posteriori? Simple. It’s knowledge. Ha ha. That’s a joke. There’s nothing simple about knowledge. Happily, we can put that aside for now and focus on process and what that means for you and your expert.

You’ve probably waded through your share of online debates and saw them devolve to the point where someone barfs, swings an axe, or reaches for the flamethrower. The attempted take-down may include something like the following: ProfessorXY2007 is ranting about [insert victim here], going on about their latest crazy-talk claims, insisting that there’s “no way” that what [victim] says is even possibly true because [invoke some mathematical, electrical, chemical, or physical principle] and [victim] is therefore an ignoramus and almost definitely a shill. End of screed.

Deductive logic is very interesting stuff. If you start from true premises, adhere to simple rules, the result must be true. I mean, that’s how logic works. The trick, obviously, is getting your premises right. Especially if you’re going to invoke “natural law” to do it. Because, as it turns out, Natural Laws are always always ALWAYS false. Whoops. You also tend to sound like a pedantic douche, so that’s a bonus. But from the perspective of logic, you’re going to have to do more work — there’s no automatic freebie on offer, there.

Getting back to knowledge, what we have here is also an a priori argument. Nothing wrong with a priori arguments, per se, but if a counter-argument is relying on logic alone, we should be concerned. Why? Well, logic (much like Natural Law) has a nasty tendency of oversimplifying and thereby missing shit.

It’s true, not everything can be subject to a direct, personal experience. Logic has a role. But, one could easily make the argument that the whole 20th century was a rejection of the primacy of pure reason. Experience matters. And if the relevant experience is trivial to acquire, a priori arguments are kinda pointless. At the risk of piling on, if someone actually has done the experiments, undergone the training, lived with the costs and benefits, their testimony almost always carries more weight than even the best a priori arguments. Sorry about that.

I recently saw this in a forum argument: “Well, my system doesn’t show it, therefore it must not be real.” I like the appeal to experience (good show), but this is a good case of where logic takes the wheels off the bus. What the claimant appeared to be saying was that his experience with his one system was somehow universal, and that his conclusions based on his experiences with his system were valid, translatable, and relevant to all systems, everywhere. Yeah. Well, about that. Proving the negative is, erhm, problematic. But making universal generalizations from specifics is equally so.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: a priori arguments are really only limited by imagination — and the lack of imagination isn’t an indicator of much of anything. Maybe you’re just boring. Likewise, a lack of experience doesn’t entail or imply anything about existence. Maybe you haven’t been lucky, or tried hard enough, or don’t have the right tools.

This was a problem for the Higgs Boson. No one had ever seen one, so it was assumed to be a useful but fictional construct by many physicists. And then the tools got better. Whoops. Guess what? Anyway, arguing from your own failures is never a convincing argument.

The cherry on the pie is the double-blind. If all else fails, says the naysayer, then prove it. “In fact, this is my falsification principle,” they chant. “This is the thing you have to do in order to provide me with the motivation to change my opinion.”

First, about the burden of proof. As a matter of course, rejecting an explanatory theory is a fine thing to do, but you need two things to do it. First, you need a counter example. Second, and most important, you need a replacement theory. You can’t kick the legs out without offering a prop — that’s bad form and, more seriously, explicitly disallowed under that other part of the Scientific Method. You know. The one used by scientists. Ahem.

Anyway, when you’ve got a claim that you’re evaluating, that claim usually has stated or unstated supports that hold it up. If you want to dispute that claim, that’s totally fine — but it’s on you to “do the work” to disprove it. Just saying “no, you’re wrong” is a party foul, and the appropriate response is “you are drunk”. The “burden of proof” is always carried by the doubter, and you exercise that by responding with “no, you are wrong — and here is why.

Next, lets talk method for a second. Claims of existence are not typically subject to double-blind experiments. Sorry about that. Usually, the double-blind is a tool used for efficacy, a rather different category of problem. Claims of existence are supported or obliterated by evidence and explanatory power. That’s why no one had to double-blind the Higgs.

double-blindYou see, a double-blind is a methodology, one of many, and not a universal can opener. This is another one of those delightful cases of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. For the record, Science as a whole proceeds very handily without mandating them or waiting on them. Just sayin’. And then there’s the matter of analysis — the result of a double-blind experiment is not a negative indicator for existence.

It may be an indicator for average effectiveness, however. Take sensory detection trials (heard|not heard, for example). If your sample pool is of sufficient size and sufficiently random complexity in makeup, you might be able to conclude that a particular effect is either profound or negligible or somewhere in between. There’s a kicker, however, in the form of the unstated appended clause: “… for the average person.” Which is entirely irrelevant for existence claims. The question wasn’t “Will I hear it?” That’s a bait-and-switch. The question, at least as it bears on most audiophile debates around sonic attributes, is better stated as: “Can it be heard?” And for that, we’ll need to do things a bit differently.

I’ve talked about this before, but this is worth pulling apart again, so here goes: In any statistical sample, you have outliers. Folks that beat the average. In a pool of 10 subjects, there may well be one that “gets it right” every time. Similarly, there may be one that “gets it wrong” every time. This is interesting. Very interesting. But in a double-blind experiment, this is also a problem.

Handily, statistics gives us a clever way to normalize our data to keep “noise” like this from cluttering the results and fucking up our graphs: we discard them! The assumption is that there was something flawed in the execution of the methodology. In short, they cheated. So — toss ’em! That’s what you’re supposed to do. What we’re looking for is the distribution patterns …. And if you’re looking for efficacy, this makes sense. You want to know what’ll happen to Average Joe. But … what if the outliers didn’t cheat?

If you’re looking for existence, discarding the outliers means you’ve just tossed your detectors. It’s like saying: “We’re looking for an extremely rare and hard-to-see subatomic particle. Here are your binoculars! Now, go look at random collisions out there in the Universe. Let me suggest those kids banging tennis balls against that brick wall! Excellent — tell me what you find.” More seriously, the folks hunting the Higgs didn’t use “just any” gear in their search. They went after, and built, a crazy-ass special-purpose, one-of-a-kind detector. This is what you do when you want to justify existence claims — you don’t shoot for random tools, you look to the weird stuff.

So, in sensory trials, you need to round them up. All that you can uncover. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that they’re common, so there may be some work to find a large enough sample pool. But it is precisely these folks that you want to ABX to death. Who are they? Experts. Well. Maybe! But I’d start there. Want to get fancy? Have those “reliable detectors” attempt to train others to do what they seem able to do. That would be interesting.

The point is that this entire line of argument, wherever it crops up, is usually bogus. A random appeal to the Scientific Method is not going to “save you” from having your opinion swamped by an expert. Constructing an a priori argument is fine and all, but when actual experience is directly and readily available, it’s a little obtuse. The best that an appeal to methodology will do is count toward undermining the credibility of the expert, but even then, it won’t necessarily overturn it. Not by itself. Why? Because a thought experiment does not, in itself, yield truth. It’s a pointer. A suggestive anecdote. By submitting it, all you’ve done is moved the problem … all the while shifting the burden of proof squarely to your own shoulders.

Have fun storming the castle.

Respect and beer

When it comes down to brass tacks, I really don’t know or understand why it is that experts are so routinely put down, sidelined, or otherwise marginalized. Yes, there could be a million reasons, but it seems more pervasive and more reflexive than anything I’ve outlined so far. This concerns me, because these are the exact people that we ought to be relying on to help us not mis-spend our money.

Fine, if you’re Mitt Romney, you can just go buy whatever AudioNerd1949 recommends as the flavor of the week and try it out yourself. In fact, this isn’t a bad plan — if you’re Mitt Romney. But given that the bottoms of bank accounts for the rest of us tend not to enjoy such depths, you’d think that a little guidance from the very people most likely to help us hold on to our clams would be a welcome and sought-after thing. But no. It’s like we can’t help it.

Smart people are scary, complex topics are abhorrent, special knowledge is suspect, and there is nothing under the sun that my neighbor, that a good ole boy with a lick o’ sense and his head screwed on straight, can’t figger out. Which pretty much explains why most policy decisions made in the US today are stupid: stupid does as stupid is.

I want to say that the problem here has to do with something simple, but I can’t. If you buy me a beer at RMAF some year, I’ll be happy to share my Dumbing Down Of America theories. But there’s a well understood meme in politics that came out in a recent election that sheds some rather sickly light on the subject, and that’s beer. “Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?” is a bizarre way to select anything other than plans for Friday night. When you’re picking a Brigade Commander, a CEO, a plumber, or a firefighter, approachability isn’t really high on the list of job requirements. A pal? Sure. But a President? Baffling. Pardon me while I shake my head in utter disbelief. In what possible universe is that a relevant criteria? The fact that it is says something fundamental about our psyche, I’m sure, but it’s above my pay grade to sort out.

In the end, it’s your money. If your vision of “being an audiophile” means engaging in spirited debate over rabbit holes and minutiae, then welcome to the club. If you are looking for a way to spend the least amount of money in the most effective way possible, then there’s another way. There’s a difference between “stupid” and “ignorant”. You can’t fix stupid, they say. But the other one? Well, there’s a path for them. Part of that path is listening to those that have already been down that road before you, and if you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, from learning from those that have been down similar paths.

As Skoff suggests, you’re really best served by trying it out yourself. Might as well get to it. And that, I think, is where Skoff — a real, honest-to-God expert in his own right — wanted you to get to all along.

About Scot Hull 1062 Articles
Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.


  1. I’ve rarely seen a tentative to dismiss ABX testing and their results as desperate as this one. The philosophical development is interesting but futile in the end. If I claim that unicorn exist (to use the famous analogy), the burden of the proof is on my shoulders, not on my opposants.

    You shouldn’t be concerned about the validity of blind testing audio claims. No, ABX tests are not “negative indicator for existence”, they are, on the contrary, positive evidences of existence if they are, well, positive. And at the end, when a significant number of blind tests have come to the conclusion that, for example, at 99% certainty, humans cannot hear distortion lower than 0,1%, or that a neutral electronic path with low distortion is sonically transparent, they are accepted as facts by the rational person. ABX testing is very important in audio, you are probably aware that imagination can play a greater role in assessing a quality rating to an audio device than its inherent sound. I’ll quote an “expert”:

    “(…) The results are very clear, and strongly supportive of the scientific view. Figure 4 shows that, in subjective ratings of four loudspeakers, the differences in ratings caused by knowledge of the products is as large or larger than those attributable to the differences in sound alone. (…) Other variables were also tested, and the results indicated that, in the sighted tests, listeners substantially ignored large differences in sound quality attributable to position in the listening room and to program material. In other words, knowledge of the product identity was at least as important a factor in the tests as the principal acoustical factors. Incidentally, many of these listeners were very experienced and, some of them tought, able to ignore the visually-stimulated biases.”
    Floyd E. Toole, Ph.D. (http://www.harmanaudio.com/all_about_audio/audio_art_science.pdf)

    Like you said: “If and when you’re ever faced with evidence inconsistent with your beliefs, you are pretty much compelled to address that inconsistency.”

  2. Today, I was looking at the speakers I built, which have 300mm, 100mm and 25mm drivers vertically above each other. The woofer’s in a separate enclosure. With the spacings of the drivers, I noticed that a tangent from the edge of the woofer’s cone to the edge of the mid’s cone was in perfect alignment with a tangent to the tweeter’s dome. “That’s neat”, I thought “It looks as though I meant to do it”. They work well.

    So it struck me that I could quite plausibly propagate it as a top expert’s tip: “When choosing and placing drivers, the rule is to create the well known ‘golden stack’. Space the drivers such that tangents to the edges of all of the drivers are in alignment, which has been found to give highly coherent presentation.”

    I am sure that typical experts’ wisdom like “All hi fi equipment sounds better after being switched on for more than 2 hours”, “Cables sound better when lifted from the floor by 1.75 inches”, “Cables sound better after about 50 hours of ‘burn-in’ using a wide program of music”, “Experiment with mains cables and find the one that sounds best for you”, “Spend about 15% of your system’s cost on cables”, have equally such unfounded origins. Anyone could make up such folksy superstitious tidbits without anyone bothering to challenge them, which is why they exist.

  3. What I would love to see (but it will never happen), is a scientific analysis of how someones rigid audiophile beliefs play out in the believers wider world.

    And I think the “hobby” of audio is the only one where belief systems can exist without validation. A hot rodder can believe in anything he wants, relative to his cars performance tweaks but ultimately it can be validated on the quarter mile.

    Using myself as a test case, I dont hold strong views on the technical superiority of X or Y… I spin vinyl and cd’s but 80% of my listening is via sending digital streams over ethernet. I use both tubes and solid state in my system. Looking at my wider world views, I am tolerant of “things” that others would not be. I do however hold strong views on what I want my system to sound like (but not the means to that end).

    So as noted, do people on forums that really get wound up about someone else’s beliefs (which dont fit their world view), tend towards being intolerant in other areas of their lives (racists, bigots etc)?

    And related to your topic, my experience would suggest people that hold these “die hard” views also tend to view themselves as experts (ie superior to others),


    • I don’t mind people with die hard views at all, as long as they argue their case with reason and civility. In fact the people with strong views (and hopefully original ideas and a wider perspective on the whole subject e.g. some appreciation of psychology and their own fallibility when it comes to sighted listening tests) are the ones it is most fun to debate with – and maybe to have one’s own views altered by.

      I have pretty much given up on certain forums populated by some *deeply* unpleasant people that, in real life I would not normally be aware of. There is sometimes a sense of a lynch mob mentality that makes you think that if the subject of audio can bring out these traits in a not insignificant proportion of supposedly intelligent men, then the notion that we are “three meals away from anarchy” is probably correct! (And I’d rather just live in ignorance of this than be reminded of it every day!).

      • Hi Perry,
        I voluntarily removed myself from The Absolute Sound’s forums years ago as it was unbelievable with certain users and how confrontational, challenging, discrediting, and insulting they were so much of the time to numerous users over a sustained period of time. It made it miserable for many. It has been nicer simply to “visit them” now and then.

        Sadly, the worst example of that which I have personally experienced is on http://www.cbn.com in their news article forums where so many users just rip each other to shreds. It’s gotten to where there are a well known group of users who seemingly deliberately gang up on or lynch anyone who disagrees with them about anything almost as if they are searching for opposition from other users, and then once discovered, they immediately pounce in a coordinated attack pattern the likes of which would make a Nazi Panzer tank battalion commander jealous of. It ruins it for nearly everyone as there is so much conflict. Here, at least, it is peaceful and people (perhaps it’s an audiophile thing ?) are at least civil to one another. I would be an idiot if I thought everyone should agree with me or believe what I do or like what I do and not like what I do not like. I’d also be denying everyone else their God given right to their own opinions based on their experiences that, to them, are valid.

        As for me, I have always looked at every audition and every part time audio sales job that I had many years ago as a way to learn and learn and learn, and as a way to hopefully apply that added knowledge and understanding to help people make better purchases to have their needs and wants met and exceeded and put a small commission into my paycheck as a modest reward that was never exceeded by the reward of helping someone. I learned so much working for and with other audiophiles who were willing to teach and train and mentor me over the years, or minute by minute; to help close a sale or simply to share in the mutual interest of it all. It made it beneficial to me, and fun for me.

        If anyone ever considered me to be an “expert”, I was never made aware of it, and did not want or need to be. There have been many times where I learned by mistake(s) and out of sheer need due to ignorance; be it partial or absolute. Either way, I learned and have been blessed with being able and allowed to apply it when applicable in what was or will be a beneficial method to help someone. An “expert” is of no value or benefit to anyone if the “expert’ cannot or does not share that “specific knowledge and understanding” with someone so as to affect positive change commonly known as improvement.

        By the way, who says that any of us are three meals away from anarchy ?
        It may be just one; if we’re allowed to have another meal at all.

  4. I was going to hold back, but Bromo caught the same spot that started to give me indigestion. And I’m not sure that it really changes the rest of your case. The bottom line is, we (the larger we) do not and will not, as a whole, keep to the rigor of what we are calling “intellectual rigor”. I don’t think I need to say “look around you, read the paper, look at the web.” Fat chance comes to mind.

    That being said, for any science/engineering/evidence/experience based analysis and discussion of something like out favorite topic, it is in fact a requirement for those taking part in the conversation to check the box on the way in saying that they will exercise intellectual honesty throughout the exercise. Nothing else will work, or make it worth everyone’s trouble and effort. That is in fact de facto for the scientific method to have a chance. I believe. (Or is that a priori) 😉

    Love your effort and attitude. Please keep up the good work!

  5. hmmm, I think I may have to re-read (again) “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. ahh but that was from the 60’s and 70’s, a time when we learned to look beyond our preconceptions. Of course some didn’t get that far and just got stuck in “make your own world”. Now we have a “make your own facts” world, which is the caveat to your arguments, if you are going to argue “facts” please be sure those really are indeed…. “facts”.

  6. Since you are a self-proclaimed part time audiophile, what do you do full time ?

    The sad fact of “experts” is that every one of them can be “experts” based on unknowingly incorrect or deliberately falsified or outdated information that has since changed rendering the validity of their “being an expert” partially or fully invalid. All of every “expert’s” information must be compared and contrasted to the reference standard that is applicable to the situation at hand to determine the validity of the information, and therefore the validity of the “expert”. To not do this is to allow mere opinions to flow and potentially erroneously influence people however it shall.

    As for me, my faith in God (the God of the Bible, His Son Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, and the Holy Spirit) is what forms the basis for the unchanging / absolute reference standard in all things at all times. They are Whom I have faith in. They are the experts without “quotes” around their names. I am just a person who happens to be an audiophile who happens to know what I do and does not know so much more; therefore I do not consider myself an “expert”.

    As long as I am teachable by a legitimate “expert,” who realizes that all of the natural laws that God created and rules over at all moments (such as those of physics and acoustics and electricity) cannot be changed as they are all immutable because of Who created them and can therefore only be learned about, understood, and creatively applied within their own limits and within the limits of the person(s) attempting to implement them involving one or more compromises as all engineering disciplines do, then I can continue to engage in this wonderful hobby of multiple scientific disciplines and human emotions via the reproduction of music; aka “hifi”.

    To believe otherwise, (such as natural laws are always false) let alone attempt to practice based on believing otherwise, is delusional, arrogant, and “Biblically simple” proving ignorance as well.

    • Tom — I have to say, I’m fascinated by the approach you’re taking. Even if I disagree with you (an entirely shocking revelation, I’m sure), I appreciate the openness and honesty. As to your faith, I obviously have no insight or say — this seems wrapped around your identity in a fundamental way, and if that provides strength and comfort to you, so be it.

      Generally speaking, however, appeals to the supernatural as a foundation for First Principles have not been successfully supported either by logic or Science. This makes your starting position more than a little challenging. That said, nothing that you’ve said that flows from that seems to hinge on it, so who cares.

      I’m hoping to get around to it, but I think I should mention here that choices — like following one particular faith-path — is more properly addressed in aesthetics than metaphysics or epistemology. Or ethics. But that’s a debate for another time, but I say it here to offer only that this series isn’t offered as (or to be interpreted as) an attack on religion or an endorsement of atheism.

      • What is fascinating to you about it ?

        You said, “Generally speaking, however, appeals to the supernatural as a foundation for First Principles have not been successfully supported either by logic or Science.” If we should not put too fine of a point on it as an example, then let’s address the traditional scientific community’s viewpoint of “The Big Bang Theory” for a moment please.
        1. What went bang ? (It had to be at least one thing.)
        2. Who or what created that one thing with all of its scientific properties ? (at a minimum)
        3. Why did it go bang ? (There had to be at least one reason)
        4. How did what supposedly went bang come to exist in the first place ?
        5. Whom or what created all of that which supposedly went bang ?
        6. How can nothing create something at all and then have it go bang ?
        7. Did any of what supposedly went bang know how to go bang or decide to go bang ?
        8. How did the bang process itself work or function ?
        9. What natural laws were in place to determine that ?
        10. If there were natural laws in place to determine that, then did they not inherently have
        to exist both before and at a higher level of influence than that which went bang ?
        11. If natural laws were in place both before and at a higher level of influence than that
        which went bang, then who or what created those natural laws with their aspects ?
        12. If samples of that which went bang are available and can be tested for composition
        and age, how accurate can the tests for age be when the percent error is even 0.1%
        with respect to a hypothesized 100 million years as an example = a percent error of +/-
        100,000 years in this example; which is quite a large period of time, and error ?

        Science and logic can only go so far, and then comes God … and faith in God.

        [several lines deleted for clarity and irony … apologies ….]

      • The problem is that science explains all of this. That is, everything that isn’t a false premise or a non sequitur. How complete that description is, is moot. How convincing that description is, is also moot. But the system as a whole is rather consistent and coherent, without an appeal to The Great Beyond. And that’s kind of the point.

  7. Actually “being an audiophile” consists of me listening to a lot of music, reproduced with as highly a convincing illusion of live performance as possible. When it comes to understanding electronics, I do get some entertainment on various fora, but I fall back on my engineering background, so try to keep it out of the way of unwinding to some pretty excellent music.

    While I agree with you in most of this, and found it highly entertaining, there is one bit towards the beginning, that’s pretty important, that I think is the weakness in the whole construction:

    The right of someone to be incorrect when presented with facts. While you maintain there is some sort of duty to examine beliefs in the presence of new facts, to maintain intellectual honesty if nothing else, very few people are interested in intellectual honesty when it comes to belief. When confronted with facts, most “dig in” rather than reexamine facts. If there is a duty, it is shirked more often than honored. And as many still continue to live full lives, perhaps fuller than if re-examining their world view as facts keep rolling in, perhaps the concept of “intellectual honesty” is overrated except the few twisted souls that feel that accuracy is the key to a better life?

    Or perhaps trying to keep an open mind to experience, leaving the door open to revision when new facts become available is good. But if one more person shows me a page of calculations proving Nyquist theorem then triumphantly declaring “There! See? That CD there, HAS to sound better than that LP you just spun.” And I have to explain the problem with CD has little to do with sampling theory, and just in engineering execution, and mastering decisions. Maybe I will just agree to disagree. 😉

    Keep it up, I loved the article!

    • I’m undercaffeinated, so lemme see if I can untangle the thought process that led to my screed. I’d like to say that “intellectual honesty”, as you call it, is a personal good. Along the same lines of confession for the devout Catholic. It’s something you really must do, or else you’re likely to get kicked out of the club. The club, in this case, isn’t intellectual honesty, but more “society” — it’s bigger (or ought to be ) than merely a “goal” on par with “more cardio” or “eat more greens”. It’s not like we’re not capable and I’m not sympathetic to the level of difficulty. We just have to do it.

      The whole “experience is primal” movement is not new — 20th century science (Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, especially) is entirely dependent upon it. What got rejected is some crazy-ass tendencies to go hog-wild with theories entirely decoupled from reality. Hegel is an excellent example here. But the 19th century trend toward transcendental mysticism is tied up in it, too. At the turn of the 20th, a full rejection of everything you can’t kick set the stage for standardization on a set of foundational first-principles — and Science (with a capital “S”) exploded.

      On a more personal Philosophy of Life note, the 1960’s and 1970’s did considerable damage to this rigor. We moved from “gut it up” to “make your own world”. Very pretty and fabulously fecund, there’s this arty decoupling of direct experience from truth, and what we now have are masses of people happy to sit in their own dirty underwear. It’s weird. And we have a better way.

    • It seems to me that as long as there is evidence that *all* people’s subjective perceptions are unreliable and that simple demonstrations show how experienced audiophiles mistake EQ variations for changes in dynamic compression, for example, then, short of disregarding everything that does not come from a rigorous double lind test, all bets are off.

      In the audio business it would be nice if there were some stakes in the ground that could be relied upon. Digital audio was supposed to be one such reliable anchor point, but people are more willing to believe they can hear the difference between identical files on different types of memory stick than they are to acknowledge their own susceptibility to psychological influences. So in audio *everything* is subjective, therefore there can never meaningfully be an audio expert.

      I see it as entirely conceivable that both well meaning enthusiasts and cynical con artists, could forge prosperous careers in the audio industry with no genuine expertise at all, just as such people exist in other ‘subjective’ fields like economics and clairvoyancy. And they may even have happy, satisfied customers, whose lives would actually be diminshed if it was demonstrated to them that a decent laptop headphone output is audibly indistiguishable from a $50,000 DAC by any human on earth. (And as far as I can tell, there is nothing but unreliable, subjective anecdotal evidence to say it is distinguishable, and no physiological reason why it should be).

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