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    The Luxury Of Belief
    By Gerhard Adam | June 3rd 2009 05:10 PM | 43 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Gerhard

    I'm not big on writing things about myself so a friend on this site (Brian Taylor) opted to put a few sentences together: Hopefully I'll be able...

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    In previous posts I have made the argument that the brain constructs a data organization framework which represents our worldview (or belief systems). It is against this structure that new information will be evaluated, accepted, or rejected. I also want to be clear that the idea of a worldview or belief system is not optional. All humans have one, since it is a requirement to provide a minimal framework against which data is acquired and classified. It should also be understood that the concept of a belief system carries no special connotation be it religious, superstitious, supernatural, or anything else. It is simply a term that refers to the data organization framework in the brain.



    However, it is useful to ask how we differentiate what is acceptable information for inclusion in this belief system and what is rejected. Three basic belief data types are identified in the section which will give rise to two different forms of belief systems.



    Belief Data Types

    Informed/analytical belief represents a condition whereby we have evaluated a piece of information for inclusion into our worldview based on our best analytical assessment and determined it to be accurate. In this instance, new information will be used to strengthen this belief.



    Misinformed/erroneous belief represents a condition identical to the previous case, except that an erroneous conclusion was reached based on some element of misinformation or distorted information. In this case, a belief may be modified as more information is obtained.



    In both of these cases, there may be modifications to the belief system as new information comes to light. However, the primary point is that regardless of how the belief was acquired, it will be used to shape the nature and acceptability of information which is introduced.



    A trusted belief is one in which the information is simply accepted or incorporated into the belief system because it originates from a trusted source. Such information will typically bypass rigorous questioning or analysis and may become a source of erroneous information.



    Invariably each of these belief systems will be subject to actual experiences. In the case of informed belief, the presumption is that the world is behaving exactly as expected based on the information available. If a new phenomenon is discovered (as in science), then the worldview will be modified to retain its logical consistency by incorporating this new data according to the same logical rules. This is the type of event such as when it was determined that Newton’s laws were insufficient to explain relativistic events. In this case, the new information was integrated into the existing worldview and the continuum of logical assumptions was retained.



    In the case of a misinformed/erroneous belief, experience will have demonstrated an error in the original assumptions, and the belief system may change accordingly. This is the type of event where it was said that the sun traveled around the earth. Once it was demonstrated that this was an error, then all manner of corrections could be established and the belief systems were modified accordingly. It is important to note that it is not the original phenomenon which has changed, but rather that it is the interpretation of that phenomenon that was changed resulting in a different worldview. This is very similar to what is commonly referred to as a paradigm shift.



    In the trusted belief system, this is strongly reminiscent of the “appeal to authority” arguments in logic. The information provided is simply accepted because of its source rather than any particular scrutiny it has been subjected to. This is the basis for what we term “faith”, since it has never been part of the individual’s experience, nor examined as part of a logical argument. It should also be noted, that this does not denote any religious viewpoint, since it could occur as readily in non-religious contexts. The primary point is that it is information that has been integrated into a belief system without any scrutiny beyond the source. Once such a worldview model based on faith has been constructed,

    it may be treated as a trusted source in its own right. In effect, we tend to trust, not just our own judgments, but our memories as if they were judgments



    Belief Systems

    These three basic forms give rise to a logical belief system and/or an ideological belief system. Both systems can exist within a single individual, although one will invariably be granted more “weight” than the other in cases where conflict may arise. The first case is based on the idea that an individual’s worldview is built up from a set of logical principles with information being accepted or rejected based on these premises. An ideological system will focus on more abstract principles which will be accepted as evidentiary but most likely formed from a trusted belief system than an analytical one.



    These two systems are subject to various reinforcement principles that will tend to strengthen each view from the perspective of the believer. In particular, how new information is interpreted will specifically affect how this is integrated and determine how the resulting worldview will be shaped.



    In the logical belief system, the origin of the worldview is of overriding importance. Making as few assumptions as possible, it is fundamental to this worldview that each point in the data organization be logically connected to information obtained previously. In this way, the entire array of data is intended to be logically consistent.



    In the ideological belief system, the results of the worldview are of overriding importance. In this case, many assumptions may be made without verification, but the conclusions are the most essential elements.



    From these two points we have arrived at the potential for conflicts between these belief systems. It is not uncommon for an individual to have both of these perspectives for different parts of their life and actually maintain them as segregated elements in how they experience the world. The conflict arises when one belief system attempts to use the “rules” of the other to establish its validity.



    As an obvious example, this is where the perceived conflict between science and religion comes into play. Science tends to view itself as a logical belief system, focusing on the logical origins of its ideas and the consistency with which they are applied. As a result, science uses each individual piece of information to build a worldview that can be used to predict future results based on past experiences.



    Religion tends to view itself as an ideological belief system, where the point isn’t so much how things occur, but rather what the consequences of such actions are. As a result, its greatest strength comes from addressing more philosophical issues such as behaviors and interactions that aren’t specifically suitable for strictly logical analysis. Concepts such as “good” or “evil” are expressed without the need for detailed definition in the implicit assumption that such attributes are beyond analysis and understood by others that share such a belief. In addition, since ideology isn’t necessarily subject to detailed scrutiny, there may be considerable variation even between individuals that express identical beliefs. As a result, the ideological belief system is much more subjective and variable.



    The only conclusion one can reach from this review is that any attempt to reconcile these two belief systems based on each other’s “rules” is doomed to fail. Ideological belief systems may be modeled using game theory or other psychological tools, but in the end, these systems are much too chaotic to be described in anything but the most general terms. In effect, these belief systems are literally an individual choice.



    Similarly it is unreasonable for logical belief systems to be criticized for not possessing all the information that may be desired. The lack of complete explanations or information doesn’t negate the logical structures that are in place, nor does it automatically convey confirmation of alternative viewpoints.



    This brings us to the point of this whole discussion, which is the purpose being served to the individual by any belief system. Regardless of the dominant belief system an individual embraces, the functionality of such a system will be determined by how well it serves them in their lives.



    Increasingly the “belief system” of the prevailing social group will override individual preferences and raises competitiveness between differing viewpoints to unusually contentious levels. Regardless of individual beliefs, the social group will tend to dictate the acceptable behaviors of that group and thereby render many individual beliefs moot. In addition, such “shielding” by the social group will tend to allow more outrageous views to survive, since there can not be any allowable consequences for such divergent views. In other words, no individual will actually have to live with the results of their particular belief.



    In truth, few people are willing to commit to the absolute interpretation of their beliefs and while they may argue quite strongly for many diverse views, in the end, they are also quite content to leave well enough alone and enjoy the “luxury of their own belief”.



    Thanks to Patrick Lockerby for his assistance and suggestions.

    Comments

    ...wow Gehard, nice and long and it all comes down to the three word summary at the close of your missive..."in the end"... this will of course be the final arbiter that will turn "faith" into "fact". In the mean time though you leave out the "wild card" of a certain belief system. Prayer...or more specifically "answered prayer". You character "good" and "evil" as a concept?? Is there no Universally defined good or it's counterpart evil?? ...I bet there is. All in all though this is a very nice article Gerhard...I was looking for the mean part but didn't find it...even if Patrick did help, cudos to you both.

    Gerhard Adam
    "Is there no Universally defined good or it's counterpart evil?? ...I bet there is"

    How would you define it?  Especially since the religious correlary suggests that whatever occurs is ultimately forgiveable with repentance, then is there any way to describe it as "universal"?

    You cannot turn "faith" into "fact", it is either one or the other, but never both. 

    Similarly, there can never be a "certain" belief system since that would require getting into an individual's head and extrapolating that only their view is a valid one.  Since each person is capable of having their own beliefs (regardless of how similar or dissimilar they may be), how could anyone's be "certain".  After all, even the "certainty" would only be a belief.

    Thanks for your comments.
    Mundus vult decipi
    ...after having committed an evil act (no matter to what degree) have you without exception sought out forgiveness and repented from the act?? As you do not hold to a belief in God I suspect that you also do not worry about my aforemententioned scenario. So to me what is considered should be kept in the context of what would be societal norms. If Patrick were to sneak up on you and club you with a stick and steal your cowboy hat and leave you for dead without thought to your physical well being would you not agree that if this scenario were played out to anyone in the World it would be a "Universal" evil and identified as such? As an evolutionist you along with Massimo have long believed that faith would be proven out as fact and have even declaired faith as fact on unproven things, if it is ok for you folks to adopt this stance then why not us. If you took something by faith on Tuesday and it was proven as fact on Wednesday then was it any less fact on Tuesday now that it is known? As for the "certain" belief system I only meant it as a "particular" one not the "best" one. You are always so quick to label me... ;-) You do not have to get into anyone's "head" Gerhard to determine what their values are, you need only observe them for a period of time and you will learn all you need to know to figure that out...do you not agree? We are not animals and while self-serving observers "assign" responses as instinctive to people when placed in perilous circumstances, a punch in the nose will not always solicit a similar response from the target...it's that kind of "potential" response that separates us from the animals and being able to identify a Universal evil.

    Gerhard Adam

    No, I wouldn't agree that your scenario represents a universal evil, because that concept must represent an evil which everyone would accept unequivocally under all circumstances.  While I might feel that it is evil for a specific scenario, it isn't evil universally.

    Suppose I used an example of a woman killing her husband.  Is that evil?  Would it matter if she killed him for money or if she killed him because he was abusing her?  If there is a difference, then context matters and it cannot be consider universal even though the identical action occurred.

    In other words, concepts like "good" or "evil" are not absolute definitions unless we know the context in which these words are applied.  Often, they are defined by the participant's particular perspective than anything objective. 



    "You do not have to get into anyone's "head" Gerhard to determine what their values are, you need only observe them for a period of time and you will learn all you need to know to figure that out...do you not agree"
    I disagree.  Many people profess beliefs, that by their actions they clearly don't really embrace.  I would agree that observation is a key element in deterimining what those values might be, but you can't examine enough elements of someone's life to profess knowing absolutely what their values are.  You will invariably make unfounded assumptions (which may or may not be correct).

    This is precisely the kind of situation we often find around issues like abortion.  If we eliminate the extreme viewpoints, I think you'd find that both sides are actually quite similar with one side reluctantly coming down on the side of pro-life and the other to pro-choice.  Once again, they are not absolutes.  An individual that is incapable of having children may be opposed to abortion on the grounds that they think all children should have a chance (even with adoption).  On the other hand, someone may be pro-choice because they've seen the havoc created when a young girl is forced to go to full term with a baby produced by incest.  Both sides represent legitimate reasons for their perspective and while we may disagree with the choices made, we can't really claim to know their real "values" unless we are "in their head".  More to the point, a pro-choice individual may not necesssarily be in favor of an abortion for themselves and someone that is pro-life may not necessarily preclude an abortion under certain circumstances.  Therefore their values are a reflection of a general sense, rather than a specific one.

    We are not animals and while self-serving observers "assign" responses as instinctive to people when placed in perilous circumstances, a punch in the nose will not always solicit a similar response from the target...it's that kind of "potential" response that separates us from the animals and being able to identify a Universal evil.
    In point of fact, we are animals and react exactly the same.  I don't know where you got that idea of "instinct" but it is incorrect to assign it to humans and it is incorrect to assign it to animals.  Now, it would be absurd to compare the reactions of a bacteria to that of a human, but when we are dealing with other animals that are capable of thought, it would be presumptious (and dangerous) to think that you are dealing with an "instinctive" response from an animal rather than a thinking one, just as it would be for humans. 

    Instinct is what makes us (and animals) become alert when we hear an unexpected noise or smell.  Instinct is what triggers our fight or flight response (just like animals).  Instinct however does not enter the equation when it comes to thinking and reacting (and neither does it for animals).

    Anyone that has ever seen the difference in a dog that was abused, versus one that was trained for aggressions, versus one that was properly socialized can't help but notice that responses are anything but instinctive.  They are exactly paralleled by the experience of the dog just as they would be in humans.  While animals will certainly have different motivations and objectives, to suggest that they are somehow just "instinct machines" that respond identically to stimuli is a serious mistake.

    Mundus vult decipi
    ..as Mr Taylor would say... "your Paradigm programing is showing"...good grief, now some of that Psychobabble actually made some sense. Your biggest problem with this responce is you have confused behavior with instinct. Animals that have well known instinctive behaviors will consistantly react in a predictable way every time you test them. Not true with humans. Animals do not choose their behaviors but people do. As for the abortion differences, while there have been rape pregnancies and incest pregnancies they are always the "hyped" worst case scenario and profoundly rare and account for single digit occurances so the remaining percentage is 100% choice and seeing how they made the "original" choice to "open up" to the possibility (no pun intended) there shouldn't be a "second chance" for a second "choice". No Nation will prosper that kills it's most defenseless members.

    I wasn't commenting on determining someone's "values" based upon a professed "belief system", and while you promote a nebulous "depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is". It is never as important to believe what a person says but see what he/she does for all to see. Politicians do fly in the face of this comment but these are calculating professionals and eventually they too sucomb to the "here's what I say, and here's how I voted". Thank God for the Public Record keepers.

    Gerhard Adam
    "Animals do not choose their behaviors but people do"
    Take my advice and don't get around any animals bigger than you.  You'll discover to your detriment just how much choice they have.

    There's no point in discussing the rest of the comments if you won't actually read what I said. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    ...I read the whole thing Gerhard and returned a positive comment in regards to it, and this farm boy from Western Michigan knows plenty about being around animals bigger than me, you don't need a cowboy hat to have that experience. It's your article...do what you want.

    briantaylor
    Perfect.
    You're style reminds me of Camus.
    Which means after I punch you in the face I'll buy you a drink.
    I have a few differences with only a couple of your arguments but none worth delving into at this point.
    I have to go now, I'm in the middle of a big bike race!

    I'll be back.
    that's Mr. T, to you!
    Gerhard Adam
    OK, Mr. T .... I'll await your word :)
    Mundus vult decipi
    briantaylor
    Gerhard, I'm very sorry but in order to have the conversation I want to have, I'm going to have to finish my work.
    I don't know when that will be.
    I thought that perhaps you and I could come up with something together, and perhaps we can.
    Before that can happen I must figure out what problem it is I'm trying to solve.

    I'm sure you understand.
    Best Thoughts
    Brian
    Gerhard Adam
    No worries .... let me know
    Mundus vult decipi
    ...well...the guy stops in just long enough to say he can't stay??? If you understand you're doing better than I am..

    logicman
    Gerhard: thanks for the mention. 

    For public consumption: I added maybe one sentence worth of ideas and a bit of proof-reading.  Gerhard and I share many views on how our brains come to understand the world around us by making models of it.  The idea of mental models has general support in the relevant sciences, but is under-researched.  Perhaps it is taken as 'obvious', without questioning exactly what is being modelled, and how.

    Having said that, I think this is a great article which addresses some interesting areas of the human psyche and contributes to our understanding of our own preconceptions and prejudices.

    Brian: take your time.  You, Gerhard and I; we are all looking at the proverbial elephant from different perspectives.  Unlike the proverbial blind men, we agree that it isn't a jungle.  Knowing what a thing isn't is a good thing, a small first step.

    PerryV:  thank you for the kudos, and comments.  I may not agree with everything you say in these blogs, but I enjoy the mental stimulus.  :)  As for the thing about Brian not staying:  one of the benefits of full registration is the facility for private chat between friends - not all idea-swapping happens in the public eye.  Just as well when one tries to hold the candle in the middle and someone lights it at both ends. :)
    I have considered doing the "full registration" but it seemed to me that I was signing up to be a full blown article writer which I do not have aspirations to do. If there is a way to just register as a nobody and not as a contributing Scientist then where do I sign up? I disagree with pretty much everyone here but I "Universally" like every participant...even Massimo. You have the craziest avatar photo of anyone here...not sure what that means but definitely different. There is a relaxed atmosphere here that suits me even if I differ on most things...it's ok. Now this Brian gent, verbiage has it's own rewards but there is a limit where the entire feel of the missive is lost when "highfalutin" speech is pushed from start to finish. I hope he does not "talk" like he writes because in short order all interest would be lost. I agonized through one of his posts and needed a nap in order to regroup enough energy to finish it. Good God man just say it "plain"...

    Hank
     I disagree with pretty much everyone here but I "Universally" like every participant...even Massimo.
    We have thousands of members but only a few article writers.    Signing up lets you eliminate email notifications and use the comment tracker.    So you can know what all of the people you dislike the least are commenting on or writing.   
     Now this Brian gent, verbiage has it's own rewards but there is a limit where the entire feel of the missive is lost when "highfalutin" speech is pushed from start to finish.
    Patrick tells me I am missing something because I don't understand what he writes either.   I feel like it is mostly made up but that is probably why I did not create PhilosophyBlogging.com instead.
    PhilosophyBlogging.com would give me an eternal headache and I would definitely know that "someone" was in the wrong place. I am not surprised at Patricks comment as he is the "word monitor" (well founded I might add) but words that make you sleepy are more like a metronome only good if you need help with the beat.

    ..."all of the people I dislike the least"??? You're starting to sound like Mr. Taylor here....

    logicman
    I am not surprised at Patricks comment as he is the "word monitor" (well founded I might add) but words that make you sleepy are more like a metronome only good if you need help with the beat.
    PerryV: thank you, sincerely,  for the compliment.  You may be interested to know that when I was at grammar school my favourite subject was chemistry.  The study of English grammar is pointless, boring and sleep-inducing to the average young teen.  I was no exception.  Grammar takes one page to deal with the syntax of questions.  I was more interested in discovering the answers.

    One advantage of registering is that you remove the statistical certainty of not getting a private chat invite from someone who least dislikes not the least of your comments.  ( Obfuscation is most used by politicians and philosophers, but it was invented by linguists. )
    ...I would appreciate it if you would direct things like this towards Brian please, good God almighty.

    briantaylor
    Despite knowing I needn't, but for the record, in the spirit of the work and with all honesty I hereby admit:

    I blather on and on, seemingly about nothing, interjecting illustrative segues that you only discover later to reveal any truth, regardless of perceived irrelevance. Regardless, in fact, of any perceptions at all.  The cadence, the rhythm, intent and reward are as self serving as the style. The words on my blog are the notes of my thoughts. They are less than perfect.

    Yes I do sometimes talk like I write. There have been instances in my life, fingers and toes, where people have looked at me like I was crazy. I have heard more than once, "I didn't understand a word you just said." But I'm pretty sure that I needn't apologise for having loosened up the editing for my blog.  Particularly having delivered gems like, "To contemplate the ancient concept of self with a being that is truly “not-self” without even the ability to conceptualise having rules put upon you is to perpetuate ignorance and demonstrate the absurdity of modern human existence." I mean, c'mon! What a beaut, eh!

    I've been blathering on here for months now. Everyone has been very fair. Everyone.
    One must keep foremost in mind, however, that I am trained in the Jedi art of reason and as such have an uniquely defined concept of fair.
    I have no letters after my name, I do not find compensation beyond the work itself.
    I do it, for itself.
    The arguments against are the point. The challenges faced, many. The road ahead, impossible.
    It's necessity, obvious.
    My work is about how people are full of shit and don't know it.
    It will be my work until they know it.
    Because when they know it, its stench will be gone.
    When it's power is gone the world will be a better place.

    I call it work because it's harder than hell. I'm literally hanging on by my fingernails around here. But that's the point. You don't hang out with people dumber than you if you want to solve the biggest riddles.

    The work of the philosopher is not science, but it is done scientifically and you can certainly philosophise science as well as any other pursuit.
    I promise to be a gentleman and I (tick - tock) promise to get to the point soon. (zzzzzzzz)

    (If someone would like to define a standard of flourishment beyond that stated in Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, then by all means...)

    Best Thoughts
    Brian.




    logicman
    You don't hang out with people dumber than you if you want to solve the biggest riddles.
    Amen!  It's futile defending a thesis against a couch potato.  Or per contra, come to that.
    ...and who are you calling a "couch potato"??

    logicman
    ...and who are you calling a "couch potato"??
    It wasn't directed against you PerryV.    I was thinking, when I made my remark, that it is better to blog on the world's best science blogging site than on a blog site frequented by people who twitter on about how cool facebook is.  Also, Homer Simpson came to mind.
    ...of course...I was mostly kidding but it seemed to fit at the moment. I'm likeing you more all the time Patrick. Did you see the pic that Hank posted back at the baseball HR post?? He's there with his brother and it sure looks like he has low buck girlish tennies on without sox...it's worth a look. We can get more serious during the week...

    logicman
    Yes, I saw the picture.  I'd fit right in there as to height, but as to bulk, you might mistake me for a goalpost.
    low buck girlish tennies on without sox
    Had my English teacher read this back in the 1950s we would have heard, from the other side of town: "Americanisms!  Aaaargh!  Where's my red ink?"  That's language mavens for you, they simply can't understand that real-life speech preceded their prescriptive notions by millenia.   :)  

     ( Note to self: set up a separate blog article for cracking wise so as not to hijack other people's blogs. )
    No apology necessary or needed Brian, suffice it to say that you might be well served being a speech writer for Joe Biden as he may just be an older version of where you currently find yourself. I better stop though as Gerhard will get upset if we stray too far from his original post

    briantaylor
    Ok Gerhard, let's see if I got this right...

    Belief System / 3
    Data Types via Experiences

    Informed/Analytical
    Misinformed/Erroneous
    Trusted                                     
    Logical or Ideological (on a scale)

    Logical=few assumptions, subject to rules of simplicity and consistency, concerned with origin (source)
    Ideological=many assumptions, concerned with conclusions, results should be evaluated.

    The two can't work together logically because of their contradictory nature, the Ideological cannot work alone because of experiential nature and you can't fault logic.

    Social influence is working against individualism.
    Individualism becomes minority then subject to prejudice.
    Individualism becomes socially ineffective.

    Therefore you must balance the scale of individualism to social influence.
    It is social influence that requires our trust. It is social influence that weights heavy on the Ideological scale.
    We must be informed and Analytical, particularly about what we trust.
    Individuals must take part in social influence.

    Gerhard Adam
    Social influence is working against individualism.
    Individualism becomes minority then subject to prejudice.
    Individualism becomes socially ineffective.
    What do you mean by "individualism"?  Since the individual cannot survive without the social group, I'm trying to be clear on what your particular usage of this term indicates.

    My assumption is that you're referring to the idea that we want to be regarded as unique individuals within the social group and possibly even be recognized by the group (as special or exceptional), rather than signifying that which actually implies separation from the group (i.e. existing individually).
    Mundus vult decipi
    briantaylor

    Those three lines where meant to sum up the conclusion of your article, as I took it. I'll attempt to clarify.

    I'm referring to the individual preferences that you identify as raising competitiveness and as falling prey to the prevailing social group, the differing viewpoints that end up getting absorbed or beaten out by the norm.
     
    Individualism as in pursuit of my own ends, rather than altruistic goals, however apt or correct either parties goals are. Also individualism as in the opinion that the philosophy of same warrants continuation.
    I don't mean that we are seeking anything in particular, there is no evaluation taking place at this point and we are just living in the "luxury of our belief." I mean it, I hope, as you meant it, as an observation.

    The individual may or may not be seeking such things as recognition by his or her individuality, I don't believe this is the gist of your comments or mine. Rather that the individual has an "uphill battle" against the societal influence, even if it's "outrageous." Thus the continuation of needing both sides of the coin.

    I think my original three sentences sum it up much more appealingly. :)

    The individual cannot survive without the social group. True. But the social group doesn't exist without the individual so I'm not clear on why this is relevant. Furthermore, there are no  such things as naturally occurring social norms as an individual has to have experienced it first. If this is true contemplating source can, for a great majority of considerations, automatcally reveal it as misinformed. (It does more than this but i can't give away all my secrets at once, what would I blather on about?...)

    I offer the following to illustrate why there are no naturally occuring social norms.

    Ones experiences can come into being through devices of their own, or someone elses devices. Therein lies the differences of what I call either Natural or Learned Experiential or Social norms. 

    Experiential norms teach us that a red hot iron burns.
    Social norms teach us that a red hot iron cauterizes.
    The first person to have experienced this successfully is the catalyst of the social norm.
    But he still had to experience it first. Therefore it was an experiential norm, until he taught it to the next person, and so on. The instant an X becomes an S, is an important moment indeed.
    For a naturally occurring social norm to exist, it would have to be a spontaneously realised understanding of cauterization that occured across impossible ranges of influence without individual experience and as such, for no real reason.

    As I stated, I'm just trying to see where you are, so that I can see where I am in relation to you.
    We haven't even started yet...
    I look forward to your responses, international man of mystery.
    Respect,
    Mr. T
    "Drink your school, stay in drugs and don't do milk!"

    Gerhard Adam

    Well, the last section relates to the fact that as society gets larger and larger, the need for "standardizing" what is acceptable becomes more dominant, so that the beliefs (or culture) of the individual subgroups begins to be held back.  This will also tend to allow more "exotic" beliefs to flourish since the major group's viewpoints actually control the results, so no matter how outrageous a viewpoint may be, there are no real consequences.

    It is this last point that has most people complaining about oppression or the role of individualism in society.  I won't get into individualism in this response, but that's a whole other can of worms.

    The issue with social norms, is that we don't have a good handle on what constitutes experience.  Often people are willing to consider coincidences as being significant and we're all familiar with how urban legends have taken on a reality all their own.  Once this occurs, then there may be many elements of a belief system that have never been experienced, validated, or anything else.  They are simply accepted as part of the group knowledge or lore.

    Another thing to consider is what do we mean by social?  In what context group?  The point here is that people don't belong to just one social group, so the meaning will be dependent on how many groups they belong to and the relative importance each group has to the individual's sense of identity.  We know that people begin with the family group, but then there's extended family, neighbors, potentially employers, religious groups, national groups, social organizations, etc. etc. etc.  In short, there's any number of social organizations that can exert the influence about what is the "norm" and thereby exert other influences on an individual.

    The primary social norm that I suspect we tend to relate to, is the one that has an enforcement arm (i.e. government and nations).  Since one of the primary duties is to ensure a common standard, as evidenced by the Civil War, the major role the government plays is to hold the social union together.  As a result, there is a perpetual balancing act between what should be tolerated versus what should be regulated.  In any case, it makes the definition of what constitutes a "social norm" a much more difficult concept to get a handle on (consider how cults are formed and how they relate to the older tribal societies).

    Mundus vult decipi
    ...so it boils down to "individual freedoms" that are guaranteed by a Creator rather than by a man, that are also inalienable for an agreeable group of people to co-exist?

    Gerhard Adam
    Guaranteed?  Hmmmm ... must've missed that meeting.
    Mundus vult decipi
    ...that's ok Gerhard, you still receive the benefit whether you were there or not.

    Gerhard Adam
    ... instead of worrying about me, perhaps attention should be shifted to the people suffering in other parts of the world, that seem to need the guarantee more than I do (they probably missed the meeting too).
    Mundus vult decipi
    ...if a tribe you belonged to, held a social event where new laws and rules were to be decided, so that there would be community agreement and you decided not to attend the meeting (as you are inclined to do) would you be any less liable should you break the new law even though you may not have known anything about it?? ...while I have compassion for any who struggle I also encourage the oppressed to fight against their oppressors. Those who sit and do nothing will remain a part of the subjugated until they do. The World is not my concern, people are, and while you appear to be a bit uncomfortable that you suspect I worry about you, it is the last part of your statement that has been proven out and will continue to be proven out that the "guarantee" the the Creator intended for everyone is no place else in the World but here in the United States. The greatest Country on the face of the Planet...besides...if "they knew" there was going to be a meeting about this stuff I bet a surprising amount of them would not be like you and would be glad to attend....

    Dave Deamer

    Gerhard -- Getting back to The Luxury of Belief, I thought it was a nicely argued analysis of what we mean by belief. I agree that belief is a luxury, something we can get along without, so I would like to suggest yet another way to think about “data organization frameworks” in the brain from which we construct our worldviews. My impression is that most people cruise comfortably through life within their belief systems because they seldom test their ideas, and for the most part it doesn’t matter very much if their beliefs are wrong. Yet as a researcher, I have the almost daily experience of being wrong. In other words, one of my great ideas doesn't work when I test it in the laboratory. Now, people hate to be wrong! It’s painful, right? To avoid the daily pain of being wrong, a researcher can develop a special neural process. I’m sure you have heard that we enjoy a novel by “suspending disbelief?” Well, I can tell you from personal experience that it is also possible to suspend belief. In other words, at least when I am doing research my brain is continuously making judgement calls based not on a belief system, but on plausibility of alternative possibilities. This makes my worldview almost infinitely flexible, lacking in what others would call belief, yet perfectly workable because my judgement calls are based on estimates of probability. Even though I am wrong most of the time, every wrong guess teaches me something by the process of elimination, and instead of being incensed when I am wrong, I am wryly amused. Then when my idea happens to fit nature’s pattern, the joy of discovery is all the sweeter. 

    Gerhard Adam

    Dave; Thanks for the kind remarks.  From what you're describing it is clear that you're using the "informed/analytical" method of data acquisition.  My primary point is that once you accept information in this category it will become a part of your worldview.

    The problem with using a word like "belief" is that it conjures up all kinds of common colloquial usages, but in this instance I'm suggesting that it is a fundamental method for data organization in the brain.  Despite how flexible you may be when evaluating data, I'm sure you have experienced situations where you consider that a particular result is "impossible".  This may cause you to re-examine the experimental setup or process, or to see where errors were introduced.  This is a classic example of a result falling outside of your worldview.  The difference, when it happens inside your area of expertise, is that you're prepared to analyze the data and modify your worldview (or belief system) accordingly.  In fact, this is often how scientific discoveries occur, when someone re-examines their worldview (given new information) and suddenly has a new insight.

    There are also millions of other ideas that we have regarding different pieces of information that will not be subject to such scrutiny and yet they will form a part of our belief system.  I'm sure a nosie in the night doesn't garner a completely "blank" response.  Instead you will investigate because your belief system dictates that there is a normal explanation for the noise.

    Similarly, many scientists would be offended at suggesting that the scientific method is a belief system, but ultimately it is.  There must exist a framework that allows us to have a minimal set of axioms from which we can then extrapolate and analyze the world around us.  The scientific method is successful in science because we come from the "belief" that there is a means by which the world can be made knowable. 

    It's certainly not a "belief" in the religious sense of the word, but it clearly forms a fundamental part of an individual's worldview and is the basis by which new information will be evaluated.

    It is my contention that human beings cannot approach the world as a tabula rasa.  Everything we do and everything we encounter will be "filed away" according to our belief system, which represents the data organization in the brain (which determines what information is acceptable versus that which is not).

    Mundus vult decipi
    logicman
    ... when I am doing research my brain is continuously making judgement calls based not on a belief system, but on plausibility of alternative possibilities. This makes my worldview almost infinitely flexible, lacking in what others would call belief, yet perfectly workable because my judgement calls are based on estimates of probability. Even though I am wrong most of the time, every wrong guess teaches me something by the process of elimination, and instead of being incensed when I am wrong, I am wryly amused. Then when my idea happens to fit nature’s pattern, the joy of discovery is all the sweeter.
    Dave:  I hope you realise that you are going to be quoted globally on this.  A scientist at work, in his own words.
    Hank
    That continuous, good-natured process of self-falsification sounds like Karl Popper if he had a sense of humor.  Still interesting but a lot more fun to have a beer with.
    "In other words, one of my great ideas doesn't work when I test it in the laboratory".

    ...what kind of ideas are we able to test in this laboratory?...what kind of laboratory? ... and with the "estimates of probablility" based upon "judgement calls" then are you not yet believing that your judgements are either true or accurate?? Belief will always have a begining and an end no matter what the World View might entertain.

    Dave Deamer

    Quoting Gerhard: “From what you're describing it is clear that you're using the "informed/analytical" method of data acquisition.”

    Informed, yes, but I’m not so sure about analytical, at least in the mathematical or logical sense of the word. If anything, it’s more like fuzzy logic. The only thing close in other professions is the mental stance of an investor in the stock market, or perhaps a good poker player. Each is informed, each makes judgement calls based on the odds, but neither can predict precisely what is going to happen after they invest or make a bet. 

      “My primary point is that once you accept information in this category it will become a part of your worldview.”

    But what if you don’t accept it, but instead assign it a plausibility factor compared to other alternative possibilities? See my comment to PerryV below.


    “The problem with using a word like "belief" is that it conjures up all kinds of common colloquial usages, but in this instance I'm suggesting that it is a fundamental method for data organization in the brain.  Despite how flexible you may be when evaluating data, I'm sure you have experienced situations where you consider that a particular result is "impossible".  This may cause you to re-examine the experimental setup or process, or to see where errors were introduced.  This is a classic example of a result falling outside of your worldview.  The difference, when it happens inside your area of expertise, is that you're prepared to analyze the data and modify your worldview (or belief system) accordingly.  In fact, this is often how scientific discoveries occur, when someone re-examines their worldview (given new information) and suddenly has a new insight.”

    This is what I mean by suspending belief. Then you never need to say something is impossible based on your beliefs, only that it might be worth looking into.

    Quoting Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny ...'

    “Similarly, many scientists would be offended at suggesting that the scientific method is a belief system, but ultimately it is.  There must exist a framework that allows us to have a minimal set of axioms from which we can then extrapolate and analyze the world around us.”

    This sounds terribly analytical to me. The actual experience of doing experimental research is a much messier business. And given that quantum mechanics seems to define our particular universe, how can we have a minimal set of axioms if one of them is the Uncertainty Principle?

     “The scientific method is successful in science because we come from the "belief" that there is a means by which the world can be made knowable.”

    OK, you got me there. If I believe anything in the usual sense of the word, I suppose I need to believe this.


    Quoting PerryV:

    “...what kind of ideas are we able to test in this laboratory?...what kind of laboratory? “

    Easiest to give you a recent example. All life on Earth uses left handed L-amino acids and right-handed D-sugars, but no one has a convincing explanation of how the first forms of life made the choice. There are several alternative hypotheses, one of which is that there might be a extremely small physical difference between right and left handed amino acids based on parity violation. My idea was that such a difference could show up in their interaction with water molecules. If so, there should be differences in the amount of heat released when they are dissolved in water. I tested this by dissolving D and L serine in a microcalorimeter that could measure the amount of heat given off as the amino acid went into solution. There was no measurable difference. Do I abandon the idea? No, There may be a difference, but perhaps my instrument lacked sufficient sensitivity. Instead I lower its plausibility and will try to think of another way to test it. 

    “and with the "estimates of probability" based upon "judgement calls" then are you not yet believing that your judgements are either true or accurate?? Belief will always have a beginning and an end no matter what the World View might entertain.”

    Well, that doesn’t sound right to me. I suppose I’m more like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland:

    "I can't believe that!" said Alice.

    "Can't you?" the queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

    Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

    "I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

    To paraphrase slightly, “Sometimes I’ve considered as many as six alternative hypotheses before breakfast.”

    logicman
    “Sometimes I’ve considered as many as six alternative hypotheses before breakfast.”
    Ah! But, have you tried Carrollian reverse causality?  All you need do is emulate the Red Queen in Through The Looking Glass:  first  she put a bandage on her finger, then she screamed, and then she pricked her finger.
    Gerhard Adam
    Informed, yes, but I’m not so sure about analytical, at least in the mathematical or logical sense of the word.
    This shouldn't be taken as absolute, but rather it is intended to convey the idea that the information you're acquiring is based on "factual" information or a process of analyzing information.  In other words, the data acquired in this fashion is subject to examination and potentially validation.

    But what if you don’t accept it, but instead assign it a plausibility factor compared to other alternative possibilities?
    Actually if the data is completely unacceptable then it is ignored.  If it is accepted, then it will be ranked according to your plausibility factor and integrated into your belief system in that fashion.  Bear in mind that all information doesn't have to be complete or resolved.  It just needs to be classified after which it can be retrieved and revised.  However, if it is ignored, it tends to not enter into future assessments unless something were to occur to shake that fundamental assumption.

    This is what I mean by suspending belief. Then you never need to say something is impossible based on your beliefs, only that it might be worth looking into.
    I understand, but it isn't something that can be sustained except in very special circumstances (like with your research).  You couldn't live your life if you conducted every event in such a fashion.  Also, bear in mind that there is a difference when processing information that has the relative luxury of long-term examination, versus the need to make a quick assessment.

    And given that quantum mechanics seems to define our particular universe, how can we have a minimal set of axioms if one of them is the Uncertainty Principle?
    Well consider that all of mathematics is based on a few axioms, from which all the subsequent assumptions are derived (including the proofs for quantum mechanics).  The point is that we cannot know everything from first principles.  At some point there are some minimal assumptions that must be made from which the entire remaining structure is then derived.

    I also suspect that we may be saying slightly different things when we talk about "belief".  My point is you have a "belief system" that allows you to explore ideas based on information and/or analysis and that provides the basic infrastructure against which you will evaluate your work (note I'm not including any other aspects of your life).  Since your work is intended to be subject to alot of variation (until you pin something more specifically down), then it really isn't part of your belief system since it is still unsubstantiated information.  Your belief system allows you to pursue this, because you believe that there is a way to approach a problem to get to the "truth" or "facts". 

    It would be impossible (or outside your belief system) to consider your research complete based solely on outside comments.  Your belief requires that the data be confirmed.  You may accept something as more plausible if it comes from a trusted source, but that is still insufficient to cause the data to be accepted.

    Other examples of trusted sources are, Newton, Galileo, Einstein, etc.  You get the idea.  We trust these sources and those that confirmed their results so we don't feel compelled to go out and have to reprove everything again.  In part, these become axiomatic because they are part of our "trusted belief system".

    In short, the problem we all have to face is that there simply too much information in the world for us to have established a worldview from nothing.  Therefore our ability to operate (or to pick up where someone else has left off), is because we can have a belief system (or worldview) that allows us to accept certain pieces of information as trusted and to fit new pieces of information in as it meets our various critiera.

    Note that this says nothing about the quality of the information, nor its accuracy.  It is only a means by which data is organized and accepted or rejected.  Which is another reason why even the most logical person is still subject to their own biases and may be swayed into unreasonable arguments because of tenets held in their belief system.

    Mundus vult decipi
    For those who don't get out much:

    Once I happened upon a blog
    where a brain was thinking about it's log.
    Where Weltanschauung was it's all in all.
    I had to laugh about the gall.
    Must we read in a tight embrace
    about the arbitrary condition of a human race?
    What's outside that box is rarely seen
    but data is stored, very keen.
    Pedantics! I say, oh well, who'll listen
    to the sound of QVI ahissing.
    It's Conciousness that gets you beyond
    that lil ol hole called the Weltanschauung.

    Now get out there and have a great day!
    SAK