Response to The Indian and the Ice

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By KurnDerak
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The thought problem of The Indian and the Ice is the second thought problem that deals with how we handle doubt.  Whereas the first problem with The Evil Demon dealt with how can we know anything this deals with what could be seen as more practical dilemmas.  How do we deal with the source of new information, and what do we do when someone’s claim counters what we already know.

For this problem it seems best to try and set up some parameters for those thinking about it.  Doubt in claims is something that we can easily overcome in moments with a smart phone in hand, nearly regardless of where we are or when.  This problem, however, deals with how we deal with doubt when we can’t confirm nor deny what is presented to us.  That is partly why the scenario presented works as the option to confirm this is not given.  This leaves us with what I feel is the intended dilemma.

The source of the claim is one of the deciding factors on how believable a claim appears to us.  The book very briefly touches on this but I feel that it is something that should be viewed more in depth.  It doesn’t say how well she knows her cousin nor does it tell us how much she trusts her cousin.  Is he someone known for making things up?  Is he seen as being very knowledgeable?  These are what we should try to take into consideration when dealing with a person’s claim.  Someone that has previously been shown to be reliable and present accurate information will be more likely to be seen as speaking truth than someone who hasn’t.  This is easily demonstrated.  Modern media will use people labeled as experts in order to push claims and explain situations, regardless of if they are actually experts in the subject at hand.  Simply having credentials, such as PhD, is enough to get people to trust them on seemingly any subject.  This does lead to the problem of too much trust in claims but that is somewhat the opposite direction as the thought problem in the book deals.

Another aspect of the problem that the book deals with is the extraordinary nature of the claim. Many aspects of the claim are what the Indian girl would have dealt with in her life.  Water clearly exists where she lives, she would have experienced the three classic states of matter (albeit not as likely to have dealt with it in any singular matter), and experienced different things changing their state of matter.  Now, the problem that she cannot get past is that she has not experienced anything that acts the same way as the way water freezing is described.  Though, perhaps this wouldn’t be as big of a hurdle in accepting the claim if we dissect things a little further.  Water is described as going from liquid to solid with no transitional phase.  She has experienced something similar, but in the other direction.  Water when heated up transitions directly into its gaseous form with no real intermediate state.  This was an example of how to deal with doubt and try to come to a reasonable conclusion.  We’ve shown that she would have experienced one aspect of the frozen ice story occurring, just not in the way described.  This is essentially a proof of concept in place of a proof of specifics.

We’ve discussed how we handle claims based on our perceived ability to trust a person, as well as how much the claim matches with our world view.  What is left is what to do when we still are left with not accepting the claim as true.  The problem with this book is that it seems to give only two options, that either we view the claim as true or we flat out dismiss it at untrue.  I put forth that there is an in between option where one doesn’t accept the premise as true but does not accept it being false.  We are capable of expressing doubt in something being true but admitting we aren’t knowledgeable enough to conclude how things occur outside of our experience.

However, what this also doesn’t deal with, that could be quite the important factor, is whether her acceptance of the claim would affect her life in any practical way.  Whereas the Evil Demon does not appear to have a basic, practical application this problem can.  While this specific problem appears to have no practical application to the people in question in there home in India, how one deals with these types of claims can in other scenarios.  When we realize that whether she accepts or does not accept this claim as true we can realize the outcome doesn’t really matter.  However, if we change this scenario even slightly we can see how personally applying this knowledge can be important.  What if she were going to be traveling to where her cousin did?  Knowing what to expect in the environment has real consequences.  Based on her reasons in the example it can be determined that even with such a small change she would still conclude that water does not freeze as described.

Is it faulty reasoning that leads her to this point or is it an acceptable wrong conclusion in otherwise correct reasoning?  My first response, as I brought up earlier, is that the first flaw is that in the setup of either seeing the claim as true or false instead of reserving judgment.  With that out of the way I would conclude that the reasoning used is correct even though it lead to a wrong conclusion.  When dealing with claims that contradict our world view a person must respond to them with consistency, and she does.  As well, she rightfully concludes that a person’s word is not simply enough to change how she views the world.  Even reliable sources can be wrong, they can be susceptible to returning home with stories that rival those of foreigners, and they could flat out lie.  This is perfectly illustrated in the example of the get rich quick scheme emails.  It is possible that one could someday be a real offer but to accept any of them based on that is going to leave people broke.
My response to the third thought problem of the book, and the second one to deal with claims and doubt.
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