The party-pooper principle

The more I think about it, the more I am inclined to adopt the following operational principle:

THE PARTY-POOPER PRINCIPLE: Given two, roughly-equal theories, the one that is less attractive is more likely to be true.

Theories can be attractive in a variety of ways. Some theories meet deep-seated wishes, like the wish for immortality, or for free will, or to see human beings as especially noble and special sorts of beings. Some theories are just groovy, like the panpsychist view that our consciousness exists because every material thing in the universe has special flavorings inherent in it, or the view that the pyramids were made by super-intelligent aliens. Some theories give us hope, like the theory that God (or Mother Earth) won’t let global warming take us down as a species.

The problem with being attractive is that attractiveness introduces irrelevant motivations for our belief. We like to believe what puts us in a good light, or makes us feel groovy, or hopeful. That attraction is likely to skew our critical faculties, consciously or unconsciously, and get us to adopt a belief when a more clinical, detached perspective would tell us otherwise. Thus, we need to compensate for attractiveness. Thus, we need to be party-poopers.

Yes, the P-PP is pessimistic, and it is certainly possible that the flattering, groovy, hopeful theory turns out to be true. But, because of our attraction to attractive theories, we need to cultivate some bias against them, and insist that they prove themselves according to more stringent standards. In a way, the insistence levels the argumentative playing field, since the attraction tilts the field in their favor.

So, the Pragmatic Party-Pooper Corollary: If you really want to believe it, don’t.


About Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.
This entry was posted in Items of the academy / learning, Kant and/or Hume, Meanings of life / death / social & moral stuff, Metaphysical musings. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The party-pooper principle

  1. Rob says:

    So, is there a meta-level application of this excellent principle for those of us who seem to be attracted to unattractive theories? Maybe a call to assume and uncover a hidden attractiveness in ostensible unattractive theories, and then apply that information in the evaluation of the available theories?


  2. Huenemann says:

    Yes! Like Nietzschean argonauts, we need to continually root out our subterranean biases. So you and I should probably adopt something truly frightful to our sensibilities, like Thomism, at least experimentally.


  3. Graham says:

    You’re saying I need to stop picking USU to make it to the sweet 16? You wouldn’t be wrong…


  4. Eric Bottelberghe says:

    This is why we need more Schopenhauer.


  5. Michael D. Thomas says:

    There is a long-standing principle in the economics community that the best thing the economist does vis-a-vis policy, is aim to take away the punch bowl right when the party gets fun.

    It ends up being very tricky to do for a variety of reasons. I find an affinity between this noble goal and your party-pooper principle.


  6. Huenemann says:

    Ah, stifling some of that irrational exuberance!


  7. Dave E. says:

    The P-PP principle should really be elevated to a movement, and everyone knows that a really good movement deserves a slogan. I humbly suggest, “I’m a Pooper, she’s a Pooper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pooper too?”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s