We are without water for a while,

so I am feeling a bit grumpy and sweaty. A nontrivial portion of our city is now without water pressure.

One of the weird things about science is how much it depends on being able to convince others you are correct. The scientific method is powerful because it is a good way to convince people of things. But nothing is ‘absolutely true.’ Not even in math: Gödel’s incompleteness theorems – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For any consistent formal, computably enumerable theory that proves basic arithmetical truths, an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory, can be constructed.1 That is, any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete.

In any formal system, there always are statements that cannot be decided to be true or false. If you cannot do it in formal math, how are you going to do it in more complex social environments.

I learned the political/social version of this when I first started teaching m first year-I was amazed when some students disagreed with things I thought to be self-evident. I quickly figured out that reasonable people can disagree, that you can disagree with people you admire intellectually without losing respect for them, and even that making your best argument and not convincing someone is OK. Argue honestly, respectfully, and transparently.

But that does not mean anything goes–it means that there will be some topics that you can disagree about (say the desirability of fly-fishing versus deep-sea fishing for pleasure, or punk versus rap, or three button versus two button suits, or whether or not cutting emissions is more worthwhile than long run growth, or even if there is such a tradeoff). But for some things, the experts might really know more than you do: what kinds of things are hurtful to large groups of people, say.

I learned this lesson once when I was in grad school. The city has a yearly arts festival, and one year they decided to honor the early industrial workers, so commissioned a statue of a worker. The statue was called ‘Derogatory Eastern European name’ worker. The artist claimed not to know that `Eastern European name’ is so painful. Many other people did, and I remember that name on the playground and when I was a kid. I think that the statue was renamed, with lots and lots of bad feelings on all sides.

Sometimes it is tricky to find the line, but often not. Now, back to feeling sticky.

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