[Fwd: Re: virus: Definition of Belief]

Ken Pantheists (kenpan@axionet.com)
Sun, 21 Apr 1996 01:58:51 +0000

Reed Konsler wrote:

...........How does one
> test for the characteristic "Belief in Martians"?

a logical process will lead you to the most accurate model of the world
> possible. You're right to point out that "that doesn't say anything about
> whether the belief exists or not".


> Just beacause something cannot be disproven doesn't make it true. Occam's
> razor dictates we should use the simplest model requiring the fewest
> assumptions when explaining the world. Therefore to invoke the concept of a
> "belief" we MUST have some evidence to support this new generalization.
> Otherwise the concept itself is a needless burden.

I am not familiar with Occam's razor, and I think I have only a tenuous
grasp of what you are really getting at. But I feel like responding

You may be hitting on some ground that can be best described using some
psychological terms. I am thinking specifically of behaviorist and
gestalt theories.
(I'm working with dim memories of my *one* undergrad survey course here
so please bear with me.)

It sounds like you, Reed, are arguing for a behaviorist model and David
is arguing for a Gestalt model.

Gestalt theorists say that environment has only some influence over us
because we are, by nature, black boxes. In other words- stuff goes in-
who the hell knows what goes on in there, but the only real science can
occur by observing what comes out. But there's always that black box
that remains essentially unobservable.

Geneticists have shed a little bit of light into that box by finding
evidence that supports the idea of genetic predisposition to certain
behavior.(Studies in aggression, the gay gene, the happy gene.) And if
behavior is the result of beliefs then we may be predispositioned to
some beliefs (??) or to look for meaning in some beliefs. But it would
be absurd to look for a Liberal gene, Republican gene or a
Martian-believing gene. A great degree of belief is a product of
information that enters the individual. The information exists as
cultural discourses (Sorry-memes) and interpersonal memes.

Given your third person who may believe in martians- if you were going
to infer that belief you might say the following:

Dave: What makes you think Joe believes in Martians?

You: Welll... He did spend a whole summer vacationing in that trailer
park in Texas. (environmental discourse)

Dave: Yeah, so?

You: And he does tend to linger over the Weekly World News while at the
grocery checkout. (environmental)

Dave: Hmm. He can be pretty gullable at times. Why I remember when I
told him ... (dave recounts some outrageous lie) ... and he bought
it.(interpersonal discourse)

This might lead to another interpersonal exchange with the actual guy in
which you ask him if he believes in Martians. (and he has the option of
telling the truth or lying.) You could continue to interrogate him until
you are certain that he is not lying, but you might have to scare him a
lot or hurt him. (sorry, got carried away there.)

Archeologists infer the beliefs of dead cultures without knowing the
interpersonal discourses. They rely on cultural reminants. (Cave
drawings of martians) They can also make general assumptions about a
belief if it was highly organized by the culture. (they built landing
strips for flying saucers or had laws outlining how to behave for the
Martians when they arrive.)

In my opinion, these are the only ways one can rationally infer belief.

I side with Dave's statement on the inaccessabilty of beliefs in the

Our most inobservable (mysterious) beliefs have to do with our
interaction with things that never or rarely occur in our everyday
environment. That may be why rituals exist. They replicate- to some
degree- the environment in which the belief could be acted out- and
observed. All spiritual rituals have a bit of
heaven/hell/nirvana/oblivion in them.

This also applies to social rituals. Movies, for example, replicate
situations that never or rarely occur in our real life and yet they
appeal to our beliefs. We act out these beliefs vicariously through the
actions of the hero.