Knowledge, religion, beliefs, and wisdom


Richard Moore

Bcc: FYI
rkm website

Bo Filter wrote:

rkm> Knowledge is about the accumulation of beliefs, and wisdom is about the abandonment of unfounded assumptions.

…I have found that: 
RELIGION (as opposed to knowledge) is about the accumulation of beliefs, and wisdom is PARTLY about the abandonment of unfounded assumptions INHERENT IN BELIEFS.

Hi Bo,
You seem to be bundling religion and beliefs in one category, and knowledge in another. But of course knowledge is also about beliefs, and the accumulation of beliefs, presumably based on well-founded assumptions. But sometimes new learning shows that the old assumptions were wrong after all, even though we thought they were based on observation and science, rather than faith. 
     From a more general perspective, we can say that people have belief systems, based on some collection of assumptions. And often some of those assumptions turn out to be wrong, whether the belief system has to do with religion or with a branch of science. And in both cases a fallen assumption can lead to a whole house-of-cards collapse of related accumulated beliefs. We cannot make a distinction, science vs. religion, based on validity of assumptions. 
     What we can do is make a distinction between a scientific perspective on ‘what we know’, as opposed to a certainty-based perspective on ‘what we know’. A true scientist is always willing to reconsider their assumptions objectively, if new evidence emerges. A true scientist is always aware that ‘what they know’ is only as certain as the underlying assumptions. A true scientist is open to having their beliefs challenged, and sees such challenges as learning opportunities as well as teaching opportunities.
     A certainty-based perspective is quite different. From this perspective there are certain core beliefs – that may or may not be backed up by evidence of one kind or another – but which are in any case held with absolute certainty. It is not so much that there is an unwillingness to reconsider the core beliefs, rather it makes no sense to do so, since they are known to be true. Similarly the beliefs accumulated on top of the core beliefs are also held with certainty, since they do typically follow by valid logic from the core beliefs.
     A certainty-based believer – a ‘true believer’ – responds to challenges quite differently than a science-based believer. Any challenger is by definition wrong, and whatever arguments they present need not be taken seriously. And reconsidering ones true beliefs never arises as a possibility. The true believer is likely to respond to challenges by ‘witnessing’ their truth at length, and is likely to experience annoyance at the challenger’s blindness or anger at their blasphemy, and is likely to be seized by a desire to suppress the challenger’s spreading of falsehoods.
     These characteristics can be seen not only in religious true believers, but also in true believers who may think of themselves as scientists, objective thinkers, informed citizens, or whatever. One can identify true believers by how they respond to challenges, and to the extent ones thinking is dominated by ‘true beliefs’, one is to that extent prevented from advancing in learning or wisdom.
     Any of us who have pretensions of wanting to pursue wisdom would be well-advised to observe our own responses when our beliefs are challenged. If we find ourselves falling into any of the certainty-patterns described above, we might contemplate on that, and try to understand what’s going on in our minds. Whether our beliefs happen to be right or wrong, our way of holding those beliefs is not serving us, if we are holding them as true believers.
     Unfortunately, it seems that ‘true believing’ characterizes most people’s belief systems, regardless of how ‘advanced’ their ‘knowledge’ might be. For most cosmologists, it is a ‘certainty’ that there was a big bang; for Dawkins and his ilk it is a ‘certainty’ that consciousness plays no role in the evolution of an entirely material universe; for the religious it is a ‘certainty’ that the universe was created all at once by a non-material conscious being; for most people today it is a ‘certainty’ that Sandy’s rage is due to human-caused Co2 emissions. The assumptions underlying all of these certainties are very shaky, and that’s an understatement.


Brian Hill wrote:

rkm> This second question involves two parallel lines of inquiry:
• What kind of new society should we be seeking?
• How can we make change happen?

Cultures change naturally, just like tides. Marx called it the dialectics of history, Ortega y Gassett called it the pendulum of history and Arnold Toynbe called it Challenge and response. If we understand culture change, how the ones we are concerned with are changing we may get hints of how we can help the flow of culture change positively, at least as far as humans are concerned, imo.

Hi Brian,
As usual, it is very nice to hear from you. I’d welcome an update on your latest adventures.
     One can certainly see patterns and tides in history, operating outside of any particular agency, such as the cycles of accumulation traced out in The Long Twentieth Century. One might also be tempted to include the boom-bust cycles of capitalism, except that on closer inspection one can in many cases find specific agency at cause, ie central banker cliques.
     In many ways the modern age can be characterized by an accelerating replacement of the natural by the artificial. GMOs replacing natural organisms; vaccines replacing natural immune systems; vicarious TV experiences replacing natural social interaction; imaginary enemies replacing real enemies, etc. I suggest that culture-change is also being increasingly manufactured, rather than occurring in natural ways. 
     Television, combined with sophisticated mind-control techniques embedded in news, entertainment, and advertising – backed up by the management of dramatic events in the real world – are powerful culture-molding forces. Notice how quickly, for example, we became a torture & assassination tolerating society, something unthinkable not that long ago.
     Dialectics do operate, and we can see that from the micro-level to the macro, in the domains of technology, economics, etc. But the assumption that dialectics will always be the dominant force of cultural or economic change gets one into the realm of ‘true believing’, and I challenge that assumption based on empirical evidence, particularly in today’s context. Indeed, the new world order can be best characterized as a manufactured and highly artificial cultural transformation. And I don’t, so far at least, see any effective dialectic counter-forces at work.
     Dialectics discounts the conscious role of players in the game of history, and aggregates their contributions under the heading, ‘expected developments in this dialectic cycle’. My belief, or hypothesis, is that the time has come for us to explore the antithesis of dialectics itself. That is what the banksters are doing with their new world order. They are players who have decided, in their hubris, to overpower the dialectic forces, and to become the conscious designers of our collective future and our collective consciousness.
     I believe that we 99% need in response to also cast aside dialectic thinking and get it together to act as conscious players in the history-making game. Rather than looking for naturally-occurring waves-of-change to ride, we need to have the temerity, and unity of purpose, to consciously create waves-of-change of our own. 
     What I’m suggesting is that we need to radically transform our role in society, from being at-effect to being at-cause, and we need to learn to act with unity of purpose. Perhaps this transformation can be seen as a ‘natural dialectic response’ to the conditions we are now facing: the usurpation of dialectics by the 1%. If so, then from that perspective I agree with you, that we “may get hints of how we can help the flow of culture change positively”. The suggestions I’ve been making reflect my reading of the available hints.

Biophilos wrote:
…”Sovereign Individuals” make up the composition of true Democracy…

Hi Biophilos,
I’ve seen that belief cropping up a lot lately, and again, I’ve often seen it expressed by true believers. I am a believer myself in personal autonomy, and in the expression of ones unique self – I even walk that path. I’d call myself a radical in that regard, beginning with early education, which I think should be very largely child-led – personal sovereignty from birth, you might say.
     However I see many problems with the concept of ‘sovereign individuals’ as a paradigm for organizing societies. For one thing, it has little to do with how societies have ever operated, beginning back when we were still swinging from trees. We’ve always been social animals, operating within structured social systems, reinforced by our needs for companionship, acceptance, approval, etc. The ‘cave man’ never existed and the ‘social contract’ never happened. I suppose with consumerism, automobiles, broken families, and the isolation of suburbia, take-away-food, and iPods, we are getting close to what feels like a ‘sovereign individual’ culture, but I certainly don’t see that as progress, or as a good thing.
     As regards democratic governance, that refers to the way we would make decisions regarding how we want to operate and develop our societies. In a true democracy, I suggest, we would make our decisions, and evolve our visions of where we want to go, as a collaborative activity – thinking together about what kind of societies and communities we want to live in. Democracy, as a way of operating society, is more about collaboration than about sovereign individualism.
     Living in a truly democratic society, I believe, would lead to a strong sense of personal empowerment, having an equal say in the affairs of society, and with boundless opportunities to follow ones unique path in life. I guess it’s one of those cart and horse things. I see democracy coming first, with an emphasis on working together, and I see the sovereign individual as something that democracy enables.