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You're welcome, Chris!


How you use the concept of axiom is very curious: Axioms are by definition beyond doubt; turning a theory into an axiom (and the other way around), is paradoxic by definition.

I don't think philosophy is intrinsically meant for the few. The fact that it remains largely out of reach for a majority of the population has more to do with their behaviour of flocking to the latest axiom presented to them, and leaving it behind just as suddenly when the next one is discovered. I'm using the term very loosely here.


The approach you're taking is radically different: exploration of the divine mysteries for their own sake. The mysteries can never be fully understood, and I don't think they are meant to be.

Though I doubt I'm ready for a journey of true doubt, I'm curious as to what sparked your post-master existential journey.

I agree that some beliefs, and consequently, doubt in some beliefs, have an effect on our sense of self. I think some people may not understand the significance of doubt in God. Maybe a more everyday example.

Imagine doubting that the one person you cared about did not love you. Having doubt or disbelief in something important, or constitutive of your character is very bleak indeed.

However, sometimes doubt allows us to let in new oppurtunities in life; so maybe this person doesn't love me, now I shall do things differently in my life; so maybe God doesn't exist, or for the atheist, God does exist. Life is now different and I shall act accordingly.

I find it deeply scary how people say 'you think too much' or 'stop analysing things', or 'doesn't the beauty of life lessen if you examine it and not take it for granted?' - I was going to write about this issue at some point.

To have doubts, is to allow ourselves to revise our beliefs. My old Jesuit teachers said that we must always be open to change, and always be open to give up things, and always be rational and examining.

I have to admit, the Jesuits who taught me wouldn't get along with my later Evangelical Christian friends who emphasised the evil of "doubting Thomas".

My own tale of philosophic doubt did lead to personality change; Nietzsche tells us that our journey to truth must always be a lonely one...

Sometimes when we doubt, people will push us away and make us isolated. Look at Spinoza, and Master Destre...

The only thing that is absurd is not to doubt; the ironic platitude that my Professor once told me...the one thing you must absolutely do is this: don't trust what a philosopher on the basis of authority, although he said it with much more pithiness!

I remember seeing a funny slogan on a Christian evangelical promotional flyer: those who stand for nothing, fall for anything...I still am thinking about what that means for me today...

"philosophy is the concern of the few and not the many"

This seems a rather elitist view. Perhaps its true. Smacks of the 'guardians of the mysteries' though - priests, clergy, scientists etc. Why can't everyone join in, in process if not in scope? Of course, people have to do other things than philosophise, or none of us would eat. But should they be sold the answers like a product, or should they be merely shown what thinking for oneself is? Whether they walk the path is then up to them.

It seems to me that this separation tends towards a sort of commoditisation of the 'love of wisdom'.
"We are the Philosophers, you are the Proles, therefore we have the Answers and you must come to us if you want them"
That seems like a good way to divest the entire pursuit of inherent Quality (in sort of the way justice and finance in the western world have been divested of quality - existing to serve themselves, and unrelated to the cares of the population).

Perhaps this is inevitable. It just seems unwise.

Funny that you post this, as I'm currently writing a paper relating to Kripke-Wittgenstein paradox which, as you probably know, challenges whether we could mean anything by our words. (I'm proposing an alternate sceptical solution. It's a short paper, if you want i can send to ya for some toilet reading :D)

I personally like entertaining absurd doubts, more to see what's left have you go through the implications. It's can give one a good holistic picture about different metaphysical factors of the world. What do you have when you doubt identity, language, or matter? What doesn't depend them?

Absurd doubts are interesting is how intractable they can be even though they are absurd.

...Although rather than just giving out, I should be constructively commenting!

I feel a blog post coming on - this fits some other stuff going on off-onlyagame, gotta be compiled!
Wish I had your speed writing skills, or a secretary (even my typing has gone to hell recently, I spend more time hitting backspace than any other key!)

Well, on the theism subject, it's important to agree that nobody "knows" that God exists, or doesn't exist, in the same way that Descartes asserts that nobody "knows" they're not dreaming. The best you can do is make assumptions that correspond best with all of the evidence you've assimilated.

It's true that you can't necessarily trust your senses, but it's not as if you have anything ELSE to trust in their stead (A Priori knowledge isn't really a substitute for sensory information, just a compliment).

It seems to me that that's how the issue of intractable doubt is resolved. It might seem like a cheap answer to some, but if all you ever have to go on is "I don't know, but this current understanding fits with all of the evidence I've assimilated so far", you should use it. Just because it works for issues about whether or not you're dreaming doesn't mean it doesn't work for issues about whether or not you actually order sausage on your pizza, and Pizza Hut got it wrong.

Nice set of thoughtful comments... short on time this morning, but I'll see how much of this good stuff I can get through.

Vitor: "How you use the concept of axiom is very curious: Axioms are by definition beyond doubt"

Well, it depends on your definition of axiom. :) One meaning is "self-evident truth that needs no proof", but in logic and mathematics the meaning is more "a proposition assumed to be true for the purposes of studying the consequences of its adoption". Clearly in this latter definition, there is more wiggle room! Since I don't believe there are any self-evident truths that don't need proof (even Descartes "I think therefore I am" is suspect), I don't really use axiom in the former sense.

"I don't think philosophy is intrinsically meant for the few."

I'll return to this below as it's a theme a lot of people have picked up on.

"The mysteries can never be fully understood, and I don't think they are meant to be."

I agree - I think fundamental to this aspect of life is that there will always be mysteries that connect with what people consider the divine, and we will never be able to eliminate them. (Neither, for that matter, do I feel we should, or need to).

Being placed into a context with the infinite, with the unknown, with the mysterious, is the purpose of metaphysics - and it isn't an element of the experience of existence that can't really be skipped, only ignored. :)

Bezman: I doubt I'll dig into the backstory here in public, although my third (unpublished) novel has this story embedded into it. I don't think that book ('Disorganised Religion') is going to get published, at least, not while I'm alive, so it will have to remain a mystery for now. I do appreciate the interest, though! ;)

Michael: "I think some people may not understand the significance of doubt in God. Maybe a more everyday example."

I find it fascinating that you felt the God example was too obscure... I agree with your exploration here, though, about how bleak life can be if we become paralysed by doubts.

"I find it deeply scary how people say 'you think too much' or 'stop analysing things', or 'doesn't the beauty of life lessen if you examine it and not take it for granted?' - I was going to write about this issue at some point."

Frankly, some of us by our very nature will tend towards analysis (about 10% of people, incidentally). It's impolite for the remaining 90% to criticise what they don't understand! >:) (he he!)

I don't agree with Aristotle's claim that "the unexamined life is not worth living" (I find it hard to contend that a refugee in Darfur has anything to gain from examining their situation) but I would counter by saying "those capable of examining their lives would be derelict in their duty to themselves if they did not follow this through".

"The only thing that is absurd is not to doubt"

Spoken like a true philosopher. :)

And I share your concern that Evangelical Christianity has tried to squelch doubt and in doing so has done a grave mischief to Christianity... oh well, if it's not one belief system with the problems, it's another. ;)

zenBen: "This seems a rather elitist view... Why can't everyone join in, in process if not in scope?"

This from the person who suggested one of the ultimate elitist forms of government (noocracy) not that long ago. ;)

It's not that anyone is prevented from joining in, it's that not everyone is *interested* in philosophy. It actually goes deeper than this: people skew towards abstract or concrete language use. Everyone reading this far in the comments of this post almost certainly skews towards abstract language use, since all philosophy depends upon abstract language use. That bias in how we use language seems to drive the schism which ensures that philosophy is the concern of the few. (At least, such is how I see it).

"Wish I had your speed writing skills"

It's both a blessing and a curse, I assure you! :)

Chill: send me the paper - I'll throw it on the pile. ;)

"What do you have when you doubt identity, language, or matter? What doesn't depend them?"

Great question. Reminds me of Dick's line: "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." :D

William:
"Well, on the theism subject, it's important to agree that nobody 'knows' that God exists, or doesn't exist, in the same way that Descartes asserts that nobody "knows" they're not dreaming. The best you can do is make assumptions that correspond best with all of the evidence you've assimilated."

I entirely agree with this, but this view is not fashionable at the moment. Agnosticism, which I personally believe is divine, is out of fashion in an age when people want definite answers and aren't enormously comfortable facing the absence of that certainty.

"It's true that you can't necessarily trust your senses, but it's not as if you have anything ELSE to trust in their stead"

I don't know, I trust my intuitions more than my senses some days - but I take your point. :)

"I don't know, but this current understanding fits with all of the evidence I've assimilated so far", you should use it."

That's the pragmatic approach: to accept that uncertainty is never eliminated, but one must act with confidence if anything useful is to get done.

Ultimately, we all have to bend to pragmatism to some degree - at least if we're to ever get anything done. ;)

---

Returning finally to this question of philosophy being the concern of the few: the point I was trying to make here is that while only a few are interested in philosophy, anyone might need help from philosophy at some point in their lives. But that doesn't mean everyone should or can practice philosophy. Those of us that do should be ready to help those that don't at the times in their lives when they most need us - when they find their sense of sanity and reality challenged - just as these other people (not paralysed by analysis or doubt!) will hopefully help us when we need assistance that is out of our reach, perhaps because we are too caught up in our own thoughts and ideas. :)

In this way, philosophy - as a practice - is for *everyone*, but practically speaking, it will always be the minority who engages in philosophy as a pastime or endeavour, but they may do so, from time to time, for the benefit of others.

I think it's important to remember that philosophy isn't really about finding answers - that's more science's bailiwick - it's more about asking the interesting questions, and understanding the wider perspectives that result from the interesting questions.

The philosopher who claims to know everything is selling snake oil... the philosopher who claims to know nothing is more likely to be close to the truth of the matter. :)

Best wishes everyone!

I think we really only need to concern ourselves overly with doubt when we are intellectually, politically, or socially dominated by ideologies of faith -- as was Galileo, say. Then doubt becomes a dangerous transgression. But we don't live in such a time, fortunately.

Otherwise, however, I feel that it's worth making a distinction between doubt and inquiry accompanied by skepticism. Only a fool doubts EVERYthing, and as you say, that way lies madness. (It is the tragedy of the schizophrenic that he cannot distinguish between the foreground and the background; he is assailed by stimuli, some important, some trivial, and some entirely imaginary, and does not know which of them to believe. Likewise the paranoiac doubts everything told to him. These are mental illnesses of doubt.)

The scientist does not doubt Newton's laws or Boyle's law because the evidence for them is there. She does not have to investigate them personally; they have been demonstrated too many times already. In effect, she takes them on faith -- faith in her fellow scientists and the scientific method itself. But such faith is itself based on repeated testing.

Inquiry need not be rooted in doubt; it simply requires a desire to discover and to verify the discoveries of others. One need not undertake science in a negative spirit, seeking to falsify the claims of others. If I hear that someone has created cold fusion, my first response is not "I doubt that," but "Wow, let's see if I can do it too!" My doubt is only stimulated when someone proposes something logically impossible (perpetual motion) or profoundly at odds with the evidence (young-Earth creationism).

As for divine mysteries... I don't know why I get that shivery feeling when I hear Bach on the organ in a great cathedral, but I choose to ascribe it to the genius of Bach and of cathedral architects. Given the power of the feeling, however, I'm not surprised that some people choose to ascribe it to the immanent presence of God.

It's interesting; I have no doubt that we really share very many opinions, but I would have said things entirely differently.

I would phrase it that Agnosticism doesn't exist. We can all agree that, “My opinion is the way to go, if you don't agree, GTFO” is bad, but I would contest as such:

Nobody knows whether God exists, and there are only two camps. “I see the evidence before me, and choose to live my life as if God exists” and “I see the evidence before me, and choose to live my life as if God does not exist.” Those are the logical opposite of each other, there aren't any other opinions. I guess I feel that either everybody is agnostic, or nobody is.

Or maybe I'm just too far onto the side of pragmatism to see anything else, and I'm just a big jerk.

Ernest: the comparison with schizophrenia and paranoia are highly apposite. But I wouldn't necessarily say "only a fool doubts everything", so much as "only a fool doubts everything *all* the time". :)

"In effect, she takes them on faith -- faith in her fellow scientists and the scientific method itself. But such faith is itself based on repeated testing."

I enjoyed this sentence, but it's only valid up to a point. I must observe: the gravitational constant for the universe does not, in repeated testing, show up as near the value that is ascribed to it - as a meta-analysis of university physics student experiments will readily show. So there is a sense in which the gravitational constant is constantly falsified - yet we still believe in the value used, despite it having more theoretical foundations than practical ones.

So perhaps it is not repeated testing which is the source of the confidence (i.e. faith) in science so much as the persistence of the model: those scientific tenets which have survived long enough without any challengers remain unchallenged - at least until the next paradigm shift. ;)

As Max Planck observed: “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” :D

William: I certainly don't think you're a jerk, but an overly pragmatic perspective does have its limits. Factoring out agnosticism as part of the background simplifies the situation, but it rules out belief systems that people do actually hold...

"Nobody knows whether God exists, and there are only two camps. “I see the evidence before me, and choose to live my life as if God exists” and “I see the evidence before me, and choose to live my life as if God does not exist.” Those are the logical opposite of each other, there aren't any other opinions."

Logical propositions may be disjunct, but that doesn't prove that real life is best modelled in propositional logic. :) For instance, either you do eat vegetables or you do not... but what of people who ate vegetables once in the past but not now, or people who do not eat (a coma patient on a drip), and what, for that matter, of those who eat only tomatoes (which some people consider a vegetable and some do not)? ;)

With respect to your proposition, what about these intermediate cases: "I see the evidence before me, and choose not to make an assignment as to whether or not God exists" (behaving sometimes as if there were a God, sometimes otherwise), and "I see the evidence before me, I do not find any basis for deciding either way whether or not God exists, therefore I make no assignment" (behaving independently as to whether or not God exists i.e. "hedging one's bets"), not to mention "I see the evidence before me, it's extremely confusing, therefore I will make up my mind later". :)

You could force these answers into your two bins, but would would be gained?

Your bipolar proposition hinges upon excluding belief systems in which no definite assignment is made. But as well as these intermediate positions, are there not also positions that are contradictory? Such as: "I see the evidence before me, I conclude there is insufficient evidence that God exists, but I still choose to act as if God does exist" (the leap of faith from atheism) or "I see the evidence before me, I conclude there is something that can be called God, but I don't know what that God might be like, and therefore I don't know how that could or should influence my life." Is that really adequately described by "acting as if God exists?"

For me, since what I call God is beyond human comprehension, even making an assessment as to whether or not I live as if there were or were not a God is difficult. I live as I live, in the immanent and transcendent presence of the divine mystery, which some call God. Many theists think me an atheist, many atheists think me a theist. You could in fact call it both ways (I personally prefer transpantheist to describe my position in this respect, although it is a completely incomprehensible term!)

And this, I suppose, is the biggest flaw with your proposition: it assumes there is one understanding of God. As soon as the question of the nature of God is exploded into its infinite diversity, the two bins of your sorting proposition start to look somewhat inadequate, at least to my eyes, since there is no place for the genuinely agnostic positions outside of the background of agnosticism created by the inability to assign an existential state to God.

But I fear my blather has complicated rather than simplified the subject! :)

Best wishes!

That's the pragmatic approach: to accept that uncertainty is never eliminated, but one must act with confidence if anything useful is to get done.

Quite. Is it a Skeptical approach (large S)?

The scientist does not doubt Newton's laws or Boyle's law because the evidence for them is there.

Really? I'd like to consider myself a scientist, and I consider Newton's laws as special cases of relativity that are not only in doubt but have actually been disproved in the general case - they're simply "good enough" approximations for most jobs at typical terrestrial speeds. If you use GPS, for example, they are insufficiently accurate.

"This from the person who suggested one of the ultimate elitist forms of government (noocracy) not that long ago. ;)"

My practice and my principle may diverge as they wish, I merely ride the wagon, I don't whip the horses :D

"I don't know, I trust my intuitions more than my senses some days "

I don't think the two are really separable. Many great karateka claim to have a sixth sense, but when put to the test (blindfolded, ears stoppered) they invariably lose the ability they showed before. If you look at intuition as a purely cognitive thing, the question is can you separate it from the consciousness vector, memory etc that supports it? Then the debate moves into whether advanced sentience can exist without any senses ever. Which I am out of time for!

tbc...

Peter: I'm not sure if it's the big-S Skeptical way - that seems more about defending the current paradigms than balancing uncertainty and confidence. The public Skeptics (CSICOP et al) don't seem to be very uncertain about anything. >:)

And yes - I agree with you: Newton's "laws" have been shown to be approximations that hold only in a special case. I'm not sure I'd say they've been disproved, though, so much as "relegated to a smaller scope". :)

There's room for debate in the terms here, though.

zenBen: ah, this is the discussion about a priori reason from Kant... far too big a subject to dig into here. :)

Does blocking off the senses disprove the sixth sense, or demonstrate that the sixth sense works against a background of familiar sensory information? It's like when they test the homing abilities of pigeons after blinding them and the like... is it really a test about what you thought you were testing at this point? It's a bit like: "Test to see if people can run after being shot in the legs..." :D

Intuition, if you must make me render it in a materialistic paradigm, seems to me to be a high degree of neural interconnectivity in the pre-frontal cortex - an additional function that feeds into the orbitofrontal cortex (the decision making blob just above the eyes).

But for me, looking at the materialistic basis of experiences can only ever be part of the description. The *experience* of intuition is very different from its description.

Best wishes!

"Does blocking off the senses disprove the sixth sense, or demonstrate that the sixth sense works against a background of familiar sensory information?"

Do you hear because you see? Or feel because you can smell?

What being able to run with bullets in your legs has to do with the senses, I'm not sure.

A quick comment on the logical propositions.

Have you considered "I see no evidence and I choose to believe in God." and the verse "I see no evidence and so I do not believe in God." as two other logical possibilities.

Also I would add that the human psyche is not a certain thing, the individual human can both believe and not believe depending upon the specific situation.

zenBen: sorry, some kind of miscommunication here. "Do you hear because you can see?" isn't quite the point I was trying to make. A better parallel in the case of intuition would be "Do you think because you have senses?" Even this may still be unclear.

The point about the bullet in the leg was about the pigeon trials in which they blinded pigeons... it was a sideline at best about the dangers of using reductionistic assumptions as the sole guide to experiments - apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

Domke: I completely agree with what you say here - many people straddle belief and unbelief in many different ways... You can't easily put everyone into just two boxes.

Best wishes!

"zenBen: sorry, some kind of miscommunication here. "Do you hear because you can see?" isn't quite the point I was trying to make. A better parallel in the case of intuition would be "Do you think because you have senses?" Even this may still be unclear."

Well, in that case I was trying to make the same point!
I'm not sure what your position is, I personally don't think I can conceive of a consciousness divorced forever from the senses. My guess is that intuition is intimately linked to sensory input, but also to memory.
As for my example with the sixth sense karateka and the blindfold test, I agree that the experiment proved nothing more than that the assumptions of the people who claimed sixth sense were wrong.

zenBen: I don't have a problem imagining consciousness divorced from conventional senses, but clearly the kind of consciousness we would be talking about would be different from the normal flavour of consciousness we think about. But then, I don't have a problem thinking of, say, a rock as conscious in some sense (which is not to say I believe rocks are conscious). This, however, is deeply tangential! :)

Best wishes!

If I believe that the trees I can see around me are as old as the Earth and do not grow, and that they will never die (or not until the Earth disappears), I would be quite a fool. Even if I had never seen trees growing, I would have heard throughout my life people refering to trees as having a life.
I think having doubts about scientific discoveries or theories is healthy... but ultimately it is no different to the knowledge that trees are growing and dying, it has to be observed, if it can't be observed it still has to be validated using a scientific method, which is using other tools that can be observed.
The only way that Science can be seen as no different to belief systems such as religions is that it's not Science, when it is not true to the very purpose of Science, when it has its own agenda, when interests come into play. But that is not part of Science. Doubt, on the other hand, is central to science.
You say "scientific beliefs change far more rapidly than religious beliefs", well I don't see that as an argument, it would be problematic if science pretended that their beliefs would never change, that each new discovery would be the ultimate one, but that's not the case, I agree that it may appear to be, as it has happened over and over, but again that's not scientific (not as it should be).
I could even go as far as saying that "scientific beliefs change far more rapidly than religious beliefs" is the healthiest thing for science (again, as long as allowing to discard one theorie for another is part of the scientific process, which it is).

Roman Age: clearly your faith in science is strong. >:)

"The only way that Science can be seen as no different to belief systems such as religions is that it's not Science, when it is not true to the very purpose of Science, when it has its own agenda, when interests come into play."

The "very purpose of Science" - is established how? Where do you look this up? What establishes this facet so securely for you?

And what scientific researcher can honestly claim to not have their own agenda and interests? Are scientists mere robots?

(But let me say that I am not attempting to say there is no difference between science and religion - only that questions of doubt are equally salient to both).

"...it would be problematic if science pretended that their beliefs would never change, that each new discovery would be the ultimate one, but that's not the case"

As clearly indicated by books such as John Horgan's "The End of Science"... >:) I personally don't see that many scientists acting in a manner consistent with the idea that they know their scientific beliefs may or will be superseded - especially in the context of discussions of evolutionary theories, where personal teleology seems to outstrip honest discussion or evidentiary concerns.

Some scientists, to be sure, act with an appreciation of Kuhn's paradigms (and other such models of scientific change) but this is by no means universal.

"I could even go as far as saying that 'scientific beliefs change far more rapidly than religious beliefs' is the healthiest thing for science (again, as long as allowing to discard one theorie for another is part of the scientific process, which it is)."

I agree wholeheartedly! This is why I am a scientific anarchist and do not subscribe to discussions which reify "Science" as a static body of knowledge or prescribed system. It is not nor can it become a single fixed tract - and attempts to enforce such a view make a (non)religion of science.

Thanks for sharing your view!

The purpose of Science. I can see two aspects. The first one is to understand the world we live in, to explain how things work (as much as they can be explained). The second one is to use that knowledge to create things, make decisions,
possibly changing our lifes, that's the application of Science. Using the word "purpose", I was referring to the former (even though it seems to suggests the latter, so not the best choice of word).

So with that view in mind (Science to explain how things work), I persist in saying that a theory can be discarded if a new more plausible one comes along, and that it is always a case of having the most likely explanation based on observation (and using the scientific process, with iterations, that's one thing I can name, I'm not a scientific, and my faith in science is not that strong, despite the appearances). As for the theory of evolution, I've read many times that it is the most likely explanation based on fossils discoveries and genetic (not the exact words, but you get the idea), you may not agree with that, but I don't see where "personal teleology seems to outstrip honest discussion or evidentiary concerns", as you say. I know that research can be biased towards certain results or decisions, for political or financial reasons, and we can only regret that, but then scientists are human after all, that is to be expected. But personal teleology having anything to do with that, I may be blind, I don't see much of that.

Roman Age: thanks for expanding your view.

"Purpose" is perhaps a dangerous term to deploy in this context - it is loaded with implications that can easily get out of hand.

Seeking explanations... is this really the sole remit of science? History is not science, but does it not too seek explanations? It seems to me, albeit without much deep thought on the matter, that the human pursuit of knowledge in general is a seeking of explanations. And of course, the word "science" originally meant just that: knowledge.

At some point, the natural sciences (the empirical sciences) took over the word. And with that coup, we entered into this weird space where science for some reason gets treated quite apart from other kinds of knowledge...

Regarding teleology in evolution, did you see my serial on Myths of Evolution? Also, an older piece on Teleological Games. Better to start with these than have me rehash my earlier points in a comment. ;)

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