Navigating the Sea of Belief

The Sea of Belief

This sketch illustrates how I often envision our beliefs, our philosophies and our ways of thinking.  My intent here is not to argue about the terms [“usefulness” or “accuracy”, for I toyed with other words too], but to hope you feel what I am trying to say and use this metaphor for useful dialogue.

Questions for readers:  Imagine you see the folks (the boats) in the diagram (a, b and c) trying to navigate their lives (the sea).  Which boat is doing best?  Which direction should each boat point her bow?

triangle_end_tiny

17 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

17 responses to “Navigating the Sea of Belief

  1. I don’t like it.

    You depict accuracy as orthogonal to usefulness. It isn’t.

  2. Good Neil, I was hoping people would disagree.
    So, are you saying you can’t imagine where believing something that is inaccurate can actually be more useful than believing (and acting on) something accurate. Or are you thinking of the softer version of where that is so rarely the case, that you don’t think it is a useful model.

    Can you see this model working in some domains, but not others?

  3. I agree with Neil. In what instance would discovering the inaccuracy of a belief make it more useful to someone?

  4. So, are you saying you can’t imagine where believing something that is inaccurate can actually be more useful than believing (and acting on) something accurate.

    No, I am not saying that.

    It looks as if I should post something on my own blog that goes into more detail.

  5. @Sabio

    I know the comment was addressed to Neil, but since I agreed with him I wanted to explain my answer further.

    I’m referring to one’s knowledge of the accuracy of the belief because accuracy has nothing to do with usefulness if someone either doesn’t know or care how accurate the belief is, or believes it is more accurate than it actually is. If I don’t know (or care) how accurate my belief is, it can still be useful to me. But once I discover it is inaccurate, I can’t see how it would continue to be useful to believe it without engaging in purposeful cognitive dissonance. More technically, I envision the y-axis as “knowledge of or belief in accuracy” and can see there being a horizontal line on the graph or a positive slope, but I can’t envision a negative slope.

    Ugh. That just got too complex, making it a not-so-useful model. Let me think some more.

  6. Good, Neil. but I will keep conversation going here, though I will look at your post.

    @ MichaelB,
    Consider the pairs of beliefs:
    [1]
    (a) A child believes something dangerous lives in the lake and thus it is bad to go into the lake without his parents.
    (b) Child believes there is no dangerous thing in the lake (but has no idea of his/her swimming ability.

    [2]
    (a) Your wife loves you for who you are and is committed to you.
    (b) Your wife is opportunistic, deceives herself as to her loyalty and if opportunity presents, would leave much more easily then you’d imagine. She is mildly interested in you but mainly as it serves her. And she deceives herself about this. [And with such a belief (unaccompanied by other skills or beliefs) you’d feel depressed.)

    [3]
    (a) The tooth fairy brings me money for my teeth.
    (b) There is no tooth fairy and it sucks to loose my teeth.

    I could go on, but two things could happen here. You could choose to see all sorts of problems with my examples (because any example is going to actually be very complex), or kind of get what I mean. Let me know if there is a third option.

    Interestingly, two negative responses so far — hmmmm, will be interesting to see where this goes.

  7. @ MichaelB,

    Yes, I am assuming the person assumes their belief is accurate — even if it may be inaccurate. But heck, even if a person is apathetic about a belief, an inaccurate one can be very useful.

    But AFTER truly found to be inaccurate and a good way of fitting a more accurate truth into one’s reality is realized, I would imagine accurate beliefs would be better. But that is a lot of conditionals — all the while, my point still standing. If I am right. Maybe my inaccurate position is just useful to me!! 🙂

  8. @Sabio

    I guess I’m just not understanding the purpose of the chart, then, because if an inaccurate belief can be useful – which I believe it can, so long as the person either doesn’t know or care about the accuracy – then accuracy is not necessarily related to usefulness. In other words, there is correlation but not necessarily causation.

  9. My own post on the topic is now up here.

  10. Maybe my thinking is too linear and that’s why I’m having trouble here. Or maybe my opinion on the usefulness of charts in general is negatively skewed since I am currently taking a course in economics. Either way, I’m going to duck out of this conversation because, no matter how accurate the chart may be, I don’t see it being useful for me. 😉

  11. @ MichaelB,

    LOL – Charts can be a pain — especially mine.
    Maybe this chart will be helpful in future posts, maybe not.
    NP duckin’ out — see you again, you little quack.

  12. @ Neil,
    I read your post.

    My point is that “truth” and “pragmatism” (as you chose for labels) are mixed in our decisions (inadvertently, usually — often unconsciously) and that it is unclear what mix is the best — or at least this necessary mix makes dialogue on the issue complex.

    It seems you went off a little tangential from what my chart was trying to say, either because your post material was forefront in your head or my chart and post were badly expressed.

    What do you think?

  13. My point is that “truth” and “pragmatism” (as you chose for labels) are mixed in our decisions (inadvertently, usually — often unconsciously) and that it is unclear what mix is the best — or at least this necessary mix makes dialogue on the issue complex.

    I agree with that. It’s just that I don’t see them as orthogonal. We value accuracy because it is generally useful, though there are times when the requirements of accuracy are better ignored.

  14. @ Neil,
    OK, hopefully you see how an “orthogonal” graph (such as one for weight and blood pressure) does not set the two qualities on the graph as exclusive. I guess I don’t understand your original confusion at all.
    Maybe I don’t know how to use the word “orthogonal” except it means “right angles” — but I guess it means “statistically independent” in your use. And thus my above observation still holds.

    Either way, perhaps the chart is now more clear?

  15. Sabio, why is that I want to say “I want to suck your blood” when I look at your new header? (Damn Romanian heritage!)

  16. TWF

    Been prolific, huh? I’ve been busy. 😦

    Anyway, I “got” your chart. I think it’s great. I’d like to point the hull toward useful, but where I get stuck is dragging along the unsavory views along with it, be they accurate or inaccurate. I wish there was a religion where navigating towards accurate and useful would be benevolent to all.

  17. @TWF: Thanx — yeah, it sounds like you got it. I hope to put up a post showing examples in a few days. I will be able to test it out more then. I think models, more than paragraphs, can shape a lot of folks’ viewpoints effectively — accurate, or not!

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