Lecture Notes.


Elements of Thought: Empirical Evidence

  • Empirical evidence is any evidence which can be observed either directly or indirectly by the senses. (Broadly, DATA, INFORMATION, and EVIDENCE.)
  • It is important to consider the quality, amount, accuracy, and relevance of the empirical evidence. Most reasoning requires the support of empirical evidence.
  • Examples of empirical evidence:
    • Statistics
    • The pulse of a Geiger counter
    • The number of times your date arrived late.
    • The body, knife, and other items at a murder scene.
    • Skid marks at an accident scene.
    • The color and crispness of the lettuce at the store.
    • The humidity
    • The number of home runs Barry Bonds hit.
    • The Grand Canyon. Its size, the river running through it, the layers of rocks, etc.
    • Your car makes a funny sound.
    • Your wallet is missing.
    • The water runs up hill.


  • Many claims are attempts to explain evidence. How did the current situation come to be? Just because an explanation sounds plausable does not mean it is correct. For instance, you notice that your wallet is not where it is supposed to be. One explanation might be that your roommate stole it. Should you immediately accuse them? Probably not. Perhaps you misplaced it. Evidence doesn't usually have a sign hanging on it telling you how it came to be.
  • Look for additional evidence. For instance, if you see water running uphill, it is likely that you will not be immediately satisfied (because you know water doesn't run uphill). For instance, at The Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, California, one can see water run uphill. But as one looks more closely it can be seen that this is merely an optical illusion. The building is on a slant that plays tricks on our senses. It only looks like water is running uphill.


  • Regarding Empirical Evidence, consider the following:
  • Restrict your claims to those supported by the data you have.
  • Search for information that opposes your position as well as information that supports it.
  • Make sure that all information used is clear, accurate, and relevant to the question at issue.
  • Make sure you have gathered sufficient information.
  • What alternative explanations are there for the evidence?
  • Have you overlooked important information?
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