Comfort in Uncertainty

Comfort in Uncertainty

(Feel free to read only the bold portions for the TL;DR version – as this post got a little lengthy).

Rene Descartes first penned the words “[I think, therefore I am]” in 1637 (granted, it was in French ^_^).

I had heard this phrase long before I understood what it meant or it’s context.  It’s one of those quotes that’s more popular than the originator.

The essential context is this: It is clear that my senses sometimes deceive me.  If they deceive me sometimes, they could be deceiving me all of the time.  If my senses deceive me all the time, then I can’t be certain of anything’s existence outside of myself.  I can know that I exist, because I am clearly able to doubt the existence of other things.  If I doubt, then I can I think.  If I can think, then I exist.

So that’s it.  I can be certain that I exist.  Going any further than that gets a little murky – even defining “I” can lead to doubts on several levels.

Anything and everything outside of myself, could be an illusion.

Another related concept is the Brain in a Vat, or the now more popular “The Matrix” example.  I can’t be sure I’m not just some brain sitting in a vat or I’m just one of the countless people thinking that that matrix around me is the most “real” reality.

So why does this matter and why is a foundational to me in my thinking?

As absurd as these examples may sound, I cannot refute them.  This begins my journey to being comfortable with uncertainty.

Granted, I am more than 99.9% certain that if I step in front of a semi-truck on the nearest interstate, I am going to be grossly injured.  Thus, I’m not going to do that.  Despite not being certain, I’m still operating on a binary of sorts: I’m going to live my life as if walking in from of a semi is going to grossly injure me.

We pragmatically operate on binary beliefs- we’re forced to make yes/no choices thousands if not millions of times a day.  It doesn’t matter if we “know” or are certain – we have to make best guesses and essentially “I believe x, therefore I will do y.”

So if the small, pragmatic questions are addressed in this way, it makes sense that we are to deal with the big, foundational questions in this way as well – it just gets messier and more complex the bigger the questions is.

So for example,  when discussing the complex question “Does a monotheistic god exist?”, there are many smaller yes/no beliefs (addressing conscious questions and unquestioned assumptions)  that directs a person to and from a yes or no (ex. Can what I observe exist eternally? Can more than one god figure exist? Can everything be god?).  All of these binary beliefs also have a confidence level associated with them at least in the background.

I think the result of all those variables can lead me to having one of several mutually exclusive beliefs (ex. Montheism, Polytheism, Pantheism, and Anti-theism), even though the final level of certainty is relatively low.  So, I don’t need to be 51% certain that Monotheism is true to hold that belief, I simply need a higher confidence interval in that belief than in any of the competing beliefs (ex. I would hold to Monotheism if my split was the following: Monotheism 40%, Polytheism 2%, Pantheism 30%, and Anti-theism 28%).

At this point, I can understand the idea of “withholding judgement” – which is to say that one neither affirms or denies a binary question.  However, we don’t actually do this in practice, even if we hold mentally do withhold judgment.  We always act as though we accept either a yes or no to each question. 

Since we don’t do this pragmatically, I don’t believe it makes sense to do this even on a mental level.  As such, I cannot adopt withholding judgment, because I cannot do that with small pragmatic questions.  I always need to act in such a way that one of So, with regards to the question “Does God exist?”, I cannot hold an Atheistic position (“I have no belief in god[s]”) because it is not pragmatic.  I think it makes more sense to adopt one of the mutually exclusive views, rather than reject all of them, even if each of those views do not cross a 50% confidence interval.

Hopefully this tracks well as you read it.  It may have been a little convoluted, but hopefully the following was clear:  I don’t have be certain to hold position – I only need to have a stronger confidence interval in the position than any competing mutually exclusive claim.

If I’m not clear on something, please ask about it.  Additionally, if I’ve presented something foolish, please point that out for discussion.  The purpose of this is to develop and hone my belief structure and shed the chaff.  I’m hoping that interacting with people on this can at least shift my confidence one way or the other ^_^.   Regardless of whether you read the entire thing or skimmed the bold statements, thanks for the reading!

 

 

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The Epistemology of Disagreement

The Epistemology of Disagreement

This is my first substantial post, because I feel this topic is fundamental to how I view the world.  It keeps me humble… or at least more humble than how I’d be without this concept ^_^.

The single college class that has had the most surprising impact on my life was a course called “The Epistemology of Disagreement.”  Quite honestly, I didn’t know what it meant either when I signed up for it as a sophomore – I just knew that my Intro to Philosophy prof was teaching it and seemed like a legit guy.  Sophomores are wise fools, indeed ^_^.

This branch of philosophy is based on the following premise and question:  Consider two individuals who have the exact same set of information, yet they still disagree on a truth claim.  What does this tell us about the nature of truth?

The example I remember from the first day of class was that you and a friend are walking across campus and you point out a man that you see standing in the field next to you.  Your friend looks over and claims that he sees no one.  You look again and confirm that you see the man.  After a lengthy discussion and investigation, you still disagree.

So what do we make of the example?  Is one of you crazy?  Does one of you misunderstand the meaning of “man” or “field”?  Is such an example only theoretical and impossible in real life?

As with most philosophy classes, I can’t say that I really ever developed an undisputed answer to even the basic question that the course is formed around.  I ultimately feel like the situation is actually impossible  – every person has unique information and experiences that the other cannot have.  Even if 99% of the relevant information is shared between them.  That 1% is enough to differentiate how one answers the premise.  The biggest issue with this answer is that there is still no good reason to trust myself over the peer in this situation – I can’t ever demonstrate why my 1% difference is superior to his.

So, what does this tell us about the nature of truth?

Well, it tells me that I’m not special when it comes to divining truth.  There are many, many, many, smart people who share extraordinarily large sets of data who still disagree on things.  Some people say that the other side is agenda driven, biased, or willfully ignorant.  That’s true, but so is your side.  You’re not objective, no matter how hard you try.

Practically, this principle makes me humble when it comes to philosophical discussions.  I still try my hardest to look for the objective truth and I have to assume that the other is doing the same.  If we both disagree after long discussion, I feel I have no option but to cast a little more doubt on my conclusion.  It doesn’t mean that I necessarily reject my conclusion or say “I can never know!”. However, if another smart person seems to have the same data as me and disagrees, I should not just write them off as lazy, crazy, stupid, or lying (especially without considering that I may be at least one of those things ^_^).

Let me know in the comments what you think of the scenario.  Pointless philosophical hogwash?  Enlightening food for thought?  Trite dinner conversation?  You decide! ^_^

The Mind Forge

The Mind Forge

 

As my first post, I’d like to primarily copy/paste my about page.  I intend for the about page to serve as an introduction what I’m doing here and will hopefully be updated as time passes and my purpose for the blog is refined (and refining is currently the general purpose of the blog ^_^).  Any feedback you can provide is appreciated – contextual, grammatical, or philosophical.

I’m primarily using this blog space a place to organize and challenge the thoughts that I feel are foundational to other thoughts and beliefs that I have.   I will intersperse the posts with some lighter fare and potentially develop some thematic posts.  My hope is to have about a post a week – maybe getting regularly and more frequent with time.

Please feel free to comment, both on new and old posts.  I will try to respond to on topic questions and challenges eventually (within a day or two, hopefully), though  the speed may vary, as I don’t want this to significantly interfere with the other facets of my life^_^ (which, is super optimistic in terms of the response I’m likely to get ^_^).

Regarding any sort of personal interactions, I want to establish two guiding principles.  First, I do no want to focus on holistic identities of people when discussing topics.  If I quote someone, even a quote I agree with, is not a wholesale endorsement of the individual’s belief system/framework/worldview.  I want to wrestle with the idea they have presented, not other ideas that make them bad/good people.  Secondly, I want to fight against the inherent tribalism we all tend towards.  I do not want to defend ideas just because a group I’m associated with generally agrees with said idea.  I’m more interested in how ideas merge within an individual’s framework – mine and anyone who engages with a post.

Briefly about me:  I am a married man and father to three sons (twins from 2016 and another from 2018).  I am committed to my extended family and I have a tight group of friends I meet with regularly.  I work as a fulltime mental health case manager and a part-time wedding photographer.  I love hobby level board games – I have biweekly board game nights at my house and run tournaments at my FLGS.  I also listen to a variety of podcasts on board games and religion during my copious drive times for work.