Tuesday, April 03, 2012
Monday, April 02, 2012
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Monday, December 19, 2011
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
What possible good could insulting the beliefs of a large religious group do? I think Christianity and Catholicism in particular consist of lots of silly ideas, but to the extent they don't bother me with them, I really can't get too worked up about it. To purposely seek to interfere with someone else's beliefs by mistreating the holy symbols strikes me more as pointless bullying rather than brave free speech.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Monday, April 28, 2008
I consider myself a scientifically minded person. After giving having a crisis of faith at the age of 18, I would have described myself as a materialist. I became interested in and studied philosophy in college. This study may have caused me to back-pedal a bit on holding materialism as a definitive metaphysical position, but I would still say my basic belief is that there is an objective reality “out there” that is independent of my or anyone else's opinion about it. I hold science in high regard and believe that it is capable of establishing the truth of statements about reality.
Various philosophical traditions have cast doubt on both the objective nature of reality and more specifically on the ability of science to escape the trap of politics and petty human biases. These traditions go too far in their skepticism in many cases. There is, however, an area in which I think they reveal a weakness in my own thinking as I have held it in the past.
I still believe that there are facts we can know with a great degree of certainty, like the boiling point of water. However, when it comes to questions of people and what they are capable of, I think that it makes sense to speak of subjective reality. Simply stated, believing that you are capable of doing something will make it true. One of the most obvious examples of this I can think of is lifting weights at the gym. If you are in sort of a blah mood, you might max out at say 10 reps. But on another day if you are in a great mood you might rip off 15 reps without even realizing it. Your attitude determined your capability.
Now obviously, this isn't positive thinking bending reality on the scale of Neo flying or stopping bullets in the Matrix. I guess I still believe there is a spoon, damn it. What I'm talking about is realizing what dynamic, amazing things we humans are. I think there is a tendency for people with a very logical and scientific viewpoint to forget this. They say things like “people are X”, or “I can't do that because I'm Y.” They treat human beings as if they were predictable, idealized billiard balls in a physics problem.
Of course, this sort of thinking is so pernicious because it is precisely the sort of thinking that creates its own reality for the person that believes it. Psychology reveals that people have a natural bias to confirm their own beliefs while ignoring evidence that casts doubts on those beliefs. This is a perfectly natural and healthy thing. You wouldn't have time to do anything else in your life if you were constantly having to re-evaluate all of your beliefs. The dark side of this is that it can create a feedback loop around negative beliefs like “people are lazy” or “I can't do math”, causing to continuously notice evidence that strengthen those beliefs while ignoring indications that they actually aren't objectively true, and are in fact actively harmful to ourselves and others.
So while the empirical method of science works, we as individuals tend not to be very good empiricists. It takes an active awareness of your beliefs and your own biases to ensure that the things you believe have a solid basis in reality. This isn't just a high minded appeal to positive thinking or combating bias. Very basic matters of quality of life like happiness are directly linked to the beliefs you hold, and the actions(or inactions) those beliefs engender.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
Does anyone really have reasons for believing the things they do? It seems like whenever I get into an argument with someone, they are just regurgitating things they have heard at some time or another. This leads to a scary thought: What if I am simply doing the same?
I got into a debate after a philosophy club meeting. The guy had presented a paper that essentially was a conservative catholic critique of Sartre and a variety of existentialist thinkers. Essentially his argument boiled down to the idea that his access to God served as the ultimate foundation of knowledge. In our debate I argued that there are some things I cannot help but believe as true. One thing led to another and I realized that my attempt to rely on a Cogito type argument for knowledge failed.
Anyway after that I mulled over the whole thing in my head at work. I work in a factory, so I have more or less 24 hours of strait thinking time a week even if I am completely brain dead the rest of the time. I settled on the idea that everyone has an epistimmic problem to get around. If you try to find the basis for anything you believe, following the trail far enough back you will end up with something that you cannot know for sure. It seems like I do know things somehow, and that we humans manage to get along enough that it seems there must really be some sort of real knowledge.
This leads me to believe (ha ha) that some sort of pragmatic approach is how this works. I believe stuff that more or less hangs together in a coherent way. I guess this relates back to the original fear I mentioned. I will be inclined to believe something if it more or less fits in with what I already believe. This seems to mean I have to be really careful about simply accepting things that agree nicely with prior beliefs.
So maybe the upshot to all of this is that I have accepted some sort of responsibility for what I believe.