Trains of thought

What do we know

of what we do not know?

What can we know

of truths beyond recognition?

Or is the unknown a destination,

built upon the track of the known

– a terminus linked to our point of departure

from a truth we chose to leave behind?

Mike Laidler

Magical thinking

Facts are never simply ‘the facts’, except that’s how we prefer to picture them.  Indeed, ‘the world of facts’ becomes an extension of our selective perceptions, referred to as ‘the evidence’, in a reality framed by our recognitions and understandings.  And even though reality is constantly slapping us in the face, the ‘objective facts’, so-called, can neither tell us what to think nor show us how to draw conclusions.  That’s because ‘the truth’ is a product of our thinking in a parallel universe – in which the idea is fundamental.  To that extent, all thinking is magical thinking.  Even in the hard core sciences, thoughts about ‘the way things are’ rely upon ideas that are developed into theories and supported by beliefs as they get pitched against rival interpretations.  So whether we happen to believe or disbelieve, we are utilising beliefs.  But there is one thing for sure: the manner of our beliefs and the contents of our theories continue to change whilst, lo and behold, the facts continue to pour in.

Mike Laidler

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The premise of truth

Who can say there is no such thing as truth without professing the truth of the denial?  It may be that we don’t see the contradictions locked into our truth narratives because they are mediated by something much closer to our hearts, something that serves as a subjective antidote to internal conflict and contradiction – belief.  Few people notice the contradictions within their own beliefs, because they believe otherwise.  Indeed, some believe that we now live in a ‘post-truth’ era, which they justify by appealing to the facts seen to verify ‘the truth’ of their claim.  Yet even ‘the plain truth’ is open to conjecture because the naming and telling reflects a subjective outlook striving to show that the facts are speaking for themselves when they are not.   It seems that we have always had a rocky relationship with ‘the truth’, which may be due to the unsettling fact that our objectivity is a state of mind – essentially, a creation of the imagination.

Most of us deal with truths in situ, believing that we obtain our understandings from what is ‘out there’ – from matters of fact that become understandable in terms of what they mean.  However, meanings, understandings and beliefs are facts we put into circulation, and no truth is evident without the accord granted of our recognition.  Likewise, the world is and is not imbued with meaning, only we would rather be at the nurtured end of the nurturing, which is why so much pathos gets attached to the ‘quest for meaning’ or the lament that we can ‘find no meaning to life’.  And we continue to wonder about the truth behind the compelling belief that there is something more ‘out there’ – a belief shrouded in the paradoxical truth that there is no ‘out there’ until there is an ‘in here’.  Hence we might need to explore the question of a wider reality by taking a converse look – to look at what we mean by ‘in here’ in order to ask: is subjectivity a greater or a lesser fact of existence – in the recognisable order of its becoming.

On the whole, belief augments the understanding of things we don’t understand.  Collectively, we exist in a peculiar reality, as a feature of existence trying to understand itself.  Arguably, ‘reality’ is not a fixed state of existence and just as realities change and grow, so can ‘the truth’.  For instance, life did not previously feature in the chemistry that now includes it – so what are we to believe about the nature of life?  What if there is more to reality than the here and now – that everything is in a state of becoming more than it was, including ‘the truth’ – including ourselves?  Perhaps there is more to existence than the ‘external’ facts by which we behold it – because the beholder, unwittingly or not, introduces a new reality of observation into a world that never before observed itself.  So the perception of truth is fraught with the same difficulties as the perception of ourselves – the problem of gaining an inclusive point of view – the problem of understanding the subject by way of the meanings we express through the glimpses we obtain as a part of something bigger than the focus of our attention – even as that focus rests upon ourselves.

Mike Laidler

 

Towering Foundations

We can’t pretend not to care much about the nature of belief, or who believes what, when everything we know and care about is entwined with our beliefs. Belief is ubiquitous; nothing is immune from its influence, indeed it forges our understandings of reality and recognisance of the facts since it provides the frame of reference in which we turn to fact and reason. But if we are to glean anything from the observation of one another – about the interplay of belief and reason – it is that belief is more accomplished at making its way without reason than is reason without belief. And in this world of beliefs, if we are to discern anything about the basis of knowledge that forms opinion, it is that there is no such thing as a neutral fact.

Mike Laidler

The God of fact

Belief is our consolation in the face of uncertainty.  It is nice to believe that the truth is out there and that the facts can move us along towards its realisation, yet the path is long and tortuous and fraught with uncertainties, and dogma can easily intervene with the answer that requires us to look no further.   It is in the realms of dogma that belief comes face to face with disbelief; and though it might seem that disbelief has freed itself from a particular delusion, the disbelief upholds nothing more than an alternative belief about an issue that continues to test our understanding – a fact that passes unnoticed by those who continue to believe otherwise.  The resultant disgregation of beliefs occurs because ‘the truth’ remains the most unbelievable uncertainty of all – a bastion of contradictions accommodating panjandrums of belief – only it is the dogma of professing to have possession of the definitive facts that prevents us from knowing it.

  • We are given to believe things when we do not know, we take to know things when we don’t see the belief.
  • We like to believe that the truth is out there, but it remains a belief, and we can know it only as our version of truth, based upon what we are prepared to believe.
  • If disbelief is a form of belief, then we can’t disbelieve in belief, despite believing otherwise.
  • There is more of dogma than fact in the belief that truth will rid us of contradiction.
  • Dogma exchanges the realistic anxiety of uncertainty for an unrealistic illusion of certainty.

Belief is bigger than religion.  We don’t need religions in order to believe in God,  except that shared beliefs give people an increased feeling of being right.  The same is true of atheism, despite its focus on a form of disbelief; and the fact that atheism is no antidote to religion is evident in the influence of Buddhism as a renowned atheist religion.   In fact, belief is the common denominator in all things we profess to know, and despite all the shared dialogue we continue to perceive the truth as a dichotomy between right and wrong, which we then resolve to our own personal and cultural satisfaction in terms of what we happen to believe, aided by the facts we recruit to our cause.   Meanwhile science holds on to its own belief that the facts will tell us what to know and show us the way – as if factual knowledge is sufficient to do away with belief.

  • Whereas an ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’, we have nowhere to look in the absence of a frame of reference in what to believe?
  • We can’t avoid belief by not believing in it.
  • Belief sustains the image of factual certainty that the fact cannot supply.
  • Belief is the God we worship in the name of fact.
  • Knowing that we know is more a fact of belief than knowledge.

Mike Laidler

Knowing Belief

Reality may be seen as a plurality of the physical and metaphysical, more especially because the ‘thinking makes it so’ – for whilst the physical world remains essentially insensible and objective the metaphysical becomes personal and subjective. This form of metaphysics is evident in the nature of thought thinking about itself: ‘I think therefore I am’ – knowledge being a state of mind discernible in the recognition of its own inferences. However, our obsession with the inference of a reality beyond inference leads us to infer that real knowledge belongs to external facts that know nothing, as if they can also explain for us the transition to a knowing universe and demonstrate that the fact of the knowing is a change of less significance than ‘the facts’, in the greater glory of their objective oblivion.

It seems, to those who care to look, that knowledge is a minefield of assumptions beginning with the mind’s inferences about itself. Not surprisingly, popular forms of factual knowledge purport to minimise the need for inference – so in knowing for sure that Paris is the capital of France we may also rest assured that other forms of factual knowledge will not lead us astray. But such knowledge masks its own deficiencies and our ignorance of a deeper truth – that all ‘knowing’ is built upon inferences fashioned into beliefs. Indeed it is belief, rather than fact, that is the patron of knowledge, actively tuning the known by turning and pitching one understanding upon and against another; and no matter whether it ends in agreement or disagreement, that end is mediated by belief because the facts can’t tell us what to know.

Belief and knowledge are more alike than we might imagine, yet we tend to believe that knowledge displaces belief, which is why the ‘knowledgeable’ are dumfounded by what others are prepared to believe in disregard of the ‘known facts’. However, the knowing adds something to those facts, and the conclusions we draw go beyond the facts, entering into the realms of belief by the fact that we are drawing conclusions, and in particular because we feel the need to do so. So whether or not we are ‘in the know’ we are all using beliefs of one sort or another to put that knowledge in perspective, and it is the perspective that determines what we are prepared to make of ‘the facts’. Of course belief and knowledge are not static, then it is a matter of belief whether we take the facts to be static – and in every discipline the basic facts are open to reinterpretation, or not, depending the beliefs upon which that discipline is founded, and by which means the discipline gains its purpose. Indeed, to know is to believe we know, but to truly know is to know we believe and that we ‘believe in order to understand’, knowing that knowledge is built upon the myths by which we ‘explain the inexplicable’.

Mike Laidler

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