Software engineering is an industry notable for its strongly-held beliefs. Sometimes, we are also noted for our inability to reflect on those beliefs and question whether there is a factual basis underlying them.
While our beliefs usually serve us well, there are times when they don’t, especially when we believe something lacking in truthfulness. In such cases, we are likely to be led astray by our misguided notions, making us no different than our fellow humans, as best captured in the following quote:
Failing to investi gate our beliefs leads us down the path of believing something “that just ain’t so.” These are epistemic failures, and understanding and preventing them is what we’ll discuss in this article. But let’s first get some definitions out of the way.
What does epistemic mean? It comes from the word epistemology, which is a branch of philosophy devoted to studying knowledge. The word epistemology derives from the ancient Greek epistēmē (“knowledge”). The field of epistemology seeks to understand what constitutes knowledge, how we attain it, and whether our beliefs are justified, and if so, the means of justifying them . Epistemic, therefore, simply means something related to knowledge itself. An epistemic failure means we have failed in one or more ways of acquiring and justifying our knowledge of something.