Tuesday, January 10, 2006
C8H11NO2: another mystery solved?
Upon discovering the other day that I was discussing both religion and politics, and realizing how I'd rather not, I found myself being challenged to explain the difference. Upon reflection though, I found it more interesting to think about their similarities- that being that most participants are engaged in each with little or no examination. Its true that most participants would disagree with that statement but from a phenomenological perspective, the mere observation of the state of each reveals my statement to be true. Each manifests itself as a series of assumptions that inform a specific set of prescriptive behaviors, but its the unexamined participation that is most curious to me. It reminded me of a previous conversation in which someone was recounting how they had no evidence for a specific belief- they just wanted to believe it. How nice I thought to myself. If only intention and belief were so fluidly connected I would have fewer mental dilemmas! And yet, despite the fact that 3 out of every four earthlings have learned to read and write, I feel generally to be in the smallest minority of people who require reasons for believing things. Its true, I'm usually harping on distinguishing between the set of things that has no justification from things that require justification. But now I really challenge myself to answer a very simple question: Why must my knowledge set be entirely coherent? Of course I can set aside some obvious things like a coherent knowledge set makes good predictions such that I don't walk into moving propellers or fall into deep wells like an Edward Gorey unfortunate. But from an epistemological rather than evolutionary perspective does it really matter if I believe in unicorns for example? Why is it apparently important for me to not believe in unicorns because there is no evidence for their existence? Suggesting that I prefer truth to false seems not only glib but really just shunts the problem to a different set of terms without actually explaining anything. But perhaps it is that simple. Maybe being right about something triggers a tiny dopamine release in my brain. Perhaps I've quietly adapted to this Pavlovian, neurochemical epistemology. Truth is not philosophical but chemical. Leaving out some beliefs because they are unsupported allows one to be not wrong which is slightly different from being right about something, but at least the dopamine feedback loop is preserved even if the set of possible beliefs is smaller. And so while I still feel like a reef in a sea of unsubstantiated believers, I should try to enjoy my diet of dopamine in return for my troubles. Its exhausting being a reef, incidentally, being ever crashed upon by the ship of fools. Don't forget to vote.
Posted by and then the_doctor