Argument From Ignorance

January 31, 2018

Although we as humans consider ourselves as superior beings, we suffer from several flaws of the human mind. These flaws propagate sightings of the Yeti, Elvis, the Loch Ness monster and occurrences spider bites.

Argument from ignorance is not a unique feature of the easily fooled, but a a phenomenon that occurs in every culture and regardless of intellect, ideology and upbringing.

So why do so many people think they have been bitten by a spider when there is no evidence to suggest that a spider was involved?

Russell’s Teapot

In 1952 philosopher Bertrand Russell put forward an idea that there is a tea pot orbiting the solar system, somewhere between the Earth and Mars. This teapot is too small to be detected using any instrument nor can it be seen through any telescope! Since the tea pot is undetectable, it is impossible to prove that it does not exist.

Russell’s teapot teaches us that an absence of evidence that the tea pots existence, is more likely to infer that the tea pot does not exist, rather than it could exist. Of course common sense dictates that it is highly improbable that this undetectable tea pot is out there, but we cannot prove it beyond a shadow of doubt!

It is impossible to prove that something does not exist, only that it is probably unlikely to exist. This probability is based upon our knowledge of the facts and understanding on the subject. For example we cannot prove that Santa Clause, the abominable snowman, Loch Ness Monster do not exist.

Russell’s tea pot helps us understand why spider bite misdiagnosis is rife. In the absence of any evidence that a lesion is the result of a “spider bite”, we should not assume that a spider is to blame.

In a situation where there is a lack of evidence that a spider was responsible for a lesion or bite like appearance, it should never be assumed that a spider was responsible.

The rise of social media has given a platform to this mindset. Like minded beings can band together to collectively convince themselves of factually unrealistic events.

Many people think they have been bitten by a spider. This conclusion is based upon a lack of knowledge and a lack of evidence.


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