Interview 970 - Tjeerd Andringa on Conspiracy and Falsifiability

12/01/20148 Comments

Dr. Tjeerd Andringa of joins us to discuss a question James posed in the last subscriber video: are conspiracy theories falsifiable? We discuss Karl Popper's famous "falsification" criteria for the demarcation of science and its potential applicability to geopolitical events. Dr. Andringa also details an approach for how to proceed in developing resilient hypotheses in an unstable, chaotic and non-closed system like global geopolitics.


Interview 776 – Tjeerd Andringa on Geopolitics and Cognition

Falsifiability (explanation)

Karl Popper and the Problem of Demarcation

On Falsifiability - Subscriber Exclusive #035

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  1. Hermetic says:

    To continue with the analogy, could we say geo-engineering is the “invisible hand” that shapes certain weather patterns; the “invisible hand” being an outside variable that determines the future of certain events and patterns in the political sphere? This would make it more difficult to solidify an understanding of the behavior of a region’s climate – and wouldn’t it be a fallacy to say that because an area’s climate has ‘always’ been a certain way, that doesn’t make it necessarily true into the future; because the United States is the overarching global power at this time, doesn’t mean it always will be.

    (I’d like to clarify, that I’m not saying the US and the ‘invisible hand’ are congruent to one another, because I believe the ‘invisible hand’ is the chess master who plays the piece we call the United States and other global forces to achieve certain ideals.)

    Like Dr. Tjeerd Andringa was saying, it’s very difficult to form our conclusions because we’re not in a closed environment and we’re always subject to multiple variables all the time; though, like an alchemical process, we can boil down our subject as close to its essence as we can.

  2. phillipsbri says:

    Hi James,

    After watching this video, it seems that you are searching how to use the principle of falsification in your work, to that end I wish to provide some thoughts but I unfortunately I have no answers.

    That ability to prove a testable hypothesis is predictability. Can you predict any outcome from any one event? -No

    Also are we looking to apply the scientific standards of ‘demarcation & verification’ when trying to make sense of the world? I would argue that we are just looking for meaning, and that can be found in the trend, or the majority of news stories in a subject all pointing in the same direction over a given period of time.

    So we can predict:- The Trend.
    (Maybe you could outline what you see as being the trends so that we may test them? Difficult I know, especially in geo-politics where you have lots of enemies trying to outwit each other).

    To use your analogy from the video this is what climatologists are doing, stating their prediction/future trend (OK, in an particularly vague manner); “the weather is going to get worse in the future”. I know you would want to have higher standards than simply stating that, ‘our lives are going to get a lot worse (politically, economically, geo-politically)’.

    Also I think that to follow this idea of falsification may be dangerous, as it could mean rubbishing other more sensational ‘conspiracy theorists’ who show simple errors in their thinking, i.e. the elite are all shape shifting aliens from planet X (which is an ‘unfalsifiable statement’).

    This topic is a difficult one and I’ll look forward to how you broach this topic in the future.

  3. 911truther says:

    My convictions about 9/11 begin with my education in physics and chemistry. I’m not a physicist, but I’m educated in science. I have followed the arguments, demonstrations and experiments of David Chandler, Steven Jones, Niels Harrit and David Ray Griffin, and to my mind, these scientific arguments do indeed disprove (falsify) the entire government story about what happened on 9/11.

  4. teal says:

    This was a great conversation for which to have been a fly on the wall. You covered the “what, how, and why” very well (or maybe the why was implicit, but certainly understood). I wish I could have been there, though, to ask, “When?” Because it seems to me that there are many times when the efforts devoted to falsifying or verifying a given hypothesis could be better used elsewhere.

    For my part, I find the urge to investigate almost irresistible, and therefore often distracting. In the case of so-called conspiracy theories, I think it is best to ask oneself, “Would having the definitive answer to this (these) question(s) make a difference in how I live my life?” But that isn’t always a useful guide.

    For instance, pretty much every thing that happened after 9/11 (wars, destruction of civil liberties, police state) should have been resisted whether or not the government had been complicit… but it seems very important that the facts behind that day’s events be revealed. A case for indulging that desire to know.

    On the other hand, industry and industrial CO2 are destroying the planet whether or not AGW is a valid concern – and CO2 trading schemes were bloody stupid especially if meant to avert a climate catastrophe (of course they weren’t, and of course they wouldn’t). And here, I feel like ClimateGate is a huge distraction from more important things.

    One thing about which I feel pretty certain, is that it is vital that people not get sucked into arguments about who’s right in a case like the Total crash. Wait for the facts to emerge, or go find them, but until they are out there, be humble. Because we have to stick together, even if we disagree about the details. It’s the big picture that counts, ultimately. To further Dr. Andringa’s analogy, if you are going to choose a future home you think climate, not weather.

  5. Lysander says:

    Tjeerd touched on a useful interpretation of the weather analogy. We are only capable of observing the weather and forming a climate model. We are not capable of predicting the weather. To put it in terms of your investigations; I think this predictive shortfall is in part because the “powers that shouldn’t be” have the wild card of making anything happen any time and any place. This, however, does not mean the controlling powers do not have a plan in motion. This plan is the climate. We may not be able to say an assassination of a particular middle east political leader will happen in such a way on such a day. But we can say that if there is a leader that is bringing peace and unifying the muslim countries of the region, they will be removed. Peace in the middle east does not fit the climate model. Where we see events that clearly fit the climate model, we can look into the details to find more links and improve our model. This may help focus our efforts to some extent.

    • Algorithm of Consciousness says:

      Applying Popper’s idea of falsification to conspiracies is a very prudent and fertile discussion. I believe it’s a necessary philosophical musing to help us understand our place within the world of science, but also political philosophy. However, I believe if we stick to the logical end, it would seem to lead us to an intellectual Berlin Wall. I agree with Dr. Tjeerd Andringa’s point about hypothesis and falsifiability being tested in closed systems, whereas our world of geopolitics is not a closed system.

      I believe the study of chaos theory may be instructive on this point for us, as it deals with the idea of complexities. While our ‘open system’ has too many variables to account for, I think what we may be overlooking is the sheer power of the human will and imagination to lessen those variables as much as possible. This would thereby allow some narrative to be discerned from what would otherwise be chaos. The question that next arises is who writes the narrative. Up until recently with the internet, it was always the “powers that shouldn’t be.”

      With this perspective in mind, it’s evident to me that the “powers that shouldn’t be” exert quite a bit of influence as they wield economic, political and social power through control of banks, corporations, political parties, think tanks, foundations and media. Consequently, this allows a rather small group of well-connected individuals representing various factions of what Machiavelli called “the grandi,” who more or less have interests aligned contra the masses they rule, to superimpose their will and their vision (Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’) onto reality and the subjects on the receiving end of their power.

      I am reminded of the idea of compartmentalization and the Manhattan Project, which was kept secret for a very long time (a conspiracy by all means). No one who worked on it truly knew what they were working on, on an individual level. But in the aggregate, they were working toward an atomic bomb. Yet how do we have such a project to begin with? Someone or some group above all of them must have thought of it, must have known what they were doing, and must have had the “vision” or “seen the prize” for the Manhattan Project to have even been created. They then used their will, influence and power to setup this project and see it actualized.

      This can be applied to all other major geopolitical events and false flag operations based on misdirection. However, whereas in ages past it was far easier for the “powers that shouldn’t be” to impose their will or idea of reality onto everyone else, it has become harder and harder as the internet has fragmented sources of information on levels never seen by humanity, has made it accessible to everyone, and has made everyone into a generator and producer of news and information. As we saw with the Syria chemical weapons false flag, their ability to superimpose their narrative via their will grows less potent as the internet continues to spread information. It is the functional equivalent of what Gutenberg did, but much more important and with much more impact through space and time.

  6. Algorithm of Consciousness says:

    Just to state the obvious, I think revisiting the idea of “conspiracy” would probably help us.

    According to the most basic plain language California jury instruction, conspiracy is defined as an “agreement by two or more persons to commit a wrongful act. Such an agreement may be made orally or in writing or may be implied by the conduct of the parties.” Accordingly, conspiracy is recognized in all legal systems. Prosecutors, including U.S. attorneys, routinely prove this to juries as it applies to individual low level defendants. “Conspiracy” is an inchoate crime (an incomplete crime, i.e., certain acts that are undertaken in preparation of the actual crime). The Latin root “conspirare” means “to breath together.”

    Therefore, while the Brzezinski’s, Kissinger’s, Scowcroft’s, etc., may be oligarchs, they are the true “conspiracy theorists” (or even their shadowy handlers whoever they may be) that cook up these ideas, present them in neat little puzzle pieces in their various organs and publications, and leave it up to the politicians, military men, intelligence circles, and other lower level people to piece them together and actualize them.

    The idea that people, groups or factions within government echelons and entrenched institutions, such as finance, banking and media would engage in conspiracies seems outlandish to most people. Yet they don’t pause and wonder that this is precisely what politics is about – forging alliances, secret deals, consolidating power and gaining influence. These do not occur in the limelight of press conferences and public hearings, but in secrecy. Secrecy is the tissue that connects power relations, which we as ordinary citizens are not privy to. Upon closer inspection, one can see a common continuous pattern in human political affairs. As Michael Parenti said in “Dirty Truths,” City Lights Books, (1996):

    “Those who suffer from conspiracy phobia are fond of saying: “Do you actually think there’s a group of people sitting around in a room plotting things?” For some reason that image is assumed to be so patently absurd as to invite only disclaimers. But where else would people of power get together – on park benches or carousels? Indeed, they meet in rooms: corporate boardrooms, Pentagon command rooms, at the Bohemian Grove, in the choice dining rooms at the best restaurants, resorts, hotels, and estates, in the many conference rooms at the White House, the NSA, the CIA, or wherever. And, yes, they consciously plot – though they call it “planning” and “strategizing” – and they do so in great secrecy, often resisting all efforts at public disclosure. No one confabulates and plans more than political and corporate elites and their hired specialists.”

  7. Popper’s central insight was that knowledge consists not of proving statements true, but of proving them false. So, our body of (scientific) knowledge at any time is simply the set of statements that have not been proven false YET.

    Asking “how can we know if our conspiracy theory is true?” is a misunderstanding of Popper. We can never know whether a theory is actually true – this also applies to natural sciences. All we can do is steadily exclude ideas we can demonstrate are false. This deals with the issue of imperfect and incomplete information. Popper’s approach require us, not to have omniscience about the world, but simply to apply the little scraps of information we do get to ruling out false statements.

    Clearly, we need to come up with new methods of investigation for social science, different from those for natural sciences. But I think Popper’s approach is a good way to go to avoid falling into the epistemic trap James described in the video.

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