Epistemic Hygiene: It’s Not Just For Kids Anymore

I rely on other people to know things with certainty. I talk to all sorts of people and I learn all sorts of things. It does me little good if these people are mistaken. There are numerous benefits to having correct beliefs about the world. The foremost one is that you get to be a vital part of a community. Imbuing essential knowledge makes you invaluable. It makes you indispensable. Chrysler is filled with 60 year old engineers who were the only ones who knew how to avoid fasteners from loosening and falling out. Chrysler couldn’t fire these people if they wanted to. Universities can’t teach experience. Their expertise was essential to the production of those cars.

The key is to have an ability to tell the difference between what is true and untrue. If you asked them “is it true that ‘self-tapping screws’ cost half as much as regular nuts and bolts?” They could tell you. If you asked them “Will they walk out after 5 years of use? Will they corrode? Will they strip as you try to insert them?” They would be able to tell you the truth. If you ask the supplier, you’ll get a different answer. One of the reasons I did so poorly at Chrysler because I was totally unable to tell the difference between the truth and wishful thinking.

These people had great Epistemic Rationality because of their ability to filter. Epistemic Hygiene is when you re-evaluate beliefs after they’ve made it through the filter. It’s quite likely that these seasoned engineers didn’t start out with a good filter, and they likely let some bad ideas into their head along the way. It’s not too late to root them out!

The best way to use Epistemic Hygiene is to pick a belief, and have someone ask questions about it. If you find yourself grasping at straws trying to justify it, it might be time to let it go.

We teach our kids that they need a good filter, but then we abandon adults to their own devices. We might teach rudimentary rationality to youngin’s, but then we preach ideology to other adults. It’s time to mix it up people. Ask someone you love, “What do you know, and how do you know it?”