Reduction: A Bias for Understanding

A bias for understanding is demonstrated no better than by an ethical researcher’s ability to say ‘I do not know.’ Beware of anyone who makes a claim to critical thinking, yet habitually shortcuts reducing the subject being assessed into its cause and risk constituents. Such persons are nothing but salesmen.

It is fully acceptable, nay it is scientific to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Inside ethical skepticism, one should first assume the disciplined epoché of ‘I don’t know’, until an examination of the process of reduction and critical path incremental risk progression is undertaken. This reveals one’s preference for understanding in lieu of fiat knowledge. In similar ethic, reduction is the process of disassembling a macroscopic object into its cause, effect and risk constituents. Reduction is essential to the establishment of mechanism, and mechanism is essential to the establishment of hypothesis. Reduction is a critical part of the first three steps of the scientific method: Observation, Intelligence and Necessity.

Is a rock nothing more than the assembly of quantum states, valences, electrons and bosons comprised by its lattice structure? Is a legal case nothing more than finding a guilty appearing or unpopular party upon which to blame a tort? Is a paradox really a paradox, or are there more surreptitious contributors at play? A habit of reduction in approaching such mysteries reveals a bias for understanding on the part of the sincere researcher. Put another way, by Martyn Shuttleworth and Explorable (the green added by me):1

“Scientific reductionism is the idea of reducing complex interactions and entities to the sum of their constituent parts, in order to make them easier to study and subsequently become potential working elements of hypothesis or inference.

Reduction is the path taken by the ethical skeptic who eschews abductive and panductive inference (the habit of social skeptics). Accordingly, the purpose of reduction is four-fold:

  1. Distinguish critical factors, risks & effects from merely influencing or irrelevant ones
  2. Identify the critical path of inquiry and possible inductive or deductive syllogism
  3. Detect the presence and eliminate the contribution of agency
  4. Establish robust study design/Mitigate testing or analytical noise.

There is a philosophy of science which cites that, determining the answer to an asymmetric dilemma is relatively straightforward, once one has successfully identified all the elemental contributing factors and their relationships. In absence of the process of scientific reduction, one cannot faithfully pursue the powerful forms of inference known as deduction and induction. One must instead resort to the appeal to authority of abduction, or the appeal to ignorance denials of panduction. Under this line of philosophy, the instinct to reduce a complex argument into its basic syllogistic elements, in advance of ‘assailing the facts’ (see Why Sagan is Wrong) or even hypothesis development, reveals a very ethical disposition on the part of the true skeptic: a bias for understanding.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a fan of just such thinking, elicited no better than by four of his most famous quotes, expressed through his fictional persona, Sherlock Holmes:

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” – A Case of Identity

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – The Sign of Four

What Arthur Conan Doyle has outlined in this second quote is the process of deduction. Eliminate the entire subset of plausibility which can be falsified, and what you have left is the truth – or the domain of truth at the very least. Arthur Conan Doyle certainly appreciated the role which reduction played inside the escapades of his most notable character, Sherlock Holmes. The reason being, that reduction is necessary before one can undertake the processes which result in inductive and deductive inference. One can undertake abduction and panduction however, without any prior research or work – which is why fake skepticism prefers those methods of inference. Panduction and abduction involve a practice set against which Doyle’s famous detective character warns with utmost effulgence:

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” – A Scandal in Bohemia

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” – The Bascombe Valley Mystery

Upon any semblance of depth in reading Arthur Conan Doyle, one would correctly infer that he possessed a bias for understanding. His pursuits involved subjects which were sure to piss off most social skeptics. Social skeptics typically fail to grasp this irony as well.2 But we will leave that topic for another time. Suffice to say, how could a person this objective and skeptical, rationally dare to venture into the ‘paranormal’? The principle behind this escapes fake skeptics to this very day. Beware of those who promulgate final answers, and then claim a defense of the ‘facts’. Science is much more than this. Therefore, the axiom of ethical skepticism proceeds as such:

One cannot conduct critical thinking nor craft a critical path of incremental risk of conjecture and testing,
without first reducing asymmetry into its series of cause and risk elemental bases.
Beware of anyone who makes a claim to critical thinking, yet habitually shortcuts reducing the subject being assessed.
Such persons are nothing but salesmen.

This process of disassembly of an asymmetrical object into its cause and risk series elements, is called the process of reduction. A bias for understanding is demonstrated no better than by a person who exhibits the patience and discipline to reduce a complex argument, before attempting to formulate a construct, and much less pretend to foist a conclusion about it.

The Reluctant Dowser

After a sixteen year period of living in my house, I had long since misplaced the location of my sprinkler control valves buried under the grass. They are a cluster of 3 electro-servo controlled water valves which my central control unit operates to automatically turn my sprinklers on and off during the spring and summer seasons of grass growth. One of them had malfunctioned, and the section of sprinkler heads which were operated by this electro-servo control, had consequently failed to operate. I called upon a highly recommended local sprinkler repair specialist to come out and take a look. After testing the system under a couple different scenarios (also reduction itself), he confirmed “Yessir, your zone 2 valve has gone bad. Can you tell me where your sprinkler servo units are buried?” I just grimaced and shrugged in reply.

Now I have a rather large yard, where the water main arrives at a completely different entry point than the footprint of most of my grass. Poetically, the master control unit in my garage, is also nowhere near the majority of my yard and sprinkler heads. Determining the location of the set of control valves was going to be a daunting task. Most often they are located in a bundle buried under the ground, but because of my yard configuration and size, this could not be assumed. The sprinkler tech offered to locate the valves for a fee of $75. He directed his son who was working with him, to run to the truck and get a particular machine which is used to accomplish just such a task (eg. Amazon: Armada Pro300 Sprinkler Valve Locator). The reason being offered, that he would have to scan the entire set of possible locations for the valves, and eliminate false positives which will inevitably be generated by underground wires/metal as well. This process would take some time. Therefore the fee.

Now, my grandfather had been a dowser. The process of finding well locations, septic tanks and other formations of underground water, was a service he had regularly provided to the family and neighbors back in the day. Dowsing was something I had been used to, as a robust and reliable form of underground water detection. It was not until I got so smart that I was able to enter graduate school, that I was instructed that dowsing was a form of ‘magical thinking’. But since I am a skeptic of imperious wisdom, and a reductionist at heart, I asked the sprinkler tech with a contemplative push of the bottom lip “Is there a chance perhaps that you might possess say, another more traditional way of finding water under the ground?” Cocking my head slightly while I spoke the word ‘traditional’. The sprinkler tech smiled and said “I might. But I typically don’t do that in neighborhoods like this, ’cause people start yelling at me and calling me names and then stop using my service. As long as no one’s gonna get bent out of shape over it, I can try and dowse this thing if you want.”

I wanted. He dowsed the yard for free. He walked perpendicularly from the property line with his two bent copper wires in hand, stopped mid yard, turned right, walked about 30 paces to a spot in the grass, then slammed his shovel head down right at his toes.

Shtaunk! He found the sprinkler servo-valves, in the middle of nowhere, in less than 3 minutes of work.

I tipped him and his son $30 for the entertainment, lesson and effort in tradition. I don’t know how it works, all I know is that it does work. As the sprinkler tech and his son departed, he shook my hand and said “By the way, those people who used to yell at me for proposing a dowse of their yard, I charged them $125 to use the machine.” He chuckled as he walked off.

The Skeptic’s Dictionary of course, promulgates its abductive and panductive pearls of wisdom, handed down to them by god (see ethical skepticism’s Definition of God), in order to warn against the use of the witchcraft of dowsing, as it could damn your soul to magical thinking hell. From The Skeptic’s Dictionary:3

Since dowsing is not based upon any known scientific or empirical laws or forces of nature, it should be considered a type of divination and an example of magical thinking. The dowser tries to locate objects by occult means.

Translated: ‘We don’t understand it, therefore it is evil‘.

Hmm… this seems familiar to me. I have run into this type of religious (non-reductive) thinking before, and it was not inside science. People who think like this often conceal more awesome insistence than simply the one subject at hand. They want to own your thinking, what you communicate, what you study, and your pursuits as well. Their focus is not the subject, their focus is you. Being mistaken at times, bears less calamity, than is being under their auspices, trust me.

Being correct on 95% of one’s awesome insistence that others comply, stands as poor recompense for the harm one creates through the 5% instance in which one is wrong.

Of course a typical dowser would make no such claim, that dowsing is ‘locating objects by occult means’. I find it funny that, pseudo-skeptics will accept that a machine can find the location of water valves under the ground based upon established principles of science, and simultaneously then contend that a man with a simple device can only claim to accomplish the same thing via ‘occult means’. I smell a lack of reduction (panductive inference) at play. Most dowsers, including Albert Einstein, believe the effect to originate from natural phenomena.4 I don’t know the answer to this. All I know is that it worked for my grandfather, and it worked for my lawn sprinkler maintenance guy. These are no nonsense people – far from being ‘occultists’. I would call them reductionist science practitioners. I would not call the people at The Skeptic’s Dictionary anything but pseudo-skeptics. Dowsing saved me $45. The task now, is to figure out why it appears to consistently work – not start gas can banging and chest pounding about what it is, and what it is not.

Just because I ponder the potential efficacy and epistemology of something you don’t like, does not serve to make my thinking ‘magical’.

Sherlock Holmes comments about this type of crooked thinking, exhibited on the part of the panduction-minded authors at The Skeptic’s Dictionary:

In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backwards. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practise it much. In the every-day affairs of life it is more useful to reason forwards, and so the other comes to be neglected. There are fifty who can reason synthetically for one who can reason analytically…Let me see if I can make it clearer. Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backwards, or analytically. – A Study in Scarlet

Their habitual denial, the refusal to reduce certain phenomena which are robust, or which persist in our observational base, stems in essence from a lack of skill at scientific critical path logic. They do not possess the patience and disciplined method, requisite in the disassembly of the asymmetrical aspects of dowsing into its series elements of risk and conjecture. They refuse to apply any form of logical critical path, and instead choose only to adorn themselves with the lab coats and accoutrements of science, while lazily declaring the answer a priori. Identity warfare, very much the same thing as is virtue signaling.

The Critical Path Role of Reduction

Therefore, in light of Doyle’s penchant for ‘reasoning backwards’, let us define the role of reduction, and its place in the process of science, prior to the assembly of a construct or hypothesis. Reduction is the process of allowing one to see, scientifically. To unravel the factors which are salient to a result.

Reduction (Philosophy of Science)

/philosophy : science : critical path/ : the disassembly of asymmetry between logical objects such that each maybe be examined individually and in relation to their series contribution to the whole in terms of cause, effect and risk. The process of ex ante predicting or ex poste observing the macroscopic characteristics of a logical or physical object by identifying and manipulating the characteristics and interplay of its microscopic components, ostensibly at the lowest level of inspection which can be defined. Reduction must be pursued before a process which may result in a claim to induction, deduction or assessment of risk can be successfully undertaken. Reduction reveals a bias for understanding.5

Reduction is the path taken by the ethical skeptic who eschews abductive and panductive inference (the habit of social skeptics). Accordingly, the purpose of reduction is four-fold:

  1. Distinguish critical factors, risks & effects from merely influencing or irrelevant ones
  2. Identify the critical path of inquiry and possible inductive or deductive syllogism
  3. Detect the presence and eliminate the contribution of agency
  4. Establish robust study design/Mitigate testing or analytical noise.

Now there are a variety of reductionist approaches inside the sciences, and they differ by the general subject. Reduction inside cosmological sciences is not the same thing as reduction inside the biological sciences for instance. Nor does pursuing reduction guarantee resolution of a paradox or inquiry. Reduction is a tool and not necessarily a panacea – which is why you will not see me using the word ‘reductionism’. As this form of extrapolation/equivocation abuse of the term serves to cause much confusion.6 The prevailing principle I use is – reduction is a bias for understanding, which even if academic, inaugurates the researcher into the intelligence domain they will need in order to develop novel approaches and potential hypotheses. You will find that, in short order you appear to have deeper insights than even do the ‘experts’. Reduction involves testing, getting out into the field, being quiet, and the skill to observe. So, even if reduction is not prima facia effective, its exercise is beneficial nonetheless. The process I have employed in the past – in study, and in life and in labs, involves the following steps of breaking down elements of cause, effect and risk (using a test of dowsing as the example):

1.  Elemental-ize – Identify all of the hard elements comprised by the asymmetric object.

eg. formation of water, earth, test human, search grid, depth, device, metal, weather, time of day, temperature, etc.

2.  Filter – Filter elements in critical dependency from merely influencing elements.

eg. formation of water, test human, device, metal.

3.  Identify Critical Path – establish a base critical path among those critical dependency elements:

eg. human to device to metal to water formation

4.  Sensitivity Test Influencing Elements/Regression – Alter all and only the influencing elements in series, without changing the primary elements in dependency, and observe the dependency effect in each alteration. Measure and record the effect for influencing relationships (sensitivity regression analysis).

eg. change location, grid, depth, time of day, human, etc.

5.  Control Test Dependency Elements/Arrival Distributions – Repeat 4 with a control version of the dependency elements – however eliminating those influencing elements which showed no effect in step 4.

eg. the same series of tests with NO formation of water actually present and with a change of device metal

One may discern here, that by reducing the dowsing issue to its critical and influencing-only elements and proceeding accordingly, one has achieved robustness in study design and provided sound basis for the possible development of valid inference. But there is another strength offered by this approach as well; that is, the identification of agency and its surreptitious contribution.

Detecting Agency and Pretend Reduction

Now that we have examined one possible method of reduction regarding dowsing, let’s use this same topic to inspect a scenario of pretend reduction. Will actual ethical study prove a significant effect for dowsing? I do not know the answer to this. Sadly we may never know, as too much agency is wound up inside such testing (see the problem of Club Quality). A small group of tests have been completed, which indicated significant results for some dowsers and ‘no differentiation from random’ for others (Wagner, Betz, and König, 1990 Schlußbericht 01 KB8602, Bundesministerium für Forschung und Technologie).7 In this study, self-purported dowswers were given a hit or miss shot at locating a pipe filled with water concealed under a barn floor. To the right, you can see the results graphic from that study; results which are used by skeptics to issue final disposition on the topic of dowsing. The employment of the ‘misses’ in the graphic to the right constitutes a form of study noise pseudoscience called torfuscation (Saxon for ‘hide in the bog’). I question a study design which tests the mechanism of how accurate a first try is (hits and misses in the graphic to the right) – as such a measure would contain a boat-load of noise.

The hits and misses in the graphic to the right bear a high risk of study noise. Either of two results can be merely a consequence of accident, however the misses have a greater chance of being generated accidentally. It is not simply that this is too small a sample size. No provision for the contribution of noise, regardless of sample size, was made in the study. The misses were then used as evidence of absence. This is torfuscation. It is study fraud.

This is not how scientific testing is done. Part of the objective of a study design is to conduct tests which serve to neutralize, or in the least mitigate, observation noise. The proper way to test this paradigm is to assess whether or not, in repetitive trials, good dowsers can consistently beat efficient pattern searches (JP 3-50 Search and Rescue grids or crime scene search patterns for example) in terms of success arrival distributions on a scale of time (τ). The next step would be to take those who showed very significant results, and conduct a time/grid testing series per the example of reduction I related above. Conducting repetitive regression analyses on alteration of influencing factors, upon signal detection provides more reduction depth, than does a single level hit or miss test. Instead fake skeptics took partial results from the noise of a single level measure (hit or miss), bearing no control reference arrival distribution – a subset of reduction which tendered some convenient facts for their propaganda – and ran with a final answer. No wonder we are ignorant as a race of beings.

I found some people who are bad at dowsing (study noise), therefore dowsing is magical thinking. Who developed this study design, a college freshman? or maybe James Randi? This is not science in the least, and reeks of ‘The JREF Million Dollar Challenge‘ type of idiocy.


/philosophy : pseudoscience : study fraud : Saxon : ‘hide in the bog’/ : pseudoscience or obfuscation enacted through a Nelsonian knowledge masquerade of scientific protocol and study design. Inappropriate, manipulated or shallow study design crafted so as to obscure or avoid a targeted/disliked inference. A process, contended to be science, wherein one develops a conclusion through cataloging study artifice or observation noise as valid data. Invalid observations which can be parlayed into becoming evidence of absence or evidence of existence as one desires – by accepting only the appropriate hit or miss grouping one desires as basis to support an a priori preference, and as well avoid any further needed ex ante proof.  A refined form of praedicate evidentia or utile abstentia employed through using less rigorous or probative methods of study than are requisite under otherwise ethical science.  Exploitation of study noise generated through first level ‘big data’ or agency-influenced ‘meta-synthesis’, as the ‘evidence’ that no further or deeper study is therefore warranted – and moreover that research of the subject entailed is now socially embargoed.

Example: If you take the SAT a day on which you woke up severely ill, and you get a low score consequently, this is not evidence of your inadmissibility to quality universities. A fake skeptic will use such a circumstance to declare you dumb, by means of the ‘facts’.

Of course, fake skeptics like to make a final declaration of ‘pseudoscience’ as quickly and as shallowly into the data as is possible. They bear a habit of never saying, ‘I do not know’ and a history of attempting to prevent such research from being done in depth, at any cost. This is not skepticism in the least, and smells of desperation – it is debunking. A form of pseudo-reduction. You will note consistency in this, as celebrity skeptics consistently undertake a lazier short-cut process of science, when applied to topics or subjects which they have been assigned to discredit. This process of pseudoscience called pseudo-reduction, otherwise known as debunking (a more detailed methodological outline of this activity can be found here: The New Debunker: Pseudo-Skeptic Sleuth), stands as one of the primary tactics of fake skepticism.

Pseudo-Reduction (Debunking)

/philosophy : pseudoscience/ : the non-critical path disassembly of a minor subset of logical objects as a pretense of examination of the whole. A process which pretends that a robust observation is already understood fully. Which consequently then ventures only far enough into the reducible material to a level sufficient to find ‘facts’ which appear to corroborate one of six a priori disposition buckets to any case of examination: Misidentification, Hoax/Being Hoaxed, Delusion, Lie, Accident, Anecdote. This process exclusively avoids any more depth than this level of attainment, and most often involves a final claim of panductive inference (falsification of an entire domain of ideas), along with a concealed preexisting bias.

Knowing what constitutes sound reduction, how it is applied and how to spot its exercise – stands as a key aspect of ethical skepticism. The ability to spot the faker and distinguish him from the one actually conducting science.

The Ethical Skeptic, “Reduction: A Bias for Understanding” The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 4 Oct 2018; Web,