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Firefly, Serenity

Within Reason

Posted on 2012.01.09 at 09:20


dentin at 2012-01-10 17:48 (UTC) (Link)
I disagree with this, in that I see no relationship between confidence level of belief and ability to look at other beliefs objectively. There are many things I am uncertain about which threaten me not one iota. There are countless people in the world threatened to the core by anyone who contradicts their absolute belief.

I think what you're trying to say requires another level of meta to express properly: one must know what the confidence level of your belief is, not have confidence in your belief.

This explains things better, in my mind. I am comfortable with my beliefs being challenged, because I know they are uncertain; all it takes me to change my belief system is to give me convincing evidence. Fanatics are uncomfortable with beliefs being challenged because they've set the knobs to either 0% or 100%, and any evidence which might change those settings must be rejected, ignored or destroyed. Often they pick destroy.
ehowton at 2012-01-10 23:58 (UTC) (Link)
I see no relationship between confidence level of belief and ability to look at other beliefs objectively.

On the contrary, you seem to back up that supposition with your percentage example. When someone sets their knob to either extreme, that polarity seemingly infers a knowledge deficit. And while its tricky traversing the chasm between knowledge and beliefs, it seemed to me michelle1963 wasn't suggesting a confidence in belief, but in themselves.

Even if the example of you personally at no point did you lack confidence in you, only "things." If we doubt ourselves, surely we would also doubt the convictions of our beliefs?

Sorry - its not easy for me to think unlike me :/
dentin at 2012-01-11 19:46 (UTC) (Link)
Actually, I lack confidence in many things about myself. I am not confident in my ability to sing, or my ability to play bass, or my ability to write C++ code. On the other hand, I'm very confident that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that general relativity and QM are extremely accurate. I have a lot more confidence in things that are well tested and understood than I do in my own chaotic internal behavior.

At a core level, my entire belief system is built on two fundamental axioms:

1) I believe that the universe contains identifiable patterns; and

2) I believe that my brain/mind is capable of identifying some of the patterns present in the universe.

That's it. Everything else is built on that layer, and no part of the stack is sacrosanct. Even those two beliefs have an uncertainty value associated with them; but it would take a LOT of evidence for me to discard either one.

Everything about me, including my (rather small set of) core axioms, is uncertain and subject to change. Because everything about me is subject to doubt, adding doubt to any particular belief isn't really much cause for concern.

But for someone built on a large number of binary axioms which can only be 'right' or 'wrong'...
ehowton at 2012-01-11 21:05 (UTC) (Link)
I think we're using the word confident differently - for are you not confident in your uncertainty in your ability to sing, because it certainly sounds like it.

I agree whole-heartedly in #1 and #2. Its that which I am confident in - my ability to ascertain and assimilate new data. Not whether or not I could effectively play the oboe.
dentin at 2012-01-11 19:29 (UTC) (Link)
I've had some time to think about this, and I realize that I'm not being clear; partially because this concept set is still pretty new for me, and because it's pretty abstract.

Please answer the following two questions as an example:

1) Estimate, from memory using only the information in your head at this moment, the birth year of Leibnitz (the guy who co-invented calculus with Newton.)

2) Give a confidence range around your estimate in years, such that you think there's a 50/50 shot of your estimate being in that range. For example, "[my estimate +-20] years has a 50% chance of being right".

My point is that #1, what you believe, isn't the important part. What's important is #2 - how likely it is that you're wrong.

The reason I don't get upset when my beliefs are challenged is because I consciously know and keep track of #2: I try to always know how likely I am to be wrong (or right.) This holds for things I am nearly certain about (gravity, QM, the sun rising every morning) as well as for things I am far less certain about (will the milk go bad early this time?)

When I am confronted with conflicting evidence, I can simply update my #2 reliability estimate, without necessarily changing #1. A strange experimental result doesn't cause me to disbelieve in general relativity or cause me to disbelieve the result. What it does do is cause me to lower my #2 estimate for general relativity a small amount, and lower my #2 estimate for the experimental result by a large amount.

My suggestion is that fanatics and nutjobs get upset in part because they do not keep track of #2. They have no 'chance I am wrong' bucket, so for all intents and purposes their beliefs are "certain". In this case, when confronted with conflicting evidence, the only available options are either to modify the belief outright, or to invalidate/discard/ignore the evidence.

This also explains why fanatics cannot change their belief systems. I will change a belief when enough evidence has accumulated in #2 to justify the change. But a fanatic cannot 'accumulate' evidence. Each piece, when encountered, can only change the belief or be discarded. Evidence cannot add uncertainty, because there is no #2 value to adjust. If no single piece of evidence is large enough to change the belief, the belief will hold and the evidence will be discarded.

I hope that clears things up. It was certainly helpful for me.
michelle1963 at 2012-01-11 20:19 (UTC) (Link)
You have a gift for pointing out the vulnerabilities in the way human thinking works (or does not work). It's a thing of beauty, dentin.

However, I was addressing a nuanced difference ~ the quality of the underlying self-confidence an individual has in himself. Neither you, ehowton, nor myself suffer from a lack of self-confidence. Why? Is it because none of us believe in much except the basics of the logic (which you have so well explained in the above post)? Does this give us the confidence in ourselves that some seem to lack? Or is it our self-confidence that allows us to shed ourselves of beliefs in deities, and the associated context?

In any case, those who have little self-confidence often readily tie their self-identities to an idea ~ religious, political party, etc. They hold these ideas sacrosanct in lieu of self-discovery (which might lead to self-confidence). They vicariously gain self-confidence when greater numbers of people adhere to the same concept. And since their self-identity is tied to a concept, they can tolerate no alternative concept, because to do so becomes an assault on who they are.
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