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Since erroneous beliefs are often held just as strongly as true beliefs, it becomes a difficult question how they are to be distinguished from true beliefs. How are we to know, in a given case, that our belief is not erroneous? This is a question of the very greatest difficulty, to which no completely satisfactory answer is possible. --Bertrand Russell.

I must say that I found the discussion in the comments on a/k/a’s offering, The Mendacious Truth, fascinating and am overwhelmed with a compulsion to follow up in an admittedly tangential way.

There is something in the human psyche that causes us to mistake our own beliefs for facts, probably a trait that evolved over millennia for some salutary survival purpose. This trait causes all sorts of problems for us.

If I hit my own thumb with a hammer, I experience immediate pain. I consider this a safe fact. But if I propose this as a universal truth, I am already on slippery ground. If I hit someone else’s thumb with a hammer, I must rely upon his or her report to me that he or she does also experience immediate pain. The universality of that pain in the circumstances does seems to be true to me, however, because it coincides with my own experience. When we drift farther afield, however, more serious problems develop.

I happen to believe that our species is careering toward multiple catastrophes of unimaginable proportions as a result of man-made climate change. I believe that we have already blown past the much discussed “tipping point” and that the advent of the legendary Four Horsemen—War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death—will be sooner rather than later. This is in spite of the fact that I do not have an apocalyptic bent of mind. So strong is my belief in that regard that I have difficulty taking seriously discussions of consumer capitalist growth, tax incentives for growth, consumer confidence, consumer credit, etc., and Jobs! Those subjects seem quaintly comical to me in the context within which I view them as a result of my strong belief. (I in no way intend to demean the seriousness with which such subjects are regarded by those who are tasked with attempting to feed their babies right now in the present.)

Yet, if I were to be honest with myself, I would have to admit that my strong belief is based upon "facts" that are in no way comparable to the hammer on my own thumb. I am relying on others for purported facts that have caused me to believe as I do, others whom I myself have chosen to trust for reasons that sound superficial when I try to articulate them.

I regard the following statement as one of the most honest that any human being can make: “I strongly believe this [whatever] . . . but I could be wrong.” So brutally honest is that statement that few can make it. It is an impossible statement for those in the business of selling their own beliefs.

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Comment by Keith Joiner on February 17, 2017 at 2:01pm

I love your concluding statement. I try to include the phrase 'I think' (as opposed to "I know" - I use it in the same way you used 'I strongly believe. . . ') whenever I can't verify the facts in question. Some times it seems every word out of my mouth or fingers needs that very disclaimer. 

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on February 17, 2017 at 2:24pm

Hi, Keith. For sure I understand.

For my part, I am fond of saying that I am only 67.3% sure of the opinion that I am most sure about. Seems a clever thing to say, to me.

But the catch . . . your device and mine run counter to the advice of many that we should rely only upon strong declarative sentences without weasel words, particularly in our writing. Therein lies part of the conundrum that I was trying to get at.

Comment by JMac1949 Today on February 17, 2017 at 3:01pm

What facts constitute the true experience of the proverbial frog in the proverbial pan of slowly warming water on it's way to a roiling boil??   In my estimation that gruesome experiment is an excellent metaphor for our current condition as a culture and economy of consumerism.  "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." - Edward Abbey

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on February 17, 2017 at 3:19pm

Well said, JMac.

I am compelled to regard unlimited economic "growth" as we define it as entirely inconsistent with the obvious finitude of this little planet on which we ride. The contradiction seems obvious to me. Moreover, I have faith in this little planet's ability to right itself and clean itself. It has done so repeatedly in the past. That ability, however, does not bode well for our species . . .

. . . but I could be wrong about that.

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on February 17, 2017 at 4:20pm

A side note. One of the reasons that I love that dog so much is that when I run one of my beliefs by him, he always considers it the Gospel.

Comment by alsoknownas on February 17, 2017 at 4:42pm

In my business we have clients who pass to another a "disclosure form" about the item being sold. Mind you, these items are not trinkets.

The buyer is often misled I believe not so much by the statements presented which can be false, as they are by their own moral code and firmly held belief that if someone says something is true it must therefore be true.

They lull their own self into a hazy understanding of what is being said. The forms clearly say to the seller that they are required to answer each of about 150 questions "to the best of their knowledge".

A person who feels truthful, and believes that they have told a buyer everything they know, can easily mislead another by being uninformed but believing they are truthful.

Example; little old lady answers on a form that her roof to the best of her knowledge has not leaked. She has signed a form that asks if the answers are true to the best of her knowledge. The buyer thinks that's great. They do not want a leaking roof and think that is what they are getting.

We find out that she has Dowager's hump, cannot bend her head back at all, and has not gone up to the second floor in 5 years. She hasn't seen the water stain on the uppermost ceiling. Her answer was true to the best of her knowledge, but false in terms of the property condition.

For her, while it lasted, ignorance was bliss.

At that point things begin to change.

(Thanks for the credit. Appreciated.)

Comment by alsoknownas on February 17, 2017 at 4:45pm

In a recent study it was revealed that 5 out of 4 people make up their own facts nearly 86% of the time just to corroborate their own assertions.

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on February 17, 2017 at 4:57pm

Oh, my gosh, a/k/a, that is so funny because in a different life I was involved in this sort of thing more than once from a different angle than yours, but in the end with a similar perspective on the whole thing. The illustration is illustrative. Is that a tautology?

No thanks is necessary. I owe you. That piece and the comments were immensely entertaining to me, but not nearly as much as your style of writing. When I read you, it is as if I am relentlessly moving  forward even though I may be banging on the side walls on the way.

I am not sucking up. It has always been so.

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on February 17, 2017 at 5:31pm

Thank you, Jesus, for studies and polls!

Comment by that angry buddha guy on February 18, 2017 at 1:40am

two present day examples ...

'gonna make america great again'

'trust me, only I can do it'

and the gullible ate that shit up!


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