Reading Philosophy

Oct 21, 2010 19:15 # 46832

Bunk *** posts about...

Truth, and Whether it is Beneficial

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Previously, in the Philosophy forum, I asked whether reason could solve all human problems. I wasn't sure, at the time, that the meaning of my question was clear, and now I want to approach it from a different angle.

Consider a few basic propositions which I consider to be true:
1. I exist
2. A physical universe exists, external to my mind
3. I am a physical substance
4. Other physical substances create impressions in my mind, via my sense organs
5. Asides from 1 and 5, no human can ever be 100% certain of any fact about the universe.

Now, I obviously don't consider 2-4 to be weak propositions, in fact I consider them so incredibly strong that it's near impossible to imagine that they are false. But 1 and 5 are still more convincing, because I think it's possible that I could discover something that would undermine 2-4.

Along with these 5, there are billions of other propositions which I consider to be near-certain to be true. I live out my day-to-day life as if I were certain of them, as most people do. Really, it wouldn't make any sense to do anything differently, because you can't possibly survive if you worry about the accuracy of every little thing you think is true.

Nevertheless, humans are in a constant state of at least minor uncertainty regarding all but the most basic of truths.

The question I was getting at in my earlier post was a pragmatic one: is it better for humans to be as close to the truth as possible, despite the underlying uncertainty? Or, can our lives be better (happier, more enjoyable, more productive, etc) if we are 'certain' about things which are in fact uncertain or even false?

The best example I can think of is believing in God. I don't. But, people who do seem to find a lot of comfort in God's infinite love, and in the 'fact' the He has a plan for them, and that they can be saved by faithfully believing that he exists. Also, death is scary, and the idea that I could spend eternity after death with my loved ones in heaven sounds really nice. Perhaps, then, we'd all be happier if we all believed in God and an afterlife, even if they don't exist.

What do you think?

"History is more or less bunk." - Henry Ford

This post was edited by Bunk on Oct 21, 2010.

Oct 25, 2010 19:49 # 46836

null throws in his two cents...

Re: Truth, and Whether it is Beneficial

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It took me a while to come up with a satisfactory answer to your question. It's something I've been pondering in the past as well. I'm posting this not to answer your question, but to see what you and other people make of it.

I myself am a practicing skeptic. That's why I love science so much. Of all belief systems known to man, science does three things best:
1. it admits that we don't know everything,
2. it adjusts its views to incorporate new evidence, and
3. it's prepared to accept it when the previous views were likely wrong.

Any kind of faith, be it religion, alternative medicine or ancient wizardry, differs from science in that it's pretty static. When a true believer is confronted with evidence that contradicts his views, he closes his eyes and prays a little harder.
Of course there are those who claim that the same applies to somebody's 'faith' in science. That's true but misleading; science is unique in that it actively evolves in an attempt to give as plausible an explanation as possible on anything, and that its claims are verifiable.
Science is the obvious explanation for everything, and obviously the only thing that makes sense in the big picture.

Why, then, do so many people believe in something different?

According to a series of studies, religious people are generally slightly happier than atheists.
There are also signs that unhappy people are more religious than happy ones.

The first of the infamous five stages of grief is denial.

Some very lonely people invent imaginary friends.


The simple answer is, belief gives us hope, safety, the comfort of 'knowing' that everything happens for a reason and that we're part of a plan; something to hold on to. Denial is a form of belief that can protect us from ideas or knowledge that we could not cope with. Belief is thus simply a mechanism to make it easier for us to cope with a sometimes less-than-perfect reality.

When life hands you a lemon, that's 40% of your RDA of vitamin C taken care of.

This post was edited by null on Oct 25, 2010.

Oct 28, 2010 18:54 # 46841

Bunk *** replies...

Re: Truth, and Whether it is Beneficial

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Great post - good concise defense of science as a system for generating beliefs.

Denial is a form of belief that can protect us from ideas or knowledge that we could not cope with.

Now, I find this point quite interesting, and I want to explore it a little deeper. It reminds me of the legend about Buddha - how he lived a life of priviledge as a prince, until one day he left his palace and observed three inevitable facts of life which he had been isolated from: disease, old age, and death. This, I think, is the knowledge which people find the most difficult to cope with.

After that, he renounced all worldly goods, and lived as a monk - the idea being, if life ultimately ends in disease and death, worldly goods aren't much consolation, so you may as well detach yourself from things as much as possible. Then, one day, as he's sitting under a tree, a young woman demonstrates compassionate action by bringing him food and water, and he becomes the Buddha (which literally means 'awakened one').

'Awakened one' in this sense doesn't mean that he accessed some spiritual or mystical knowledge. What it means is that he began to see and accept the world as it really is, without believing in things not supported by experience. That's why Buddhism doesn't claim that there are gods, nor an afterlife, nor souls - because experience offers no evidence of these things. I find Buddha's teachings very interesting for that reason: they align nicely with a scientific approach to generating beliefs, because science helps us make sense of what we experience.

The conclusion Buddha came to is that we CAN live our lives without resorting to any comforting illusions, and I for one agree. Forget trying to qualify for some imaginary heaven, forget trying to please some fictional god, and accept the fact that you almost certainly don't have an immortal soul. In other words, accept the truth about this life, reject imaginary sources of meaning or order, and from there you can proceed to make it the best life possible.

Minchin says it himself: isn't this enough? Accept what seems most likely (revealed via experience and scientific examination of experience), accept the mystery where truth is uncertain or unknowable, and live the best life you can based on what makes the most sense. That, I guess, would be my answer to the question I was asking.

"History is more or less bunk." - Henry Ford

Nov 06, 2010 00:13 # 46867

jael *** replies...

Re: Truth, and Whether it is Beneficial

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First off - great revision of the question. (sorry this is slightly long)
Coincidentally enough, I've been playing with this idea all year.This is not so much an answer to your question, but more adding my two cent as I'm in agreement with you guys.
These are my observations.
I currently think that the biggest difference between religious and atheists or more scientifically inclined people is curiosity. The imminent need to ask why.
Now I don't particularly know what makes people choose to not question and follow. And other people to always question.
Maybe some genetic hard wiring? or a combination of nature and nurture.
(Now it may look like I'm going off on a tangent but stay with me here, I promise this circles)
Recently, I've been contemplating the point of my existence.
What is the point of doing all the things I'm doing when I have no idea when I'm going to die.
In the bigger picture of things, our daily plans, emotional struggles wont particularly matter cause we're going to be dead. Of course in the mean time we influence everyone's lives and create meaning for life.
But in reality nothing matters.
The world goes on.
An asteroid could collide into earth causing the giant flying dildo to drop from the sky and activate all the nuclear weapons leading to planet earth's demise.
And all our little plans turn into dust.
Yet, we (sing with me now) FEEL!

According to a series of studies, religious people are generally slightly happier than atheists.

The above that I mentioned can be a very emotionally isolating thought.

Maybe why ignorance is attributed to bliss.
Probably why people choose to believe (in god). This thought, I would imagine would be hard to handle.
Why have such a wide range of intensily personal emotion and have a stream of consciousness and it doesnt mean anything. There is no final answer to our lives.
There is no reason for my conscious stream to exist but it does.
And it's mine.
It must have meaning.
Probably why people make plans, believe they have 72 virgins waiting up there. Believe that this short little time that they have has to be meaningful.
[ofcourse meaningful has various different meanings geographically]
On the flip side.

We realise that we are on this planet. We feel because we are genetically modified to. And although mathematics can be applied to almost anything in the universe. We cannot predict our own future because of infinite number of unknown variables.
However, we can still predict future within small time frames with reasonable accuracy.
so with the theory;
1. I exist
2. Change is the only constant in the equation.
3. I am truly free to give any kind of meaning to my life.*
*I just have to convince my parents now
Then the future becomes pure and untainted.

There are also signs that unhappy people are more religious than happy ones.

Their plans for the future got fucked with and they just cannot reconcile. They probably hug tightest to the tree of belief cause it's what they know.
The fear of the unknown is a powerful one.

Even though, universe maybe infinite and time maybe relative. My life still exists, my consciousness still does too. And with that I really am choosing. It just makes all the choices I make in my life all the more important.
How I feel, what I do when I feel.
What happens when I neglect feelings (not just my own, other peoples aswell)

I mean, the way I look at it now is choosing a religion or being born into one and sticking to is an incredibly lazy option.
You have been given life, it is YOUR responsibility to live it AS YOU see fit. Treat people exactly how you choose to treat them because you've thought about it.
Your morality and principals become ever so important at this point as your not just fitting your life to live by somebody else's model written a thousand years ago.

Your thinking about your action, how you behave, how you react.
Then questioning yourself whether this behaiviour of yours shows how you like to be perceived.

(this is why curiosity is important - in my view)

This school of thought puts a lot more responsibility on one's self and one's actions.

Whether this is allow us to 'better' our lives. I'm not sure, but it does lead us to live a more honest life, especially to ourselves.

Side note

I wrote this answer three times as there were so many factors to consider and putting it all in one answer just didnt seem to be enough.

I really do think there is something to be said in point 3 that you mentioned.

I am a physical substance.
not just a mass but million and one complex systems all working together.

I think there within the hardware and software of our body/brain lies answers to whether or not we choose to be 'happier'
Whether we lead or follow. Whether we are curious or not.

*insert something profound/witty/humorous here*

This post was edited by jael on Nov 06, 2010.

Nov 07, 2010 22:58 # 46879

yalaclaus * replies...

Re: Truth, and Whether it is Beneficial

My short reply:

Truth is much like anything else in this world; sometimes good, sometimes bad, often both. Also, I am 100% sure that God exists (however those are my beliefs), and that certainty in no way intervenes on my search for truth. Not really sure how the OP managed to bring God into this, but these are my two cents

"Being cool ain't enough homie, I'ma freeze time like...that..."

Nov 24, 2010 04:52 # 46904

Bunk *** posts about...

Re: Truth, and Whether it is Beneficial

92% | 2

Love it - read your post a couple times, and I think it does indeed tie together nicely all round. I'd like to comment on a couple points...

Whether this allows us to 'better' our lives... I'm not sure, but it does lead us to live a more honest life, especially to ourselves.

I think that the 'honest life' you allude to - which, if I may, I will summarize as "think for yourself + exercise your independent judgement" - is arguably better, for two reasons:

1. To abandon curiosity (the drive to explore that which is unknown) in order to feel secure is to deny uncertainty. But, our experiences constantly reveal how uncertain things really are, which will drive the faithful into crises of faith vs. doubt. Why subject ourselves to this? Especially since...

2. If we try our best to avoid adopting beliefs that have no proper basis in experience, and are willing to change our beliefs when we encounter new knowledge (ie we adopt the scientific approach to knowledge like null was saying), we won't suffer the same personal crises (or end up hugging, as you say, "tightest to the tree of belief") when that knowledge shatters what we thought we knew before.

To express it in a more proverbial way, how can you accept and deal with reality if you can't face it? Yes, our experiences are shitty sometimes, but I'd wager on the whole we're better off accepting that than having faith in some positive aspect of reality that has no basis in experience.

I think there within the hardware and software of our body/brain lies answers to whether or not we choose to be 'happier'. Whether we lead or follow. Whether we are curious or not.

You mean in our genetic codes? Yeah, that's a damn interesting question. Kind of a nature/nurture question - my take would be that personal experience, especially during childhood and adolescence, determine a lot. Personal experience, from birth, programs our brain to respond to and interact with the world and our thoughts, so I think it would be a big factor in defining the characteristics you allude to.

P.S. Sorry for the delayed reply, school took over my life for a while.

"History is more or less bunk." - Henry Ford

This post was edited by Bunk on Nov 24, 2010.

Dec 23, 2010 04:24 # 46973

jael *** feels excited about...

Adding some more theories to the mix!

Hello bunk, 
Sorry for the delayed response and another long post! I'm currently backpacking around india.

Looking at your question purely as it is. Whether truth is beneficial or not without any propositions or religious or scientific influence I thought of looking at it through an anthropological and historical eye. 

Now. If we look at western religions which majorly include Islam, Christianity, and Judaism; they all have fairly strict rules to live by, commandments and what not. 

The eastern side whose major religious collective consists of Hinduism, bhuddism and Daoism have more or less guidelines on how to live your life. 

2 major pattens here. 
The first being global- that truth was found within a higher/super natural power 
The second - Geographically 2 major lifestyles of religion are founded. 

Again, I ask you to be patient with me, this circles. 


We are evolved animals. Along with our basic needs being shelter, food, and procreation. Humans unlike other animals have a more intricate thoughts. We have more refined identities, memories and complicated emotions. The cardinal sins are innate part of our beings. We react to reactions which is not too different from animals. My boy once heard a dog bark at his own echo for more than 5 hours. (For some reason this reminded me of palestine and Israel)
If we look at our existence logically, then human beings just have a more sophisticated food chain pyramid. The one on top is the one that has money and that yields plenty power. 

Humans are territorial with land, values and beliefs and their partners. Hurt and kill when we have been hurt. And we move in packs Previously trying to conquer land, nowadays with the intent of conquering minds. Religious wars have been going on since history can remember. 

However, Some of us still have the capabilities to break the cycle.

With this in mind I propose a theory on the nature of "god" 

God is not someone who resides in heaven playing puppet master who sent us rules and regulations on how to live, but rather it is the kindness and compassion of people during times when they rise above their basic instinct. To give without expecting, more so knowing they are never going to be acknowledged for any of the (good) work. 

So a few (maybe) "good" men/women came up with ways to live your life better since some of us have been given the nature of compassion. And then those became enforces religions. 
(I have no proof for this, it is just a theory) 

I remember that Joey said in Friends some thing along the lines that every good deed you do is also rooted in selfishness. Those being acknowledgement, validation and especially praise. 

I think if we had a more accurate history, rather than embellished stories, we might actually learn from it but because we look to our past with rose tinted glasses history will always repeat itself. 
I was really excited when Julian assange creates the wikileeks project. It is a really amazing way of looking and why and how the world is fucking the rest of the world. Atleast now we know who is screwing us and from what positions. Till now a lot of countries and people were getting ass raped without knowing who it was.

Now, back to your question, is truth beneficial? 

Yes, it is, but we need to find the whole truth and religion and even philosophy is never going to give us that since it is rooted in perspectives of one or a group of people. 
Maybe anthropological studies might help. 

I remember watching a lecture from comic artist/writer who is the son of a blind scientist. He had a set of rules, one of them stuck hard with me.

Watch for patterns!

Pattern 1. Why are the western religions more rules and regulations based and the east more guidelines based (spiritual even).

Pattern 2. 
Yet in all religions both east and west- a woman on her period is known as dirty and filthy, she isn't allowed to visit holy places or take part in her own daily activities. 
I really tried looking for 'why' the religious books say these things but have not been able to come up with a satisfactory answer. 

Why is that the one thing that allows women to procreate is shunned by ALL major religions?! (I haven't yet researched the matriarchal ones) 
So there was an overarching similarity all over the world for this even though both east and west practiced different forms of supernatural/religious practices. 

I have a fairly good idea why but have not been able to find solid proof. 

There Are many more patterns, if you have spotted some, I would love to hear them. Or if you have a theory or two for any patterns I proposed or anything else really. I'm interested. 

I wrote a few replies before, however they all seem to be tainted with some sort of emotional bias, so I had to take some time before I could write impartially, also please excuse the typos I wrote this on my phone 

*insert something profound/witty/humorous here*

This post was edited by jael on Dec 23, 2010.

Nov 04, 2010 05:16 # 46846

harold_maude *** replies...

Re: Truth, and Whether it is Beneficial

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A truely great thing to ponder. Truth is tricky stuff, and by the way I can relate to your list as what I know of myself as well.
I think it's truth that draws to ask and ponder what it is because it's leading us to think deeper and move beyond limited perspectives.
A good example is that depending on how long a person lives their experiences that proved to be the best become the base for truth driven wisdom that end up staying as anchoring quotes that live beyond them. "know thy self" is one that come to mind. Who ever said this discovered that this was an ultimate thing of life and it was so profound that it became a truth of wisdom that is now a good thing for everyone to persue.
Does that mean when you get there and find that place that's all there is? I have come to the conclusion that what truth is not is the be all end all end of the road kind of thing.
The problem is this, we are all seeing the pink elephant from differnt angles and even though the angle we are seeing it from is in every way real, it isn't the whole thing.

This has led me to think that maybe the real truth won't be unveiled until we leave these bodies that have way too many limitations to be able to handle all that truth actually is.
I have thought in my ponderings that maybe the truth about truth is that it's just to over the top and too fantastic for our minds to be able to comprehend...but I could be wrong about that.

Nov 04, 2010 14:52 # 46851

harold_maude *** replies...

Re: Truth, and Whether it is Beneficial

I should have waited a few hours to post my reply. I know what I was trying to say, but in re-reading it this morning, I realized that due to a rather disturbing conversation with a relative last night that my response wasn't so clear. I'll work on that so I don't sound like an idiot.

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