Evidence Is Not Evident

As I have already stated at the beginning, I am writing this blog because of my difficulties with English language.

One of the words in English that makes it especially difficult for me to express myself in this language is “evidence”.

“Evidenz” in German means “obviousness”, “appearance”. It is close to Latin roots “videre” which means “to see”.

“Evidence” in English means a different thing, namely “proof” or “testimony”, but – and this is the confusing aspect of the word – the adjective “evident” means “obvious” just as the German adjective “evident”.

Now there is something, as you might know, that is called “evidence-based medicine”.

The lowest level of evidence according to evidence-based medicine is: “Expert opinion without explicit critical appraisal, or based on physiology, bench research or “first principles””

The highest level of evidence is: “SR [Systematic Review] (with homogeneity*) of RCTs [Randomized Controlled Studies]”

If you take a closer look at these definitions, “evidence” in the sense of “obviousness” can only take place on the lowest level of “evidence” according to evidence-based medicine. For this is the only level where experts, that means: people, directly look at things.

On the highest levels of “evidence” according to evidence-based medicine systematic reviews of the publications of others are performed, and their data have to be believed. There are also mathematical, statistical proofs involved. All the proofs and the data are located between you and the original phenomenon, so that the phenomenon is no longer visible.

It seems clear to me that evidence-based medicine is about scientific proof, and not about “evidence” in the sense of “obviousness”. But tell me, as a not native English speaker, how would you call it, if you wanted to talk about “obviousness”.

As I have mentioned, in German the word “Evidenz” basically does not mean “proof” or “testimony”. Even though evidence-based medicine was translated into “evidenzbasierte Medizin”. The reason might be the low self-esteem of German speakers. However, in scientific circles they start already to use the German “Evidenz” in the sense of “proof”, of which I absolutely do not approve for I think there is a good reason for the fact that “Evidenz” should not mean “proof”.

The reason is that the more proofs are put between you and a thing the less evident it becomes. It becomes – empirically, scientifically – better proven, but it becomes less evident. The thing itself becomes opaque behind all the evidence.

Evidence therefore does not make things evident. For “evident” (also in English?) means “self-evident” which equals to “not needing a proof”.

But there is certain suspicion that I have regarding the situation in English: Is the reason for the meanings of “evidence” and “evident” in English language maybe to be found in a certain belief – based on a strong empiristic conviction – that evidence actually helps to make beliefs/assertions more evident?

Well, the idea would be that evidence is somehing that “supports” assertions, and if the support is so strong that nobody can rationally doubt it anymore, then the assertion is held to be “evident” in the sense of “obvious” for everybody. Is this the case?

Well, if it was so, it would be a false conviction. For evidence in the sense of proof puts itself between the person seeing an object and the object seen by her. In consequence, the person will look at the evidence (the proofs) and not at the object. If she is a normal persons, it is very likely that she will not understand the (sophisticated scientific) proofs. In the end she will have to believe what experts tell her. And to believe that she would understand the case, if she was trained to be an expert herself.

The moral of the story: A mountain of evidence leads to belief, for evidence does not make things evident. Evidence leads to scientifically better proven results, but it does not make things obvious and understandable.

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How Can I Stand Success?

A question that bothers me very much lately is: how can I stand success?

How can I live with success? Success seems to me to be the worst thing that has been invented by human beings.

When I experience success I eat too much, I would like to be drunk the whole time, and I feel a profound lack of motivation. All the joy that is in my naturally quite joyful character is gone when it comes to success.

I really would prefer to do a thing the way I like it and be happy with it. If I get the occasion to do a thing my way I can get a lot of energy out of it, motivational energy that helps me to complete other tasks. But as soon as I try do make a good thing, somebody comes up and requires that it be a successful thing. Then he/she changes the thing until I do not like it anymore.

That is what success is: doing things you do not like. Explanation: if you liked them, you needn’t call them “success”. The content of success is selling your thing to people who are not interested in it and do not take the time to look at it and understand it.

If you conceived a thought which is new, success requires to formulate it in a way so that the new part of it is invisible. If you conceived a thought which is a little bit complicated, success requires to formulate it in a way so simple that thinking is not needed to understand it.

I think success is really a very bad thing. It should be known more generally that it is a really bad thing. People should bite into their tongues before asking “…but don’t you want to be successful?” The necessity of success can be accepted only under very rare circumstances. And also under these circumstances it should be clear that the price of success is very high, that the destruction produced by success is remarkable. Success makes the world a sad and ugly place.

The Motivation for Doing Philosophy

Today I have read the following:

“Wittgenstein, in particular, opposed the view that the purpose of language was to express our thoughts. Chomsky, on the other hand, embraces exactly this view. […] Chomsky has said in many different ways and places that “language serves essentially for the expression of thought.””

Stephen P. Schwartz: A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell 2012, p. 182.

These three short sentences explained it quite well to me why I cannot find any interest in Ludwig Wittgenstein – not even in the older Wittgenstein:

And what if the interest in expressing oneself – like it is the case in my case – was the motivation that brought a person to philosophy? What would Wittgenstein say then? What would he have said, when he still was alive?

I sensed that somehow in Wittgenstein’s writings, but I did not know what it was. So I used to say (in Socratic words): “I cannot find the ‘philosophical Eros’ in Wittgenstein.”

Now, through Schwartz, I have come to know where the missing ‘philosophical Eros’ hides: Wittgenstein does not think that words are there to express one’s thoughts.

But how should I have expected anything like that? Do I expect that do not want to fill their lungs with air? – No. Do I expect them not to want to eat and drink? – No. Do I expect them not to want any clothes or rooms with heating when it is cold outside? – No.

So how should I have expected that Wittgenstein was saying/writing things without wanting to express his thoughts?

If I do not want to express my thoughts I do not need to philosophize. I can not-express-my-thoughts as well when working at the cashpoint of a supermarket or while playing a trumpet.

There are actually many positions available in our society for persons who do not want to express their thoughts: worker in an industrial plant, press officer, scientist. Actually, there are almost no positions in our society where one is supposed to express one’s thoughts.

Therefore, I do not understand why philosophy especially attracts persons like Wittgenstein who desire nothing more than to not-express-their-thoughts.

The Fascinating Thing about Ludwig Wittgenstein

…is that he never worked scientifically.

Ludwig Wittgenstein never had to press his thoughts into a form that was not his in order to submit it to a scientific journal and get it through peer review.

He never never had to bow to formal conditions like 3000 or 6000 words, references (+formal requirements for the references), the adoption of a certain style of writing, and a text structure like background-methods-results-discussion.

If Wittgenstein had to do that – what every scientist nowadays has to do in order to become a scientist at all – maybe he would have failed. The stories about his choleric character make it seem likely that he would have failed.

Well, Michel de Montaigne did not work scientifically either, and even though he became a famous philosopher.

True, but Michel de Montaigne did not pretend to do scientific philosophy. He wrote ‘essays’. ‘Essay’ means: “I give my text the form I want to!”

I really wonder what would have become of Wittgenstein’s writings, if he had been forced to work scientifically.

Are Scientific Philosophers Revolutionaries?

Reading Stephan P. Schwartz’s book “A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy”, I stumbled over the following sentences:

“Analytic philosophers saw themselves, initially, as revolutionary, breakting with the past traditions of Western philosophy. They saw their work as freeing philosophy and even society, from its past forms and obsessions.” (p. 5)

“Aren’t they rather the opposite of revolutionary?”, I remarked on the side of the page.

After all, their project was that of a scientific philosophy. – And science is a very conservative thing by its very nature. Scientists strive to always hold the same opinion as the other members of their group. Science is the anti-revolutionary project par excellence.

Once there was a revolutionary project of philosophy. Its idea consisted in the individal philosopher reflecting upon the collective truths of tradition and religious belief and finding out that all these contents were self-contradictory and incoherent.

Such an individual philosopher who criticized collective certainties for sure had all the others against him. But against who can one make revolution against, if one beliefs – like scientists do – only in collective truths? -Against outsiders? -Strong performance!

There is yet another reason that makes me wonder how scientific philosophers can by revolutionary: If one wants to discuss his opinion with other people, one needs to utter at least one whole opinion. But scientist usually do not discuss whole problems, they discuss parts of problems.

Parts of problems are problems of a kind so that non-scientists and scientists not specialized on that subject in order to understand that subject would first have to ask: “What is the context of this problem? What is its relevance?”

It may also be in some cases that the scientist specialized on that very topic does not know what is the relevance of the problem he is working on. If this is the case, he is a riddle-solver; somebody, who just does not care about the meaning of his problem, as long as he has fun solving it.

Normally, when you express your opinion this experience is person-constituting. A human being commits herself/himself to thinking in order to find out what she/he is convinced of.

But scientific philosophy dealing with a quarter of a problem or a tenth of a problem is person-dissolving. One does not have to be one or the other kind of person to have one or the other opinion, because the problem is so tiny that it is not clear what follows from it, anyway.

The scientific project has this peculiarity that it tends to conceive all problems this way, as parts of problems, as technicalities.

So we end up with persons who dislike it to disagree with the community and who express arguments which are to small to be understood by lay people to think of themselves as revolutionaries. That’s weird.

Of course, even though science can be revolutionary in the sense that it has revolutionary effects. This is actually the case as science is transforming our societies via technical innovations.

But even in that case science is not revolutionary through its word, by convincing society. Because science is conservative pe se.

Utilitarianism is self-contradictory

There is rarely any other theory in philosophy which I do NOT understand so entirely as utilitarianism. It is said that utilitarianism is the most developed moral theory, but to me utilitarianism makes no sense from the very start. A presentation of utilitarianism as a moral theory sounds to me as if somebody would point at a car and explain to me that in reality it is an elephant.

The reason of my problems in understanding utilitarianism lies in the fact that its very first presuppositions are self-contradictory in my eyes. Here I obviously stumble over things which are sound according to the intuitions of the followers of utilitarianism.

“Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility, usually defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering.” (Wikipedia) The goal of utilitarianist action is to contribute to the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people.

Here, at this point, there is already something I do not understand: If we work for the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people, when do we have time to be happy? If we work to produce the highest degree of utility for the greatest number of people, when do we enjoy the utility produced by us?

This contradiction was already formulated by Benjamin Franklin (although I doubt that anybody is aware of the fact that Franklin’s statement constitutes a criticism of utilitarianism:

Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but six pence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.” (Advice to a Young Tradesman (1748)) (Wikipedia)

The problem described by Benjamin Franklin in this quote in economics is called “opportunity costs”. Opportunity costs are the lost profit of one alternative of action if you choose the other alternative. In Franklin’s quote a young tradesman has chosen to enjoy his free time, and although he has only spent 6 pence during that time, Franklin calculates that in reality he has spent 6 pence and 5 shillings; for had he worked instead of being idle, he would have earned 5 shillings in this half day.

From that follows that if one enjoys the fruits of his work, he fails to fulfill the utilitarianist imperative, for he would maximize utility rather by working than by enjoying.

This is why I believe that the problem of utilitarianism is not expressed in the controversy between Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, in which the first one argued that all pleasures human beings are able to enjoy are o.k. (“the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry”), whereas the second one held that “higher pleasures” are better than “lower” ones (“It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.”)

The problem in my eyes is rather that there will be no time left to consume the utility produced by us by working harder and longer hours every year.

Actually, it seems to me that today’s world is aready ruled by utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is inherent in free market economy. By producing goods and providing services to others we try to maximize overall utility and are successful in falling on each others nerves. For instance with the help of advertisments. Every evening when I come home I find a staple of advertisments in my post box. I remember that all these companies try to offer something useful to me. Then I turn around and thrust the whole utility into the dustbin.

Utilitarianism is part of the problem of today`s societies, and not of the solution. If I look around myself everwhere I see people trying to maximize overall utility in the utilitarianist sense. The consequences are stress, depression, psychosomatic and cardiovascular illnesses, drug abuse and a general feeling of the senselessness of life.

If we really wanted to maximize pleasure and positive feelings (higher and lower ones) of all human beings, the first thing we would have to do is stop talking about the utility of all things and projects. Most important would be to stop talking about the utility of enterprises or scientific discoveries for society (“What you can do for your nation…”). Because all these utilities just add pressure to life in society and prevent people from relaxing and feeling at ease.

The second important measure, if we really wanted to maximize pleasure, would be to think about the times and places when and where we can enjoy the fruits of our work and consume the utility produced by us. There have to be isles of leisure amidst the ocean of labour.

Maximizing utility alone will only lead to the erasement of these isles of leisure. If we want to maximize pleasure, we have to be aware of the fact that this puts limits to the maximization of utility.

As the Franklin`s trademan sometimes decides not to maximize utility by not earning those 5 shillings in order to drink a pint of beer with his friends, we should also know that pleasure can only be achieved at the cost of not always maximizing utility.

My message can also be expressed in the following manner: utilitarianism is a version of consequentialism. Consequentialism holds that every human action has to be judged by the its consequences. For many people this approach is quite natural and self-evident, but not for me. Consequentialism holds that you always only do something now in order to achieve something later. So when will you be happy? If you are happy, whenever, it is always now. Happiness, pleasure, and enjoyment are always now. But for consequentialism “now” does not exist, because everything that counts is always “later”. So if you ever happen to be happy at the moment, consequentialism will send you away to do something useful, because enjoying the moment is not included in the consequentialist program.

What Phenomenology is

You look at things trying to see something.

If you can`t see anything distinctive there are three possibilities

a) there isn`t anything to be noticed;

b) you looked at it with too little creativity and imagination

c) when looking at it you didn’t have the right object of comparison (cognitive frame) in your mind.

It is possible that a) is the case, but b) and c) are more likely.

So turn your back to the problem, look at other things in the meantime, go to bed, SLEEP LONG (only persons who are not tired are creative). Then come back and have another try.

I still have to add this: Be prepared if you do phenomenological research that others will call it “unscientific”! They will ask, “What was your hypothesis?” But when one is looking at things, one generally does not have any hypothesis. (It would confine your activity of looking, it would prematurely focus your eyes on specific aspects.

Connected with this reproach of the phenomenological method being unscientific is a more general problem: that of the status of observation in science. New developments in science are gradually edging observation out of science. This is achieved by discretiting some forms of observation, for instance the observation of an individual object.

The advantages of observing only statistically relevant groups together with control groups in social sciences are undeniable. Nevertheless it has to be emphasized that observation is basically the observation of an individiual object by an individual human being.

Thus observation is still necessary in science, but not the observation of an individual human being in an uncontrolled random situation. For many people this may not seem to be a problem for observation, but in fact it is: the human being that is aware of the fact that observation in science only counts if it is performed in groups (of researchers) an on groups of objects (which have to be prepared and arranged previously) will stop to look attentively for himself/herself. Collective observation is the end of observation. (I would like to know what Empiricists say about that.)