Re: [Fwd: Re: virus: Definition of Belief]

Reed Konsler (
Wed, 17 Apr 1996 16:07:58 -0400

On Wed, April 7, 3am Ken Pantheists wrote:

When I perform, my consciousness is
operating on two levels. One: I am Steve doing my job. Two: I am Hamlet
or Bobo the clown or whatever and, if I am doing my job well, I am
thinking, behaving AS the prince or the clown. Many people are under the
misconception that actors are just excellent liars. That we always know
we are "acting". I think this is a defensive statement because most
people are treatened by the idea of several levels of truth. Conversely,
people who believe in several layers of truth tend to stay quiet about
it because the "single truth" people (naive as they may be) are always
jumping all over the place pointing out "inconsistencies" and looking
for "hypocrisy". These two groups are known in my circle as "critics"
(for proper pronounciation, say it with a sneer) and "artists". More
general terminology would label them as "Fundamentalists" and
"Philosphers". See Michael Taussig's "Mimesis and Alterity" for more
info on this.

This is a significant point.

Let me reiterate my definition of belief:

"One observed to act as if a statement X were true is said to believe X."

What you are pointing out is that this statement is too simple because all of
our actions are context dependent. As an actor on stage your behavior is
interpreted differently than that same behavior would be in other
circumstances. Claiming to be Christ on stage is acting; claiming to be Christ
on the subway is madness (well, it's strange anyway :)).

I have the feeling that it's still possible to resolve that issue within in
such a way that the exceptions prove to be only a further characterization of
the definition I've given above (a bit Victorian, huh?) but I'll have to think
about it a little more.

I still think it is important to be explict about the fact that defining an
"imponderable" such as belief is an act of inference. We describe someone as
"believing X" in the same way we generalize about a lot of things in order to
recognize pattern. But to be rational, these generalizations must be based on
observations. Surely the multivalent thought structures each of us holds in
our heads are complex enough that as individuals we have difficultly figuring
out exactly what we, ourselves, believe. How many times have you said in
response to a question "Well, I'm not sure about that." or something similar?

Alternatively, there are times when one feels able to make the statement "I
believe X". It is significant to note that even this statement is a
generalization. Stephen points out that people actually often hold several
beliefs, some conflicting, simultaneously. Some beliefs take priority over
others. To fully describe all the possibilities of belief that might exist in
the real world is very obviously very complicated.

If asked to give a generalization in a single sentence, however, I offer the
sentence above. I think it is a good starting point for creating the
complexity needed to fully describe a belief "in vivo". ;)

Another Quote*****
We have a technology that allows us to observe thought it's called
language :)

I think we both understand the utility of language. However, I would emphasise
that language and thought are not equivalent. One observes only the sounds or
symbols and infers a meaning from them. The thoughts themselves remain
unobserved. How else could a lie exist?

Another Quote*****
What do you mean by dormant belief? What is an example of a dormant
belief? I can't think of one contemporary example that can't be traced
through a historical/environmental history.

It was a hypothetical, and in retrospect a poor one. I agree with you. I
can't think of a single thing I would call a belief which I have not observed
the expression of in some way. Therefore the term "dormant belief" probablt
close to and oxymoron.

Another Quote*****
Your method sounds *really* linear. I thought the whole chaos theory and
bifurcation thing proved that that process is inconclusive. (Excuse my
informality- I just haven't had access to a great deal of chaos

I'm think I disagree with your assesment of the implications of chaos theory.
But I also haven't read enough of it to argue the point. "Linear" (I would
say "rational"...but I think we're arguing connotations there :)) thinking has
answered a lot of questions in the past. Those questions it has apparenty
"failed" to resolve have been revealed as possesing an internal flaw.

For instance: Is a photon a wave or a particle?
Linear answer: It's both, and neither, and exactly what do you mean by
particle anyway?

It's a complicated world, and a lot of observations seem counterintuitive or
downright wierd. But a rational model is at least somewhat self-consistent and

Another Quote*****
What happens when someone changes their belief? Personal crises such as
the death of a child or a murder of a parent can affect one's belief in
a lot of tings- the effectiveness of the state, the meaning of justice,
the existence of God.

Similarily political/economical and environmental influences can alter
ones beliefs- famine, dorky politicians etc.

Your hypothesis precludes the act of REVOLUTION my man!

I'd recommend Thomas S. Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" to
address exactly this point. He does a much better job of explaining how a
rational system accomodates time-dependent changes in observables than I can.

I will say that a rational model does accomodate changes in belief. If what
one observed today is different than yesterday one will infer differently,
perhaps radically so.

The wine, though, we are in agreement about. Red and dark. Who should we
knock over first? How about CNN? ;)

Reed Konsler

"A line is the shortest distance between two Euclidian space, that