EppsNet Archive: Belief

Praised Be Blindness

6 Apr 2017 /
Ignatius of Loyola

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, published in Rome his spiritual exercises. There he wrote this testimony of blind submission:

“Take, Lord, and receive all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will.”

And as if that were not enough:

“To get everything right, I must always believe that what I see as white is black, if the Church hierarchy so determines.”

— Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors

I’d Like to Believe in the Existence of a Loving God . . .

11 Mar 2017 /
Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglican Church

. . . but I can’t. The quality of evidence is very poor.

Do you believe in ghosts, fortune tellers, psychics, werewolves, vampires, astrology, alien visitations . . .?

I don’t believe in any of those things, but they’re all out there and a lot of people do believe in a lot of things for which the quality of evidence is very poor.

Do you believe that a cow jumped over the moon? I remember reading about it but the quality of evidence is very poor. It seems to be just another made-up story . . .


Mysterious Ways

15 Apr 2015 /

Headline

Family killed

Whenever I see headlines like this I wonder why God couldn’t find an atheist family to drop a concrete slab on. The infant, whose shirt appears to say KING JESUS, was also killed.


Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

12 Dec 2014 /

The notion that we have limited access to the workings of our minds is difficult to accept because, naturally, it is alien to our experience but it is true: You know far less about yourself than you feel you do.

 

A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.

 

It is the consistency of information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.

 

The exaggerated faith in small samples is only one example of a more general illusion — we pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify.

 

Narrative fallacies arise inevitably from our continuous attempt to make sense of the world. The explanatory stories that people find compelling are simple; are concrete rather than abstract; assign a larger role to talent, stupidity, and intentions than to luck; and focus on a few striking events that happened rather than on the countless events that failed to happen.

 

Hindsight bias has pernicious effects on the evaluations of decision makers. It leads observers to assess the quality of a decision not be whether the process was sound but by whether its outcome was good or bad. . . . This outcome bias makes it almost impossible to evaluate a decision properly – in terms of the beliefs that were reasonable when the decision was made.

 

Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression. These stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding, imparting lessons of little enduring value to readers who are all too anxious to believe them.

 

For some of our most important beliefs we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold those beliefs.

 

Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.

 

We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.

 

The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained. . . Everything makes sense in hindsight . . . And we cannot suppress the powerful intuition that what makes sense in hindsight was predictable yesterday. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future.

 

[Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania] interviewed 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends. . . . In all, Tetlock gathered more than 80,000 predictions. . . . Respondents were asked to rate the probabilities of three alternative outcomes in every case: the persistence of the status quo, more of something such as political freedom or economic growth, or less of that thing.

The results were devastating. The experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned equal probabilities to each of the three potential outcomes. In other words, people who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than nonspecialists.

 

Rehearse the mantra that will get you significantly closer to economic reality: you win a few, you lose a few.

 

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.

 

During the last 10 years we have learned many new facts about happiness. But we have also learned that the word happiness does not have a simple meaning and should not be used as if it does. Sometimes scientific progress leaves us more puzzled than we were before.


Why “We” Believed Jackie’s Rape Story

7 Dec 2014 /

That’s the title (minus the quotation marks) of an article on politico.com regarding Rolling Stone‘s retraction of a story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia. The article is written by a female student at that university.

“We” believed the story for the same reason Rolling Stone didn’t fact check it: because when you know little, it’s easier to fit everything you do know into a simple story about the world, e.g., “white men are rapists.”

Also because people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they’re sustained by a community of like-minded believers.

On the flip side, a different group of people can now use the incident to confirm their simple story about the world, e.g., “women are liars.”

Personally I find labeling and smearing people based on genetic traits ugly and offensive no matter whose agenda is being advanced . . .


Pope John Paul II Just Killed a Guy

25 Apr 2014 /

Man crushed by giant crucifix dedicated to Pope

A man has been crushed to death after a giant crucifix dedicated to Pope John Paul II collapsed, just days before a historic Papal canonisation in Rome.

The 30-metre-high (98ft) wooden and concrete cross fell during a ceremony in the Italian Alpine village of Cevo, near Brescia. Another man was taken to hospital.

The structure was dedicated to John Paul II on his visit to the region in 1998.

ITV News

It’s clear to me that the Pope intended to kill this man. What’s the rule? Does this cancel out one of his life-saving miracles?

If you believe that a dead person can be the agent of unexplained happenings on Earth, then you’ve got to take the bad with the good. If the Pope gets credit for a miracle when a woman’s health improves after seeing his picture in a magazine, then he should take the rap when his crucifix falls over and kills someone.

pope-crucifix


Thoughts on a Turbulent Flight

30 Dec 2013 /

I can’t sleep on planes. I’m afraid the damn thing will crash and I’ll miss it.

 

I don’t believe in anything. I wish I did. It seems comforting to imagine holding the plane aloft with prayer.

 

I’m not a good person. Why shouldn’t something terrible happen to me?


The Gettier Problem

28 Apr 2013 /
Edmund Gettier

Edmund Gettier

What does it mean to say that you “know” something is true?

According to traditional philosophical thinking, you can be said to know that some proposition P is true if and only if:

  1. P is true.
  2. You believe that P is true.
  3. You are justified in believing that P is true.

These three conditions jointly form the concept of justified true belief (JTB).

As an example, let’s examine my claim that I know Paris is the capital of France. Unless an edict to the contrary has come down in the last few minutes, Paris is the capital of France, I believe that Paris is the capital of France, and I’m justified in believing that based on available evidence. So according to the concept of justified true belief, I know that Paris is the capital of France.

Gettier Problems

Here’s a thought experiment: Let’s say I wake up in the morning, look at the clock (let’s make it an old-fashioned analog clock), and it shows the time as 7:30. And let’s say that the time is in fact 7:30, but that, unknown to me, the clock has stopped. Do I “know” that the time is 7:30? My belief that the time is 7:30 is correct, but is it knowledge — or is it more of a lucky guess?

Another thought experiment: Given the following scenario, do I “know” that my wife is in the house? I come home from work and see my wife in the kitchen. As it happens though, what I see in the kitchen is actually a perfectly rendered hologram. My wife is in the house though, but she’s upstairs where I can’t see her. Again, the three JTB conditions are true, but my justification for belief has nothing to do with the truth of the matter.

These types of thought experiments are called Gettier problems, named for Edmund Gettier, who in 1963 published a paper called “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”

If this kind of thing is of interest to you, Wikipedia has articles on Edmund Gettier and Gettier problems and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a more in-depth treatment.


A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. — David Hume


The Best Measure of Truth

21 Nov 2011 /

If you act as if something is true, you will shortly find out whether it is or isn’t. Any reduction of effort or increase of abundance you enjoy as a consequence of your new belief is the best measure of its truth.

— Jim and Michele McCarthy, Software for Your Head

What You Say You Believe

20 Nov 2011 /

What you say you believe isn’t as important as what you believe. And, obviously, you don’t believe what you don’t enact. Although describing, proselytizing, or otherwise articulating your beliefs in media other than your own acts can be fun, it is seldom very useful to you or anyone else. Babbling on about a value is a distraction from attaining it.

— Jim and Michele McCarthy, Software for Your Head

The State of Evidence on the God Question

6 Nov 2011 /

By the way I’m an atheist. I don’t claim to have a proof that God cannot exist. It’s just that I consider the state of the evidence on the God question to be similar to that on the werewolf question.


The Law of Conservation of Ignorance

10 Sep 2011 /

A false conclusion once arrived at and widely accepted is not easily dislodged, and the less it is understood the more tenaciously it is held.


He prayed in his silence: O God, make me human, let me feel temptation. Save me from my indifference. — Graham Greene, Monsignor Quixote


Belief and Vodka Both Wear Off

27 Jul 2011 /

“I want to believe. And I want others to believe.”

“Why?”

“I want them to be happy.”

“Let them drink a little vodka then. That’s better than a make-believe.”

“The vodka wears off. It’s wearing off even now.”

“So does belief.”

— Graham Greene, Monsignor Quixote

There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking. — Alfred Korzybski


The Final Belief

5 Nov 2010 /

The final belief is to believe in a fiction, which you know to be a fiction, there being nothing else. The exquisite truth is to know that it is a fiction and that you believe in it willingly.

— Wallace Stevens