The Value Of Empiricism

by mitchbrown7

Empiricism is one of my favorite words in the English language. Empiricism is central to building a rational base of knowledge about the world around us. It is the idea that what we know is best defined, solidified, and confirmed by what we can observe, qualify, and quantify. You might have heard the term “empirical data” before. Empiricism is a way in which reality can be discerned from fantasy and delusion.

 Empiricism began to really take hold and spread during the 18th century European Enlightenment. Ideas of empiricism were championed by intellectual giants like David Hume and Francis Bacon, who’s works influenced America’s Founding Fathers, most notably Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin. The Enlightenment era was a continuation of the ideas of the Renaissance. The age of Enlightenment laid the foundations for the scientific revolution and one of the earliest schools of psychology—behaviorism. A feature of the Enlightenment was the rejection of religious dogma and superstition in favor of figuring out how the world works along the lines of natural laws. David Hume wrote a treatise in which he rejected Biblical miracles. Why did he reject them? Because theses miracles were incongruent with established natural laws, laws defined by empiricism. We know snakes can’t talk because they don’t have vocal cords.

But empiricism can be applied to more than just debunking religious myths. I use empiricism in my day to day life. I am constantly taking in all that’s around me, doing a continual compare and contrast. It’s like my brain is equipped with its own stenographer, and I’m always jotting down mental notes on all that I see, hear, and come into contact with. Through my embracing of empiricism, I’ve developed a mentality similar to that of a lawyer or detective, which can fluster and frustrate people if they come to me with bullshit. I can easily call it out, expose it, and back bullshitters and liars into a corner. I agree with Carl Sagan when he said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

How does the empiricist respond when someone tells him or her about having a personal relationship with flying invisible pink elephants? We would reject such silly, delusional nonsense.

Empiricism can be applied to nearly all facets of life. I know an acquaintance who talks about her boyfriend like he is some kind of genius, and she has repeatedly mentioned how well-read he is. I’ve known him for a while, and I’ve had classes with him, but I just don’t see what she is talking about. Is it because I’m not looking hard enough? Or is it because it isn’t there? The only indication of him being well-read I’ve witnessed is when he once mentioned Kurt Vonnegut. I’ve determined he is someone of average, or maybe slightly below average, intelligence, yet his girlfriend talks about him like he’s gifted, but I’ve seen nothing from him that would validate her claim. The gifted can’t hide their intellectual gifts for very long: these gifts have a way of shining through, often manifesting at a young age. Her talking him up, exaggerating his intellectual abilities is most likely due to an emotional attachment. (Because she loves him) As an empiricist, this is something I could never do. I’m going to tell it like it is, regardless of how pretty or ugly the facts are.

 What is the empiricist left to think when someone makes a claim that is not consistent with empirical data or what their own senses have recorded? We either become skeptical of said claim; reject it all together, or in some cases laugh at it.

 I’ve encountered an example of what I’m talking about in a recent class. It was a general comm course that focused on a bunch of touchy feely type shit. We addressed the issue of stereotypes, and according to the professor teaching the class, some stereotypes have validity to them and others do not. He said that the notion of the “dumb jock” was an unjustified stereotype.

Have we somehow been transported back to 1984 and placed smack dab in the middle of the conflict between the Alpha Betas and the Tri Lambs? There are certain words I’ve expunged from my vocabulary, jock is one, and poser is another. We aren’t in high school, and I’m past that. My view on the “student athletes” at UCM is that they don’t seem to be very bright. Most of them seem to be of average to below average intelligence. (like the majority of students at UCM) Such a statement isn’t based on animosity or a personal prejudice; it’s based on observation and interaction. If they were the bright, super-smart types, they wouldn’t be on the basketball team; they would be on the debate team. It’s like that part in the Breakfast Club when Judd Nelson tells Anthony Michael Hall “you’re a genius because you can’t make a lamp.” If the student athletes were geniuses, they wouldn’t be student athletes. They would be the academically focused students. The skills of these two groups are in separate realms. It’s why I don’t associate with the student athletes. (I have no reason to)We inhabit two different spheres that do not intersect.

 The professor teaching the class declared the “dumb jock” to be an inaccurate stereotype; however, in the classroom sat a UCM basketball player who seemed to confirm the stereotype. He would sit in the very last row. What can we learn from that? What traits are associated with those who sit in the back of the classroom verses those who sit at the head of the class? Students who sit in the front are typically active learners and active listeners, and what about those who sit in the back? Well, hopefully, you can figure it out. The professor seemed to have a liking for this star basketball player. He would constantly ask him questions, drawing him into the class conversation, and they weren’t textbook info questions. They were semi-personal questions that also pertained to the lessons. Nine times out of ten, the athlete would answer by saying “watcha you mean.” To put it lightly, he seemed slow.

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 What you have just read was lifted from this basketball player’s Facebook. What can we infer about him by reading such drivel? I’m led to believe the person who wrote it is operating at a sub-par literacy level. It looks like it was written by someone who is possibly borderline illiterate. I honestly felt sorry for him after reading that. I learned to read and write at an early age and have always shown proficiency in those areas, and I can’t understand how the world would look through semi-literate eyes.

 When the professor went on about how the “dumb jock” is just a stereotype, yet provided no evidence to refute or disprove the “stereotype,” I thought what he said was a massive load of bullshit, bullshit based on his own personal preference. His inaccurate exaggeration of the intelligence level of student athletes was probably done because he’s a sports fan. The behavior of most of the student athletes at UCM corroborates the so-called stereotype. It was through reliance upon empiricism I was able to arrive at my conclusion.