đź‘‹ Hi, my name is Nicolas Epstein.
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Planning "Sources"


About two years ago I was studying the history of the Soviet Union and came upon a re-examination, in light of recently uncovered evidence, of the WWII Katyn massacre. The universally accepted narrative has been that the Soviets were responsible for the atrocity; the new evidence however, according to the author, cast doubt on that conclusion.

As I was going through the author’s arguments, comparing them to those of the accepted narrative, I had a bit of an epiphany. I thought: “wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to measure the truth-value of these claims in a transparent way?” I imagined a sort of network in which claims could be connected to evidence via arguments. This network would be user-driven and all measures of a claim or a conclusion’s truth-value would be the result of public discourse and debate. Going one step higher, I envisioned sets of socially-determined “truth paradigms” which would in turn be sets of “truth criteria” setting the bounds for what is considered valid knowledge within that paradigm. For example, one truth paradigm could be called “scientific” and another “religious”. Both paradigms have their own definitions of what is required or sufficient to establish a measure of truth-value and content can be examined from both vantage points.

Going back to the Katyn massacre example, such a tool would alow us to examine the claims made about it and to trace the web of connections between those claims and the evidence that support them. By evaluating the quality of the evidence and the strength of said connections in terms of logical coherence; it should be possible to tease out a measure of the overall truth-value of the various interpretations of the historical event. It may not be enough to allow us to conclude whether the Soviets or the Nazis are responsible, but it may guide us towards which version is most likely. I should stress that all of this would be socially determined. ie. each piece of the puzzle is up for debate, similar to how the content of Wikipedia articles are debated in the “Discussion” tab but much more structured and explicit.

Going beyond a single historical event, I picture a potentially universally usefool tool that could be applied to any area of knowledge from quantum physics to astrological divination. It would be a sort of Wikipedia in which the claims made about a subjet would be rated in terms of their trustworthiness. If viewed through the lens of the scientific paradigm, I would expect the claims found on the quantum physics page to be rated as very trustworthy, whereas those found on the astology page would be basically worthless. These ratings might look very different if looked at from the perspective of another, more esoteric, truth paradigm.

The broad strokes of this idea have been bouncing around in the back of my head ever since it germinated there, but I have yet to set down the foundations needed to actually make the vision a reality. I’m not a philosopher, and I don’t know much about epistemology. For all I know, there may be a giant flaw in my idea which makes it unfeasible. I think part of the reason I haven’t built anything yet is that I have the feeling that this will be a massive undertaking and I’m just not sure where to start. I’m not the type of person to take notes or make mind-maps, but I’m tempted to do so for this project.

I’ve tentatively called this project “Sources” and opened up a repo to house the code and a kanban style project page as a sort of roadmap. I think my next step should be to actually sit down and map out exactly what the various minimal elements are required to make a proof-of-concept. Once I have that nailed down, I think I could make some application design decisions and get started on a prototype.

Stay tuned for more :)

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