Tuesday, June 4, 2019

What do You Know?

Skip this paragraph and the next one if Bitcoin and scammers don't interest you.  I offer to sell bitcoin to people who are willing to mail me cash.  This is attractive to scammers who can find victims to mail cash for any reason.  They instruct their victim to mail me the cash, open a trade with me, and then once I get the cash, I send the bitcoin (technically, I instruct the escrow service to release the bitcoin), they withdraw it and then disappear.  If their victim does not expect anything from them that they can't provide (human contact, someone to talk to, etc.), they don't have to disappear.  Sometimes, it's not even a scam, it's just someone doing something for someone and arranging to be paid for it in bitcoin.  When it is a scam, it's called a "Man In The Middle" scam, or MITM.  When the service is loving conversations, it's often called a "romance scam."

Scammers have hurt the image of Bitcoin, so I enjoy frustrating them.  It's always my hope that I'm wrong when it seems to me that I've run into a scammer, and Reliable4748 on paxful is no different. All of the ideas I came up with that would make him being a scammer unlikely are things he doesn't want to do.  My newsletter has more to say on this so if it interests you, visit the archives.

To know that two twos make four isn't really knowledge in my view.  It is a necessary result from how we define two and four and applying a bit of logic.  To know that a seed will grow into a tree is real knowledge, but I don't think we get to experience that kind of knowledge.  The seed may not germinate, after all.  Perhaps we know "if it germinates and grows into a mature plant that produces its own seeds, then it will be a tree."  That goes back to definitions and logic, and perhaps a bit of knowledge. However, if it happens to grow into a vine, we must recognize that it wasn't knowledge, but rather an incorrect assumption.  If it does grow into a tree, you can pretend it was knowledge, but I won't agree.

It is safe to assume many things, and that is how I view most of what others call "knowledge."  I view most "knowledge" as working assumptions.  In one of the Alice in Wonderland movies, Alice (or her uncle, or dad?) claims to practice believing in six impossible things every morning. This "practice" pays clever homage to the idea that we don't get knowledge, but rather working assumptions, definitions, and logic.  "Impossible" is a word that smacks of knowledge and, in my view, is too presumptuous to be useful.  In his book, Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill tells us that he bought a dictionary and clipped out the word "impossible," and advises his readers to follow suit.

Some people feel that science is about proving things, and in a sense, it is, but it's about proving theories are wrong, not that they are right.  Good experiments push at the boundaries of a theory, and when they fail to produce a theoretical prediction, they open the door to improvements in the theory.  When the theoretical predictions are all produced, other experimenters attempt to do the same thing, perhaps changing some elements of the experiment that theoretically won't change the result.  When the same experiment consistently produces the predicted results, the theory is strengthened, but it's never "knowledge."  The knowledge is that the theory has always worked, and it becomes pretty safe to assume it will keep working.  Nevertheless, the greatest scientific experiments are those that show an accepted theory to be wrong.

It is not safe to assume that someone who contacts you through the Internet is an honest person.  It is generally true that they are honest, but the dishonest ones are hunting for people in whom they can turn the assumption into what the victim will claim as knowledge.  They often find me and my working assumptions: that they are honest, that honest people don't mind sharing a selfie with you, that they read the instructions in an ad if they want to engage the advertiser, that they'd follow those instructions, etc.  I provide lots of opportunities for them to disprove my working assumptions and they often disprove a lot of them (didn't read the instructions, aren't willing to send me a selfie, used the word "I" when they were talking about their victim, etc.).  I can't use such evidence to know they are scammers, but they often get me close enough to prevent their scam (if it is one) from succeeding.

I invite you to join me in viewing everything we know as a set of working assumptions, and consistent definitions and logic as how we view (and discuss) reality.  This view introduces a bit of doubt, and if you've ever known something that turned out to be wrong, you'll appreciate the change in view.

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