My question was inspired by this question here. Essentially for questions with an impossible negation it was advised that the best approach is to say we don't know or simply give a summary of current knowledge on the subject.
What I would like to know is if there is any guideline for considering a hypothesis over alternates.
Perhaps showing answers to similar questions or situations could be one approach, but is not reliable and probably should not be used as support.
If there is an absence of evidence and no way to verify either way should we simply say that we do not know, or is it perhaps better to outline the most likely answers and give reasoning, as these can then be debated which aids in our quest for knowledge?
I have added some example questions which I hope illustrate my point with more clarity.
Is there a shadow government exerting control over global matters?
This question is not asking if organizations exist attempting to do that, but whether or not an organization has successfully done so and is secretly running the world. It is interesting because it should be possible to investigate and establish an answer, except that most people simply don't have the means to do so.
Since a reliable investigation, scientific or otherwise is out of the question, then is using reasoning based on what we do know acceptable?
With the worlds most powerful countries continually being manipulated, with the amount of people privy to this knowledge someone would have come forward.
There is poor evidence of collusion on such a grand scale. The worlds most powerful countries often disagree on key matters
If ultimate control is the key, why not do it in a more direct way? Depending on how long a shadow government may have been in control, would it not have the resources to take more direct control?
Problems with such arguments are that they are not exactly backed by hard evidence. For answer 1 you can show that through history conspiracies tend to be exposed, it would be easy enough to find evidence for 2 and 3.
Counter arguments could be that the organization is powerful enough to prevent exposure through death or threats, that the seeming lack of collusion is orchestrated to keep people from learning the truth
Such claims becomes increasingly complex, so if Occam's razor is applied than my examples answers would be adequate for such a question?
Another example question
Do donkeys kill more people than airplane crashes?
Perhaps. The Snopes article linked to states that we have insufficient data on deaths caused by donkeys to reach a firm conclusion.
Based on what we do know:
- Airplanes are statistically one of the safest methods of travel.
- Donkeys are a very passive animal, exceptionally rarely attacking humans.
- Even if a Donkey were to attack a human it would likely not be with the intention of killing and would stop if the human were to flee.
It would seem then that for a donkey to directly kill a human would be an exceptionally rare event, not often observed and thus occurs substantially less than fatalities by plane crash.
In this case evidence of absence is a reasonable indicator, combined with the knowledge we have about plane crashes and donkeys.
Are musicians more likely to die when reaching 27 years of age?
The so called 27 club. There is no hard data or research on this particular issue, although when musicians are taken as a whole deaths at 27 are not significantly high. It seems there is no reason to assume something unique to musicians that would make a death more likely at a specific age.
Potential reasons why people might think this:
- A string of coincidental deaths at age 27 causing any further musicians dying at age 27 to be noticed more.
- Potentially higher use of dangerous substances associated with a rock lifestyle may lead to earlier deaths.
None of my example questions have been asked, although related questions have been. In my example answers I have not really checked or properly sourced them, however I hope they serve as examples even if incorrect.
Should these kinds of questions and answers simply not be allowed? I would argue that they should be allowed as example answers such as the above still aid in reaching a conclusion after a skeptical analysis.