Does one have the ability to choose what one believes?

zntneo
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Does one have the ability to choose what one believes?

I've heard it said that one cannot choose what one believes. I was wondering what arguments can be used for this? also what empirical evidence do we have that we do not have the ability to choose what we believe.

This conversation was started with Todangst. He provided some reducto arguments such as : can one believe one is a male? or other such things.

Now my question is, why can't one? it seems absurd but just because something is absurd does not necessarily mean its wrong. So are there bettter reducto arguments that maybe he forgot tomention? are there empirical evidence at all about this?

edit: fixed spelling


wavefreak
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No good answer to this one.

No good answer to this one. If free will is just an illusion then no, we have no choice. We are nothing more than sacks of chemicals reacting blindly to external stimuli.


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The first thing you need to

The first thing you need to do is define the word "belief."

Logically, I can deductively prove that I am male. However, there is an end to what formal proofs can do. From another point of view, there is a possibility (though unfalsifiable at present) that I am deceived, dreaming, or insane. So, I must accept that what I perceive is reality before my deduction becomes "knowledge."

It's worth pointing out that the above argument is somewhat irrelevant because if I am deceived, dreaming, or insane, there is little practical difference. If this is my reality, then my deduction is true within my reality, and my inability to perceive any other reality renders the question moot.

I believe that most people who know me think I am a good person. I do not know this, for A) I have not asked most of the people who know me, and B) I cannot know with certainty that they would tell me the truth. I do not have deductive certainty, only the probabilistic belief that it is so.

So, properly speaking, we can know something when we have overwhelming and essentially irrefutable evidence. To believe something, all we need is more evidence that leans toward the belief than leans away.

Another point about knowledge vs. belief. Knowledge, strictly speaking, must be true. There is no such thing as knowing that there are real fairies. One can only believe in fairies, since they do not exist. Furthermore, suppose that one day, someone discovers a fairy. Those who believe in fairies today still do not have knowledge of them, even though they do, in fact, exist. It is still belief today, because to the best of our knowledge, fairies do not exist.

(It should be noted that there are some who are not completely satisfied with the above explanations. It has been suggested that the definition of knowledge should include additional parameters. For example, one solution suggests that no false beliefs may be present along the "path to knowledge." Perhaps Todangst or Deludedgod are more familiar with some of these ideas. I believe that the currently accepted idea is that knowledge is essentially "justified true belief." )

Now, as to whether or not you can choose belief, it is easy to understand why we cannot believe that we are the other gender. We have incontrovertible evidence -- our bodies are the proof. But what about something that is not certain? I believe that there are more humans on the earth than the earth can sustain indefinitely. I don't have proof of this, but I have strong evidence based on what I have read, and whose opinions I trust.

Can I choose to believe otherwise?

No, I can't, and neither can you. Try the exercise yourself. Think of something that you believe, but that you can't exactly prove. Maybe you believe that the Republican Party is evil, or that your ex girlfriend isn't having very good sex with her current boyfriend. It doesn't matter. Just pick something, and decide to believe the opposite.

Now, think about what it would take for you to believe otherwise. Evidence. Not necessarily hard evidence, or conclusive evidence. In the case of your ex girlfriend, it might be as simple as overhearing another girl at a bar saying that her new boyfriend has the stamina of a pro athlete. Hardly conclusive, but it might be just enough evidence to tip you over to believing the other side.

There are some problems with belief when it is represented as an "A or not A" situation. Most notably, everything does not fall cleanly within this dichotomy. For instance, I don't believe that it is clear and sunny in San Francisco today. Neither do I disbelieve it. While I believe that the majority of days in San Francisco are clear and sunny, I don't have enough evidence about today in particular, so I neither believe nor disbelieve, strictly speaking.

Suppose you ask me to believe that it is sunny in SF today. I will ask why, and you will respond that you just talked on the phone with your cousin in SF, and she said it's sunny. Ok. I believe it. Why? My knowledge of SF's history, combined with the fact that I have no reason to doubt you or your purported conversation with your cousin. These pieces of data are enough to sway me.

Now, suppose that you ask me to believe that it is NOT sunny in SF today. Could I immediately do it? Perhaps, but here's the important part: If I do change my mind, it's because I think of a piece of evidence that changes it!

Perhaps I will think to myself, "He is asking me to do this as part of an experiment. He doesn't have a cousin in SF, and he only told me that to trick me!" This thought will be enough evidence to change my belief.

Can I now immediately change it back? Not without more evidence. I must come up with a reason for disbelieving my new theory, that you are trying to trick me. It probably wouldn't be difficult, but I cannot control it. I can either come up with it, or not.

If you take this example and apply it to any other belief, you will see that belief involves different degrees of certainty, but a degree of certainty is actually just a measure of how much more contrary data you would need for your mind to change! In the case of SF's weather, my belief is highly uncertain, so almost any new data will change my mind. Nevertheless, once I have an opinion, my mind is on one side of the fence or another, and I cannot alter this without inventing a reason. In the case of a strongly held belief, it would take mountains of contrary data for my mind to change.

The bottom line, then, is that a belief is a mental representation that is not fully justified, but is supported by enough data to make it appear that "A" is true rather than "not A." Belief is the end result of subconscious deduction and induction which can be described in the language of logic, but are not under the conscious control of the individual.

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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deludedgod
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Quote:

Quote:

No good answer to this one. If free will is just an illusion then no, we have no choice. We are nothing more than sacks of chemicals reacting blindly to external stimuli.

If this is satire, I apologize. If not it is ridiculous. 

1. This is the greedy reductionist fallacy

What you are saying is analogous to saying:

1. The clicking on hyperlinks can be reduced to electrons being fired across LCD electron guns and photons through ethernet and fiberoptic cables. Therefore hyperlinks do not actually exist, only electrons and photons.

2. An atomic nuclei can be reduced to individual protons and electrons, which in turn can be reduced to quarks, which in turn can be reduced to bosons and fermions. Therefore, atoms do not actuallly exist, only bosons and fermions.

For further reading on this matter:

http://www.rationalresponders.com/fallacies_commonly_employed_against_materialism_refuted

2. The second claim is ridiculous. It was proposed by Descartes on nonhuman animals. But neuroscience does not make such a ridiculous claim. scale. Animals are not merely feedback loops. We have to take into account sensation, memory, pattern recognition engines, perception, and, up the cognitive neuroevolutionary scale, animals capable of self-perception, such as chimps, monkeys, dolphins and us.. This is fucking complex shit. It does absolutely no good to say that thoughts and beliefs are blind reactions to external stimuli since they are not. They are the emergent result of sensation and memory in animals capable of percpetion, pattern recognition, sensory integration, emotion and reason. However, that is higher thought. Even worms have some form of thought, even without the I concept. Since at its most basic, thoughts are the emergent result of animals which possess the neural functions for sensation and memory. You are referring to blind feedback loops, in other words, you are thinking of a computer. But brains are not Turing Machines, my friend. They are multiple orders of magnitude more complex.

For further reading on this matter, where choice and will are explained within the first three paragraphs in neurological terms:

http://www.rationalresponders.com/vitalism_immaterialism_and_christian_dualism_have_long_since_been_debunked_response

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

-Me

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Hambydammit
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Deluded, In my post, I was

Deluded,

In my post, I was specifically avoiding neurology and focusing on epistemology, primarily because I don't know a damn thing about neurology.

Is there such a thing as "neurology for philosophers" that I could read so that I would not be flying quite as blind when someone shifts approaches on me?  I know I can't handle full fledged neuroscience without some kind of primer, and a lot of study, but I don't know where to look.  I guess another way of asking, is there someone who has explained neurology the way Dawkins explains evolution for laymen?

 

 

 

Atheism isn't a lot like religion at all. Unless by "religion" you mean "not religion". --Ciarin

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wavefreak
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deludedgod wrote: Quote:

deludedgod wrote:

Quote:

No good answer to this one. If free will is just an illusion then no, we have no choice. We are nothing more than sacks of chemicals reacting blindly to external stimuli.

If this is satire, I apologize. If not it is ridiculous.

1. This is the greedy reductionist fallacy

What you are saying is analogous to saying:

1. The clicking on hyperlinks can be reduced to electrons being fired across LCD electron guns and photons through ethernet and fiberoptic cables. Therefore hyperlinks do not actually exist, only electrons and photons.

2. An atomic nuclei can be reduced to individual protons and electrons, which in turn can be reduced to quarks, which in turn can be reduced to bosons and fermions. Therefore, atoms do not actuallly exist, only bosons and fermions.

For further reading on this matter:

http://www.rationalresponders.com/fallacies_commonly_employed_against_materialism_refuted

 

I'm not sure where you see an attack on materialism in my statements.

 

Quote:

2. The second claim is ridiculous. It was proposed by Descartes on nonhuman animals. But neuroscience does not make such a ridiculous claim. scale. Animals are not merely feedback loops. We have to take into account sensation, memory, pattern recognition engines, perception, and, up the cognitive neuroevolutionary scale, animals capable of self-perception, such as chimps, monkeys, dolphins and us.. This is fucking complex shit. It does absolutely no good to say that thoughts and beliefs are blind reactions to external stimuli since they are not. They are the emergent result of sensation and memory in animals capable of percpetion, pattern recognition, sensory integration, emotion and reason. However, that is higher thought. Even worms have some form of thought, even without the I concept. Since at its most basic, thoughts are the emergent result of animals which possess the neural functions for sensation and memory. You are referring to blind feedback loops, in other words, you are thinking of a computer. But brains are not Turing Machines, my friend. They are multiple orders of magnitude more complex.

For further reading on this matter, where choice and will are explained within the first three paragraphs in neurological terms:

http://www.rationalresponders.com/vitalism_immaterialism_and_christian_dualism_have_long_since_been_debunked_response

 

I don't see where my statemnets imply any sort of dualism.

 

Let's start at the beginning. If I understand Dawkin's selfish gene hypothesis, then somewhere back in premordial time some molecules started replicating. These replicating molecules "competed" with each otherfor the resources necessary to their replication (energy and other molecules and atoms). These molecules , through this competitive process became increasingly complex not because of randomenss but because of effeciency. The most fficient molecules win. Through eons of this process ever more efficient packages of molecules arose. Except that the most efficient pathway required molecules to work in coordination. This gave rise to systems of molecules - eventually complex ones such as cells. Thus, after enough time, we ended up with life as we see it today. Now given that there is no divine 'spark' of self or any such thing, then what are we other than the endpoint of a loooong series of chemical reactions? And if we are noting more than the result of chemical reaction, wherein comes any real choice? You analogy about hyperlinks does not apply. My "choices" are nothing more than a reaction to chemical states in my brain. If I am hungry, it is because my brain's chemistry is signalling hunger. I can "choose" not to eat by act of will, but even this is a reaction to some higher level cognitive process which itself is yet another chemical state in my brain.  Where did that state in the brain come from? It is the result of a chain of brain states from birth to the current moment. WHich are again nothing more than chemicals doing their chemical stuff, which happens to be reacting to external stimuli. We are piles of chemicals exchanging energy with our environment. What else are we but that? And where in this is the "unreality of the hyperlink" of your analogy?


deludedgod
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Quote: Is there such a

Quote:

Is there such a thing as "neurology for philosophers" that I could read so that I would not be flying quite as blind when someone shifts approaches on me?  I know I can't handle full fledged neuroscience without some kind of primer, and a lot of study, but I don't know where to look.  I guess another way of asking, is there someone who has explained neurology the way Dawkins explains evolution for laymen?

Daniel Dennett

 

 

"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.

-Me

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Brian37
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If one doesnt care about

If one doesnt care about intelectuall honesty, then YES we can chose what we believe. If one does care however, truth will compell the person to change their position.

Willfull ignorance certainly is possible.

I can chose to believe in Santa even if sane people show me my error. If I value reason, which I do, I discard Santa and throw it in the trash heap where it belongs. 

So it is not as simple as asking "Can one chose"

You have to also asses what the person's priorities in value judgements are.

If they value feeling good as a priority, then they chose to be willfully ignorant. If they dont fear being wrong and truth is the priority, when shown an error intelltuall honesty will compell them to change their position.

At least that is my take on it. 

 

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zntneo
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Brian37 wrote: If one

Brian37 wrote:

If one doesnt care about intelectuall honesty, then YES we can chose what we believe. If one does care however, truth will compell the person to change their position.

Willfull ignorance certainly is possible.

I can chose to believe in Santa even if sane people show me my error. If I value reason, which I do, I discard Santa and throw it in the trash heap where it belongs. 

So it is not as simple as asking "Can one chose"

You have to also asses what the person's priorities in value judgements are.

If they value feeling good as a priority, then they chose to be willfully ignorant. If they dont fear being wrong and truth is the priority, when shown an error intelltuall honesty will compell them to change their position.

At least that is my take on it. 

 

I guess then does this person truly believe in this? What does it mean to truly believe in something?  Would you be believeing in santa because the argument that those other people gave wasn't convincing enough? would you change your mind if the argument was?  

 

I guess it would be a good point to make a way we can falsify the idea that one can choose beliefs, A way that would show that you believe things based on experience/evidence not some random choice you make. 

also, i geusswhat i mean by belief is basically anything one accepts as true or false that doesn't necessarily have to be justified and need not be objectively true.  in other words things that would count as knowledge if they could be justified and proven to be true objectively.


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When I thought about this

When I thought about this before I thought to choose to believe something I don't believe would make me insane and is a basic contradiction. I cannot choose to perceive something in a way I don't perceive it.

I don't think I can choose to see the table in a different color then I see it.

Lets try it though.

I look at a table and it is red. Now for some reason I want to think it is blue.

First to recognize the need to change my idea of the table I need to also recognize what it, what is true. Then I need to pick the color I wish for it to be, again recognizing it is something that I do not wish it to be. Once I do that I need to figure out away to implant the idea into my brain and delete the knowledge of recognizing what is true and me changing what I know to be true.

I don't even know how to go about the last step and I'd think a sane person would stop at the first step.

Now lets say for a min it is blue and I see it as red. To change what I think it true I would need proof or reasons. Mainly on how I can see it is a color it is not.