By Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay
If you want to be a good philosopher, don’t rely on intuition or comfort. Study maths and science. They’ll allow you access the best methods we have for knowing the world while teaching you to think clearly and analytically. Mathematics is the philosophical language nature prefers, and science is the only truly effective means we have for connecting our philosophy to reality. Thus maths and science are crucial for good philosophy – for getting things right.
Truth is not always intuitive or comfortable. As a quirk of our base-ten number system, for example, the number 0.999…, the one that is an infinite concatenation of nines, happens to equal 1. That is, 0.999… is 1, and the two expressions, 0.999… and 1, are simply two ways to express the same thing. The proofs of this fact are numerous, easy, and accessible to people without a background in mathematics (the easiest being to add one third, 0.333…, to two thirds, 0.666…, and see what you get). This result isn’t intuitive, and – as anyone who has taught it can attest – not everyone is comfortable with it at first blush.
The sciences, which were largely born out of philosophy, are also replete with nonintuitive, and even uncomfortable truths. The most extreme examples of this are found in quantum mechanics, with interpretations of double slit experiments, quantum entanglement, and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle confounding essentially everyone. But even sciences investigating scales more familiar to us, like biological evolution, are nonintuitive and uncomfortable to the point of being rejected by surprising numbers of people despite overwhelming scientific consensus spanning nearly a century and a half.
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