Socratic paradox and data
Written by Nacho Lafuente
Nowadays, many are questioning the usefulness of philosophy in modern life, especially those related to high school and university education. I grew up in a system that considers philosophy a memory-intensive subject in which you had to remember features about behavioural and thinking styles in the past, without any link to any event in the past or in the present. Obviously, that was the kind of subject that was more prone to provoke disgust and fast oblivion after you passed the exams.
What a pity! As an adult, I have recognized the real benefit of combining philosophy learnings, deep insights, historical facts, and events. Humanity tends to ask the same critical questions in a cycle that never ends. The only truth is that the more you learn, the least you know about everything. I would recommend watching the TV series Merli that tell you the story of a philosophy teacher in a high-school who explains the true importance of philosophy to the teenagers.
In the Socratic dialogues of Plato, two conclusions are drawn, often known as Socratic Paradox, and simplified herein:
(i) Socrates association of knowledge and virtue, according to which nobody ever does wrong knowingly;
(ii) nobody knows what they mean when they use a term unless they can provide an explicit definition of it.
The first conclusion is surprising and arguably to be discussed further, although I would be personally against it from a data perspective. Indeed, this goes through the concept of bent reality, in which you can model data to a shape that fits your reality. In that sense, no one would be acting wrongly on purpose because their actions would be backed up on data reasoning. However, we all know how much data can be distorted, for example, by using average instead of median as a metric in biased samples.
The second conclusion of the Socratic Paradox is actually of extreme interest to be discussed from a data perspective. It means that to master a knowledge, or an act based on deep knowledge, you need to be able to explain the whole concept behind. In other words, you must have the proper knowledge and data (or information) that supports your reasoning process, so that you can explain a decision or conclusion.
The world of data is full of fallacies and opportunities. Data or conclusions that fall into the first category, of virtue and doing the right thing, and the second category, knowing specific facts before opening the mouth. When applied to the enterprise world, the second conclusion of the Socratic Paradox means that you need all the information and conclusions in order to make a fully reasoned decision that you can later defend and explain.
I am really excited to realize that philosophy can be so useful. I know many board of directors that are making blind decisions based only on their experience and gut feelings - luckily these are the least frequent ones. Data in modern enterprise world has become a first class citizen since it spreads out the knowledge outside the usual circles of power. In modern enterprise, every employee needs enough data and supporting tools to make the job meaningful and productive. Doing the opposite would not only be illogical, but also unprofitable - this person won’t be productive in the long term, and the enterprise, overall, will lose its competitive edge.
So, yes, Socratic principles are still young. When you are crunching data sources, either explicit, implicit, or hidden, and creating new sources of information for the company, you are boosting people’s knowledge and ability to better explain the underlying scenario that tends to be more complex as more knowledge is fed into the ecosystem. The beauty of this living ecosystem is that when there’s more data, more information and knowledge for everyone, the further conclusions must be increasingly sophisticated. As a result, the whole system’s complexity increases. And I would guess that the increase is not linear but super-linear, or even exponential. Probably, it’s just a guess because I don’t have all the information at hand and I can’t make an informed statement.