Soob

Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Monday, May 05, 2008

Suggested Wisdom XV


The Samovar with Nobody Believes in God: points out how convenience nearly always rules piety.

Sharon Weinberger of Danger Room with Could Soldiers be Prosecuted for Thought Crimes: A look at the "Minority Report" like notion of "Pre-Crime" in light of Pentagon projects involving tapping the human brains pattern detection capabilities.

On Political Risk: A new (new to me) blog, found via Younghusband, with a broad look at global politics.

Abu Muqawama; Dr. iRack on the US case for Iranian (and Hezbollah) complicity in both training and arming Shia militia's in Iraq.

New Yorker in DC is back again, his latest being a look at the Castro families rather extensive control of Cuba.

9 comments:

Dan tdaxp said...

I commented on the Samovar article. My thoughts:

He uses a bizarre definition, certainly not in accordance with how anyone else uses the term.

The rest of the post attacks a straw-man.

In OODA terms, he conflates Decision (Hypothesis) with Orientation (Analysis & synthesis, previous experience, new information, genetic heritage, cultural traditions)

subadei said...

His definition is rather vague and the entire concept is a bit off kilter and one dimensional as it attempts to nullify the belief in God by discussing what he sees as hypocrisy in believers of Christian doctrine. There are plenty of people that believe in God but don't adhere to any particular semblance of faith.

It'll be interesting to read his and others response.

Anonymous said...

Hiya, Dan from The Samovar here, I left a new comment on my blog. Not knowing what OODA is though, I can't comment on that. ;-)

Incidentally, that post was supposed to have a humorous, slightly flippant quality to it, whilst also pointing to what I see as a genuine insight into religion: that when push comes to shove, most people don't take religion very seriously and will always favour real non-supernatural concerns over the religious ones.

Let's continue over there though...

Dan tdaxp said...

Thesamovar,

Thank you for the reply.

As you implied, your post is flippant. Likewise, your reply on your blog was a waste of time.

You make two honest points in this thread, though, so I will answer them.

1. To put the OODA jargon in more common terms, you're conflating behavioral attitudes with belief. If you can find any references to serious thinkers (perhaps the religionists you attack, perhaps those who study beliefs, etc) who use your terms, I will be surprised.

Making up terms for words as you go along is at best sloppy and at worst dishonest.

2. Your last point appears to be a statement that under the standards of most religions, the adherents of those religions are sinner or otherwise in error. I agree. While not insightful (as it is universally accepted), your comment at least has the benefit of being noncontroversial (as it is universally accepted).

Anonymous said...

Dan, I found your last post fairly rude but I'll reply (once) anyway.

"If you can find any references to serious thinkers (perhaps the religionists you attack, perhaps those who study beliefs, etc) who use your terms, I will be surprised."

Must someone else have already had my idea for it to be interesting? Anyway, is Daniel Dennett not serious enough for you? I linked to an article of his that discusses belief in the article itself, but here it is again: http://pp.kpnet.fi/seirioa/cdenn/doanimal.htm

Dan tdaxp said...

thesamovar,

My second comment no longer appears on your blog. Perhaps it never went through?

Re: Dennett, you appear to be be extending his claim that belief-talk imperfectly measures belief-state to asserting that action perfectly measures belief state. I don't think Dennet, or many others, would agree with you in your extension.

Dan | thesamovar said...

Seems it get caught in the Akismet spam filter. I rescued it along with another comment that someone else had made.

I wouldn't say that action perfectly measures belief state, although I can see how you would get that idea from my post. It's cleared up somewhat in the comments, but it's not a point I've directly replied to.

If I understand you correctly, you're saying something like: people do believe, they act largely consistently with their beliefs, but not entirely consistently (they sin, we are all imperfect, etc.). You are taking me as saying that since everyone has sinned at least once nobody can believe. Is that about right?

OK, so my reply to that is a refinement of the point I was originally trying to make (some of which is in the comments already there and in my latest reply to Jay over at my blog). I would say that theists act consistently with their stated beliefs when it is not inconvenient to do so, but inconsistently when it is inconvenient. Seeing sin as a sign of weakness or mistake is to say that they act consistently with their beliefs, but that they occasionally make mistakes (fail to act completely rationally with respect to them). My alternative view is to say that they are largely acting consistently, but that they are acting consistently with respect to a different set of beliefs from their stated set. The beliefs they are acting consistently with respect to are about their place in the social hierarchy, and what Dennett calls 'belief in belief'.

I find my alternative view of it a more useful one, with greater explanatory power. In line with Dennett's view of the intentional stance (as I understand it), I conclude that they do not believe in their stated beliefs, but in this alternative set of beliefs.

Dan tdaxp said...

Thesamovar,

"If I understand you correctly, you're saying something like: people do believe,"

People have beliefs, yes.

"they act largely consistently with their beliefs, but not entirely consistently (they sin, we are all imperfect, etc.)."

The degree of consistency is an empirical question, and probably varies depending on teh domain being discussed.

"You are taking me as saying that since everyone has sinned at least once nobody can believe. Is that about right?"

It's better to say your attempt to measure belief-state by action is puzzling. Or, alternatively, I don't know what a priori reason you have to assume that action is a better measure of belief-state than belief-talk.

"I would say that theists act consistently with their stated beliefs when it is not inconvenient to do so, but inconsistently when it is inconvenient"

I'm not sure what you mean by convenient here. If you mean that belief is an epiphenomenon that does not change behavior, then you're incorrect. If you're saying that executive monitoring of behavior decreases with mental workload, then you're definitely right.

I don't see how that last point helps your assertion, though.

"Seeing sin as a sign of weakness or mistake is to say that they act consistently with their beliefs, but that they occasionally make mistakes (fail to act completely rationally with respect to them)."

Again, the proportion of variation between belief and behavior is an empirical question.

"My alternative view is to say that they are largely acting consistently, but that they are acting consistently with respect to a different set of beliefs from their stated set."

You're language is tricky here. If you mean that, in accordance with Dennet's terminology, belief and belief-talk does not perfectly overlap, then that's trivially true. If you mean that you can demonstrate belief in the opposite of belief-talk by observing variation in behavior with respect to belief-talk, then you're incorrect.

"The beliefs they are acting consistently with respect to are about their place in the social hierarchy,"

How can this be demonstrated, and how can this be falsified?

"and what Dennett calls 'belief in belief'."

This is seperate from "place in the social hierarchy"?

"I find my alternative view of it a more useful one, with greater explanatory power. In line with Dennett's view of the intentional stance (as I understand it), I conclude that they do not believe in their stated beliefs, but in this alternative set of beliefs."

I don't understand this paragraph, though my understanding would probably be better if you would be kind enough to respond to the points I made above.

Dan | thesamovar said...

"... I don't know what a priori reason you have to assume that action is a better measure of belief-state than belief-talk."

It's not so much a priori, as that I realised that taking action as a measure threw light on what otherwise seems puzzling. There are also reasons to be doubtful that people are able to introspect accurately - e.g. we have unconscious motivations.

"I'm not sure what you mean by convenient here. If you mean that belief is an epiphenomenon that does not change behavior, then you're incorrect."

No I wouldn't go so far as to say it's an epiphenomenon, but that it is only part of a larger calculus. In decision theoretic terms, acting according to your stated beliefs has costs and payoffs, where the costs are that doing so might not correspond with your desires, and the payoffs are that you are doing what you believe is right. In some circumstances the payoffs outweigh the costs, and it others the costs outweigh the payoffs.

So for example, it is 'inconvenient' to follow the rule about no sex before marriage, because sex is really good fun and marriage is a huge decision that affects the rest of your life. In principle, one could quantitatively estimate the value that people put on their religious beliefs in comparison to the value they put on things like the pleasure of sex outside marriage. My feeling is that there is a huge difference between what people would say was the relative importance of these two things, and what you would estimate from studying their actions. To further understanding of what motivates people, it seems to me more useful to look not at what they say is their relative importance, but what their actions show to be their relative importance.

Obviously, I don't have empirical data for this so you're welcome to just write this off. My feeling about it though, backed by some anecdotal evidence and suggestive lines of thought, is that the difference is very large indeed, and that taking people's stated beliefs as a guide to what they will do is likely to lead us into confusion.