A note on “sticking with approved sources” to get “approved answers.”

In any field, there are sources that lead to specific answers that are considered valid because they represent reality.

In the field of chemistry, it’s a core assumption that water boils at a certain temperature, 100C/212F. That is the “approved” answer. If I decide to make candy for a living, then a correct understanding of boiling temperatures is absolutely critical if I am going to make a consistent product. There will be times where my recipes call for keeping a mixture at slightly under boiling temperature for hours. If I hire a guy (Mike) to make candy using my recipes and the results of his batches are unusable or inconsistent, then there are a number of possible reasons:

1) Mike is not following the “approved” process that leads to a consistent and usable product.

2) Mike is following the “approved” process, but his instruments (thermometers, mixers) are not calibrated correctly.

3) Mike is following the “approved” process and has properly-calibrated instruments, but he is contaminating the mixture with some wrong (“unapproved”) ingredients.

The term “approved” is sometimes used to cause suspicion, and I always groan when I see that. Here are a couple of examples that illustrate why:

  • A historian using “approved” sources and following “approved” historiography will conclude that Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410. If she uses “unapproved” sources in that field — sources that employ very different assumptions and a very different epistemology — then she might conclude that the Visigoths were not real, that Rome was defeated from within by the Illuminati, and the “official narrative” that historians have held for centuries is a cover-up to hide the truth of what the Illuminati did to Rome.
  • An engineer using “approved” instrumentation and following “approved” scientific processes will conclude that a bridge built in a certain way will support the weight of a semi truck. He might reject “approved” measurements and processes because he thinks the guy who pioneered this area of engineering was racist or sinful in some other ways. Who knows- this may even be true. But regardless, the bridge will support the truck or it won’t. There is no such thing as a separate “my truth” or “my own different conclusions” about the load capacity of the bridge that are somehow valid because I see myself as less sinful than the guy who pioneered that field.

If something is real and I am not able to perceive or accept it, then the question becomes whether I am willing to examine and recalibrate my cognitive, emotional, and spiritual instrumentation to more align with reality. Even for believers like myself, this is a hard process of growth and development that is ongoing throughout our lives. Sometimes we are challenged when a thing we thought was simple, turns out to be complex. Sometimes we take comfort in telling ourselves that a question is really complex and complicated, but in reality the question is just a simple binary. Making these adjustments to our paradigms is hard.

But don’t be alarmed over the scare quotes around “approved” this or that. Reality is what it is, and this is true in any field of study. Some sources are open to reality and point us to reality. Others aren’t and don’t. This is true in engineering, literary criticism, history, psychology, and every other field imaginable.

For a deeper dive, see this post on epistemology:

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