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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.

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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
    Would be writer? Sure. Davis Ashura's Avatar
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    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.
    The way I read your initial post, you implied that people simply accept their views as being true essentially WITHOUT a large degree of uncertainty. I think that people accept the views they hold as being true WITH a large degree of uncertainty.

    I agree that people vote based on little knowledge or hold beliefs based on little reason, but I also think that for the most part, they recognize that. Perhaps I'm being too charitable, but that's just been the experience I've had with my patients.

    As for consistently arguing against their positions, only people in a philosophy department have the time to waste to do something like that. The rest of us are just trying to get by.
    Last edited by Davis Ashura; January 28th, 2005 at 06:24 PM.

  8. #8
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Radone
    The way I read your initial post, you implied that people simply accept their views as being true essentially WITHOUT a large degree of uncertainty. I think that people accept the views they hold as being true WITH a large degree of uncertainty.

    I agree that people vote based on little knowledge or hold beliefs based on little reason, but I also think that for the most part, they recognize that. Perhaps I'm being too charitable, but that's just been the experience I've had with my patients.

    As for consistently arguing against their positions, only people in a philosophy department have the time to waste to do something like that. The rest of us are just trying to get by.
    When people are out killing other people over something or marching in the streets waving banners, that seems to me like they're pretty sure they're right. If people were so unsure, I wouldn't think they would get so militant or argumentative about people who hold other opinions.

  9. #9
    Would be writer? Sure. Davis Ashura's Avatar
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    When people are out killing other people over something or marching in the streets waving banners, that seems to me like they're pretty sure they're right. If people were so unsure, I wouldn't think they would get so militant or argumentative about people who hold other opinions.
    Is this how every person behaves? Or maybe the majority of people? How about just a large minority or even 1%? Other cultures may be different, but in the two that I was raised in, the vast majority of people do not behave like this. If your own experience is different, then so be it.

    I do have another question. When Scott wrote this:

    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.
    or when Erf wrote this:

    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.
    How many people who read those two statements thought of themselves as the cog or the non-critical thinker. Or how many were glad they weren't a member of Homo Droneus?
    Scott's original question could be summed up as, "We are thinkers, but very few people are. Why is that?"
    I wonder if his question itself is not a representation of people thinking they know 'what's what'.
    Last edited by Davis Ashura; January 28th, 2005 at 10:56 PM.

  10. #10
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    It's tiring to question things, Radone. It takes time away from simple pleasures. Most of us are more interested in the simple pleasures because we work most of the time and don't have the luxury of time to think and ponder. But joyously, here we do. So we can do what most people don't. We can ask the questions that most people don't think about and don't want to think about.

    I do believe that most people think they are right when the take a stand. I think that most good people and most bad people feel that way. Yet some are clearly good and some are clearly bad. The ones that bother me the most are those who know they are wrong but don't have the courage to stand up and say it.

    We are assuming for that sake of this conversation, of course, that there are such things as right and wrong, and that we know what we mean when we use the words.

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    I wonder if his question itself is not a representation of people thinking they know 'what's what'.
    Of course it is. That's the strange thing about asking these kinds of questions. There's no way to do so without risking hypocrisy. It seems all you can do is bear that in mind and forge ahead.

    There's a whole informal school of thought out there that buys into something that's often called the 'cretinization of the masses,' and there's no doubt that this discussion is at least skirting that assumption. To think of people as 'cogs' is to devalue them, to say that their cherished freedom is little more than self-deception.

    I feel the pinch of the egalitarian complaint you're making, Radone. But at the same time it seems to be a fact that we humans are hardwired to delude ourselves - individually and en masse.

    Societies depend upon the collective interrelation of repeatable individual actions. Our actions are the cogs. We wake up and go and do more or less the same thing every day. Put all these repeated doings together, and you have modern mass consumer society.

    Repeatable individual actions depend upon beliefs and desires. If you don't believe the guy behind the counter will hand you cigarettes in exchange for that piece of paper, you're not going to hand it to him. Likewise, if he doesn't believe that piece of paper will induce others to hand him other things, he's not going to give you those cigarettes in exchange for it.

    Societies require a certain minimal coordination of belief as a necessary condition of functioning. We humans - and recent neuroscience has made some startling discoveries to this effect - are social animals through and through. We are literally bred to believe.

    It's starting to look more and more as though it's more the social function of our beliefs that evolution was interested in than their veracity: the way they unify and organize our actions, preserve the status quo, allow us to overcome enemies, and make us compliant to established hierarchies.

    In other words, it's looking as though we have evolved to believe in ways that have more to do with managment - control - than with truth. What most call 'truth' is, in effect, a kind of social control mechanism.

    And given the apparent necessity of hierarchy in effective social organization, this is pretty much what one might expect evolution to produce: cogs.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Bakker
    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?
    It's been a while since I've been around, but I felt like taking a shot at this.

    Being an American high schooler, I have an inside perspective on the educational system, and trust me, I could write pages on its failings. However, I think the single largest problem is the emphasis on standardized testing. Sure, it's admirable to want all students to have an adequate grasp of basic english and mathematical concepts, but there is so much lost in exchange for that.

    The social sciences, to me, are the most important thing that should be studied. Whether it be history, or belief formation, those are the subjects that have direct relevance to the actions of the student. We have people who have absolutely no idea how the government works, yet feel they're entitled to have a say in who runs it. There are people who think that Africa is a country, yet think they know the answers to the world's problems. There are people who have absolute religious convictions, yet have never so much as questioned the belief system that formed them.

    That disturbs me. Of course, there is no way to change it, because the educational system has to cater to every level of learning capability. Yet, to be perfectly honest, there is a great deal more than the system could do for the upper end of the spectrum. But anyway, to my other points.

    I don't think that society is necessarily based so much on belief in the effect of repeated actions- though that plays a role- as Rousseau's idea of the social contract. If you are going to reap the benefits of being a member of society, you essentially give your tacit consent to not only obey the laws of society, but to go along with the accepted norms of society- such as money.

    Without this sort of contract, could there be society?

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    Hey there, Grantaire! Haven't seen your mug around for a while!

    Contract theory (which has moved way beyond Rousseau) is simply one way of understanding the moral economy of our repeated actions (which are fundamental). It actually has little bearing on the role of belief in underwriting those actions. Where it becomes important is the interpretation of the moral significance of those beliefs and actions.

    I actually think the 'contract' is faulty metaphor since it implies negotiated consent, and so has the effect of obscuring the power relations involved. Why not just use 'implicit expectations'?

  14. #14

    The Herd

    I find Scott's understanding of humanity interesting, and thought I'd make a few observations from my own experience and knowledge, which is a practical application of human behavioral traits.

    People form beliefs without realizing they are forming beliefs. There is no or little scrutiny given to them, no scientific method is applied. You merely have your beliefs, a product of society, parents, friends, random reading, TV, and all these factors variable by when and for how long one experienced the influences.

    Not only that beliefs and opinions can be negated or changed under the influence of the crowd (usually temporarily). "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups." Or even intelligent people in large groups; hence group think and ineffective committees...A camel is a horse designed by committtee.

    Riding over this sea of beliefs is the ebb and flow of fashion, which is in itself a crowd effect, or more accurately, a meme. A self-replicating idea if you like. Now fashion impacts the young with more flexible mental structures than the old, but it effects the old slowly..middle aged people today do not have the same style furniture or clothing as their parents.

    Now an unshakeable belief structure translates as confidence, or over confidence. On average everybody cannot be right can they? 80% of all drivers think they are better than average, 90%+ of parents believe they are better than average parents...and so on. It might all be ultimately linked to the necessity of human survival, hence evolutionary, and is tied in to emotions being an inefficient short cut to logical action.

    Now I cannot remember where I heard/read this figure, but someone on here might have the knowledge to verify (or gainsay it), but 90% of all political, ethical and moral opinions are fixed and held for the rest of your life by the time you are thirty.

    So the beauty of humans is that they are irrational but they are consistently irrational.

    It seems to me that Scott's books have many of these themes running right through them. If you understand the herd you can control it. True today as it ever was.

    To make practical use of this knowledge one has to try to extract oneself from oneself. To regard your beliefs and the beliefs and actions of those around you with a coldly logical and rational eye, as you would a play of forces. It's not easy but it is interesting, and possible.

  15. #15
    Just had to chime in too.

    I find it kind of disturbing that the framework for this discussion has to do with how belief-formation and continuation best contributes to the survival of the species. It seems too simplistic. To see it in these terms seems harmfully reductionist. Life is too complex to boil the answer down to 'hardwiring.'

    I would agree that the educational system contributes to the tendency of people to accept dogma. Rote memorization and fact-learning and standardized testing can dull the mind without classes that encourage creative and critical thinking. The theory of evolution itself could be argued to be a dogma that few people question, in the same way some religions teach people to accept the wisdom of the popes and Mullahs, etc.

    I think (a certain type of) education is fundamental to the development of creative and critical thinking skills. The missions of most colleges are geared toward this goal, and I would go so far as to say that it is working. I would not go so far as to demean people who do not have the privilege of an education by claiming they are mindless autometons. However, college goes a long way toward encouraging students to challenge their beliefs. That's why I believe everyone should have equal access to education. It truly seems to be the antidote against an unexamined life.

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