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The role of belief in knowledge (APPLIED EPISTEMOLOGY)
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Boreades


In: finity and beyond
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Some mistake surely?

A Zenith telescope, however wonderfully constructed like the Monument, is useless for observing any Transit of Venus, which is not, and never is, seen 100% vertically into the sky.

But as Hooke was a founder member of the Royal Society, there may have been alternate purposes.

See Cleopatra's Needle
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra%27s_Needle
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aurelius



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David wrote:


Returning to Mick's statement, it is a strange but true fact that most people think that they believe something because it is true. The reality is (almost always) that they think it is true because they believe it. The mental process is actually reversed.



Hi David

Is the reality "they think it is true" down to how the mind, to keep us sane and functioning in a purposive way, has a 'shorthand' for understanding? For example look at how much we do on 'autopilot'? Even driving to work (watch out, folks!) because the route is so familiar, I make very little thinking effort.

Assumption is a very useful thing in some ways.

This is not a field I know much about, mind...
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aurelius



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Boreades wrote:
Some mistake surely?

A Zenith telescope, however wonderfully constructed like the Monument, is useless for observing any Transit of Venus, which is not, and never is, seen 100% vertically into the sky.

But as Hooke was a founder member of the Royal Society, there may have been alternate purposes.

See Cleopatra's Needle
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra%27s_Needle


This is quite interesting too:

http://secret-cities.com/2009/04/04/the-monument-and-robert-hooke/

Maybe the telescope worked because the lens at the top was not pointed vertically?
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Mick Harper
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I thought I coined the phrase Applied Epistemology many years ago but it turned out David Hume got there before me according to a Google Alert I just received. Why the delay, Google Alert? Cat got your algorithm? When the internet got invented, or rather some years after that when me and the internet found one another, I discovered that a lot of very dull academic philosophers used the term amongst themselves for no purpose that I could see. But that is true of everything they do so no great significance should be attached to that. However, now that David Hume and me have discovered one another (about time, Dave) I will take this opportunity to wax languorously on the subject.

Applied epistemology
1. Of the idea of necessary connection

Obviously the starting point since everybody has knowledge (epistemology) but everybody has difficulty when it comes to connecting that to the real world (applied epistemology). I will see what Hume says, or rather what some dude says he says, starting with this

By "necessary connection", Hume means the power or force which necessarily ties one idea to another

which is quite wrong.
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Mick Harper
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To understand why, consider this post of mine from yesterday

If you truly wish to help black people, follow the genes! You can still carry on being liberals about everything else, honest.
Voice off: No, you can't. One strike and you're out. I don't make the rules, liberals do.

Human beings do not use ideas to connect with other ideas, much less to connect with the real world, they use them to connect with one another. It is a commonplace observation to say that people believe what their friends believe but it is not so common to observe that there are very strict rules about this. In Hume's time, if you stood up in church and said, "I accept everything but I have reservations about Calvin's theory of pre-destination" you would be in more trouble than simply referring to it as a theory.

This is why, in Applied Epistemology, we are always hammering home some obscure point about, say, the authenticity of Cuthbert's Gospels. If an academic historian gave it house room they would soon find themselves out of a job because the poor chap/chapess would soon find themselves on a very slippery slope indeed. Fortunately for them, the human brain is wired to believe all of it, or none of it, but never some of it. It finds choice too much like hard work.
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Mick Harper
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He rejects the notion that any sensible qualities are necessarily conjoined, since that would mean we could know something prior to experience. Unlike his predecessors, Berkeley and Locke, Hume rejects the idea that volitions or impulses of the will may be inferred to necessarily connect to the actions they produce by way of some sense of the power of the will.

Strewth, these dudes were more advanced than I thought. [Even though I studied them all at university!] I think they are referring to instinct except the expression 'the power of the will' seems to refer to the idea that human beings are elevated above animals in being able to set aside instinct if necessary.

My own version of this is that we can't help what's in our brain. That we are actually prisoners of our brain who only wants a quiet life and to be left alone to build up more and more complex synapses in order to deliver more and better solutions to our everyday lives. This is best done by learning about things rather than having to do them each time. But then Applied Epistemology (our version) comes along and points out that now we are just prisoners of the people we learned it all from.

Whether that makes us pre-Humians, post-Humians or anti-Humians is not that clear yet. I wished I'd paid more attention at the time but, oh no, I had to go off dancing every night and become the university bridge champion. A very rare combination I can assure you.
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Ishmael


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Mick Harper wrote:
It is a commonplace observation to say that people believe what their friends believe.... This is why...we are always hammering home some obscure point.....


I thought this is why we are generally such cretins toward one another.
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Mick Harper
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You took the words out my mouth, Ishmael. But permit me to amend your opaque remarks. People not only think their friends are not cretins, they think them the last word in wisdom. On account of them holding the same views as themselves. Everyone else is, by extension, a cretin. Perhaps that's what you meant.

But to round the point off Humainly, I have noticed a wrinkle on the phenomenon. When I find myself disputing some technical point with someone ("I find that difficult to imagine, Mick, but do go on") and the other person doesn't know me ("Are there such people, Mick?") the someone always assumes that, solely by dint of our disagreement, they are smarter than I am.

But more on this after my Scotch eggs which, presumably because of so much recent switching around of staff at Tesco, are ill-constructed and falling apart. Much like our country. Thank God that this time next year we won't even remember any of this. The wallies (that's all of you) suppose that dropping ten per cent in GNP voluntarily in a crisis is the same as dropping ten per cent involuntarily in an economic slump. I don't have any friends.
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Ishmael


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Mick Harper wrote:
...the someone always assumes that, solely by dint of our disagreement, they are smarter than I am.


I find this happens when people merely hear from me an idea they have never encountered before.
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Mick Harper
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This is a larger case of the same phenomenon. The reason is obvious enough. If A disagrees with B it means that A is either wrong or, at the very least, will have to establish that B is wrong. Since it is very unlikely that B will be, as it were, 'simply wrong' this means that A will have to examine the matter, however cursorily. But the most cursory examination will reveal that A's own opinion is based on some pretty threadbare reasoning because otherwise B cannot possibly have fallen into error on the point.

So A has to assume B is 'simply wrong'. This has to be done immediately but it also has to be done in a way that A won't start saying to himself, "Hold up, that's the fifth person I've met today who was 'simply wrong'. What kind of world am I living in? Or is it me?" So all human beings, or rather all human beings' brains, have a stock list of explanations to meet this situation. The most useful is, "Oh, this person is not as smart as I am therefore I can dismiss his opinion as being 'simply wrong'."

This is a surprisingly successful strategy given that human beings occupy a fairly narrow band of smartness but, should it get truly ridiculous, the brain has to fall back on different explanations. B is right-wing. B is a conspiracy theorist. B belongs to a cult. B is mentally deranged. B is only saying that in order to [ ....] he doesn't really mean it etc etc

Applied Epistemology is in business to say, "Sorry, brain, but B's opinion has to be examined, however cursorily."
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Mick Harper
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He reasons that (1) if we knew the nature of this power, then the mind-body divide would seem totally unmysterious to us

In Applied Epistemology we emphasise the 'mind-brain divide' aspect of the same problem.

2. if we had immediate knowledge of this mysterious power, then we would be able to intuitively explain why it is that we can control some parts of our bodies (e.g., our hands or tongues), and not others (e.g., the liver or heart);

Since Hume's day we have become rather obsessed with changing this e.g. by breathing exercises and taking heart pills but we have become, if anything, less concerned with 'the mind'. It seemed to have been the same in Hume's day

He produces like arguments against the notion that we have knowledge of these powers as they affect the mind alone.

But then argues against what must have been a straw man even in his day

He also argues in brief against the idea that causes are mere occasions of the will of some god(s), a view associated with the philosopher Nicolas Malebranche

though, come to think of it, our own gods are even more dictatorial than they were in Hume's day. You can't get a minute's peace.
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Mick Harper
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Having dispensed with these alternative explanations, he identifies the source of our knowledge of necessary connections as arising out of 'observation of constant conjunction of certain impressions across many instances'.

Although this sounds a bit 'bleedin' obvious' it actually isn't. The key word is 'certain'. After all, it ought to be 'of all impressions across many instances'. If we put our hand in the fire it doesn't sometimes hurt and sometimes not. Except at any higher level we don't get very many instances. When trying to solve, say, a political problem we may only have a handful of instances to go by and none of them are guaranteed to be of the "ouch, that hurt" variety. Hume sort of agrees

In this way, people know of necessity through rigorous custom or habit, and not from any immediate knowledge of the powers of the will. (Hume 1974:361)

In my experience it is a "where to send our children to school" situation. It is the rigorous custom or habit of liberal parents to obey all liberal strictures except, sometimes, you have to apply the powers of your will against custom and habit and send the boy to a good school.
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Mick Harper
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There endeth the part about Applied Epistemology. What have we learned? Well, Hume at least understood there was a problem. Since then, nothing. At least not as far as I know but my ignorance of 'philosophy' is quite profound. I just can't read it, for two reasons. One: it is always couched in unreadable academese. Two: I am always chary of encountering ideas that are too powerful for my brain and will overwhelm it. I find getting there under my own steam is the way to go.
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