The Distinction Between Comprehension and Understanding (The Problem of Abduction)

Comprehension is meta-understanding, which innately disrupts paradigm even more effectively than it does ignorance.
It is not simplicity, but rather the reduction of complicatedness, which is indeed the true scientific virtue. Never accept the ‘simple’ – the pining, explaining, and debunking of the fake skeptic. Abduction is a square peg of philosophy we keep trying to hammer into the round hole of science, because it affords us comfort in avoiding the painful ‘blue balls’ of skepticism or dissonance.

As is common inside many of the threads which I initiate on Twitter, followers will understandably ask me to re-express my concept in simpler terms. The typical petitioning tweet might involve some variation on sayings loosely attributed to Einstein or Feynman pertaining to simplicity, of the ilk ‘You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity’ or ‘If you cannot express it in simple form, you do not truly understand it.’1 However, the most common version of this type of response by far is, ‘Explain it to me like I was five years old.’ Many people as it turns out, refuse the hard work of cognition, opting instead for having things explained to them. My regular readers are well aware of my contention that the signature trait of propaganda resides in its exploitation of desires for ‘simplicity’ in message, as well as my Wittgenstein aversion to ‘explainers’ (science ‘enthusiasts’ and ‘critical thinkers’). Herein, I will do my best to describe an important principle in this regard, but not explain to you what you should think.

Only describe, don’t explain.

~ Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Typically I have no problem with such a request to simplify my work and will comply with my best effort – save for the circumstance in which the problem or principle cannot be simplified any further, and the petitioner simply does not realize this. Only parables and analogies can be drawn against a concept already residing at its least-complicated state (see ‘Bridgman Point’ below). The ethical crux which burdens my soul involves the busting of paradigms and fiat understanding in the first place, thus this process of simplification can often involve tasks which run anathema to the very point I am trying to make. It is akin to asking a socialist to frame their favored economics in terms of how ‘profit and loss is accounted and distributed back to capital’, or using an x/y graph to explain a principle which functions along one or more n-axes. Such conundrum in communication serves to elucidate the thesis of this article, the distinction between comprehension and mere understanding.

The art of competence hinges upon one’s ability to discern the familiar from that which is obvious or straightforward. Nothing in life is simple, and unwise are they who are addicted to its shade.

Unfortunately, Richard Feynman was wrong about the utility of simplicity and beauty as regards truth.2 Elliott Sober, PhD, the Hans Reichenbach Professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, contends in his 2015 book Ockham’s Razors: A User’s Manual, that Ockham’s Razor is a ‘decision heuristic, providing us with an intuitive guide useful in the comparison of two or more differing hypotheses’. Further contending that, all contributing influences being equal, of two contending alternatives it is scientific to prefer the ‘simpler’ one. Dr. Sober cites that the simpler alternative, even though it might ultimately be found wrong, nonetheless resides ‘closer to the truth’ as compared to competing ideas.3

The reality is, that the simplicity of an idea in no way, shape, or form makes it any ‘closer to the truth’. That is a false philosophical principle. The mistake Sober makes, as is common with all Occam’s Razor (not Ockham’s Razor) aficionados, is to conflate the cache of obviousness with ‘simplicity’.4

The moon as Swiss cheese is a better explanation than the moon as the face of a man or exiled god, for instance. Santa Claus cannot possibly make all those toys by Christmas each year, however an army of elves could. The crowd roars in approval. Given a sufficient level of ignorance, each of these would qualify as ‘scientific’ explanations. One may note that in the end, such deliberation amounts to nothing more than a recycling of previously understood parable and analogy, and not a processes of actual discovery. Unfortunately, such notions of knowledge development fail to work in a research lab, or a strategic advisory firm. Conditions in which perdocence can prove to be a disadvantage, in that academic training can also simply serve to provide a greater number of familiar parables from which to sustain (Lindy effect) a specific paradigm of understanding. My most successful strategy projects, and a groundbreaking discovery by my physics research team, both involved a rejection of abductive familiarity – in favor of comprehension.

A smattering of everything, and a knowledge of nothing.

~ Charles Dickens

The Problem of Abduction – He who collects the most parables, wins

This Sober principle, regarding that notion which resides ‘closer to the truth’, is called an ‘abduction’, or abductive reasoning. It constitutes a defacto explaining (Wittgenstein) that, the complexity of the problem presented before us is of such a convoluted or unreliable nature of evidence, that the alternative (again, now a Witgenstein ‘explanation’ in this context) which makes the most sense to me, relative to my current state of understanding, is indeed the truth. One does not have to conduct science nor even develop a qualified hypothesis, as a mere notion can be accepted as consensus science, solely based upon the spin-perception that it is ‘simple’ (see Einfach Mechanism in The Tower of Wrong: The Art of Professional Lying).

That which does not compel me to a process of comprehension, nor threaten me with novelty, is indeed the ‘correcter’ alternative. It becomes my parable. ‘Eyewitness testimony is unreliable’, ‘The Law of Large Numbers’, ‘apophenia’, ‘pareidolia’, ‘Dunning-Kruger’, etc. – all these valid anecdotes, can also be abused as the building blocks of cultivated ignorance. Especially when applied as a parable in order to artificially defend whatever truth we brought with us to the argument in the first place. Such constitutes nothing more than a stage magician’s act. Instead of heeding the cautionary, we guzzle greedily at the trough of intoxicating explanation. He who collects the most parables therefore, wins. He wins because he can dazzle the crowd with multiple and simple ‘understandings’, and yet need not reveal the salience or lack thereof behind them.

He who collects the most parables, wins.

Such an argument resides at the core of today’s ‘Occam’s Razor’: “Sure, a ‘God-standard’ of understanding might well prove me wrong at a later time (after all, I am but a mere and humble servant), but until such time comes I am able to craft from parable, and with no research whatsoever, a ‘simpler’ idea which is correcter than thou (i.e. my thoughts are the God-standard), quod erat demonstrandum.” The issue is not that this process is always destined to fail. String, Quantum, and M-Theory physicists are in a constant battle for the Feynman simplicity trophy, and this process is generally regarded as cutting-edge science. At one time I devoured such books in my quest for understanding the nature of our reality. Despite all such casuistry however, the issue remains, that abductive understanding is not science. A turd by any other name we may choose to give it, and not an ethical process of inquiry.

Abduction is a Wittgenstein state of explaining, and should never be conflated with the descriptive process of logical derivation and inference.

Abduction, constituting a form of rationalization and not inference nor rationality, does however adhere to the scientific principle of parsimony. It functions as one discipline of skepticism as well. However, its is this failure to distinguish between that which is ‘simple’ versus that which has been ‘reduced’, which renders such a rationalization weak in comparison to the processes of induction and especially, deduction. The former residing as a state of mind (explaining – not to be confused with elegance or ‘explanatory power’ of an alternative), and not actually even a form of ‘reasoning’. While the latter and midmost constitute processes (action/method) of reasoning, inference, and skepticism. See The Map of Inference for more detail.

The tyranny of abductive ‘reasoning’ resides in this: inside difficult to research or embargoed study, a simple explanation is not simply posited for mere consideration, but rather it is default-enforced as ‘science’ on the part of malicious agency which seeks artificial consensus on their preferred religious choices. The chance of being even-more-incorrect with our abductive explaining increases greatly inside this circumstance, because evidence is constantly dismissed one datum at a time, in favor of ‘simplicity’ (debunking) – and therefore little research is ever actually conducted. Thus, Elliott Sober is wrong, in that doctrine of this ilk is most likely, all things being equal, ‘less closer to the truth’ and not ‘closer to the truth’ from a scientific basis. If such a conclusion ends up being correct under a God-standard, it is only so by means of either obviousness or luck (both notorious exploits of pseudo-skepticism).

Epoché – or the suspension of disposition, is the discipline of ethical skepticism which disarms such sleight-of-hand abuse by means of abductive rationalization.

It is this very habit of seeking expedient force-to-simple understanding, in lieu of rigorous comprehension, which renders one vulnerable to the corrupted philosophy of abductive reasoning.

Aside from possibly a null hypothesis, abduction or ‘Occam’s Razor’ is an invalid assumption we add to the mix in order to keep the narrative intact. Nothing else. The only reason abduction appears to be simple, is that it conforms with a narrative understanding – making it merely less painful. It exploits the fact that our minds eschew the discomfort of comprehension. This is why philosophy considers proof of abductive reasoning to be elusive.5

Abduction is a false notion, a square peg of philosophy we keep trying to hammer into the round hole of science. Because it affords us comfort in avoiding the painful ‘blue balls’ of skepticism or dissonance.

A simple wrong answer is much worse than a complicated one, because the former is harder to dispel.

All things being equal, in development always choose to forgo state in favor of process. Hence the crux of the entire argument of ethical skepticism. Unfortunately most issues, those which concern the average person, involve a greater rigor in skepticism than mere abduction (explaining) and paradigm (familiarity) can deliver. They demand inductive or deductive inference. They demand a rigorous process called comprehension.

It is understandable why one might choose to explain how to climb a tree to a fish, by citing ‘it’s akin to swimming vertically, slapping your tail fin at each successive branch as you thrust upward’. The fish will understand, but not really comprehend how a tree is actually climbed. A problem arises, when fish are allowed to craft policy that impacts lemurs and capuchins. Here Wittgenstein comprehension is of paramount importance, yet the fish remains comfortably unaware of his cognitive shortfall.

The Rules of Comprehension

As the reader may have guessed, the problem of abduction is that it involves a state of mind which does not incorporate the ethic nor effort entailed in comprehension, rather only application of one’s current parable collection – coupled with the irresistible desire for an understandable (comfortable) explanation. Science as it turns out, especially inside challenging subjects which demand skepticism, is the very process of dissent and change, and not a state of re-expressed and reapplied ‘understanding’ (parable and paradigm). Dogmatism is rarely a viable ‘decision heuristic’, no matter how cleverly the philosopher may spin, conceal, or name its derivation process. The sleight-of-hand woven into this is important to comprehend, and not merely understand – because an entire host of sycophants abuse these notions in order to squelch the progression of human thought and impair our awareness of the world around us. They call themselves ‘skeptics‘, however nothing could be further from the truth.

Mere understanding is the condition wherein one simplifies a problem or its explanation, until such point as it can be expressed only as a concept with which the recipient is previously familiar.

Such a state often resides below the Bridgman Point (defined for the reader below). This process allows one to merely assume what is being said, rather than develop a true comprehension of it. Comprehension is the organic process of deriving a new personal understanding – a more accurate process which might even allow one to contribute novel thought themself. In this regard, comprehension is meta-understanding and does not result from the simple process of instruction. Accordingly, the perdocent fails to grasp the role of comprehension, while the autodidact applies its tenets skillfully.

Simplicity is a product, a ware which is sold, and not a differentiating trait of knowledge.

Without venturing into the weaknesses of simplicity employed as a decision heuristic, as promoted by Dr. Elliott Sober (please see The Real Ockham’s Razor), let me just point out that simplicity itself, is often employed as a deception. The most common preparatory phrase I have heard, upon being propositioned by a huckster is ‘You see it’s simple.’ It helps to have been in business, and cut numerous contracts, specifications, and vendor bid reviews – and further to have been held accountable for the results of such work, in order to comprehend how simplicity is often sold as a ware. What the winner don’t know, the gambler understands.

It is not simplicity, but rather the reduction of complicatedness, which is indeed the true scientific virtue.

Comprehension is meta-understanding, which innately disrupts paradigm even more effectively than it does ignorance.

While I appreciate the efforts on the part of my followers therefore, to understand what I have attempted to communicate in a mere 280 character Tweet, my objection in some cases centers around what I call The Rules of Comprehension:

The Rules of Comprehension

  1. It is not beauty, familiarity, and simplicity, but rather elegance which relates truth.
  2. Elegance is ‘efficiency in explanatory reach’, but is neither necessarily simple nor detectable as ‘beauty’.
  3. Simplicity as a familiar state, is not the same thing as the more useful process of reduction to straightforwardness.
  4. Complicatedness is not the same thing as the comparatively preferential state of complexity.
  5. Effective reduction of a problem involves filtering out the non-critical and irrelevant, so as to bring a problem and/or its resolution to straightforwardness (even though it may appear at the time, complex).
  6. Comprehension is an innately disruptive and potentially uncomfortable process of
    • winnowing out the complicated,
    • reducing the complexity of the problem to straightforwardness,
    • identifying and prosecuting the critical path of questions/issues necessary in deriving inference, and
    • assessing the elegance of that derived inference – and not necessarily its comfort in familiarity.

Under this philosophy of ‘function over form’, always therefore prefer

elegance over beauty
the straightforward over the simple
the complex over the complicated
description over explanation
comprehension over mere understanding

~ The Ethical Skeptic

I am asking my readers to winnow out their familiar preconceived notions and comprehend, not merely understand, what I am saying. Comprehension should result in the introduction of more, not fewer, unanswered questions. Knowledge does not always, and in fact rarely, converges to simplicity and ease of portability. After all, such is the nature of our reality – an unbounded concatenation of possibility. One must remain tolerant of the discomfort of uncertainty, and learn to surf its frothing and tempestuous fabric. Such I suspect, is an asset we can and do ‘take with us’ when we leave this Earth.

It is important to comprehend, that as a skill comprehension is more important than mere understanding.

I will leave you now with a re-posting of a principle of philosophy I call the Bridgman Point.

Bridgman Point – the point at which a principle cannot be made simple any further, without sacrifice of its coherency, accuracy, salience, context, or overall entailed risk.

This is the point below which, the reader must step up, and undertake the hard work and responsibility of comprehension. This is the point at which, one risks betraying or losing the ephemeral principle they have freshly crafted. It does not matter whether or not the principle has been apprehended before, and certainly there is a role for instructing one with truth. However it is the visceral process of apperception, crafting, and communication – philosophical comprehension, which serves to transform the mind and soul of its participant. This is the way.

We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

~ President John F. Kennedy, Commencement Address at Yale University, June 11 1962

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

~ Albert Einstein

Never accept the ‘simple’ – the pining, explaining, and debunking of the fake skeptic. Such poseurs exploit the knowledge that by spoon-feeding you (explaining) that which is immediately abductive, they become a ‘God-standard’ in correctness. True skepticism at its heart detests such pretense in epistemology. It is hungry, it is foolish. True skepticism is the fascinating path of comprehension, a journey from inside which I earnestly beckon my readers, ‘come and see’.

The Ethical Skeptic, “The Distinction Between Comprehension and Understanding (The Problem of Abduction)”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 6 Jan 2022; Web,

The Three Types of Reason

Not all methods which seek to achieve some kind of benefit through the clear, value laden and risk abating processes of inference can be used in every circumstance. Most of science recognizes this. But when induction is used in lieu of deduction or abduction is used in lieu of induction, when the higher order of logical inference could have been used – beware that pseudoscience might be at play.
Choosing the lower order of logical inference can be a method by which one avoids challenging alternatives and data, yet still tenders the appearance of conducting science. One can dress up in an abductive robe and tender all affectation of science; utter all the right code phrases and one-liners about ‘bunk’ – but an ethical skeptic is armed to see through such a masquerade.

induction abduction panduction deduction lemmingsThere is this thing called logical inference. Simply put, logical inference is the process of taking observed premises and transmutating them into conjectures. Hopefully beneficial conjectures. Such a process usually involves risk. So, when we are challenged with the need to make some kind of benefit happen, say to alleviate a sickness, or fly from place to place, at times we must face risk in order to achieve such an advancement. The process of science involves a carefully planned set of steps, which allows us to bridge this gap between premise and robust conjecture by means of the most clear, value laden and risk abating pathway which we can determine.

In general, there are three rational processes (and a fourth commonly practiced but invalid one) by which we can arrive at a sought-after conclusion or explanation. Abductive, inductive and deductive reason – in order of increasing scientific gravitas and strength as developmental models of knowledge – constitute the three genres of thought inside which we mature information and methods of research, towards this end. In the three exhibits and finally comparison table below, you will observe the three genres of logical inference compared by the mechanism of science which it brings to bear as a strength. As you may glean through the four exhibits, the most expedient form of legitimate answer development comes in the form of abductive inference, while the most science-intensive form is deduction. As you move from left to right in the table below, the epistemological basis of the explanation increases commensurate with the rigor of research and discipline of thinking. Each ‘scientific mechanism’ is an element, step or feature of the scientific method which affords an increase in verity inside the knowledge development process. A blue check mark in the table below means that inference method provides or satisfies the science mechanism. An orange check mark denotes the condition wherein the inference method only partially provides for the scientific mechanism.

Constructive Ignorance (Lemming Weisheit or Lemming Doctrine)

/philosophy : skepticism : social skepticism/ : a process related to the Lindy Effect and pluralistic ignorance, wherein discipline researchers are rewarded for being productive rather than right, for building ever upward instead of checking the foundations of their research, for promoting doctrine rather than challenging it. These incentives allow weak confirming studies to to be published and untested ideas to proliferate as truth. And once enough critical mass has been achieved, they create a collective perception of strength or consensus.

A more detailed comparison of these three forms of inference, along with a slew of notorious Nelsonian Inferences, may be found in The Ethical Skeptic’s Map of Inference.

When Knowledge is Not Necessarily the Goal

Deduction therefore, is the most robust form of inference available to the researcher. Unfortunately however, not every inquiry challenge which we collectively face, can be resolved by deductive methodology. In those instances we may choose to step our methodology down to induction as our means of resolving difficult-to-falsify research (or deescalate). Induction introduces risk into the deontological framework of the knowledge development process. It presents the risk that we become fixated upon one single answer for long periods of time; possibly even making such an explanation prescriptive in its offing – rendering our process of finding explanations vulnerable to even higher risk by introducing habitual abductive methods of logical inference.

They key is this: What is the ‘entity’ being stacked under each inference type, as complicated-ness increases or we conjecture further and further into a discipline featuring a high degree of unknown? (moving to the right on the graph to the right). Often the actual entity being stacked is either risk of error, or error itself – and not, as we misperceive, actual knowledge.

Science – ‘I learn or come to know’ : using deduction and inductive consilience to infer a novel understanding.

Deduct:  Conclusiveness – Benefit from falsified ideas is stacked (Understanding Evolves)

Induct:   Likeliness – Iterations or predictive trials are stacked (Understanding Matures)

Sciebam – ‘I knew’ : using abduction and panduction to enforce an existing interpretation.

Abduct:  Correctness – Assumptions are stacked (Understanding Codifies)

Panduct:  Doctrine – Everything but what my club believes, is correlated and falsified (Understanding Decays – an invalid form of inference)

As we stack entities, induction therefore is preferential over abduction and deduction is preferential over induction because of the accumulation of unacknowledged a priori error in each entity addition. Obviously, one should only seek to deescalate their method of logical inference when forced to do so by the logical framework or evidence available to the discipline. However, researcher beware. Choosing the lower order of logical inference can be a method by which one avoids challenging answers, yet still tenders the appearance of conducting science. We start first with a favorite trick of social skeptics – i.e. casually shifting to abductive diagnostic reason in instances where deductive discipline or inductive study are still critically warranted (see Diagnostician’s Error). A second trick can involve the appearance of science through the preemptive or premature intensive focus on one approach at the purposeful expense of necessary and critical alternatives; conjectures involving ideas one wishes to ignore at all costs (see The Omega Hypothesis). This is a furtive process called Methodical Deescalation. It is a theft of knowledge, by slow, sleight-of-hand. One can dress up in an abductive robe and tender all affectation of science; utter all the right code phrases and one-liners about ‘bunk’ – but an ethical skeptic is armed to see through such a masquerade.

Methodical Deescalation

/philosophy : pseudoscience : inadequate inference method/ : employing abductive inference in lieu of inductive inference when inductive inference could have, and under the scientific method should have, been employed. In similar fashion employing inductive inference in lieu of deductive inference when deductive inference could have, and under the scientific method should have, been employed. 

All things being equal, the latter is superior to the midmost, which is superior to the former:

  • Conformance of panduction​ (while a type/mode of inference this is not actually a type of reasoning)
  • Convergence of abductions
  • ​Consilience of inductions
  • Consensus of deductions

One of the hallmarks of skepticism is grasping the distinction between a ‘consilience of inductions’ and a ‘convergence of deductions’. All things being equal, a convergence of deductions is superior to a consilience of inductions. When science employs a consilience of inductions, when a convergence of deductions was available, yet was not pursued – then we have an ethical dilemma called Methodical Deescalation.

For example, using magic tricks and magicians, to point out the deceptive nature of the mind and observation (targeting some paranormal thing a skeptic does not like) – is abductive reason. The flaw in this favorite trick of social skeptics, as in the case where they wheel out The Amazing Randi for instance is – that if you were wrong, you would never even know it. You have no methodology of self checking, induction or deduction. It is a trick of purposeful methodical deescalation. The true magic trick pulled on us all.

An example of countering and defusing Methodical Deescalation and neutralizing its resulting ignorance effect:

Earlier in my career I was brought into a research lab by an investment house to act as CEO of its research organization. The goals set before us were clear: re-organize, focus and streamline its research and development work, align its staff/strengths to the best fit roles, and bring to fruition a belabored research critical path regarding a sought-after new discovery in material phase transition lattice and vacancy structures. Without going into the technical nature of the work, which is covered under classification and non-disclosure agreements – we were successful in achieving the groundbreaking discovery in just under 4 months. This as opposed to the 18 month benchmark which had been established by the advising investment fund and the 3 years of flailing around which had preceded. Set aside of course, the risk that the course of art would prove unfruitful or dead-end in the first place. Stockholders, the board of directors, US Government/Military stakeholders, and the intellectual property and prior art patent-holders were ecstatic at the success. One element of appraoch which helped precipitate this success was to assign the right habit/method of inference to the right step in the process. We threw out several of the ‘knowns’ under which our research staff had been burdened, assigned new fresh minds to the observation & critical question sequences – then finally tested several procedures based upon understandings which were ‘highly implausible’. In other words we threw the value of risk-critical-path abductive inference out the window and began to test what it was we ‘knew’. I took the abductive-minded researchers, the ones who instructed everyone as to the highly implausible nature of our thinking, and put them in charge of procedure, script sheet development and Thermo-Fisher data integrity. This worked well. It was a Friday afternoon at 3:45pm when a tech came busting into our offices and cited that three of our test samples from our reactors showed ‘anomalous results’. These results were small, but were undeniable. They flouted the common wisdom as to what could be done with this material, in this phase state. We filed the provisional method, best mode, and device patents through our law firm within the next 14 days. All the credit went to the scientific researchers, all the money went to the investors, and I quietly went on the the next assignment. My name is not on any of the research. This is the way it works. Of course, the stockholders and fund kept me pretty busy doing the same thing over and over again for several years thereafter. They all remain loyal business colleagues to this day.

One cannot spend their life afraid of being found wrong. Wrongness is the titration chemical transition color which indicates a science advance. And those who invest their ego’s into conformance, avoiding taking a look so as not to be found wrong, who celebrate the correctness of the club, they are not scientists nor skeptics at all. They are the fake ilk. Skepticism is more about asking the right question at the right time, and being able to handle the answer which results – than anything else.

Take Two Skepticisms and Don’t Call Me in the Morning

Another example of a circumstance wherein induction was applied in lieu of deduction – and ends up causing consensus favoring an Omega Hypothesis – can be found in our history of research on the epidemiology of peptic ulcers. The desire to protect pharmaceutical revenues and an old ‘answer to end all answers’ or answer which had become more important to protect than even science itself, involved the employment of acid-blockers as primary ulcer treatments. This dogmatic answer was promoted through propaganda in lieu of the well established deductive knowledge that the h. pylori bacterium was the cause of the majority of ulcers. This 40 year comedy in scientific corruption stands as a prime example of methodical deescalation played by industry fake skeptics seeking to protect client market share and revenues.

Another example involves the case where dogmatic skeptics begin to refuse to examine evidence, in favor of maintaining 50-year old understandings of science which are backed by scant study done long ago in questionable contexts and circumstances of bias.  Such fake skepticism usually involves choosing the good people and the bad people first, then the good subjects and the bad subjects, followed by implication that all this enormous depth of study exists regarding the subject that they dislike (when 95% of the time such is not the case at all). To the right you can see an example interview from MedPage Today where, celebrity skeptic Steven Novella uses Diagnostic Habituation Error to fail to serve patients who come in and complain of a whole series of symptomatic suffering. It is clear that his 50-year old science, his desire to stop the progress of scientific inquiry (especially medical), and his disdain for both patients, researchers and doctors who carry a ‘narrative’ (this is science?) he does not like – is disturbingly and agency-confirmingly high (not the same thing as bias).1


/philosophy : rhetoric : pseudoscience : false deduction/ : an invalid form of inference which is spun in the form of pseudo-deductive study. Inference which seeks to falsify in one fell swoop ‘everything but what my club believes’ as constituting one group of bad people, who all believe the same wrong and correlated things – this is the warning flag of panductive pseudo-theory. No follow up series studies nor replication methodology can be derived from this type of ‘study’, which in essence serves to make it pseudo-science.  This is a common ‘study’ format which is conducted by social skeptics masquerading as scientists, to pan people and subjects they dislike. An example of a panductive inference can be found here: Core thinking error underlies belief in creationism, conspiracy theories It is not that the specifics inside what they are panning, are right or wrong (and they pan a plethora of topics in this method) – but it is the method of inference used to condemn, which is pseudoscience. Even though I agree with many of their conclusions, I do not agree with the methodology by which they arrived at them. It is pseudoscience and can be used to harm innocent subjects and persons, as well as the questionable ones (which also deserve a neutrality to a certain point).

What he has done here is to remove medical science from the realm of deduction (no study should be conducted because it has ‘already been done’ or ‘was settled 50 years ago’) – moving us nominally to a purported process of induction. But he is not really using induction here at all either. What skeptic Novella is slipping by in this furtive expose on skepticism – is that – the predictive strength of standing theory needs no longer be strengthened by the process of iterative predictive confirmation. No actual science deduction or induction ever seems warranted in his small world – inference only meriting a twisted form of club-quality trained ‘finding’.

Take his chosen example on the right, regarding disease which is one in a variety of poorly understood immune responses, can be complicated by a multifaceted appearance and nonspecific symptoms, mimics at least 8 other diseases, and requires more than clinical neurology to diagnose.2 He chooses habitually to handle this process of logical inference with knee-jerk abduction, in one single discussion – by a non-related field clinical technician. All because the patient used a bad word from the bad people. Perhaps Dr. Novella might be freed from his skeptic community shackles here, and perform his job (or refer continued diagnosis to a nephrologist, rheumatologist, endocrinologist, hematologist, gastroenterologist, etc.) – if we took a page from pop star Prince’s notes and renamed this disease “The Disease Formerly Known as Chronic Lyme Disease” – then perhaps this pseudo scientific spell he is operating under might be dispelled and actual science might get conducted. He is so fixated on a moniker and the propaganda surrounding the bad idea and the bad people, that he cannot let one scientific or medical thought enter his brain as a result.3 This is no different, in terms of process of inference, than pulling leeches out of a jar and setting them on the patient.

This is why astronomers and doctors make for the poorest skeptics. They mistakenly believe that the rest of life, indeed all other science, is as straightforward in the linear employment of one single process of inference, as is their discipline.

But alas, this sad play outlined above might have been half palatable had Dr. Novella actually applied even diagnostics – instead, the reality is that here he has not even served diagnostic abduction. If we had, the patient might have even been helped with Lyme-disease mimicking symptom treatment, and a suspension of disposition might have been warranted. We neither have offered the patient a clear pathway of diagnostic delineation, nor leveraged off any diagnostic data to develop an inference. Our only options left are to either jam the symptom set into another malady definition, or if the other suitable malady does not exist – defacto proffer the diagnosis of hypochondria, without saying as much. Novella simply and in knee-jerk fashion, tells the patient that they are following a narrative from people he does not like and to ‘use skepticism’. He has even failed the standard of abductive logical inference (see below). I have fired five doctors in differing circumstances, all who have done this to me in the past. It turned out that I was right to do so, all five times. In each case I on my own, or another less dogmatic doctor, found the actual solution – and the doctor in question turned out to be wrong. Take two skepticisms and don’t call me in the morning.

If your doctor ever does something like this to you, fire his ass quick. He is more concerned about a club agenda than he is science or your well being.

I am sure Dr. Novella’s patient’s suffering went away, probably with the patient leaving his practice (poetically offering him absolutely no feedback on his method, other than inference on his part that he was right). With that being said, let’s examine these three types of reason, all of which Steven Novella failed in the example above.

The Valid Reasoning (Logical Inference) Types


Abductive Reason

/Diagnostic Inference/ : a form of precedent based inference which starts with an observation then seeks to find the simplest or most likely explanation. In abductive reasoning, unlike in deductive reasoning, the premises do not guarantee the conclusion. One can understand abductive reasoning as inference to the best known explanation.4

Strength – quick to the answer. Usually a clear pathway of delineation. Leverages strength of diagnostic data.

Weakness – Uses the simplest answer (ergo most likely). Does not back up its selection with many key mechanisms of the scientific method. If an abductive model is not periodically tested for its predictive power, such can result in a state of dogmatic axiom. Can be used by those who do not wish to address clarity, value or risk, as an excuse to avoid undertaking the process of science; yet tender the appearance that they have done so.

Risk of Methodical Error:  Moderate

plausible propter hoc ergo hoc solus (Plausible Deniability) – Given X, and Given X can cause, contribute to or bear risk exposure of Y,   and Given Y’   ∴ X, and only X, caused Y’

Effect of Horizontal or Vertical Pluralistic Stacking:  Whipsaw Error Amplification

Chief Mechanism: Occam’s Razor

“All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one.”

Two Forms of Abductive Reason

ex ante – an inference which is derived from predictive, yet unconfirmed forecasts. While this may be a result of induction, the most common usage is in the context of abductive inference.

a priori – relating to or denoting reasoning or knowledge that proceeds from methods and motivations other than science, which preexist any form of observation or experience.


Inductive Reason

/Logical Inference/ : is reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying strong evidence for the truth of the conclusion. While the conclusion of a deductive argument is certain, the truth of the conclusion of an inductive argument may be probable, based upon the evidence given combined with its ability to predict outcomes.5

Strength – flexible and tolerant in using consilience of evidence pathways and logical calculus to establish a provisional answer (different from a simplest answer, however still imbuing risk into the decision set). Able to be applied in research realms where deduction or alternative falsification pathways are difficult to impossible to develop and achieve.

Weakness – can lead research teams into avenues of provisional conclusion bias, where stacked answers begin to become almost religiously enforced until a Kiuhn Paradigm shift or death of the key researchers involved is required to shake science out of its utility blindness on one single answer approach. May not have examined all the alternatives, because of pluralistic ignorance or neglect.

Risk of Methodical Error:  Moderate to Low

provisional propter hoc ergo hoc (Provisional Knowledge or House-of-Cards Knowledge) – Given provisionally known X,  and Given X provisionally causes, contributes to or bears risk exposure of Y,   and Given Y’   X, and provisionally for future consideration X, caused Y’

Effect of Horizontal or Vertical Pluralistic Stacking:  Linear Error Amplification

Chief Mechanism: Consilience

“Multiple avenues of investigation corroborate a provisional explanation as being likely.”

Chief Mechanism: Predictive Ability

“A provisional model is successful in prediction, and as it is matured, its predictive strength also increases.”


Deductive Reason

/Reductive Inference/ : is the process of reasoning by reduction in complexity, from one or more statements (premises) to reach a final, logically certain conclusion. This includes the instance where the elimination of alternatives (negative premises) forces one to conclude the only remaining answer.6

Strength – most sound and complete form of reason, especially when reduction of the problem is developed, probative value is high and/or alternative falsification has helped select for the remaining valid understanding.

Weakness – can be applied less often than inductive reason.

Risk of Methodical Error:  Low

Effect of Horizontal or Vertical Pluralistic Stacking:  Diminishing by Error Cancellation

Chief Mechanism: Ockham’s Razor

“Plurality should not be posited without necessity. Once plurality is necessary, it should be served.”

Chief Mechanism: Consensus

“Several alternative explanations were considered, and researchers sponsoring each differing explanation came to agreement that the remaining non-falsified alternative is most conclusive.”


And the astute ethical skeptic will perceive that this last quote relates to the true definition of consensus. Take note when abductive or inductive methods are employed to arrive artificially at consensus. Odds are that such a matching of sustained logical inference with science communicator claims to ‘consensus’ in the media, amount to nothing but pluralistic – or worse jackboot – ignorance.

The Ethical Skeptic, “The Three Types of Reason”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 25 Jun 2017; Web,