Believing in Belief

What is truth?  How do we know that we know?  Is it all a collection of beliefs?  Even science may say one thing today and another tomorrow, so an individual who follows yesterday’s precepts might now seem ridiculous – as if today’s explanations are closer to the truth.   Then does that make the truth, even factual truths, belong indefinitely to tomorrow’s understandings?

Then how do we truly know that we know?  Should we stick to our senses, or is there more to know?  We live and learn, and form opinions based upon experiences that lead to differences of opinion, even among experts.  Facts can be inconclusive, but they can’t make our decisions for us in any event.  Experiences are far from simple and those we take to be conclusive are usually filtered through tacit decisions about what counts, the primary filter being belief.  Our confidence in the facts is really a confidence placed in our tacit beliefs about the facts, certainty playing second fiddle to these beliefs.  Hence belief enables us to make decisions when we don’t know any better, the belief supplying the feeling of knowing better.

Knowing anything strikes a balance between the knowing and the knowing otherwise. The balance point is determined by belief.  Beliefs fabricate our certainties based upon images of reality.  Beliefs are the active mental screen on which those images are projected, together with the elaborated images of our senses.   Sometimes we recognise our beliefs, seeing belief as a form of thinking for tidying-up our thinking.  But if belief is a power we exert over our own minds, it is also a power exerted over us by the collective mind of our culture.   Often we can’t tell the difference or don’t bother to try.

We see as we believe, believing we see as we see.  Believing in belief flourishes amidst the urgency to know.   In a paradoxical world, belief is the possibility inviting us to entertain impossibilities that just might be true.  Not knowing is the only restraint we can exercise, but the exigencies of decision making may not allow us the scope for this luxury.  And the various forms of disbelief, non-believing and unbelieving all function as forms of belief serving as alternative social co-ordinates bearing an aura of superior neutrality.  Meanwhile the question about what is truth converts into an issue over what may stand as proof – as if proof is the unequivocal imparter of knowledge that remains independent of what we believe.

If it is ‘true’ to say that belief is the last refuge of the individual, then knowing that we believe is the last refuge of our integrity as individuals.  Then what of truth?  Perhaps belief affords a more pragmatic approach to truth – in accepting that truth is greater than our knowledge, and that the truths we make do with reveal more about our tacit systems of belief than we can ever discover by looking to the facts as absolutes, as decisive matters of fact.  But the same applies to the truth about our beliefs, for we cannot find an absolute in their content simply by believing in our beliefs.

Thus it may be true to say that knowledge is power, especially within our various spheres of influence and cultures of belief, including the religious, the political, the economic and the ‘factual’, but who can say that knowledge is truth?  Alternatively it might be more prudent to consider a more basic truth about knowledge:  knowing that we believe is the safest form of knowledge, believing that we know the most dangerous.

© Mike Laidler 2015

Strong Personality

It is said that science tells us who we are and how we got here, but there is also something about us that tells us what science is and where it is going.

Science teaches us there is something about personality that we overlook in treating it as a personal possession.  Personality is not a fact locked-away inside us, or a thing fixed in ‘the self’; it is also a property of nature, culture and the universe at large.  But as a property of nature, it changes the nature of nature – the nature of change being a moot point that we tend to overlook both personally and scientifically.

Everything is subject to change: we change, nature diversifies, the universe evolves, and in the process something ‘impossible’ happens – things become more than they were – and the same thing happens to the nature of nature.  Likewise, personal existence is embedded in nature yet marks a dramatic shift in the nature of nature.  It opens up new boundaries of possibility with planned designs and purposes that defy scientific definitions of what nature is and does.

Personality is a strong force for change, a power in the universe, which we treat as a weak force, mirroring our weaknesses to the extent that we regard it as belonging to us as a property confined to our nature.  However the very thing we strive to possess on our terms is the very thing we are bound to lose; whereas personal existence, as a property of the universe, endures in the nature of change as it shapes, transforms, and elevates.

Everything ‘got here’ through powers of change and everything is subject to changes that herald further expansions of power.  ‘Impossibilities’ are overcome, evincing the magnitude of change in realities and realisations newly transformed.  Staying as we are defines our incompletes and defies nature in a reality we try to make of ourselves and keep for ourselves.  Change invites us to become something more, to grow into life by leaving something behind, thereby to gain capacities and faculties we never had – as did nature ‘in itself’.

Mike Laidler

Tidings of reason

It appears that we know more about reason as a cause than as an effect.  Reason is neither recognisable nor explicable as a physical fact in the world until we locate it there through our thoughts, deeds and explanations.  Thereafter, we see a world filled with the relics of reasoned activity; and it is by those representations that we are able to discern its effectiveness in changing the face of reality, even to determine whether it exists anywhere else in the universe.

Before this exchange between reason and reality, the physical world is pictured as subsisting alone, albeit charged with potentials, prospects and possibilities for the future.  Nevertheless, the template for rationality is hardly explicable in terms of the nature of something else, wherein it is absent.  And without a natural cause, we are left to wonder about the origins of something seen as mapping onto the reality, even as it changes the map of reality; for it is one thing to observe nature changing, but it is quite another to observe it changing itself in the acquisition reason for no reason.

Furthermore, just as reason can be depicted within the reality of physical, so the physical can also be depicted within the reality of reason, bearing in mind there is now a mindfulness in the midst of the universe’s physicality whereby nature now incorporates features of rational activity quite unlike the properties of nature as it was.  So we find ourselves returning to the thinking of the ancients to ask: is there reason in the universe because nature establishes it, or is it established in nature because of a higher power of reason?

Mike Laidler

Definitive illusions

Life teaches us that there is more to every fact than the fact of it. So the fact that philosophy can’t give us “the answer” teaches us a useful lesson in reality – that the definitive truth is an illusion of the fact we try to make of it – as if everything is either/ or: this or that, true or false.

Instead, philosophy opens up a reality of multiple truths about a world that is simultaneously one thing and another. It teaches us that the belief in the ultimate “fact” or “truth” is a residue of what we have gleaned from someone else’s bad philosophy.

Mike Laidler