Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Conspiracy Theories

A recent philosopher by the name of Karl Popper observed that a single piece of evidence can falsify a scientific theory. I, myself, made a similar observation back in Athens while dialoguing with friends in our search for true definitions. I found that a single counter example could serve as a refutation to a general claim. For example, while discussing friendship with my friend Lysis, we proposed that friendship could be defined as “like being attracted to like”. But when I suggested that bad people can’t really be friends with anyone — including other bad people — our initial idea was refuted, thus requiring us to find a better definition of friendship. So, it would appear that a claim is only good until counter evidence is discovered. This is a rule that underpins much reasoning in science and philosophy.

Now, here is my confusion. I have been looking at collections of ideas that you moderns call “conspiracy theories”. These are interesting phenomena to me because they seem to violate what I have said above. When conspiracy theorists are presented with counter evidence, they do not reject their theory. Rather, they take the counter evidence as further support of their theory. They reframe the counter evidence as evidence of the sophistication of the theory — as if the conspiracy was so well orchestrated that it includes its own counter evidence as a mechanism for covering up the truth. In this way, it seems that no evidence could ever be presented to refute a conspiracy theory. They are immune to counter example.

What should I conclude from this? If nothing else, I believe that there is little point in dialoguing with conspiracy theorists about the truth or falsity of their claims. For the conspiracy theorist, their claims should only ever be considered true. So there is nothing to discuss with them.

-- Socrates