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  1. #1
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    So you think you know it all, do you?

    We human beings like to simply have our beliefs, not challenge them. In fact, for a great number of us challenging beliefs is a stigma, taboo, or outright sin.

    We live in a world where about six billion people think that they, by and large, have a pretty good handle on how things are. They know 'what's what,' even though none of them can seem to agree about even the most basic things. So what makes us so special? Why do we think, each of us, that we are somehow holding the magical lottery ticket?

    Wherever one human being kills another, you find a difference in belief, so in a sense you could say this is THE most important question humanity faces. At the same time, nowhere in the vast majority of public education systems, will you find a single course, let alone unit, on belief formation. What the hell could be going on here?

  2. #2
    Why do we think, each of us, that we are somehow holding the magical lottery ticket?.....
    nowhere in the vast majority of public education systems, will you find a single course, let alone unit, on belief formation. What the hell could be going on here?
    I think answering the first question is easier than answering the second.

    Believing that we hold the truth in our hands, and that we are special (and, once we become parents, that our children are the most wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, ever) has survival value. At least it has for most of our history. And this truth is so obviously true that the fact that others don't see this truth proves our superiority.

    Maybe that explains something about the second question as well. Most people think the truth is obvious, and should be taught. No need for the messy stuff about questioning our own beliefs.

  3. #3
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    I think in regards to the second question it may not be so complex. The schools, no matter what country for the most part, are there to create citizens, perfect little cogs to fit into whatever society they belong to. Someone who really takes a look at what is going on and is constantly reassessing their beliefs isn't likely to be a good cog. They may become squeaky or perhaps even jam up and refuse to work, perhaps spread rust to other little cogs and lock up whole parts of the system.

    Another reason that I see in the US is the illusory separation between church and state. As someone who is not particularly religious, I find it pretty frightening just how much policy seems to be dictated by religious views. Policy that can't be defended in any reasonable way other than by religious means is just passed with no real questions asked. And I think they can get away with it because there are so many people who hold those beliefs based on their religion and never stop to ask themselves or others whether they are valid public beliefs that fit the spirit of this country. If the churches are teaching people so well to not ask questions and to hold certain opinions, then why should the state interfere with that?

    So what real benefit do the great machines of the world have to teach people to be discerning and question their beliefs or question the context of their beliefs? I'm not sure that there is a benefit, at least not one that outweighs the cost.

    Though the biggest problem I do see with the whole thing is that people seem to be steadfastly trying to maintain a way of life and a world view that is fast becoming more and more outdated, because it's their belief that that's the way things are, and it's been working so why change it. The world is a vastly different place than it was twenty years ago or fifty years ago or a hundred years ago, yet we have public education systems that are set up on a system that is years outdated.

    I teach outside of the schools, in the arts, and it's rare that I come across a child any more that has been given a real spark of curiosity by the schools, a really questioning stance. They are all pretty much the same because that's what the school is making them -- drones that show up in the morning, do what's required of them, then go home at night and complain about it. Even many teachers are there to perform their function and head out. I've dealt with the public schools and it's frightening how many teachers just don't care or are so worn down by the system they're working in that they just CAN'T bring a spark to things any more. The deck is stacked against them.

    That's all for now. Sorry if it's a bit rambly...haven't had my tea this morning. Interesting question, Scott, and one that I've been thinking on for some time now.

  4. #4
    Would be writer? Sure. Davis Ashura's Avatar
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    I disagree with the premise of the first question. That is, I don't think that the majority or even a large minority of people live lives of unquestioning superiority, or even a sense that they know how the world works. I come across people from all the spectrums of life and education in my job and what always seems to run true is that people are for the most part fairly humble about what they know. This may not come across very easily, but when you are taking care of your bipolar daughter's mentally retarded child, have $200 a month of meds to pay for, have no health insurance, and your job is killing you, that doesn't leave a whole lot of time for introspection. I think those kind of issues of "how does society function?" or "what is the true relationship between my faith and God?", they take a backseat to survival at times, but when the people I come across think about it, they have almost always accepted that these questions may be beyond them, or beyond all of us, and the best thing to do is just muddle by the best you can.

  5. #5
    Kiss my axe! kahnovitch's Avatar
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    I love philosophical questions like this, because we are the only species with the ability to completely over analyse everything and make life far more complicated than it need be.

    Example....



    I've been waiting for an excuse to crowbar that picture into a post for ages.

  6. #6
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    Believing that we hold the truth in our hands, and that we are special (and, once we become parents, that our children are the most wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, ever) has survival value. At least it has for most of our history. And this truth is so obviously true that the fact that others don't see this truth proves our superiority.
    I think this has gotta be the best answer going. We since getting our own way enhances our reproductive prospects, it seems we're doomed to suffer some form of confirmation bias. And I think the answer to this second question does follow from this, Prunesquallor, though perhaps in a different way. It's not the obviousness of cognitive rectitude that leads us to overlook our obvious cognitive shortcomings, but our aversion to disconfirmation that leads us to suppress any such notion.

    That bias, I think, is clearly compounded by what Erfael points out:

    I think in regards to the second question it may not be so complex. The schools, no matter what country for the most part, are there to create citizens, perfect little cogs to fit into whatever society they belong to. Someone who really takes a look at what is going on and is constantly reassessing their beliefs isn't likely to be a good cog. They may become squeaky or perhaps even jam up and refuse to work, perhaps spread rust to other little cogs and lock up whole parts of the system.
    I think we're clearly hardwired to consolidate our beliefs in ways which facilitate our given social organizations. Since societies require the repetition of interrelated actions in order to maintain stability, they require a belief system - or a set of belief systems - consonant with those actions.

    Imagine, for instance, if we all suddenly stopped believing in the propriety of 'casual consumption'? Thing would deteriorate pretty damn quick! The last thing a society needs is millions of truly critical, individual thinkers, second guessing all the assumptions that entrench its existing hierarchies. The best thing for it to do, rather, is to cultivate the illusion of independent, critical thought. That way, it's members can convince themselves they have already done all the work required (which seems to land me back in the lap of your second point, Prunesquallor!).

    I'm convinced that in our society we call this illusion 'INDIVIDUALISM.'

    I disagree with the premise of the first question. That is, I don't think that the majority or even a large minority of people live lives of unquestioning superiority, or even a sense that they know how the world works.
    So you don't think that the default assumption of most people is that they are right? I've yet to meet anyone outside of a philosophy department who consistently argues against their own views.

    Why then, do so many people hold political convictions when they not only don't know the fundamentals of their own social structure, but they really have no clear idea as to the differences at stake between political parties?

    Certainly everyone, at some point or another, asks questions, entertains doubts, and so on - I take this as a given. But as far as actual critical thinking goes? I guess I'd need to see more arguments, Radone.

    I love philosophical questions like this, because we are the only species with the ability to completely over analyse everything and make life far more complicated than it need be.
    I actually take the three cardinal cognitive shortcomings we humans tend to suffer to be 1) a general preference for flattery over critical conclusion; 2) a general preference for simple over complex conclusions; and 3) a general preference for certainty over doubt.

    A classic example of this comes from none other than GWB: "The terrorists attacked us because they hate our freedoms," stated in such a manner that implies doubt is unpatriotic.

    What's so terrifying about this is that the world we live is neither flattering, nor simple, nor certain. All our tendencies cut in the wrong direction!

    Still, a hilarious cartoon, Kahnovitch!

  7. #7
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Isn't that because you are trying to attribute concepts that were borne of the human mind, like 'flattering', 'simple' and 'certain' to 'the world', which is a physical place - a value neutral place?

    Why is it that flattery makes us feel good and insults hurt? Why is it that we prefer the simplicity of a clearly defined answer to the painstaking task of thinking through a complicated one? Why is it that certainty or the illusion of certainty is so much more comforting than uncertainty?

    Are we in fact hardwired? Or are we just insipid, lazy, shallow animals?

  8. #8
    Kiss my axe! kahnovitch's Avatar
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    The main problem with life is the fact that we just don't have the time to figure it out. We're too busy caught in the 9 to 5 rat race that our western society has become.
    Our lives have been made complicated compared to say a guy in a rain forest wearing a loin cloth who does his food shopping with a blow-pipe and lives in a hut made from animal hide, branches, leaves or mud.

    When we're not in the 9 to 5 we're recovering from it and planning ways to get out of it either temporarily on holiday or trying to win the lottery, write a best seller, be a pop idol, actor or some other cog in the machine that's more important (to our own sense of ego), better oiled and maintained.

    Can anyone think of any aspiration that isn't just being a cog in the machine in one form or another?
    Last edited by kahnovitch; January 27th, 2005 at 05:59 PM.

  9. #9
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    I think you have fixed the deck with your question, Kahn. There is no way to answer that. You have already discounted both living and dreaming. So, the only alternative that could possibly satisfy your criteria is living your dream!

  10. #10
    Kiss my axe! kahnovitch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner
    So, the only alternative that could possibly satisfy your criteria is living your dream!
    Which is ultimately what we all aspire to do.
    Finally!
    The answer to the question of life!

  11. #11
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Hey, thanks for the encouragement! Now I can finish writing my series.

  12. #12
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    Our lives have been made complicated compared to say a guy in a rain forest wearing a loin cloth who does his food shopping with a blow-pipe and lives in a hut made from animal hide, branches, leaves or mud.
    This is the crux of the problem. The cognitive hardware we have is adapted to this kind of social and technological setting, certainly not to mass society, which is like why we're frick'n doomed...

    Isn't that because you are trying to attribute concepts that were borne of the human mind, like 'flattering', 'simple' and 'certain' to 'the world', which is a physical place - a value neutral place?
    I'm not sure exactly what you mean, Gary. We're certainly hardwired to have distinct tendencies, which to say, to be shallow, lazy, and insipid...

    And that's just me on Tuesday!

  13. #13
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    To put it in simpler terms, the human name doesn't mean s..t to a tree.

  14. #14
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    D'oh!

    Don't make me open that can of worms Gary. I'll do it! I swear I'll do it! Worm can opening... Worm can opening... Oh no! Oh-bloody-no! There it is!

    You mean, N I H I L I S M?

  15. #15
    Space Cowboy Asraloth's Avatar
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    ^^^there's NOTHING wrong with nihilism.

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