Tag Archives: belief

What We Know and What We Believe

For most of us, who don’t have direct access to experimental evidence, there’s not much difference between what we know for sure and what we believe. Please reread the first sentence. I am not being a Doubting Thomas or a cynic. I’m just asserting an obvious fact. Only a few people, scientists and lab technicians, have direct access to experimental evidence. Only they can test a hypothesis, control the inputs, and measure the results. When the results are valid, interesting, can be replicated and pass peer reviews, then and only then can we read them and form our own opinions about the results. Our opinions are based on our beliefs: our belief that the tests were rigorously controlled and statistically significant, the results were replicated independently, the peer reviews were objective and the hypothesis is consistent with our other beliefs.

Most of us may say that we know something for sure, but what we are really saying is that we believe that something to be true.

I’m not even saying that science is a religion because that would be a disservice to both science and religion. Both have their own domains and rules of validity. Not many of us possess the time or the resources to verify hypotheses about objective reality. If all of us had to verify scientifically whether the ground beneath our feet is solid (which it is not), we never would have descended from the trees of our local savannah a million or so years ago.

I am saying most of us don’t have direct access to objective reality, which makes what scientists do exceedingly important to us.

Even the things we believe that don’t correspond to objective reality can be very important to us. There are “provable” fictions we believe that organize and synchronize us, that make multitudes of us coherent over space and time, and that provide us social identities that outlive any individual member.

Fictions give rise to religions, nation-states, armies, corporations, tribes, families and mobs. Organizations based on fictions can be temporary or can last thousands of years. They can comprise two or more people, or billions.

One of the fictions important to me is the fiction of the soul or spirit. Today, I wrote a poem about the relationship between body and spirit.

The Spirit and the Body

Raanana, January 6, 2018

The spirit and the body live symbiotically,

Though neither needs the other,

They both enrich each other.

The body imagines the spirit

Upon which the spirit incorporates the body

With its traits of goodness and beauty

And they grow by consuming each other,

Though neither is lessened in doing so.

The spirit sees all things, but not the individual,

The body sees only the particular and not the allthing.

The spirit can see forever, but knows not the time of day,

The body knows this moment, but not what was or what will.

Together, they are God and the universe.

Because of them, there are acts of God

And the day-to-day happenings of the world.

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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Filed under & Philosophy, Dilemmas, Essays, Dilemmas, & Philosophy, Prose, Uncategorized

The Conditions of Belief

Once upon a time, 5776 years ago give or take a few millennia, our horizons were the mountains, the deserts, the rivers, and the seas surrounding us. I’m talking about Mount Ararat to the north and the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the east. All we knew about was contained within those horizons of space and time. If all we know about today were still contained within those horizons, it might have made sense for us to believe now in what was believed then, but that’s not the case. A thing or two has changed since then. We have moved forward and onward, and our horizons have moved with us.

Back then we did the best we could to makes sense of what was going on around us. We interpreted the evidence, for better or for worse, but we didn’t ignore any of it. Today, in order to continue believing what we believed back then, we’d have to see what we can’t see, close our eyes to what we do see, and ignore the evidence around us.

What makes more sense to us today, that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-caring being created every single one of the atoms and electrons in our universe protecting those that make up our bodies and souls from the other atoms and electrons he created, or that everything that can happen within a universe will happen and some atoms and electrons will survive while others will not?

It is becoming harder and harder to believe what we once believed within the boundaries of those ancient horizons. What will happen to our beliefs when we launch ourselves toward the distant stars, leaving those horizons behind?

As long as we are human we will never lose our capacity to believe but our beliefs will change, timidly inching closer to the ever-new realities surrounding us. The horizons containing what we really know will always be too small for us and we will always prefer to be contained in the far more expansive horizons of our hopes and beliefs.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Heaven, Hell, and Everything in between

I think what set me off was an article that I read recently on the alarming increase in diseases thought to have disappeared from the more economically well-off and medically advanced parts of the world attributed to the increase in just plain wrong-headed beliefs that vaccinations are unnecessary or even worse than getting infected (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/01/22/the-devastating-impact-of-vaccine-deniers-in-one-measles-chart/).
I’m not talking just about a few religious cults and fundamentalists who have bet their lives and the lives of those who depend on them that God and his representatives are the only doctors they should ever trust. I’m also talking about the uninformed or misinformed people around us who believe the rumors and opinions other misinformed or uninformed people tell them because they fit their world views and, besides, needles are rather unpleasant.
Everybody knows something. Nobody knows everything. Sometimes we can extend what we know slightly by applying logic. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we just have to act even though we don’t know what we think we need to know in order to choose the correct course of action.
That’s when we are forced to believe, to take a leap of faith.
Everyone has the right to believe whatever he wants, in Heaven, Hell, and everything in between, but everyone is also responsible for what he believes, responsible to himself and to those who depend on him. Think of it this way: you disregard the evidence of your own hard-won senses and intelligence at your own peril.
Back to vaccines: I am not an expert on matters of health. I’m just like you, a consumer of health services, responsible for my own life, and trying to make the best decisions I can when I have to decide. Now it may be that you will be one of the few who react adversely to the vaccine or the vaccine is not effective against one of the mutant strains of virus in our biosphere or terrorists may have swapped vials of the vaccine for something lethal or … you get the idea.
But nine out of ten times vaccination is going to protect you and those around you from the viruses for which it was intended. I believe in statistics. Those are good odds. Einstein was wrong about that. God does roll the dice.

Mike Stone
Raanana Israel

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