Wednesday, 28 March 2018

On Belief

Thoughts as a River
Yes, my own thoughts on the subject meander some, as usual.

If belief is the consequence of our interactions with observable reality before we are even conscious enough to be aware of either ourselves or observable reality, then no wonder it's no wonder that belief is so foundational as to be practically unnoticed within our own minds.

An infant cries from instinct and is fed, and so believes if it cries it will be fed. The interaction with observable reality forms the belief, and the belief is reinforced as true. That this is selective in an evolutionary sense is clear; the parent who does not respond to the cry permits the infant to die from hunger and the genetic material of the parent is removed from the gene pool.

Perhaps belief is the foundation of observable reality for the individual. That our earliest beliefs matched observable reality before we were even conscious seems clear enough. When an infant make a noise the infant will get fed. Belief in that is reinforced with repetition. A different noise gets the infant cleaned so that sores do not develop, become infected and kill the pre-conscious individual. Belief then, might be said to be selective. When belief did not match up with observable reality, the individual died and the genetic material of the neglectful parent disappeared.

Belief that a noise in a tone of voice would get one cleaned and fed so that continued life occurred is foundational to experience. Further interactions with observable reality laid down further beliefs.

Belief can then be considered as the banks of a river though which our thoughts process. The more experience, the more interactions with observable reality, the more substantial and fixed the banks of the river of our thoughts.

Inevitably, some beliefs will not match up with observable reality though the individual continues to survive. Some beliefs are not selective, at least not immediately. The belief you can fly unaided is usually immediately selective when tested against reality. The belief that it is possible to lie without consequence is not usually immediately selective, though it is corrosive to society. The belief that you can lie to yourself about being able to fly unaided may eventually prove to be so, if ever tested against reality.

As the individual develops and encounters more ideas, often in fragmentary, unconsidered form, beliefs are added to the banks that channel our thoughts. Our thoughts erode the bank and our beliefs shift and adjust. Ideas are what we think with, so exposure to an idea can build up and channel our thoughts in new directions, linking up with other ideas and making firm channels. A good deal, perhaps even most or even all of this shifting of our beliefs may happen without conscious direction by the individual.

In the information age it is possible to be bombarded with ideas contextualized by other peoples beliefs.

Sometimes the banks of the river wear away completely and our thoughts flood. What is real? What is true? What is good?

Belief, the banks of the rivers of our thoughts, gets worn away here and reinforced there by interactions with observable reality in a process that is only sometimes selective. A belief may be initially harmless to the individual, yet harmful to others when applied to reality. For example, a belief in Global warming-Climate Change is not immediately selective to the individual, yet the decision to burn grain to produce energy has the immediate causal effect of reducing the amount of grain available to the market, the law of supply and demand kicks in immediately and the price of food increases, subsidized exports cease and a number of countries who relied on cheap grain imports find themselves unable to supply sufficient food to their domestic markets, the population finds itself unable to purchase the more limited supply of food, food riots follow, suppression of food riots follow logically - as burning down the bakery is never a successful strategy... and yes, I'm talking about the middle-east here, though I'm not going to go into it further as I suspect my point may be made. Belief can be selective on those who do not hold the belief when those who do believe test their belief against reality.

Causality is often obscured by its own existence. As individuals we move through time at one second per second though a sea of perceptions, many of which bare little or no relation to each other. Without notice, belief can build up from fragments of ideas that appear to link to others the mind has already been exposed to, each snagged from the sea of information that washes past our senses in a constant stream. AGW, or Climate Change, is a fair example. To the best of my knowledge, from some thirty years of paying attention to the subject, there is exactly zero evidence supporting AGW and an absolute mountain of evidence which causes the belief to dissipate like morning mist exposed to sunlight (ironically enough); yet the belief persists in the minds of a multitude of people for a variety of reasons almost as plentiful as the individual who hold the belief. Had every individual who believed in AGW had the idea tested against reality in a fashion design to be selective in evolutionary terms the belief would have faded from reality almost immediately. The actions taken to combat this demonstrably false belief have been selective, and will continue to be selective, over time. Nations that continue to pour hard won resources into imaginary methods of producing energy will decline economically as lower production increases price – when the price of energy is increased due to lower production the price of every single commodity is increased and the methods of generating wealth to purchase commodities is also increased. That cannot end well.

And I think that is where I am going to stop for now, partly because I just read this:The more I contemplate the universe, the more I am convinced that the fundamental core of Man's philosophy must revolve around a single question: to pretend or not to pretend. So much human evil stems from the fact that we deceive ourselves, we deceive each other, and we seek to deceive God.* And one of the primary locuses of deception is the language we choose to employ.” - Vox Day

What Vox says here neatly expresses an idea that I have been struggling to tease to the fore sufficiently clearly to state succinctly. I'm just as happy to see someone else get there first as it saves me the bother of getting the idea crystal clear so that I can think with it.

*The whole of Society, past, present and future has been for me a very useful conceptualization of the many meanings of the word God and is useful in this context. I should say that the work of Jordan B. Peterson is quite simply full of useful ideas.

Just to finish up here for now, the subject is belief and selectivity. The meaning of a given word is a belief as well as being a deliberate structure to express meaning. A fair example is the word discriminate, a word that is now generally used to be, and therefore believed to be synonymous with prejudice. Society has long accepted that prejudice is bad. Discrimination is prejudice. Discrimination is bad. The bank of the river of belief is shored up in one section and the thoughts of the individual are channeled. Belief is selective. The word discriminate has a primary meaning which is now no longer to the fore of those who accept the belief that discrimination is wrong. Discriminate means the ability to tell the difference between one thing and another and make value judgments between them.

If a man believes discrimination to be bad then he might neglect to discriminate between boiling and warm water taking a dip at Yellowstone Park. When I heard the story of a group of youths literally diving into boiling water when there was warm water to swim through just a few yards a way I did wonder how it was possible to be so willfully negligent of their own survival potential. They did not take time to discriminate between boiling water and warm water. That lack of discrimination killed them. Being negligent of discriminating between snakes with similar markings to a Copperhead might well also lead to negative consequences. There is a mushroom that looks exactly like a button mushroom but is deadly poison, and it would clearly be wrong to discriminate between them. The use of the word discriminate as only synonymous with prejudice is insidious and undermines the individuals relationship with observable reality.

Belief is not some bolt on optional extra to existence.
Belief is instinctive and initially in accordance with observable reality.
Belief is selective in an evolutionary sense.

That is clear enough. Where things get muddy is in the established fact that evolution favors good enough solutions and that false belief need not be immediately selective. Existence would be a good deal simpler if belief that was not in accordance with observable reality were immediately selective, though if it were I seriously doubt any of us would survive to adulthood.

I really don't care what people think. I really do care that people do think. Most of what we call thinking isn't.