Re: virus: Belief and Knowledge (was: The truth about faith)

David McFadzean (
Fri, 27 Jun 1997 15:02:42 -0600

At 07:35 PM 25/06/97 -0700, DJS wrote:
>Well, I've been lurking a long time and thought I would remain doing so, but if there's one thing I can't resist it's a visual argument. Great post!

Thank you very much (and thanks to all for the positive feedback).

>I've played around with variations on this theme and it led to all sorts of interesting places. I'll mention one here... (in story format instead of visual format since it's easier in ASCII)
>A Story

Great story! I've got some questions though...

>Wally and Larry, being devoted fans, each strongly believes the proposition "The home team will win..." (of course the "home team" refers to a different team in each case...)

Does Larry really believe that the Luzers will win? I mean I can imagine how it
would make perfect sense to express the belief at home games (Go team!) even if
he doesn't believe they will win. There is very little to lose by cheering for
the Luzers and much to lose by cheering for the Stars. Another way to ask: how
much would Larry bet on the outcome of the game (assuming it is an anonymous wager
to avoid bringing in other factors like abuse from his neighbors)? What is the
strength of his belief (the S-value on the T-grid)?

>In this light, consider four definitions:

On the T-grid ( these correspond to
the four quadrants:

>1. Knowledge.... Belief in accordance with the Evidence.

Upper right (positive E-value, positive S-value)

>2. Credulity....... Belief despite the Evidence.

Upper left (negative E-value, positive S-value), half of this quadrant
is labeled "blind faith".

>3. Skepticism... Disbelief despite the Evidence

Lower right (positive E-value, negative S-value), half of this quadrant
is labeled "blind faith".

>4. Thrift............ Disbelief in accordance with the (lack of) Evidence

Lower left (negative E-value, negative S-value)

>KNOWLEDGE is the holy grail. It requires not only the difficult assemblage of data and theory but also the equally difficult willingness to believe in the evidence in order to reap the benefits and continue to build further knowledge.

I agree this is the holy grail. I'm not sure why you say it is equally difficult
to believe in the evidence.

>It is also the most satisfying; in the story it corresponds to Wally rooting for a winning team. No (or little) conflict between head and heart. Feels good. (Note that a non-fan resident of Whynville gets little enjoyment from the perennial championship victories of the "home-team".)

What do you mean by "heart" if you don't mind me asking? I hear that phrase all the
time and I've never been quite sure how to interpret it.

>CREDULITY is a willingness to believe despite the weight of the evidence. In some cases this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy of positive thinking.

More on this below...

>SKEPTICISM is an unwillingness to commit to any position. Since (as all debaters know) it is far easier to oppose than propose, the safest intellectual position is often one of absolute skepticism ("everything's an illusion").

This terminology is a distinct departure from the T-grid where Skepticism corresponds
to the diagonal line from the lower left to the upper right (the S-line). Is there
another word we could use for one of the concepts? If we wish to avoid equivocation,
how do we reconcile?

>1. This post seemed to take _forever_ to write, it's longer than I wanted it to be, it says less than I wanted to say, and it says it less well than I'd hoped it would. Lurking is much easier :-)

If it took less than a week, you're doing better than me :)

>2. Some of the confusion over the word "faith" results from equivocation of "Faith = Credulity" with "Faith = Committing Fully to Uncertain Propositions". (These correspond exactly to David's graphical interpretation I think.)

Exactly, that was the main impetus behind drawing the T-grid.

>3. Knowledge is the fruit of the middle way, between the intellectual laziness of Credulity - belief without evidence, and the spiritual laziness of Skepticism -- evidence without belief.

Spiritual laziness? Spirit is another term like "heart". People that use it seem
to understand each other so they must be talking about something. Please elaborate.

>4. The "power of positive thinking" aspect of the Credulous position is a fascinating aspect of it. It probably gets attention far out of proportion to its actual applicability, but it does so because it is paradoxical and self-referential and interesting and often true (all good things!). In this sense it's probably analogous to the "altruism" issue of natural selection.

I've been giving this quite a bit of thought this past week, trying to come up with
a good response to Prof. Tim's message about if and when faith is justified (the
terminal illness scenario). I came to the same conclusion, that it can have a good
effect in the situation where there is a possibility of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The place where I get stuck is in trying to figure out the mindset of the person
after they have succeeded believing what is not true (or at least what the evidence
does not support). Would they say "I know it is not true, but I believe it anyway"
or would they say "I know it is true because ..." and provide some bogus reason, or
would they say "I don't need a reason, I just *know* it is true", or...?

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus