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On Believing and Either Deceiving Ourselves or Seeing Truth

This discussion was created from comments split from: Call for "Critique my Zettel"-Notes.


  • edited April 2022


    OK - I'm sufficiently tempted to post one of my recent (and as @Will commented, undoctored) zettels. Here it is:

    On Believing and Either Deceiving Ourselves or Seeing Truth

    02-03-2022 08:13 AM
    tags: #Belief #Truth #Deceiving

    If I hadn't believed it, I wouldn't have seen it.
    (Quote from Vic Milligan, as related by Dennis Becker)

    Vic turns the common saying "If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it" on it's head, to indicate that sometimes we see what we are looking for, whether it is there or not.

    In the bigger context, the statement presents a condundrum: are we talking about a form of self-deception or about a form of discovery? Clearly, it cannot be both, but in different circumstances, it could be one or the other. How are we to discern which it is and whether we should persist in "believing" or abandon the effort?

    For example, we can all think of early scientific discoveries that were made because people persisted in believing a particular concept without concrete proof. Would Columbus have discovered the North American continent if he had been dissuaded by his sailors from the idea of a spherical earth? Contrarily, we can think of examples of where people believed things that are not true, to their detriment (such as ineffective or even harmful folk remedies for serious diseases).

    The following quote, attributed to Einstein, elaborates on the "self-deception" half of the equation:

    A man should look for what is, and not what he thinks should be.

    There are spiritual dimensions to the concept of belief as well, particularly as they apply to not deceiving ourselves, (some of which are addressed in the links shown below). Alma 32:26-43 is a masterful discussion of how belief can lead to faith, which eventually can lead to light/truth and to spiritual fruit. Alma provides a step-by-step procedure of how to discern between developing faith or just wasting our time, and the pitfalls that could be encountered along the way. Perhaps his process also could be applied to more temporal matters.

    internal links:
    [[202105192232]] On self-deception
    [[202008221519]] Belief alone is an insufficient basis for establishing truth.
    [[202006242037]] How one develops faith.
    external links:
    Article from Psychology Today on this idea: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/busting-myths-about-human-nature/201205/i-wouldn-t-have-seen-it-if-i-hadn-t-believed-it

  • edited April 2022


    • Wie entwickelt ist der Zettel?
    • The central thought is already present but it could be peeled open more. It is a problem statement which can be formulated such:

      • Fallacy is an always present problem. Or as a question:
      • If fallacy is an always possiblilty, what is the always needed mode of being that should be part of the foundation of life? (My answer: Mindfulness)
    • My recommendation is to choose the later version since faith is existential and not factual. That means that truth cannot be treated as the abstract idol of the mind but should be always accompanied by heart and soul. Something that is true can still be incomplete and omit part of the bigger picture which can be a source of falsehood or even a lie.

      • Example: One problem of scientific research that it is an endeavour of isolation. Diet research is more scientific the better controlled it is (for example, holding the participants captive to control and measure everything). But the more controlled it is the less it is able to guide real diet advice. On the other hand badly controlled studies (e.g. giving the participants instructions on how to eat and then see them in 6 weeks) are prone to more sources of error but they mirror what actually happens in the coaching situation way better.
      • Example: You can lie by omitting part of the information. This is a classical motif in literature in which a demon grants wishes in a way that he harms the wisher by being true to the wish instead of true to the desire of the wisher. Or: If somebody asks you something irrelevant to an issue and you answer the question, knowing that it is irrelevant.
    • You start with a pattern description of the quote. My recommendation is to start with the one-sentence-summary to give your future self your best level of understanding of the issue available to you. I'd pair it with the question.

    • Suggested research: Look up "Jordan Peterson perception". He talks a lot about pre-existing beliefs.
    • It is a long time ago since I read the Book of Mormon (18 years to be exact). So, I might remember wrongly. After I reviewed those passages, there seem to be a strong connection to faith as practice. If you beginn practicing according to your faith (planting a seed) you can literally see its growth by reviewing your life through the lens of faith. Example: If you stop lying, even stop white lying, you could judge the changes in your life according to game's theory. But you can also judge them according to your faith. Those are not mutually exclusive. But only one delivers a deeper truth that not only is accessible by your mind but also touches your soul.
    • I think deceit is an auxiliary issue. So, I'd refactor the thoughts since there are multiple reasons to stumble into the problem of not dealing with fallibility correctly. (Delusion, Seduction, etc.)


    • I think the title is a little bit disconnected from the central thought. According to my opinion of what the central thought is the title would be "How to Deal with Fallibility existentially?" This title would ask for a note that explores the Problem of Fallibility as an existential problem (as opposed to the fallibility as a scientific problem).
    • But the title would really depend on the nature of the note.



    • My recommendation is to weave the links listed under "internal links" into the notes. The note is a bit lengthy. So, you'd read the note before you stumble on the links. But each link provides a connection that is tight to a specific place to the note. Finding that place will enhance your understanding of the nature of the connection.
    • This nature will be, of course, captured in a link context. Finding the link context (the explicit nature of the connection) will deepen your understanding of the broader picture even more.
    • The titles of the links sound great. Alone from the title I can gauge already what I can expect. I am positive that the titles are good which makes me positive that finding the nature of the connection will be not blurred by issues in methodology.
    • The following structure notes could add to your understanding:
      • Create a structure note that is divided into to parts:
      1. A clearly formulated question or problem statement
      2. A commentated list of links to the various aspects of the question/problem to understand the question deeply (sometimes, more work needs to be done to understand the question than to find its answer)
      3. The possible answers to that questions.
      4. It could be the note at hand. It sounds fitting to me, since this note reads to me like your first steps to understand the nature of the question/problem at hand.


    • I recommend direct references. So, create a footnote or put the link to the external reference next to the quote or paraphrase you are using. This removes ambiguity later on.


    The general issue with this note I see is that it needs to be developed but leave room to the open nature of the content. If you follow my advice of making this a structure note with the question as the central thought you can use this note as a general starting point and fertile soil to plant thought seeds that belong in this garden (fenced by the boundaries of the question). This would be a good compromise to both be more precise but give your thought room to breath.

    My recommendations for further research:

    • Look up the various definitions of truth (especially the difference of foundationalism and coherentism) (the concept of truth itself is an auxiliary problem)
    • Create a pool of experience reports by both "successful" believers and "unsuccessful" believers. Is there a difference between the way they life the faith. (e.g. What is the difference between the happy Amish people and the fairly unhappy mennonites of Belize (later was told me by a relative who visited them)) (Could lead to empirical truth)
    • Create a statement about why this issue is relevant at all. Why is existential truth true and not yet another lie those religious charlatans tell to pull sane people into delusion? (I live in faith, too.. So, I am devil's advocate here) (Creating relevance a powerful tool to become more precise in problem statements)
    • Is there a possibility of training? Could there be something like an existential truth muscle that can be trained? (Personal recommendation: Richard Foster -- Celebration of Discipline)1 (Anything, but faith also, benefits from thinking in practical terms. Praying needs to be done to be understood.)
    • Try to come up with a statement that describes the problem with as few words as possible. (Simpleness as an anchor for abstract issues)
    • If you have some examples of "successful" believers and "unsuccessful" is there a pattern of beauty and a counter-pattern of ugliness? What makes authentic belief beautiful? (I think beauty is a very underrated window into the nature of faith. There is an intimate connection between beauty, truth and the good which makes each concept a door that should be opened to explore the others)

    Comment to my comment: The topic of the note is exactly my beat. So, it was hard for me to not be too focused on the content. But since note was decent overall and I guess that this note is part of your inner work I tried to bake in some open loops to discover. Since the note is about faith I tried to be a tat more polite than I am inclined.

    1. If this is compatible with your faith, of course. ↩︎

    I am a Zettler

  • @Sascha Thank you for your thorough critique of my zettel "On Believing and Either Deceiving Ourselves or Seeing Truth". I have read through it; now I need to re-read and think about it. I'll likely post some comments or questions after that, but wanted to send an initial thanks for the time you spent on this.

  • Did you edit the note? :)

    I am a Zettler

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