Sunday, January 31, 2016

Professor X's true believers

Out of all the people who normally examine a belief's level of verified support before relying on it, more than a few of them subscribe/submit to supernatural beliefs which fail that examination. They might be uninformed, by accident or choice, about the realistic status of those beliefs' support. Or, when their thinking drifts in the proximity of those beliefs they might briskly swap their normal mode of understanding for a flightier one; they're "modal students" who selectively sever their educated wariness from their manipulable hunches and wishes. They may flippantly pigeonhole their secondary mode of unguarded acceptance not as careless but childlike.

In a more creative albeit obscure direction, followers of alleged supernatural realities might narrow their examination of their beliefs' support to the area of souls. By this they sidestep awkward questions about the beliefs' physical signs. (They could make an exception for recasting life's occasional beneficial coincidences as supernatural puppetry; if they do they conspicuously neglect the instances when a beneficial coincidence was badly missed.) They spotlight uniquely immediate parts of pure personal experience, such as heady episodes they've had which were somehow related to the beliefs. Also, they narrow their requests to supernatural beings to changes they'd like to see within souls, though their requests would compromise free will. They might be no less earnest, even as they pare down the expected level of backing for their beliefs. They may be true believers in supernatural realities—perhaps called "spooks" for convenience—which are practically confined to affecting souls.

This interpretation evokes a nontraditional but fairly well-known cultural metaphor: Professor X, who is the wise and seasoned founder of the X-Men team of superheroes. He can't use his legs. His muscles aren't superhumanly strong. He can't easily move (material) objects. But he has immense abilities over others' consciousnesses. He can both read and modify thoughts. Directly steering his own body accomplishes less than indirectly steering the bodies of others. Speaking outwardly, with sound waves, is usefully supplemented by eerie remote communication over longer distances, in such a way that he need not appear in person nearby.

Analogously, supernatural beliefs in the "Professor X subset" constantly underscore spooks' intersections with human souls—while categorically omitting verifiable predictions about consequences on things. True believers tend to report the actions of people who were acting as the spook's "hands". They receive a message from beyond, but it was silently delivered to the interior of their soul...or in lieu of that they received nonverbal inspiration which led them to compose the message. They receive aid in their souls such as inner calm, solace, courage, not tangible aid such as different circumstances. (The reverse is hostile spooks manifesting lies, fear, distrust, temptations.) Learning about a spook occurs through the representation of true believers who are its de facto ambassadors on planet Earth. When it is said to be "on the move", the method it uses is their sacrificial toil. When it is said to be "here right now", the mark of its presence is the modified demeanors of a crowd. The common thread is habitually referring to the kind of feats which Professor X could do. Its imagined shape probably has little similarity to his, but its, uh, uncanny interactions with people do. Needless to say, the abilities attributed to it might exceed his.

The twist is that, like a fictional land motivating a MUSH, beliefs that sway people are by that very fact occupying a smidgen of realness. In a loose sense, when true believers psychologically condition one another to symbols, their brains could act as if supernatural Professor X powers are in operation. Conditioning could start at a young impressionable age, so it harnesses the instinct to imitate older people. It could be renewed regularly (weekly if not daily). The product is hardened certitude in both the performances of the powers and the identities of the spooks performing. Suggestibility is a factor, although the extent of it is often overrated. The pliable chaos of the brain is more than capable of synthesizing marvels for itself. And it's effortless to retrospectively assign blame after the train of thought passes through an odd switch to an unexplored destination.

Yet this smidgen of realness is its own counterargument. A belief's accuracy is separate from the possibility of humongous quantities of people acting as if it's assured. The boundary between error and socially approved "common sense" isn't thick and/or brightly colored. One person's faulty reasoning isn't repaired by merely setting another person's identical faulty reasoning next to theirs. The pattern of these spooks is to stay unseen except through the murkiness of true believers' souls. Doubters have no trouble leaping to the relevant question: what if spooks weren't responsible for any of the listed events in souls...implying that support for the spooks is nonexistent? What if Professor X and his mutant powers were made up, and people's brains weren't under continuous infiltration from outside forces?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

axioms to grind

So many people make decisions through beliefs which are missing satisfactory corroboration. In so doing they adjust how they act and think and—most alarmingly—treat others. Calling them "followers" is more apropos than "believers". Whatever they're called, it's far too simplistic to assume that none of them ever notice the relative suspiciousness of some of their beliefs, on some level, sometimes. They compensate with an an array of strategies, such as contenting themselves with the self-concept of perpetual seeker. Perpetual seekers always openly look for fuzzy beliefs that "speak to them right now" as opposed to beliefs with excellent impersonal accuracy.

Without a doubt, that option wouldn't tempt followers who are more fastidious about their beliefs: they who wish they could detail the sturdy reasoning behind their thinking. Mathematics is the paragon of this formal style. It demands painstaking proofs. The overt exceptions are axioms, which are purposefully accepted as true without proof. Proofs can then build on top of the axioms. Plane geometry is a familiar example.

Axioms generally fall under the principle of parsimony, i.e. few and small, selected with stringent awareness of benefit and cost. The content is centered on universal premises reusable in discrete cases, not on the minutiae of historical facts. It's not rare to work on reducing dependence on axioms by showing that one or more can be proven via the rest or further distilled to essentials. Cursorily proposing more or larger axioms is not the predominant method of reaching reliable, persuasive results.

Followers may opt to equate their most central beliefs to axioms. By analogy, this removes the perceived burden of justifying plausibility. Axioms are invaluable in mathematics, which avoids gaps in arguments whenever possible. Consequently, they can feel more serene about disregarding the realism of the "axioms" in their beliefs, too. And they can retain high standards for ideas beyond those. In words, "All diligent thinking about a topic needs to start with axioms. I start with those, and I can't be expected to reasonably justify why." Axioms impart a respectable-looking loophole.

The tacit error, as usual, is easier to distinguish from outside of the follower's mentality: the discussed beliefs don't mirror the qualities of sensible axioms. People could drive in nails using miscellaneous objects, but not all of those objects qualify as sensible "hand tools". Perhaps the beliefs have inhabited the follower like axioms, because the follower was taught early that the beliefs' accuracy was unquestionable. But in order to properly mimic the axiom category of mathematics, almost all propositions should be left out. If it's quite possible to contemplate a variety of cases without referring to a proposition, and/or it's feasible to estimate/determine a proposition's accuracy through normal means, then a proposition shouldn't be dumped into axioms.

If it is anyway, then its logic withers. It shifts the intellectual status of the beliefs' coherent whole. A system that obliges onlookers, from the start, to adopt an abundance of weighty, uncorroborated propositions isn't a viable axiomatic system. It has a different mathematical analogy: a sequential set of conjectures. Conjectures aren't useless or repugnant, of course; throughout history conjectures have motivated brilliant leaps. Greater candor is the main difference between naming the beliefs axioms or conjectures. Followers shouldn't mislead themselves, or anyone, to depict their beliefs in the image of logically derived proofs which result from "simple" beginnings—little idea dominoes tipping one another. It's worth remembering that tipping over a preliminary domino such as "one or more gods exist" has kept debaters occupied for centuries. So has the next domino, "What are these one or more gods like?"

Monday, January 18, 2016

on a mission to seek and seek and seek

In response to a huge variety of motivations, some more excusable than others, legions of people choose to base their actions and thoughts on the accuracy of beliefs that lack sufficient corroboration or reasonableness. They direct themselves, physically and mentally, as if the beliefs were well-established. But how do they manage to keep it up, if they're the type who aren't generally receptive to letting shaky beliefs go unchallenged?

Perhaps they may summarily declare that the less credible parts of the beliefs they follow are mere trifles that they don't try to uphold. Or at all times they may voluntarily disengage normal scrutiny in the special case of these beliefs. Or their evasiveness could assume yet a different form: they're perpetual seekers through and through. Seekers in this sense are enamored with seeking. They tend to glamorize uncertainty, elevate questions over answers, and relish subverting all definitions with exceptions. They do show a laudable glimmer of pragmatism in that they would emphasize individual practices instead of unsinkable allegiance to sweeping dogmas. So their outward affiliation might be relatively loose; a subset might be "nones" who don't name any particular affiliation, despite the faith-beliefs they erratically substitute for unflinching materialistic naturalism.

Seekers grant themselves permission to respond to criticisms with nonchalance. If seeking is never expected to meet a goal and/or as a rule the seeker refuses to presuppose a fixed goal, then criticisms are inconsequential. Moving from one belief to the next is one of their few constants. When a belief gradually loses its appeal the seeker blames the belief, not their own developing habituation to it. 

Anyway, they're seeking not testing. They aren't applying universal, previously decided criteria to the beliefs they stumble onto. They're trying on beliefs like shoes, as they're guided by nebulous guesses of what might gratify them for a short while. Implicitly, each belief holds comparatively little weight. None can rise to a supreme rank of believability, because seekers aren't concerned with conscientiously checking the accuracy of the belief. To the seeker, the belief is not a hypothetical reality, strictly speaking. It's a temporary resting spot which cannot be a lasting answer. When told "Your current beliefs are probably inaccurate," the seeker's tepid reply is "No surprise to me—I never had thought that I'd found out anything dependable." 

Unashamedly, then, the seeker way of life exposes its drawback: it's haphazard. It ensures a twisty path winding in no uniform direction and earning no durable prize. Traveling a path of this shape is a pleasant enough activity in a leisure context, but it's a dreadful strategy for productive investigation of momentous information. In order to fulfill their presumed thirst for trusty information, they should be striving to prevent the self-serving interference of their distorting predispositions. A personal mission of seeking is the converse of that.

Can anyone feel at ease divulging that their beliefs are works in progress? Absolutely. Be that as it may, why can't they be expected to feel equally at ease coherently estimating and explaining how much progress they've made in seeking accurate beliefs? If they counter that they don't care about the accuracy of the beliefs that they're conforming to, then they're prompting two additional quibbles, the first selfish, the second unselfish. First, the cost of following possible fabrications is a regrettable waste; paying that cost to follow legitimate beliefs, or simply forgoing the cost of following unfounded beliefs, is almost certainly more constructive. Second, the belief's grounding will be indispensable in the event that the seeker wishes to attract other seekers to it, so they can benefit too.

The defect is the shortage of discriminating examination. Their devotion might be fleeting, but it's too easily handed out nonetheless. Absurdly, they're using seeking as a defense for not seeking seriously enough.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Trouble With Trifles

Like followers of any belief, followers of materialistic naturalism like myself—who may individually prefer a gamut of different labels—often assume that their views deserve to be irresistible to the discerning, the knowledgeable, the modern, the compassionate, and the curious. Nevertheless, this markedly isn't the a long shot. So I've been covering some philosophical/psychological coping ploys which underpin dedication to faith-beliefs. I followed a set for a long time and continue to spend time around others who do.

This entry is about the the ploy of dismissively classifying all the least tenable parts of the faith-beliefs as trifles. Through this quick compromise, a follower can feel reassured in choosing to ignore the status of those parts. Plus it eases their thinking. If those parts just don't matter, then they don't even need to try to subscribe to those parts "by faith" or to reconcile those parts to conflicting information from a multitude of other sources. Provided a part can be minimized as "small stuff" and set aside, a ludicrous level of probable inaccuracy isn't a fatal blow. Meanwhile, by default the remaining parts represent treasures of precious, immutable claims about the follower's realities. The ploy's total effect resembles chess players sacrificing pawns to block threats to the valuable queen and king.

Eventually, I ceased to be satisfied by this. Trifles caused five troubles. First, undercutting the credibility of so many parts, no matter how minor, inevitably degrades the credibility of the whole too. When a source is inaccurate about a string of details, the recipient has compelling reasons to be leery toward whatever the source communicates. Although it's very possible for a source to mix falsities or exaggerations with truths, such a source doesn't command complete trust. Violations of trust sap faith.

Second, faith-beliefs' associated traditions, rituals, creative works, and mandates gravitate to the treasures classification. By nature everybody changes actions less readily than thoughts. Pretexts for maintaining old, comforting habits are gladly welcomed. Yet downgrading those actions' supportive beliefs to trifles tarnishes these actions' basis and symbolism, which after all are intended to parallel definite (albeit otherworldly) realities. Followers vary greatly according to how much they're bothered by this. Personally, the more that I abandoned facets as fallacious trifles, the more foolish and pointless the actions felt to me. Singing about the role of divine intervention in a plentiful harvest sticks out as superfluous in an advanced age of agricultural science.

Third, due to discarding the vexing trifles, the treasures offer a medley of increasingly disconnected pieces. The formerly integrated set of faith-beliefs dissolves into a patchy assortment. And the boundaries between the isolated treasures and the beliefs that don't require faith seem more like troublesome cracks. If the belief in the spectral human soul is one of the treasures, but almost all body phenomena operate without regard to spectral stuff, then the precise relationship between each soul and its human poses a puzzle.

Fourth, the subsequent pile of trifles keeps growing. Accurate ideas are co-dependent dominoes. Replacing a trifle with a single corroborated statement spurs the replacement of other trifles with the statements that are interwoven to the first. Additionally, the growing pile contrasts with the strange self-contained aloofness of the faith-beliefs which are left. The follower is driven to legitimize—to themselves if not to their peers—the metaphorical "moat" that encircles treasures though never trifles. Like in the third trouble, if A/B/C/D were all closely linked faith-beliefs, and A/B/C ended up one by one as mere trifles surrendered in the face of external contradictions, then treasured D's lone immunity to those same contradictions calls for an explanation.

Fifth, an unwanted side-effect ensues: the treasures dilute and leave lighter impressions. The proverbial introductory phrase "one thing I know for sure" doesn't inspire enthusiasm in potential converts. Treasures that furnish so little meaningfulness, and so few distinctions in practice, act like thin layers to add on to a number of views, as opposed to firm, all-encompassing standpoints. A second consequence is the blurring of divisions within the brackets of faith-beliefs. (Followers might judge that to be an asset or a penalty depending on their mentality.) The shorter the list of essential beliefs dwindles, the less necessary the conventional partitions are. And along with that development is, once again, diminished authoritativeness of the forebears who first instituted the partitions.

To reiterate, these five troubles are clues, not irrefutable proofs, of the inadequacy of reclassifying disrupted faith-beliefs as trifles. Finally quitting the ploy is voluntary. It's voluntary to admit that the ploy is a ploy. These choices can't be forced on them by anyone else. Sure, everyone says that they want to follow the trail toward the most authentic ideas. But they neglect to mention that they'll leave the trail at the moment it stops heading in the direction of their preconceptions—pardon, their "inner compass".