[ExI] Beliefs (was: , Re: extropy-chat Digest, Vol 199, Issue 86)

Jason Resch jasonresch at gmail.com
Sun Apr 26 19:40:12 UTC 2020

Hi Ben,

I agree with most of what you write below. Just a few in-line comments.

On Sun, Apr 26, 2020 at 5:38 AM Ben Zaiboc via extropy-chat <
extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org> wrote:

> On 26/04/2020 08:42, Jason Resch wrote:
> The above seems to equate belief with blind faith (a belief based on no
> evidence). I disagree with that equivalence.
> Do you not think it's important (if not essential) to be able to
> distinguish between the meanings of "I believe in God" and "I believe it
> will rain this afternoon"? Nobody expects that someone who's said the
> latter will insist that it really is raining when no rain appears in the
> afternoon, that the rain is invisible, undetectable, but nevertheless
> really there, etc.

Ideally, all beliefs should have a probabilistic confidence level next to
them, which we constantly adjust via Bayesian inference
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayesian_inference>. In this way, there
would be no fundamental difference between a belief in rain today and a
belief in some god. The main difference is that new evidence will arrive in
the afternoon to update the confidence in that belief, where it is less
likely new evidence will emerge in the afternoon to update the confidence
in the god belief.

> Personally, I try to avoid the word 'believe' unless it clearly means
> 'think' from the context (as in the rain example above), and even then I
> prefer not to use it, because it's far too easy to confuse the two
> meanings. The classic example is the arguments people get into about
> atheism. Atheists do not believe in the existence of gods. But if you're
> not careful, and use the word belief in the 'weak' sense, the statement
> 'Atheists think that gods don't exist' (which is generally true) can become
> 'Atheists believe that gods don't exist', which is not the case, at least
> for most atheists, as previously discussed on this list.

I agree, 'ideas' and 'think' are preferable, and we would do better to use
such words more often in our discourse.

> If I think something, that's just my opinion, which is subject to
> revision. If I use the word 'believe', its far too easily (in many cases),
> interpreted as the 'strong' version of the word, the blind faith version.
> This is why I'm so insistent on challenging people when they say 'Atheists
> believe there are no gods'. They may *mean* 'Atheists think there are no
> gods', but that's not what they're saying. Especially as we're talking
> about gods, the word 'believe' is almost certain to be taken the same way
> as religious people mean it when they say they do believe, rather than the
> way someone means it when they say 'I don't believe it will rain this
> aftenoon'.
> I think that magic is not real. I do not *believe* that magic is not
> real. It's not that I think there's a likelihood that it is, but if
> sufficient good evidence was presented that it is, I would change my mind.
> You say you disagree with the equivalence of 'belief' with 'blind faith'.
> Then you need to persuade religous believers to stop using the word, and
> refer to their blind faith in gods, etc., instead of belief.
> Otherwise, the equivalence is a fact.

I see it like this: all blind faith is belief, but not all belief is blind
faith. (but this is perhaps only a difference over terms and definitions, I
agree with the content of what you say here).

> When you say "we all have beliefs", you are saying "we all have blind
> faiths", unless you qualify it to mean "we all think certain things are
> true".
> Jason: "Why are you a transhumanist (forgive me if this assumption is
> incorrect, I am assuming you are as you are active on this list)?
> Does transhumanism not for some of us provide hope of a brighter future?
> Perhaps in the past this role was served by such promises found in
> religious texts--especially if you consider living in an era where people
> saw little to no technological or cultural progress in their lifetime."
> Indeed I am a transhumanist. Yes, it does provide hope of a brighter
> future. Whether or not the same hope has anything to do with religion, I
> don't care. If it's true, that doesn't have any bearing at all on the
> validity or truth of religious texts, or any religious opinions.
> The reason I am a transhumanist is because it specifies that the
> improvement in the human condition is to be achieved via the rational
> application of science and technology, which in my experience, works, and
> not via superstitious means (magic, religion, wishful thinking, etc.),
> which in my experience, doesn't work.
Do you see my point then, that someone born in the middle ages, who did not
see technology as humanity's savoir, might find it less despairing to
believe in a better next life rather than believe they would suffer now and
that would be it?

> Jason: "Perhaps you can only see religion as it is and not for what it
> can be"
> I can certainly imagine religion transforming into something that it isn't
> today. People can imagine all sorts of things. I don't think that confusing
> what something could potentially be for what it actually is in the present,
> is very helpful, though. And, to become something good and useful, religion
> would have to transform so radically that to continue to use the word
> 'religion' for it would be misleading to say the least.
> Jason: "is it possible to apply science to ideas normally considered the
> exclusive domain of religion?"
> You have to be careful here. Science can only be applied to things that
> are falsifiable. Many things that are the domain of religion are not. But
> science has been applied to several things that are claimed by various
> religions (search for 'Does prayer work?', for instance), and found them to
> be false. Not that this deters any religious people, as they usually just
> squirm their way to an interpretation of their claims that can't be
> falsified.
> Jason: "Did I cherry pick?"
> Yes.
> You selected quotes from the large body of literature available from the
> religion in question that related to the relevant idea. But your claim was
> that these ideas are 'core themes'. I could claim that a core theme of
> entomology is interference patterns, and quote research on the colours of
> butterfly wings. I won't convince anybody, though.
> I don't know much about Hinduism, and maybe hindus aren't concerned about
> their gods rewards and punishments, perhaps there aren't any, in which
> case, good for them. I can't help wondering, though, where all those taboos
> come from. If someone eats a cow, what will (supposedly) happen? What's so
> bad about feet, or menstruation?
Perhaps these are questions best left to anthropologists and evolutionary
biologists.  It's easy to forget how far we have come since those were
written. Only a few hundred years ago, about half of babies didn't survive
to their first year. Disease killed many. No doubt this lead to all kinds
of ideas about cleanliness, what foods could or should be eaten, etc. Many
perhaps wrong or misguided, but I think with good intentions.

Even today, much of nutrition science is bunk. Many medical practices, even
those used until very recently (and surely some still today) are actively
harmful.  How will humans a thousand years from now judge today's (presumed
to be rational and scientifically justified) proscriptions and

> Jason: "We all hold fundamental beliefs concerning reality"
> If you replace the word 'beliefs' with 'ideas', then I agree. In fact,
> things would be a lot clearer if, everywhere the word 'belief' was used, it
> was replaced with 'idea', and 'believe' was replaced with 'think', with
> appropriate qualifiers to distinguish between blind faith and rational
> thought.
> It seems that by 'religious belief', you mean 'world-view'. Use that term,
> and I'd agree that this encompasses atheism. Again, using the term
> 'religious belief' instead just causes confusion and resentment (and gives
> religious apologists ammunition).
I will use world-view from now on for that purpose. Thanks for the

> Jason: "What if we do find evidence for or against any of those
> fundamental concepts which today you call religious? Then, given that we
> now have evidence, such beliefs (under your definition) would no longer be
> religious beliefs"
> Correct.
> You've heard of 'the god of the gaps', haven't you?
> As soon as something mysterious is shown to have a rational explanation,
> there's no longer a need for the 'goddiddit' explanation any more. Nobody
> thinks that Thor or Zeus is the cause of lightning bolts anymore, because
> we now know how they really work.
> But maybe you mean something different when you say 'fundamental
> concepts'. The key question is: Are they falsifiable? If so, they can be
> disproved, and fall out of the realm of religion (there's no longer any
> need to 'believe' them (blind-faith version), they have been demonstrated
> to be true or false), but if not, science can't address them. Which usually
> means they aren't real, but anyway, they remain in the magical realm of the
> gods.
> The simulation argument is not a religious concept. It's a
> thought-experiment that, as far as we know, can't be proven. So, while it
> is (probably) unfalsifiable, neither is it a subject of blind faith. The
> people who think it's probably true, just assign a high probability to it,
> those who think it's probably false, don't. And there are plenty of people
> who think it's irrelevant anyway, so don't worry about it at all. The
> difference between a simulator and a god is clear, though. One is logically
> consistent with the laws of physics, the other is supernatural.

I would argue that the entity and the computer who run the simulation are
'supernatural' in that they are beyond anything of our present
nature/physical universe. They exist beyond nature, they don't adhere to
our laws of physics.  Though this is a terminology/definition disagreement,
it restores the blur in the line between "God" and "simulator" -- when both
can be considered beyond nature.

> Jason: "In what category would mathematical beliefs, such as the belief
> that "1 + 1 = 2" fall into? Are true mathematical beliefs falsifiable,
> subject to revision, eternally true?"
> I don't know the full answer to that, I'm not  a mathematician. But there
> are no such things as 'mathematical beliefs'. There are Axioms. Things that
> are held to be true because other things depend on them. 1 + 1 = 2 is not a
> belief. You don't have to have blind faith in it, you can prove it. There
> are other systems of mathematics with other axioms, I think. I don't know
> anything about them, so someone who actually knows maths might want to
> comment on that, but my understanding is that maths is an (approximately)
> self-contained logical system. Gödel shows that this is not quite true, of
> course, but I'm way out of my depth there.
> I think you're just asking the wrong question, here, to be honest.

You are right, axioms are still taken as beliefs which themselves can never
be proven.

Gödel showed that no finite set of axioms is complete. That is, no finite
set of axioms can be used to prove every mathematical statements that is
true. In other words, mathematical truth cannot be defined, and transcends
any attempts at specification.

> Jason: "Given the evidence and examples I provided regarding the
> scientific theory of the mechanistic description of the mind, have you
> changed your own opinion regarding the physical possibility of
> reincarnation, resurrection, and the continuance of a mind beyond the death
> of one of its bodies?"
> I think you misunderstand my position. I'm a materialist, and fully accept
> the 'mechanistic description of the mind'. I think that uploading,
> diverging identity, mind backups and possibly even merging of different
> versions of a mind are all theoretically possible, and have done for a long
> time.
> There's one important thing about materialism: It excludes the
> supernatural.
> I don't use the terms 'reincarnation', 'resurrection' etc., because these
> are words that come from the world of magical religious thinking (the
> supernatural), and give completely the wrong impression. There's a huge
> difference between saying "I believe in reincarnation" and "I think that
> uploading is theoretically possible".

I think it is contextual. If reality is big enough such that
"reincarnation" (let's say this is unintentional continuation of the mind,
unlike mind uploading which is controlled and intentional) happens
automatically, then there is a different flavor between 'reincarnation' and
'mind uploading'.

With mind uploading you need to do something extra, do a brain scan, upload
it into a computer, run the computer. In a large enough reality, the
existence of other computers already running exact copies of your brain
state when you die is implicitly assumed to exist within that infinite
reality. Thus you get "uploaded for free".

There's nothing supernatural about any of this. It's just what you get when
you accept theories from different domains of science (mechanism,
materialism, digital brain emulation, neuroscience, etc.) which says we can
simulate and recreate the mind, with (cosmology, string theory, quantum
mechanics, platonism, etc.) which say reality is very big and probably

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