Re: virus: Definition of Belief

Reed Garrett Konsler (
Tue, 16 Apr 1996 21:52:16 -0400

Tue, 16 Apr 1996 16:40:54: Ken Sartot wrote:

>Many beliefs have no observable behaviors. They may or may not have
>actions associated with them (such as thinking). If you doubt the
>first assertion, consider your own self carefully (maybe i am unique).
>The second assertion is based on implicit beliefs and much more difficult
>to defend or 'believe' ;-)

Given our current level of technology a thought is observable only to the
individual within whom the thought is generated. However, a thought is
understood to be a physical thing (though exactly what we are as yet
unsure) and is therefore potentially observable. My point is that there
are (at least) two kinds of knowledge. The first is that which is directly
observed, or experienced. The second is made up of the models, inferences,
and deductions we use to characterize the universe. Defining belief
currently falls squarely in the latter category. Perhaps someday we will
be able to observe a "belief" as is exists within the brain in a "dormant"
state...much as we can now isolate genetic material that could formerly
only be deduced from Darwin's theory.

>Shrodinger's cat refers to mixed states of existence. When observed,
>the mixed state collapses into a single state (with the appropriate
>probabilities). Perhaps this is relevant to beliefs? For instance,
>without thought i half believe there is life on mars and i half
>disbelieve. When confronted, my belief collapses into a pure state?
>(I don't believe this to be true; mixed states of belief seem to
>be able to exist simultaneously in humans...)

I think we agree on the what the metaphor is, but no necessarily which of
it's facets is significant. An individual who holds a belief but has yet
to express it observably is the proverbial cat in the box. At any moment
the individual might emit some behavior which we might use to infer a
belief. We might be incorrect in our inference, and how accurately we
interpret (or for that matter, if we even recognize it as non-random) and
act is a problem of communication an perception.

The point is: "Dead men tell no tales"; if the individual dies without
having ever emited an observable we are left with an unopenable box. As a
hypothetical: Imagine someone born into a coma, who "lives" without
communicating in any way with us for a significant period (many years, lets
say). We note brain activity of some higher order but never once a
recognizable "act". This individual dies.

What did they believe? What did they think?

Given the information presented the simplest inference is that they thought
and believed nothing.

>I am unsure what difference it makes as to whether of not evidence of
>a belief exists. If this is true, does it mean the 'beliefs' of
>our ancestors that were lost to history were not *real*
>beliefs? If there is no way _ever_ to recapture the unstored events
>of history, should we conclude that they do not exist or just conclude
>that they are unknowable?

The "evidence" is crucial. "Evidence"; observable, testable effects on the
environment are the basis of rational thinking. One rationally argues only
from what one observes. One is capable of observing one's own thoughts and
can thus make a statement like "I think..." That statement becomes an act
which others may observe and draw conclusions from.

We can infer, with varying confidence and perhaps inaccurately, the beliefs
of our ancestors based upon what effects on the environment they have left
us. As with any communication through time or space precision and accuracy
are limited by the availiable information, drift of context, and
limitations on perception.

Another hypothetical: A civilization we shall call Atlantis existed. The
people there had many beliefs and expressed them numerous ways. All
evidence of their existence was destroyed, save fragmentary rumors and

Did the civilization exist? From the perspective outside the question; of
course it did...I just told you so. From within the question, however,
what information do you have? What evidence? None but fragments and
obvious lies. The rational conclusion is that the civilization did not

Did Atlantis exist?
Do green bug-eyed Martians exist?
Does God exist?

The rational conclusion to all these questions is: No, for the reason that
there is insufficient evidence. Does rationality always lead to the truth?
I'm not sure. I might start arguing in circles if I'm not careful.
Maybe after defining "belief" we can define "truth"? What I believe is
that drawing conclusions only from what can be observed (a component of
rationality) allows one to assemble the most accurate map of the
environment possible given the limits of perception. :)

Reed Konsler

Reed Garrett Konsler