An Introduction To Provisional Knowledge

October 15, 2016 — by Casey Allen0


At the time of writing, the United States is less than a month away from electing a new president. It doesn’t take much knowledge of politics to see that this election is extremely contentious – both in terms of of the candidates and the rhetoric surrounding their campaigns. Without commenting too much on the actual politics, I would like to use this time in our country’s history to illustrate a need for developing a sense of provisional knowledge.

Strong opinions are ubiquitous in our society and definitely in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. These opinions are often presented to us as facts. Facts which are meant to either affirm our own opinions or change our beliefs to align with the presenter. Here is an example from the Presidential Campaign: In August, Donald Trump tweeted the followingscreen-shot-2016-10-15-at-12-17-05 “Inner-city crime is reaching record levels. African-Americans will vote for Trump because they know I will stop the slaughter going on!”  It’s a catchy tweet, and Trump has used similar statements about crime as a part of his platform in the race. The danger here, however, is that what Mr. Trump said was undeniably false. Most categories of crime have been on a steady decline since the early 1990’s. However, if the viewer of that tweet didn’t follow up on this statement, they may accept it as fact and therefore have the belief that inner-city crime is reaching record levels.

Moving away from politics and towards the field of ethics (I’m using this term broadly to describe the concept of right and wrong conduct), I am going to assume that as conscientious humans, our goal is to have accurate beliefs. That is, we want our beliefs to reflect facts about the world around us so that our own personal reality is an accurate one. This is useful to us because our opinions are tied to our morals and our concepts of ethical behavior.

What I would like to suggest is that the best way to have accurate beliefs (upon which you can form your own opinions, morals, values, etc) is through provisional knowledge. I believe that the scientific method provides an excellent picture of this principle. bartolomeu_velho_1568For example, during much of history the accepted astronomical model was geocentric (with the Earth at the center of the universe and the other planets and stars moving around it). It wasn’t until the 16th century that a German astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus presented a mathematical heliocentric model (where the Sun is at the center of our solar system, with the other planets orbiting around it). Shortly afterwards, this heliocentric model was confirmed through observation and further refined by other scientists. Today it would seem silly to use any other model for our solar system. And this is the power of provisional knowledge (and science itself) – it does not purport that it’s beliefs are the ultimate and accurate picture of reality to be followed until the end of time. It instead asserts that it’s knowledge is the best we have at this time. Given new, more accurate information, it will always change and adapt. In this way it is truly a method, and not dogmatic belief.

I believe this is how we should treat our own opinions and beliefs. The strength of our opinions should be in direct proportion to our confidence in the knowledge of the subjects to which they relate. It’s okay to not have a strong opinion on something you are not well informed on. It’s okay to say “I don’t know”. It’s okay to admit that your opinion is provisional – that you have formed it from the information you have been given. And it’s definitely okay (and I would say it is a moral responsibility) to change either the strength or the nature of your opinion when new information is presented to you.

Especially in times like this one surrounding our presidential election, I believe that advocating for provisional knowledge is important. The election and accompanying media-hype tend to advocate for the opposite. It’s therefore incumbent upon us to be people of reason and measure who avoid polarization and dogmatism. There is obviously a lot to say on this subject. It’s one that I am passionate about and that I will likely write more about in the future. For now though, I would like to leave you with this one point to consider – It is often difficult for us to examine our own beliefs. It’s at the heart of introspection and it makes us feel vulnerable. But I will assert that if our goal is to be the best, most moral people we can be, then we must do just this. We must consider our knowledge and beliefs to be provisional and be open to changing them when new, more accurate information is presented to us.


Flying Coffin: I hope I don’t die on this flight.

October 10, 2016 — by Ian Ritter


“Hell Yeah!”

Was all I could say when my friend Greg asked if I wanted to go for a ride in one of the most famous aircraft ever built, the B-24 Liberator.  But shortly after my arrival at the airport, as I strapped into my green metal “seat,” which positioned my head about 2 feet from a gigantic turbo-supercharged, 1,200 horse power radial engine spinning a huge three-bladed prop, I thought to myself, “I hope I don’t die on this plane.”  A thought which motivated this blog, and a thought which I’m quite sure was said by every other person to sit in that seat.

My Seat.

The liberator holds many records for being the most produced twin engine airplane, about 19,000 units.  This is an incredible feat of Engineering.  There are also a few other stats which are less likely to put a smile on your face and which brings me back to the original thought about dying while on this tiny piece of cold aluminum in primer-green.  Depending upon which statistic you take, the loss rate for some strategic bomber groups was around 45% or more.  That’s right, for every 100 men who flew, only 55 of them came home.  img_9924This is the thought that raced in my head, as Greg gently pushed all four long power levers up for takeoff power and my first flight in a B-24 began.

There was no way I was ever going to hear again.  My ear drums had just given up this whole, “hearing stuff” notion about the time those huge radials roared to life and we lumbered down the runway.  There was only sharp popping sounds in my right ear as I sat just below and aft of the flight deck facing the tail section of the plane, staring at a sign that said something about proper bomb loading.

The salvo switches have to be off. Duh.
The salvo switches have to be off. Duh.

More impressive than the sound of pop-rocks mixing with water in my ear, was the impact of the engines and props.  It was a concussive force that you could literally feel in your organs.  I will never forget it.  Slowly, very slowly we accelerated on runway 9L at Melbourne International Airport.  Greg pulled on the yoke, and up we went, again, very slowly.  “How in the hell did this thing fly with an engine out and lots of bombs?” I wondered.

Soon, we were in the air, around 1000ft above the ground and cruising down the East Coast of Florida headed towards Ft. Lauderdale Executive airport.  They opened the waist gunner window and I got up to take a peek around the airplane sometimes referred to as, “The Flying Coffin.”

I crawled to the nose gun and took a picture facing aft. Nice thumbs up!
I crawled to the nose gun and took a picture facing aft. Nice thumbs up!

As I walked down the bomb bay towards the .50 cal machine guns (of which there were usually 10 on a combat aircraft) I thought about how damn old I would have been compared to the crews of these planes.  I would have been about 10 years senior to many of the 19 and 20 year olds who bravely manned these stations.  They probably would have called me “Gramps” or “Old Guy.” At that point, I just resigned myself to the fact that there was going to be many humbling revelations in this flight and to enjoy them.

Not me, but I was making the same face.

Once at the waist gunner position, I realized I could easily fall out of the damn thing.  Not like, if I tripped and fell, No, I mean like the bottom of the window was below my waist and that if at any point I stumbled, I would simply fall out of the damn window.  After mentally reminding myself to not fall out of the plane, I grabbed a .50 caliber machine gun, whose barrel was pointed aft, due to the wind rushing over its barrel and tried to move it around.  It was very, very difficult to say the least.  130mph wind blazing down the gun meant that I had to exert a great deal of effort to even move the gun around and aim.  Again, I imagined the men who actually had to do this.  They were flying around 27,000ft in an un-pressurized plane, at a temperature somewhere in the -20f throug

Look at how low the window is.

h -50f range, breathing off of an oxygen mask all while getting shot by other planes, hit by flak, and trying to return fire themselves.  I just lowered my head in reverence and reminded myself to not fall out.

On this flight, we were lucky enough to have a fighter escort and were joined by a lone P-51 Mustang.  This plane is considered one of the best flying planes ever built and I was thrilled to see one swing by for a closer look.


Through the rest of the flight, I crawled around the plane in various stations and was continually stunned by how raw and unforgiving every mission must have been.  As a pilot myself, I hoped I would be able to get a glimmer of an understanding as to what it must have been like to fly one of these planes.  After my flight that day, I knew I would never be able to understand what it was like to fly one of these beasts, unless I had been there, over the skies of Germany myself.

Greg and a very nice guy whose name escapes me.

The whole experience was humbling, especially having heard my grandfather talk about the bomber formations he saw when he was on the ground that, “seemed to go on forever.”  It put a lot of things in perspective.  I was extremely grateful for the experience and came away from it with many emotions, but most of all, there was a sense of reverence and admiration for the people involved with these airplanes.  They accomplished so much despite incredible and devastating hardships.  It made me realize how much is possible.  And I also no longer complain to myself when I have to do a pre-flight inspection on a jet when it’s -20 and blowing snow in Montreal or in the Dakotas, cause, well, I don’t wanna be a whiny bitch.  If they could manage to do 20 missions over Europe, I can at least have the dignity to do a thorough pre-flight inspection.

South bound.
South bound.

Joking aside, if you get a chance to hop a ride in one of these planes, you need to do it.  Also, there are two books I’ve read about the missions these men flew. “ The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24 Over Germany” and also “A Higher Call.”   Both were incredible and inspirational reads.

Special thanks, to my friend Greg who spends a great deal of his time helping keep this B-24 as well as B-17 and a Corsair flying so that others can experience them!  Hope you enjoyed it, go find one of these and get a ride!

He is nicer than he looks and is a 747 pilot by day.
Here is Greg! He is nicer than he looks and is a 747 pilot when not flying war birds.