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Firefly, Serenity

Within Reason

Posted on 2012.01.09 at 09:20

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dentin
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
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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