The Münchhausen trilemma occurs when attempting to prove anything to be true. Such attempts fall into three tropes—a circular argument which supports itself (A <-> B), a regressive argument where the proof requires further proof infinitely (“why?” x infinity), and a dogmatic argument which relies on an assertion which is not defended (“because”).
A good example is conspiracy theories—it’s not useful to argue with someone about because it will inevitably fall into one of these tropes.
- Godel incompleteness is kind of like a proof of a regressive argument of math
- Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know
Links to this note
You can spot bad explanations similar to the way you can spot bad arguments using the Münchhausen trilemma.
Reflections on Writing 1000 Notes
I’ve now written 1,000 notes since May 25, 2020 in my Zettelkasten. You can see my reflections on writing 500 notes and here are my thoughts since then.
It’s fairly common for companies to make sweeping claims in the course of day-to-day business. While this can be misleading, it is not particularly illegal. The “puffery doctrine” covers the line between unbridled optimism and misrepresentation.
Don’t Ask What the Problem Is, Ask What the Situation Is
It’s common in product and engineering circles to constantly ask people “what problem are you solving?” While this can be useful for focusing work on the right things, it also leads to solutions disguised as problem statements and self-referential arguments. Instead, ask “what’s the situation?”. This gives space between facts and the interpretation of those facts which makes it easier to understand and spot errors.