The problem of Unfalsifiable belief systems

I have been considering the problem of unfalsifiable claims and beliefs in relation to Covid-19.

One of the problems 20th century linguistic philosophy encountered was how to give a satisfactory account of meaning. One early answer to this was to restrict the criteria for meaningful statements to scientifically verifiable utterances, as the Vienna Circle did. The failure of this attempt was in part due to work in the philosophy of science especially by Karl Popper, who showed that falsification was fundamental to the scientific method, in that a good solid hypothesis is one that you know how to falsify, or in other words by affirming some things it denies others. If your hypothesis is consistent with every possible state of affairs then it is mere pseudo-science, and cannot therefore be meaningful as an hypothesis.

The practice of voodoo magic or astrology or even Freudian psychology can be examples of such pseudo-science. If your mother’s neglect of you is the reason for your narcissism, can someone else’s overly smothering mother be the reason for their narcissism? If you are an introvert because your moon is in Pisces shouldn’t everyone with that pattern also be an introvert? Qualifications are usually sought for the cases that don’t fit the theory. Is it then a good theory, if nothing is allowed to count against it?

Lots of pseudo-science has been going on in the Covid era. If your assumption is that lockdowns work to control viruses then when data appears to contradict that you have to reach for qualifications and reasons to prop up your theory. But at what point should you do the honest scientific minded thing and just drop the theory? How many studies do you need to see that show a negligible effect of lockdowns on virus? Would 30 be enough?

And here is where we get to the interesting thing. When you have emotionally invested in a certain assumption, it is incredibly hard to drop that assumption in the light of counter-evidence. Now at this point the honest thing to do is to question myself if I am willing to consider the evidence against my hypothesis. From the above it seems that I am fairly convinced that lockdowns don’t have a big effect on controlling Covid-19. I have found lots of studies that support this hypothesis. Have I looked into whether there are any studies which support them? I have done research and there isn’t much supporting evidence. For a start, it was never even considered as a part of any pandemic preparedness strategy by any Western government before 2020, so that context needs to be taken into account.

But I have modified my position in light of the evidence. I used to believe that lockdowns just pushed the virus back so that it would come back when the lockdown stopped, but that is not what the studies show, so I no longer hold that belief. Beliefs which make claims about states of affairs in the world should be open to falsification, even if it seems counter-intuitive to drop the belief.

Here is a further hypothesis to reflect on. Viruses in general cannot be controlled by any of the interventions we have used, in fact even the concept of ‘controlling a virus’ is a myth designed to make us feel safe. All the most convention-breaking things with direct and profound long-lasting effects on our freedom, mental and physical health and economy that we have done in this last year have been taken up based on this myth.

How do we falsify this? We discover that social distancing, masks, lockdowns and so on actually do what they are purported to do, with less harm caused by them than doing nothing. How likely is this? If you have any knowlege of these things, you already know the answer. The hypothesis remains in place.

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