“…faith in absolute certainty is not based on any evidence for the existence of certainty.  It can sometimes appear to stem from a psychological need for certainty which afflicts many people… Cultural debate in the early twenty-first century has, as a result, descended into a War of the Certain.  Different factions, all of whom agree about the existence of absolute truth, are shouting down anyone who has a different definition of that absolute truth.

Fortunately, true absolutism is rare.  Most people, scientists and non-scientists alike, unconsciously adopt a position of multiple-model agnosticism.  This recognises that we make sense of the world by using a number of different and sometimes contradictory models.   Multiple-model agnostic would not say that all models are of equal value, because some models are more useful than others, and the usefulness of a model varies according to context.  They would not concern themselves with infinite numbers of interpretations as that would be impractical, but they understand that there is never only one interpretation.  Nor would they agree that something is not ‘real’ because our understanding of it is a cultural or linguistic construct.  Things can still be real, even when our understanding of them is flawed.  Multiple-model agnostics are, ultimately, pretty loose.  They rarely take impractical, extreme positions, which may be why they do not do well on the editorial boards of academic postmodern journals.

Multiple-model agnosticism is an approach familiar to any scientist.  Scientists do not possess a grand theory of everything, but they do have a number of competing and contradictory models, which are valid at certain scales and in certain circumstances… Scientists generally don’t lose too much sleep over this.  A model is, by definition, a simplified incomplete version of what it describes…”

John Higgs, Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century.


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