Thursday, December 31, 2015

the problem with modal students

Recently I've been listing mechanisms by which faith-beliefs persist in numerous followers who "shouldn't" be susceptible; they're intelligent, well-educated, integrated into surrounding society, and willing and able to probe conclusions for themselves. (I intentionally restrict my comments to "faith-beliefs" not "religion" because not all who associate themselves with a religion, or even participate in aspects of it, enshrine it as the overriding source of accurate information about everything, and not all faith-beliefs fit the category of religion.) The most frequently underestimated mechanism is the pure inertia of the follower's outlook, aided perhaps by a shortfall of genuinely wide-ranging curiosity.

Other mechanisms are far more inventive. A well-tested template is to take an unrelated, indisputable principle and jumble it with the faith-beliefs. For example, based on the principle that independent but equally effective investigations will arrive at harmonious findings, committed followers may submit that, contrary to appearances, human knowledge is in an abysmally tedious chase toward their chosen faith-beliefs. Or, based on the principle that different domains sometimes require different methods of verification, they may submit that their faith-beliefs require finicky "modes" of examination. In a completely unsurprising coincidence, the mode they pick is more congruous to faith. The prescribed mode almost certainly won't be alert perception, or minimal speculation, or rigorous collection and review of impartial records (either quantitative or qualitative). But it's more often a mode of overexcited/overstimulated consciousness, or unnegotiable presumption, or extravagantly construing the meaning of inexact and malleable impressions, memories, shivers. In a word, the generalized demand is for modes that are based on uncurbed feeling. They're seeking students who agree to switch to noncognitive modes before learning begins: students who are flexibly modal when asked.

The advantage of having modal students for followers is easily appreciated. They can be excellent detectors of inadequate corroborations in the majority of domains. Yet they remain steadfast in their faith-beliefs because they rapidly enter a less scrupulous mode whenever their thoughts wander in that vicinity. They can be appealingly level-headed and "normal"—they just have quirks such as regularly meditating on the generosity of accepting the blood sacrifice of an innocent in place of endless torture of the guilty. They can be more responsive to directions delivered through the corresponding mode. If their mode is already tied to their loftiest inclinations, they can be directed by evoking those inclinations. If their mode is already tied to the nobility of self-denial, they can be directed by presenting them with a new "opportunity" of self-denial, e.g. additional cash donations. If their mode is already tied to audacious leaps outside logical extensions of sufficiently tested ideas, they can be directed by encouraging, uh, more leaps.

Ultimately, the flaw of explicitly modal understanding reflects the flaw of prematurely expanding the scope of a thesis. Like a thesis, a mode isn't necessarily misleading until it's reapplied inappropriately. The importance of context shouldn't be underestimated. It's arbitrary to exclusively use an inadequate mode of examination in a particular domain...on purpose. In usual modern domains nobody is advised to study detectable phenomena by disengaging their high-level judgment, then interpreting their own inklings in extremely broad fashion. Nowadays nobody is told that they must divine the chemical composition of a substance. A mode of fond gratefulness is a great idea in human interaction; it's less great for cherishing the unconfirmable actions of mythic figureheads.

As I've repeated in numerous forms, the crux is still the keen question, "Why should supernatural topics benefit from irregular rules? (And the follow-up, why should these irregular rules solely cover my set of beliefs regarding those topics?)" Regardless of how baffling the mind-game is to outsiders, modal students are distracting themselves from thinking "too much" about the very existence of supernatural entities by emphasizing how they feel about those unvalidated entities. They're reifying objects to which they can attach their reverent emotions. To them, hearing more cases of absent signs or logical contradictions accomplishes virtually nothing because those are shut out of their preset mode. With little prompting they may remark, à la Fideism, that irrationality is integral to their concept of "faith"! Their felt Truth is preserved from the attacks of facts. This tactic is the epitome of compartmentalization—not only are intellectual objections isolated from the domain but so is the mode of processing the objections.

In my background, this mechanism didn't have a lot of influence. I was more driven to the project of rationalizing my faith-beliefs as much as possible, despite how that project actually turned out. Unfortunately, unlike when I was a follower, modal students are unlikely to absorb the arguments in a blog entry...

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:38 PM

    Hi, I am from Australia.
    Please find three sets of references which provide an Illuminated Understanding of Reality and the limitations of both conventional religious and scientific belief systems. There is some overlap with the first two references:
    On the paradoxical nature of quantum Reality