virus: Belief and Knowledge

Reed Konsler (
Fri, 19 Sep 1997 14:58:55 -0400 (EDT)

>Date: Thu, 18 Sep 1997 11:36:30 -0600
>From: David McFadzean <>
>At 12:43 PM 9/17/97 -0400, Reed Konsler wrote:
>>I think one of the misconceptions about science is that you can make a
>>"provisional" assumption without "really" believing it...
>>...Belief is defined by action; if you
>>act as if X were true then you believe X...if only for the period of the
>Action is only a clue to the belief, or doesn't the motivation behind
>the action count for anything? And aren't there problems inherent in
>interpreting the action. What can you say about my beliefs from this
>textual speech act: "Reed, you are godlike!".

Ironic. I agree the situation is complicated. I understand your frustration
with "inconsistency" and it's ability to undermine reasoned communication.
My frustration is with "intent" or, as you have described it, motivation. In
this sense I guess I'm pursuaded by Skinner, despite the academic communities
repudiation of him.

Your statement represents a behavior which is inconsistent with other
behavior (text acts) I have observed and ascribed to you. Thus, it is
ironic...worthy of notice due to it's inconsistency. In the context of
previous behavior I interpret it thus. If you were to continue to make
similar worshipful statements for a year or so, I would begin to interpret
them differently.

In my mind "intent", "belief", "faith", and "motivation" are all similarly
use(ful/less) illusions. They are models we use to generalize and predict
things which are far beyond our ability to analyze directly and in full

I agree that one can base arguments about belief on arguments about
intent, etc. However, that recursive hurricane of attributed mental states
must eventually come to rest on the semi-solid bedrock of observable
behavior. To say "David intends to be ironic here" is simply a shorthand
way of providing a gestalt about all your former actions without listing
them. Thus, "motivation" is simply a belief-state which is also succeptible
to interrogation and ought properly to be based in observation of behaviors.

Or, in other words, belief is defined by action. Human actions are complex,
and thus the analysis (like "intent", "will", "motivation", etc.) between the
data and the conclusion is similarly complex. What leads people astray is
losing sight of the ground when building these mental castles. Suddenly
Will becomes something like a soul. And a "good intent" becomes sufficient
to avoid the consequences of communally unacceptable actions.

For instance, we have laws against murder. However we also have numerous
instances of "justifiable homicide". Less so these days, we have verdicts of
not-guilty/insane. We want our jusctice system to be both fair and merciful.
That, in and of itself, is an inconsistency...and it's a delicate one. We just
need to flat out accept that if the survivor of horrible domestic abuse kills
her abusive husband in his sleep, in cold blood, and with premeditation we
just don't consider her as "guilty" as a drug dealer who shoots a police officer
to death in a face to face gunfight.

So, If we give the domestic abuse survior the chair, it's a far more
tragic and much larger sense. It isn't very merciful or compassionate. It is,
however, fair in an "eye for an eye" sense.

>>That's a falsification paradigm. Why don't we assume God exists and try to
>>think of some experiments to help us understand what the nature of this
>>entity is?
>That won't work if we have a priori assumptions about Him being supernatural
>and/or "beyond logic". But if we start by assuming that experiments can tell
>us something about Him, I'd be interested (for example) to know if His
>followers die less often in horrible accidents than others.

No different than "atoms". If they aren't X than they're Y. But the assumption
that they exist will be consistent becuase the definition is flexible
enough to accomodate
a lot of different observations. "God" is similarly flexible (being the
warm, cuddly
sort of vagueness hat he is) is your own sense of self.


Reed Konsler