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Verbal laziness and beliefs

October 20, 2009

Since LDS testimonies often include, “I know,” instead of “I believe,” what does this say about the Mormons who bear these testimonies?

Does it say that they truly know (or perceive that they know) various assertions such as, “God exists,” “Joseph Smith was a true prophet,” “I love my family” (if it’s a primary testimony, that’s a common one)? Or is this just a kind of verbal laziness that people get over time because of the cultural heritage of Mormonism (to insist knowledge).

I tend to think that “know” takes a different meaning…and that instead, the “know” that Mormon testimonies features often is a specific in-word to Mormons. Rather, I think that faith is still primary to believers…but how does one have faith when one knows? Faith is something one has when one believes despite not knowing. “I don’t know, but I hope…I trust…I am assured.” In other words, assurance of things hoped for…certainty of things unseen.

I’m thinking that Mormons still mean to have faith. But the idea is that their testimony and faith are so strong that they are so assured that they’ll just use that “know” language.

Hmm…interesting.

I was thinking about this in a completely different context…I think that in other contexts, various groups drop the “believe” part and make statements that sound more audacious than they really are.

For example, when certain strong atheists say, “There is no god,” the statement isn’t concrete and rigid. Rather, this is a verbal laziness for, “I believe there is no god.” It may be even more verbal laziness from “I don’t believe there is a god,” (but if this is the case, then I think there is a logical leap too…absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, although absence of evidence is great for stripping away a reason to believe.)

Could this be what some atheists are doing? I think so. I mean, even one of the most outspoken of atheists, Richard Dawkins, points out that he is a “de facto” atheist but not a “strong atheist,” if the strong atheist position is “I know there is no god.” (I don’t happen to think that strong atheism is that far though…that really is gnostic atheism…I think strong atheism is simply the positive position “I believe there is no god” vs. weak atheism’s negative position “I don’t believe there is a god.”)

The reason I bring this up is that in discussion, I always hear this idea that atheists must be very certain and very bold…but this isn’t the case…they just have a belief (if strong) or a lack of belief (if weak). This is not necessarily certain.

So, they could say, “Hey, I don’t know…I don’t believe.” This is not a certain position, because they lack knowledge, but still, they have to take a position on belief or nonbelief.

I think this goes back to members. Deep down, even if the testimonies don’t show it, I think most members (but if not, then many theists of other stripes), would say, “Hey, I don’t know…but I have faith and believe.” And this is normally prized, because faith is prized. If one doesn’t prize faith, then one wouldn’t prize this process, I guess. But theists, at the least, should.

Sorry that this is very disjointed. It is part of an ongoing (if just as disjointed) discussion at Stallion Cornell’s Moist Blog.

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60 Comments
  1. I would only say “I know” when I am “as sure as I possibly can be” or “as much as I know anything else that is subjective in nature”… I suppose, then, that my “testimony” includes very few “I know” statements.

  2. adamf:

    What I find funny though is that some people would say that (using very few “I know” statements) makes you a weaker believer for that…for admitting that you “don’t know,” (although you believe).

    I don’t think it makes you a weaker believer. Careful? yes. More precise with words? yes. One who highlights to role of faith (which is absent of knowledge)? Yes.

  3. That is funny, because you’re right. If anything it makes me a stronger believer… and yes, a lot more precise/careful with words. While I try not to get all uptight at other people’s words (for example, people toss the word “love” around and I think they don’t really know what they mean, a lot of the time), words are very important to me in the sense that I want to communicate as best as I possible can what I know, think, feel and believe, etc. etc.

  4. I had a similar discussion with my Children that were and are still active in the Church after I left the church. I suggested that they should say “I believe” instead of “I know” I also told them that if they are just standing up and repeating what others are saying out of peer pressure that was not being honest with themselves and somewhat deceiving to others, I do find it somewhat repulsive now to think how proud I once was to hear my young child just repeat “ I know Joseph Smith was a Prophet and that the Church is true” before they had the ability to comprehend or understand what that actually meant. If someone repeats something enough times it can become an absolute in their minds without really having a basis for that belief. Is it right for Parents to do that to their Children?

    As far as the “Know” question, I do think many in the Church truly believe that they “know” I was trying to explain to my brother how I will change my statement from, “I don’t believe there is a God” to “I know there isn’t a God” depending on my audience, if I am talking to someone that claims they know there is a God then in all fairness I can I claim I know there isn’t a God, and made the statement that in regards to an afterlife or God all any of us really “Know” is that someday we will all die. He got very upset and yelled at me “Don’t tell me what I know or don’t know” I then asked how he actually knew I was told “They are personal experiences that I don’t just share with just anyone”

    • Guest Writer 800+ permalink

      I have thought a lot about the experiences that people consider sacred and the common advice (at least, within Mormonism) to not share them with just anyone. I think that it is a type of defense system. They realize the subjective nature of the event and don’t want an outsider to question it. Not necessarily questioning the experience, but perhaps the interpretation thereof. I might say to my father, “I understand that you had that experience, but rather than it being a vision, maybe it really was just a very vivid dream.” Or, I might say to my friend, “That’s cool that that happened to you, but I’m not sure that what you consider a knockout punch in favor of God is anything more than an occurrence that will happen every once in awhile by random chance.”

      The same goes for being counseled to not share patriarchal blessings. If people found out that virtually every blessing given by a particular patriarch is the same (depending on gender) one might start to question how personally specific they really are. Or, if they knew that many early blessings talked of preaching to the Quakers on the moon, that might open up outside questioning and criticism as well. When things are declared sacred, it often puts them in a category above criticism, in a category that people don’t want criticized.

      It reminds me of this quote from a speech given by Douglas Adams:
      “Now, the invention of the scientific method and science is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and that it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked and if it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that; it has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. That’s an idea we’re so familiar with, whether we subscribe to it or not, that it’s kind of odd to think what it actually means, because really what it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!'”

      • FireTag permalink

        Guest Writer’s observation is more than about religion — but applies to everything that is at the core of our identity. It happens in politics. It happens in family relationships. It happens in science, too, among researchers who have their whole professional reputations tied to the rightness of a particular theory. The different arenas just have different protocols for acceptably responding to identity threats, but the rage internally is very real.

  5. coventryrm:
    If someone repeats something enough times it can become an absolute in their minds without really having a basis for that belief…

    As far as the “Know” question, I do think many in the Church truly believe that they “know”

    I think that the two quoted lines work together. People say “I know,” so many times that it reinforces it…so they truly do think they know instead of just believing…it’s customary and habitual.

    But what you bring up is interesting, having to change the language *you* use around different people.

    That’s actually interesting…because I sometimes have conversations with a person (that most of us know from other sites on the bloggernacle…I won’t name names, but he’s a rather orthodox believer). And he ACTUALLY tried to suggest that the way believers said they “know” and nonbelievers said they “didn’t believe” suggested that believers had “more” than the nonbelievers. These are that person’s actual comments at one point:

    Testimony is an interesting topic. It’s lopsided. By this I mean, the best someone can say who doesn’t believe is that they “disbelieve”. On the other side, some will say they believe, and still others say they “know”.

    His later argument for the lopsidedness was that there is some spiritual experience for those who “know” but none such for those who disbelieve (rather than, say, imprecision of terms used or overconfidence with perceived certainty), so I guess that goes for your EDIT: brother (missed that) too?

  6. Not my friend, my Brother …. kinda bothered me I was in the “I just don’t share with anyone” category …

    However in regards to “spiritual” experience, I have had that argument many times,we all define for ourselves what consitutes such an experience, I have had much more profound and clear experiences confirming my “non-belief” than I had confirming my LDS belief. So when it comes to “Personal Spiritual Experience” I don’t think either way of believing has more validity than the other.

  7. OH, I completely missed that.

    That *is* pretty bothersome…

    I see what you mean regarding spiritual experience…but it just seems that if we take the Book of Mormon challenge, what people are generally looking for is a confirmation or a stupor of thought…so one is a confirmation of the book’s truth…the other is lack of confirmation.

    And what believers would say is, “Well…that doesn’t mean the book isn’t true…you just haven’t gotten a confirmation yet.”

    But all bets would be off if you said, “No, I had a confirmation that the book was in fact false/harmful.” It’s subjective, either way

  8. shematwater permalink

    This is an interesting thought. let me put in what I think.

    The only way to know anything is to experience it. Thus only people who have actually seen God can claim true knowledge of his existance. This knowledge has been promised (at least in my view) to those who show sufficient faith in his existance. Knowledge is greater than faith, for it is from faith that knowledge comes.

    For the LDS, we use the word know because in doing so it strengthens our faith. Just like the idea “just say no.” If you decide something before the question arises there is less chance you will succomb to the temptation.

    Now, do I know that God exists? Yes. I have seen enough of this world and felt his presence in my life enough that I know he is there. Do I know that the LDS church is his true church? On this I would be more accurate to say “I believe,” but in doing so I open my mind to other possibilities, and thus, while I am more accurate, I have created a breach in my faith to start with.
    This is why we use the word know, because if we accept unquestioningly that it is the only truth we are less likely to fall away from it.
    (Speaking in general here.)

  9. shematwater:

    while I generally like your style of arguing for knowledge (e.g., what we experience), I think it is inadequate in this situation…because our experiences are *subjective* and can differ…so, unless we are careful, we can assert that two people can ‘know’ two completely contradictory things. I think this could be ok, but we’d have to say that ‘knowledge’ in this case may not tell us about external facts of the universe, but it most certainly can tell us about internal facts of our subjective interpretations and reactions.

    I find it interesting that you only say, “I believe” for the LDS church being the true church, but you “know” that God exists, when for both, you are evaluating your subjective experiences in certain ways. In the latter case, you evaluate your experiences in a way that asserts that you “know” God exists, but you don’t evaluate your experiences with the church similarly.

    You say you do this to open up possibilities, but does that mean you have closed other possibilities with relationship to feeling God’s presence? (For one, I do *not* think you have breached your faith to say, “I believe” instead of “I know.” I disagree with the LDS interpretation that claiming knowledge strengthens faith…rather, knowledge overcomes, supersedes and makes faith obsolete…since as you say, knowledge is greater than faith. If we “know,” we may have come FROM faith, but we aren’t using faith anymore.)

    For example, since you claim to “know” it was God’s presence (from seeing the world, feeling his presence, etc.,), you shut out the possibility that all of these things aren’t indicative of God at all…I guess there still is faith here…since you truly don’t know that your logical path is sound (you don’t know that you are evaluating the evidence you get from the world properly…but still you believe that it points to a God), you have faith and believe that your way of interpreting the world is sound.

  10. I have given a lot of thought as to why it has bothered me so much when people say “I know” to all kinds of things… then I realized, that’s just it. It bothers ME. I started thinking more of the process of what it means for them to say it (esp. those who are sincere and thought-out), and the process of how I react, and suddenly I felt a lot more patience and empathy towards their experience. Just because someone else says they “know” something, doesn’t make it a reality… and that is okay. If anyone in their testimony was insinuating that because they “know the CoJCoLDS is true” for example, and therefore everyone must follow it, that’s where I have a problem… and now I’m rambling, lol. Anyway, rather than slamming my brain shut when I hear those phrases, I try to grasp the experience of the person behind the words, and what they’re trying to communicate… even if we may disagree on the words used… or the amount of verbal laziness. 🙂

  11. shematwater permalink

    Andrew

    If I call a person on the phone and speak to them I can say I have knowledge that someone exists at the other end. I cannot say I have knowledge as to who it is or what they are like, but that they were there and I spoke to them is the knowledge I have.
    In like manner, I have called on God and someone has answered, thus I know God exists. I do not know all about him, and thus I believe in who he is, but I know he exists.

    As to Faith and Knowledge, if I know something I no longer need Faith, as faith is for those things hoped for but not seen. It is greater, but it does not mean faith is not used. I know God exists, but because I have not seen the final judgement I must have faith that God will be just. Though I know I am healthy, it is through faith that I go outside believing I will not get in an accident, or contract a disease.

    We cannot know all things as mortals, and as such we will always require faith until we enter heaven and have all knowledge given to us.

  12. If you call someone, there are physical phones. There are physical airwaves. And so on.

    When you pray, there are only mental phones. Brainwaves. You do *not* know whether these brainwaves stay within your brain and give you feedback from your brain or if they act similar to airwaves and reach some other entity.

    If God exists in the minds of humans, is that good enough when you say, “God exists”? Would it be good enough if that phrase meant, “There is a part of your brain that will respond to you if you do x, y, and z”?

    I don’t think so. I don’t think you mean that. But you don’t know if that’s not the case.

    ALSO, WHOA WHOA WHOA

    If I call a person on the phone and speak to them I can say I have knowledge that someone exists at the other end. I cannot say I have knowledge as to who it is or what they are like…

    and yet you say:

    In like manner, I have called on God and someone has answered, thus I know God exists.

    This does not follow. No, you know “someone” exists on the other end. You cannot have knowledge as to who it is (e.g., your left hemisphere of your brain vs. God) or what they are like (spiritual, product of the brain, etc.,)

    So you don’t know God exists. You have HOPE that he’s the guy on the other line…because you haven’t seen him and can’t vouch for him.

  13. shematwater permalink

    No Andrew, I know God exists. It is not brainwaves, but an entity, a presence very much outside my own body. He exists.
    Beyond this there is the evidence of my eyes. Through this evidence I came to believe in God. Once I had that faith I called on him, and he answered.

    Now, the idea of the phone was not the greatest metaphor, but it is addiquit to the purpose. I know God exists, for he answered the phone on the other side. Do I know that only the LDS church is his? No. This comes through faith. Maybe the rest of Christianity has it right, or the Muslims, or some other group, but that there is someone there is fact, it is knowledge that I have, and I cannot dispute it.

    Now, just because I know, that does not mean I can prove it as fact. In all truth, unless someone has the same knowledge nothing can truly be proven as fact to them. I know what it is like in the state of Maine, because I have been there. Others can say they know, but if they have never been there than they have faith in what they have learned form others.
    This is why we are to keep learning, and striving to come to a perfect knowledge, because it doesn’t matter what other people know. Unless we know it, all we can have is faith.

  14. Shematwater:

    You yourself said that when you call someone on the phone, you don’t know who you’re calling and what they are like.

    And yet, with God, it’s even sketchier, because instead of using an externall verifiable set of tools (phone, airwave, telephone wires, and so on), the tool you are using *is* your brain.

    So, then, by YOUR own words, how can you know who you are calling, so to speak?

    You DON’T. You have faith that the person on the other line is who you think it is. In the phone example, we could test things further…if I am calling someone I think to be you and I know where you can be found, then I can PHYSICALLY travel to your room.

    We cannot do the same with prayer and spiritual experience though. We cannot travel to the room of God. We can’t even independently and externally send phone calls to the same place.

    None of this should be controversial. After all, it’s going by YOUR reasoning with the phone call…As YOU said, if you call someone, you only know that someone (or something) answered…you do NOT know who it is or what they are like. You do not have knowledge God answered the phone. You don’t have knowledge the phone is internal to the company, connected to the outside world, or only directed in your head.

  15. FireTag permalink

    Ummm, Andrew, I keep reminding you that there is nothing external to your brain. In fact, your brain itself is an inference of your consciousness.

    A moderately well-publicized science book some years ago had a title “The Man who Thought his Wife was a Hat Rack.”

  16. So, where’s the disagreement, FireTag? Noting that there is nothing external to our brains is awfully solipsistic though…but it makes *my* point that we really don’t know the things we are assuming

    • FireTag permalink

      As the joke goes, it’s so rare to meet another solipsist…

      I should have said that there is NOTHING external to our brain that we can interact with EXCEPT through our brain.

      I apologize if I’ve used this illustration in this blog before, but since I’ve been insulin-dependent since 1964, I must be closing in on 100,000 shots in my lifetime. Rarely, but unmistakably, I will feel the sensation of the needle in a part of my body far from where my eyes are telling me the needle is. Every one of those shots is equally objective/subjective, but the experiences are not equally NORMAL.

      I just want to be clear that we not stray into the notion that normal = objective whereas abnormal = subjective.

      What’s “normal” is very much a cultural construct, which makes people in your culture cause you and others who don’t buy the norm a lot of unnecessary rousting.

      • I think you’ve truly lost me.

        Here’s the deal for some things.

        If there is a block in my room…I can look at it. The sense data (the image) of that block comes through my eyes, goes through my brain. So, yes, interaction with my brain…but is the block only a product of my brain? Well, then we bring in you. Now, I’m going to trust that you’re not a product of my brain but are an actual separate mind…you can come to my same room, see the block, and that data will go through your eyes to your brain. So, we can verify. We can repeat.

        It has nothing to do with “normal” or “abnormal.” Rather, it has to do with consistency and persistence.

        Because let’s say the block was a *lie*. A clever optical illusion that deceives our eyes (and our hands, if we were to touch it). Well, you and I (independent minds, I trust) can still get the same sense data…so even the illusion is consistent.

        Contrast this with something like beauty. You can listen to a particular piece of music and I can listen to a particular piece of music. So, inasmuch as we can both take in sense data about the sound vibrations, and our ears will transfer to our brain and our brain will interpret, that song is objective.

        But if you feel this is the most beautiful song you’ve ever heard and I feel, “Meh,” then we’ve highlighted something of a different sort. This quality is…subjective. So, even though the song is recognized through interaction with our brain, some things are consistent (the notes that are played on the recording, how those notes will physically sound to us)…and other things depend on our subjective interpretation (if we find the song beautiful or not).

  17. shematwater permalink

    Andrew

    Your philosophy would lead to the conclusion that all we can know is that we exist, and nothing else. After all, everyone else may be part of a grand illusion that our minds created. Can you really be sure they aren’t. Even with the block idea you give, can you be sure the people who come to verify its existance are not just part of the illusion your mind created?

    The ideas you give present a philosophy that nothing can be proven real as all things can be the subjective interpretation of your own mind. I think this is what Firetag was saying, and it is a philosophy that leads no where.

    Now, as to the phone call I presented, I may not know exactly who is on the other end, but I know it isn’t me, and I know it isn’t the people who are around me. Thus, the existance of a person or entity beyond the area that I am in is fact, and I know this. However, for those who have not spoken to them on the phone they much have faith that when I tell them of that entity I am honest and not trying to trick them. As such, what I know means little to others it they do not also know it.

    If we can all conceed that we all exist, and that we are not the figments of each other’s brainwaves than I can say I know God exists.

    • FireTag permalink

      Shenatwater:

      Yeah, that’s pretty close to what I’m saying. Everything comes into consciousness and so everything is dependent on our understanding of consciousness — whether the inputs are angels or rocks. We are all ultimately alone in deciding what we interpret about what we experience. All reality is perceived virtually, and our theory of reality must include the fact that there are situations where we agree about what we perceive AND there are also much rarer situations in which we do not agree about what we perceive.

      I can heartily recommend the book “Fabric of Reality” that talks extensively about the philosophical foundations of virtual reality.

  18. shematwater:

    Even with the block analogy, I noted an important distinction that makes solipsism functionally irrelevant.

    Because let’s say the block was a *lie*. A clever optical illusion that deceives our eyes (and our hands, if we were to touch it). Well, you and I (independent minds, I trust) can still get the same sense data…so even the illusion is consistent.

    Let’s not even assume independent minds. That was sloppy. This still proves my point. If everyone else are dependent minds, the fact STILL is that these dependent minds are persistent and consistent. If these lies are illusory (even if you other minds are illusory)…we can still tell *some things* consistently. This block is a persistent lie. shematwater is a persistent lie. Andrew S is a persistent lie. FireTag is a persistent lie. So, even if we and these things are not *real*, we can say that this subjective illusion is of a different quality. That is why we can say that it is *objective*.

    As to the phone call, you don’t know if it’s from your same building (say: the phoneline is only connected throughout one office building), you don’t know if it’s just in the country, or you don’t know if it’s international. To know these things, you would have to know things about the physical telephone wires or you’d have to know things about the telephone airwaves. In FACT, you don’t know that your phone call doesn’t go anywhere, but instead has a recording. You don’t know, unless you can physically evaluate in SOME WAY, if the phone *has* no telephone wire but instead redirects to a convincing machine.

    The thing is…we *can* evaluate these things for a *phone*. Because phones *do* produce signals that travel through phone wires or through the air to cell towers. Even more, anyone can access these signals, so these signals are persistent, consistent, and repeatable.

    So, the crucial difference for you is that your brain is not known to be a cellphone or act like one. You haven’t analyzed that it sends out brain waves as a cellphone sends out data over airwaves. Because of this, you can’t be sure that your prayer is going ANYWHERE outside of you, whereas with any phone, anyone can intercept the call because the data that phones use *is* transported and routed to some other location.

    Now, we CAN say that there are brain waves…we just don’t know if they go *out* anywhere in the way cell waves do. So, if you have a prayer and an answer to a prayer, you can observe your brain waves. So, something happens.

    But you cannot be sure that it is God. Because like the phone analogy, even if you’re calling someone, even if you know the phone waves so you can trace the call outside of your building…you don’t know who you’re speaking to. It could be your friend. It could be a CIA agent pretending to be your friend. So, in the prayer analogy, not only do we have nothing to “trace the call outside of you,” but even if we did, we have NOTHING to ID the caller on the other side as God. You take that on faith. I think it was charitable to go the brainroute, but if not, then I’d say, “It was a devil.” OK, that’s someone from the outside. and he’s certainly a crafty agent…why couldn’t he intercept the lines?

  19. shematwater permalink

    Andrew

    I never claimed knowledge of his identity, only faith of his identity. However, that there is someone there is true. There is something outside my mind that responds to me when I ask questions. There is a beinging of great intelligence who helps me when asked.

    If you will recall what I said you will see that there is a very good explanation for everything I say, and you seem to be ignoring it.
    I know God exists, that he is a being outside of myself. This I know. However, I do not think it is possible for you to know that I know this. For you have not had my experience, and thus as far as you know it is my brainwaves telling me this. You cannot know that I know, but I can know.
    I know God exists, and if you choose to believe that I know it or not is your choice, and one that must be made on faith, for you cannot know what I know.
    This is why it is said that without faith no man can please God, because we cannot know what others know, or even what they believe. We can only have faith in what they tell us and the subjective interpretation of what we observed in them.

    Those things which we have not experienced we cannot know, but those things we have experienced we can know, and what others have experienced cannot change this.

  20. shematwater:

    well, that’s interesting, because it seemed to me that I thought you had specifically claimed: In like manner, I have called on God and someone has answered, thus I know God exists

    This seems to suggest that you feel you know the person you have “called” is God, when you actually don’t know that. You only have faith in that. In fact, you don’t even know if your call is only wired to another room in the house, or if it’s local, or if it’s international, and yet you have faith that it is international and indicative of someone quite distant.

    So, you have this experience…from this experience, you know that you have had this experience. But you do not know what the proper interpretation of that experience is. You take one interpretation and claim to “know” that is the proper one, but in actuality, this *is* where your faith is. Your faith *is* in your interpretive framework. Your interpretive framework is that which says it is “a call to the outside” instead of “a call on the inside.” “God” instead of “brainwaves.” You say I am “ignoring” your explanation…no, I am simply pointing out the inadequacy of your classification.

    I really don’t know how to put it any simpler. I’m not denying your experiences. I’m just saying that as you yourself admitted, you don’t know anything about the nature and identity of those experiences from them. You can know that you had such an experience, but it is through faith that you interpret the nature and identity of them in a particular way. I simply point out other plausible explanations not in a definitive way, but in a way that highlights the uncertain nature of the interpretation.

  21. shematwater permalink

    Andrew
    You are interpreting my experience through your own faith.

    I know that the being is not me. I also know that it is a being I have not met in person. I know they have a greater knowledge and wisdom than anyone I know or have read about. I know they have greater power than any human is capable of posesing.
    I do not know if this being is a glorified human, or if it is a shapeless mass of sentient energy. I do not know if it is a man or a woman, or if it even has a gender. I do not know the exact relation it is has in connection with me. These things I take on faith.

    I call this being God, because the term god is used in reference to a being that has the power and knowledge that bring people to worship them. God is a title, not a race, and thus for me to give this being the title God is perfectly reasonable.

    But, what it all comes down too is what I have already said, and so the debate is pointless. I can say anything I want. I can explain my experiences, but that will do nothing. Since you have not had them you can always make the argument that I can’t know for the reasons you give. This is simply because you must take my words on faith, and that is a choice you must make.

    The whole discussion is getting tiring, so let us just agree to understand the other persons argument and let each hold his own views.

  22. shematwater:

    I’m not committing to one possibility or another. I’m raising possibilities. I could claim another possibility that some non-LDS Christians might claim — that you are receiving a message from an outer party, but this party is Satanic or demonic — then my raising of this possibility similarly doesn’t represent my position. So, it doesn’t necessarily follow that I’m tainted in evaluating your analysis because of my own faith. I don’t have to be using my position against yours…I can simply use any of many possibilities.

    And that’s simply what I am doing. I am using the several possibilities to point out that you — and I, and everyone else — don’t know quite so much. The troubling part is you even admit this, but then you want to give special favors and concessions to a title that you call “God” and insist that you know it is God. That you know the call is international, so to speak. And that you know certain details about the nature of the thing on the other line (e.g., more knowledgeable, wiser than anyone else you have met). If you admitted it was on faith, this would be fine, but for some reason, you want to preserve what you think you know.

    You’re really missing my point. My point isn’t in your experiences. So, your counter that “since I haven’t had your experiences, I don’t know” misses the mark. I’m not denying your experiences. Rather, my point is in your explanations of these experiences. Whether you have experiences or not, there is still a chance that you interpret those experiences incorrectly. I’m simply pointing out this possibility — and suggesting that what allows you to stick to one conclusion is faith.

  23. shematwater permalink

    My point is that if you had had the experiences you would not be making this point.

    I know someone else is there. I know they are wiser because their advice has been greater than any other (proven through the following of it). I know they are more knowledgable because I learn more from listening to them than to anyone else. These are not interpretations of my experience, but a very objective analysis of that experience on my part.

    The thing you don’t consider is that I have considered all the options and possibilities, and one by one I have proven them false until only one remains, making that one the truth. Now, yes, if you want to get into the realm of the mind you could still argue as I said that it is all my imagination, but than you have to doubt everything.

    So, let me say it is a clearer way. I know that God exists with all the assurance that I know the Earth exists. I know he exists with all the assurance that the sun is currently shining in the heavens. I know he is wiser and more knowledge with all the assurance that I know my heart is beating in my chest.
    Thus, assuming that all these things are true, and not a figment of my imagination, I know God exists, or I know that a being wiser and more knowledgable than myself or any other human exists, and thus I will call him God, for he is worthy of my worship.

    These things I know, and nothing can change that.

    • “I know that God exists with all the assurance that I know the Earth exists. I know he exists with all the assurance that the sun is currently shining in the heavens. I know he is wiser and more knowledge with all the assurance that I know my heart is beating in my chest.”

      All the things you compare your assurance of your knowledge of God can be proven has fact without eyewitness or personal experience just the inference of available tangible data. Impossible to have the same knowledge without the inference of such data which does not exist in regards to your BELIEF in YOUR God, you are still left to your personal interpretation which is NOT knowledge but simply what you believe. I actually think your own arguments make this very clear that you really do not have the same knowledge that is available within all the analogies given by either you or Andrew.

      • coventryrm, you have really stated in a simple paragraph what I have been trying to state in several.

  24. shematwater:

    Actually, I would argue that even if I did have the experience, I would *still* be making the point that the faith it takes to *interpret* the experience one way over another is not indicative of knowledge. Quite simply though, if I had your experience, I would be more likely to interpret it in the way you say.

    But my point stands that you do *not* know.

    I’ll apply your reasoning to a different scenario. Let’s say someone has an “experience.” They have been contacted by aliens, they say. They know that they had an encounter with a UFO and as a result, they have received much wisdom from this super-advanced species.

    Do they KNOW that their experience was from aliens? According to your reasoning, they do. And if you had been abducted, you would too.

    What *I* am saying is that they don’t know they were abducted or contacted by aliens. They have interpreted their experience that way on faith…because it seems most personally compelling to them. But this faith is not a knowledge. It is not an objective analysis of the experience, but is an inherently subjective analysis. (You know how I can tell it’s subjective? Because even YOU insist that you have to experience it to believe it. Apparently, the interpretation of the experience one way or another is DEPENDENT on a particular subjective experience.)

    You have considered all the other possibilities, yes, but you have not “proven” any of them incorrect or correct. Rather, most of the various possibilities simply failed to personally persuade you. Three was one possibility that did persuade you. Upon evaluating all the evidence that was available to you (some of which was subjective — that is, your *personal experience*), you feel the evidence best points in one way. But you have NO KNOWLEDGE that you have made a correct interpretation of the data. You take on FAITH that you have made a correct interpretation of the data. You take ON FAITH that finding the other possibilities unconvincing means they are untrue or even “proven false.”

    With the earth, we can independently refer to the same data. We can independently, repeatably, and reliably test assertions about the earth and about the sun. So, even if we are incorrectly analyzing the data, the difference is that we are incorrectly analyzing the data in a persistent, consistent way that holds true for every person. Even if I don’t *believe* it, even if I don’t *experience* it, I can still independently test it.

    On the other hand, your experience is very different from that. As EVEN YOU concede, you have to have experienced it. So, you are depending on subjective experience (which obviously differs in this case)…and even further, we *know* that subjective experience can be interpreted in different ways. So, even if we *do* doubt everything, the thing is that the earth and sun are quite apart from experiences reactions like yours, like the alien believer, and so on.

  25. FireTag permalink

    Andrew: Don’t you dare call down the wrath of Szark upon us again by talking about advanced aliens, although I like the notion of “Vorlons” driving the development of human religion, including Mormonism, as a cross between Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5. The Book of Mormon, brought to you by 28th Century Fox, is as viable as any other theory scientifically at the moment, IMO. 😀

    Coventryrm: You still can’t escape the subjectivity by appealing to external data streams. All of the voices in my head will gladly confirm the existence of each other and that they are experiencing the same thing “I” am, including those that claim to belong to computers and those that claim to be reading photoelectric cells. Consciousness may be a property of the brain, but it is not the brain.

    The terms “know” or “persuaded” apply equally to all of us.

  26. FireTag: you’re right; I shouldn’t do anything that could possibly revive sxark. Wow, haven’t seen him in a long time.

    I know you actually addressed the next part to coventryrm, but I’ll respond as well: personally: it doesn’t hurt my position if we concede that “knowledge” is a term none of us should be using. or if “objective” is a term none of us should be using. I would like it *more* if we talked in terms of, “I believe because I am persuaded by x, y, and z,” instead of talking in terms of, “This is the case because it is true and all other options have been shown false.”

    I am ok with this because if we make things subjective, well then, one size does not fit all. I am very comfortable with this. Both ways.

    The issue is…if we’re going to try to move past subjectivity, then we need to make sure that the thing we are trying to move past subjectivity (say, God is an external, objective reality) can be said to break our pattern of “one size does not fit all.” Even if, say, “external data streams” must be processed subjectively, there’s something to be said for the fact that these external data streams (which could just as well be internal) are consistent and persistent. Whatever we call the difference in these things (if not “subjective and objective” but instead “normal and abnormal,” or whatever else), the important thing is that we *do* note a difference between one class of things and another class of things.

    My issue with shematwater is not his experience, or even his interpretation, but rather that he steeps his interpretation with language that implies objectivity, “normality,” and so forth (it’s not that he believes or he is persuaded that God exists…no, he wants to say that he knows God exists)…when he hasn’t made a case for objectivity or normality or whatever we’re calling it (everything he raises, and even his analogies to the phone, etc., suggests that he should openly accept subjectivity.)

    I dunno. I don’t think we’ll move very far on that issue.

    • FireTag permalink

      I can live with that, but I am always looking for models that are persistant and consistent and incorporate more of BOTH the normal and abnormal into their framework. Theory of everything or bust!

  27. shematwater permalink

    Andrew

    With the aliens idea, I would say that the person knows something abducted them. If that something taught them great wisdom then they also know this. to call them aliens is simply a way to describe that thing that abducted them, because the beings were alien to their experience, and thus the term is perfectly logical.

    What I think we truly disagree on is the terms I use. I could call my father God, and you could say I was wrong. This would be impossible to prove, because the term god, as I said, simply indicates an object of worship. Thus, I will completely agree that the terms I use to describe what I know are subjective terms (like aliens or God, or anything else). However, the existance of what I call God is not subjective, and this is the great difference.
    You can tell me it is all in my head, but I know it is not.

    As to the sun and earthly things being the same for everyone, think about those born blind. Yeah, I could tell a blind person the sky is blue, but if they have never seen it they do not have the same ability to indipendantly and repeatedly get the same information from it. A deaf person cannot know what sound is beautiful and what is not, for they cannot know sound.

    Thus, those things that I claim to know cannot be known by all people, and thus carry the same condition of a need to experience before one can know.

    I think the real problem in our two philosophies is basically that if you cannot duplicate the experience you will not except that another person has knowledge concerning it. With your philosophy even a person who was physically visited by Christ (like the early apostles) cannot have any real knowledge because it is only their subjective interpretation of the experience (which is why Thomas would not believe at first).

    I cannot agree with this idea, as it mean no one can know anything, and without the ability to know faith can lead nowhere, and is thus useless. If faith does not lead to knowledge what good is it?

  28. shematwater:

    With the aliens example, my entire point is that even if the person has a bona fide experience, we cannot EVEN go so far as to interpret that experience as being an “abduction.” So, it is too premature even to say that something abducted him. At safest, we can say, something happened. But we can’t narrow down either the actor (who caused the “something”) or the happening (the verb of the “happening”).

    I completely agree that to a person in that experience, they would feel that “alien abduction” is the most logical explanation. But what I am saying is that this does not suggest knowledge. Rather, this suggests that they have a *subjective interpretation* of their experience. If they insist that their interpretation is objective “knowledge,” then really, they are taking a leap of faith with regard to their interpretations. Humility, I think, is acknowledging either that our subjective interpretations do not tell about how things objectively happened or that our beliefs that they *do* tell about objective data is taken on faith.

    So, for example, you continue to assert:

    However, the existance of what I call God is not subjective, and this is the great difference.
    You can tell me it is all in my head, but I know it is not.

    Missing my message.

    The existence of some experience is not subjective. The issue is: what is the proper interpretation of this experience? You do not know that it is God. You interpret it in such a way on faith. I simply point out alternative possibilities — for example, it is very possible that the experience could be neural activity. The fact that you interpret it as God is due to a subjective interpretation of the data. Your perception of “knowledge” is similarly due to a subjective interpretation.

    As to the sun and earthly things being the same for everyone, think about those born blind. Yeah, I could tell a blind person the sky is blue, but if they have never seen it they do not have the same ability to indipendantly and repeatedly get the same information from it. A deaf person cannot know what sound is beautiful and what is not, for they cannot know sound.

    Oh, but here is something interesting.

    “Blue” is a frequency. The frequency “blue” is the same for EVERYONE. What you point out is the interpretation of this frequency. Obviously, this interpretation is subjective…it differs by how we can *personally* and *subjectively* take in the data of the light frequency…for MOST of us, the particular frequency range produces the visual qualia of “blueness.” But for others, it does not.

    So, in fact, “blueness” is not what is objective. However, that we have a range of frequencies that are CONSTANT is the persistent, consistent trait.

    Let me do a different example…instead of a fully blind person, let’s take a color-blind person. The color-blind person subjectively perceives the frequency that most of us assigns as “red” and “green” in a different way. Does that mean he “knows” that red and green are really different than what everyone else thinks? Absolutely not! Rather, he simply subjectively perceives it in a different way. But the frequency range we call ‘red’ or the frequency range we call ‘green’ stay constant, no matter what your perception of it is.

    Your analogy with the deaf person is even more troubling. The beauty of sound is an even purer example of a subjective trait.. We know that the sound frequency stays the same, regardless of one’s perception to perceive it. a concert “A” is 440Hz.

    But actually, we don’t need to use the extreme of a deaf person to point out the subjectivity of perception of beauty. You can play the SAME song to two perfectly hearing-capable people and both could disagree on whether the song is beautiful? Why is this? Because beauty does not objectively exist! It is ONLY a projection, a subjective reaction, of an individual. To the extent that we seem to have commonality in what we find beautiful, it’s because, as humans, we are “from” a common ancestor…so we are built similarly, if not exactly.

    So really, you are proving my point. Beauty isn’t objectively existent. Do you really want to say the same about God?

    If not, you have to establish a frequency that is constant and persistent no matter how we perceive it. For example, let’s take infrared. Humans are effectively blind to infrared…and yet we can, with the assistance of tools, repeatably, reliably, and consistently measure and detect infrared. So, if you want to establish a “frequency” for God, perhaps that would be better. But no, you aren’t trying to do that. You seem to want to make it like “beauty,” which is not objectively existent! In fact, this is actually the point of beauty…that it does not objectively exist but is a subjective quality. This does not cheapen the concept…rather, we cherish and enjoy the fact that beauty is not objective but instead, something that can differ by person. If you like one artist and I like another, neither of us is “right” or “wrong.” We just have a subjective difference.

    more coming up…

  29. re shematwater (part 2):

    I think the real problem in our two philosophies is basically that if you cannot duplicate the experience you will not except that another person has knowledge concerning it. With your philosophy even a person who was physically visited by Christ (like the early apostles) cannot have any real knowledge because it is only their subjective interpretation of the experience (which is why Thomas would not believe at first).

    I cannot agree with this idea, as it mean no one can know anything, and without the ability to know faith can lead nowhere, and is thus useless. If faith does not lead to knowledge what good is it?

    I think you misunderstand my philosophy (which is why most of my comment is trying to clarify mistaken assumptions, but I’m fine with that). There are plenty of things that we cannot necessarily duplicate, but which most certainly is consistent and persistent. We generally don’t duplicate the death of a person…you die once and that’s it. But death produces persistent and consistent measurable qualities that, regardless of someone’s subjective experiences, can be pinpointed.

    The problem is in the interpretations of events. When we focus on the subjective experiences and do not focus on persistent and consistent measurable qualities — or, even worse, ignore them — then we are entering a different territory. The issue is not that you find some song beautiful. Rather, the issue is that your finding the song beautiful is not part of the song itself. it is your interpretation of data (such as the objective song itself…the way your neurons interact with the sensory data of the song…and then FINALLY, the subjective experience that evolves from these interactions). It is an interpretation that we must be careful about. You can know that you *believe* the song is beautiful, but you don’t know that the song *is* beautiful.

    The problem with your prayer experience is not that something happened, nor even that you interpret it in a certain way, but that you jump to a conclusion about the objective nature of the event that you simply have not investigated. Same thing with the apostles seeing Jesus.

    With the phone analogy, I listed some ways you — and anyone else — could seek persistent, consistent data about the call. If you tracked the phone call through telephone wires or airwaves, for example, you *could* verify that it was going “out of the building.” (And the fact is that anyone with the proper tools can in fact intercept airwaves). If you walked into the room where the person talking to you was, you *could* verify that it was going *to another person.* And of course, we can do this. The deal is that usually, we are calling someone precisely because we don’t want to go where they are physically.

    If you could do the same things with God, then I would have less problem. But not only can you not do these things, but you seem not to care. You seem not to care that generally, brainwaves (which *are* measurable and *are* affected by the action of prayer) — tend to stay inside. I’m not saying you *have* to denounce your belief…obviously, if you are convinced another way, you can say that. But this convincing is not knowledge.

  30. shematwater permalink

    Andrew, you are missing my point, and I used the extremes of total blindness and deafness for a reason.

    A person who is completely blind and has been from the time of birth cannot perceive the frequencies of light at all. You can tell them about those frequencies, but they have no perseption of them. You can even change those frequencies from electo-magnetic waves to machanical waves so they could here them, but they woud have to trust you that you were consistantly changing the frequencies.
    The same with a person born Deaf. Beauty was a mistaken word. What I meant is that they cannot perceive the sound at all, and thus cannot have the knowledge you speak of concerning it. They must have faith in what you say that the sound always works that way, as they cannot personaly test this out.

    By taking a less extreme example you do support you position, but your position does not take into account those extremes, and that is what I see as a flaw in it.

    (As to the aliens, I have to say that abduction is not a very subjective term. If you were taken against your will, or against your knowledge you have been abducted. It is very objective.)

    As to the phone call, let us think of those conspiracy theorists who claim all kinds of things that the general population know to be false. You say I can trace the call, but how do I know that the person doing the trace is honest in his work? If I am doing the trace how do I know someone is not intercepting that trace to trick me? Even if it was all done right I have to have faith that the equipment is working right, or that the people who invented the machines actually did invent them and I am not part of a huge scam (as some conspiracies go)? The possibilities are endless. Because I am not the one who invented the phone I have to have faith in the one who did, as well as in all those who have improved it over the years, that it will work as they claim, and that I am really speaking to the person I am calling and not some actor on the other line.

    As to knowing God exists, you still don’t seem to understand what I am saying. God is a subjective term. What I know is that there is a being who is not me, and is not anyone else I have met, that exists. I know this being has great knowledge and wisdom. Because I this I have desided that this being is worthy of my praise and worship, and as such I will refer to it as God.
    I completely agree that calling it God is a subjective interpretation, but it is based in the knowledge that it exists. You seem to be thinking of God as an objective term, and this is where you fail to understand what I say.

    Now, as to duplicating death, this is not alway the case. There are diseases and toxins that imitate death. There have been those that have technically died, but have come back. These things happen, and because they happen, according to your philosophy, one cannot know another is dead. This is why they burried people with bells tied to them, incase they arose after being buried the grave diggers would know to unbury them (saved by the bell).

    What my point is is that there is always another possibility to explain something, and thus nothing can be known by your philosophy.
    It is not that I do not understand your philosophy, it is that I do not agree with it. It is a logical train of thought, but as I said it cannot lead anywhere when taken to it’s full conclusion.

    However, I will say that a lot of what you say is very much what I say. You talk about duplicating or observing the same thing as proof that leads to knowledge, and all I am saying is that if you have not seen that duplication or observed the occurance more than once you can’t have that knowledge.
    A person who has never watched a dead body decay cannot have knowledge of the things that occur under such conditions, but must take the information on faith. Once they ahve observed such an occurance, and done so more than once, then they have knowledge.
    As far as God is concerning, I have had the experience more than once. You can claim it may be all in my brain, but I also have the witness of many other people who had the same experience. Thus I have all the evidence to prove the event and thus I have knowledge. However, one who has not had the experience cannot have that knowledge.

    So, you talk about things being repeated, and I will say that what I base my knowledge of God on has been repeated. You say that people have to be able to have the same observations (which actually cannot happen because of the way our brains work) and I have many people who have had the same observations repeated for them.

    It still sounds like you are simply refusing to accept another person has knowledge of anything that you do not personally have knowledge of (at least in matters of faith).

  31. shematwater:

    I don’t think I missed your point. The extremity of blindness and deafness actually more acutely highlight *my* point.

    So, as you say, there is a difference between light frequency and the perception of light. I already have noted this. Someone who cannot perceive light shows that the perception of light is, in fact, subjective…This is not controversial. But the thing is that with light, we don’t rely on the subjective perception of light in the first place…instead, we rely on the constant, persistent frequency of light.

    The reason this comes into my favor is *here*. We can actually relate to blind people very well in certain instances…for example, every one of us is blind to infrared. And yet, we can ALL reliably, constantly, and persistently detect infrared due to its frequency range. The tools we use don’t have to be our eyes. That is precisely why we have other tools. A blind person doesn’t need to trust *us* on our conversion of light waves to pressure oscillations or whatever else. Rather, they can do it themselves with nonsubjective tools.

    Similarly with sound. With sound, we have the pressure oscillation which is consistent and persistent…but what may vary is the subjective perception of such oscillation (the extreme is with a deaf person, who does not even perceive them).

    However, you say something interesting:

    What I meant is that they cannot perceive the sound at all, and thus cannot have the knowledge you speak of concerning it. They must have faith in what you say that the sound always works that way, as they cannot personaly test this out.

    Ah, but let’s be very clear. They *can* have knowledge that sounds are particular “pressure oscillations”. They can independently measure these oscillations, even if they cannot perceive them with their ears. In fact, what is important here *is* that sound produces pressure oscillations that can be discerned REGARDLESS of if an individual subjectively perceives them with their ears.

    What they may *not* have knowledge of is of the particular perception of sound.

    But this perception is different than the pressure oscillation. The perception is subjective. The pressure oscillation is objective.

    Now, regarding having faith on how sound works…we have to be clear…they don’t have to have faith about pressure oscillations. They can see the pressure oscillations. And we (the hearing) don’t have to have faith that we perceive the pressure oscillations as producing sound. Because *we* *subjectively* experience this.

    BUT if we want to INSIST that the “sounds” are objective traits of the pressure oscillations, then this *is* something we have to take on faith. That’s not something the deaf have to do alone…that’s something the deaf *and* the hearing both have to do.

    Because in actuality, we *don’t* know that pressure oscillations -> sound “always works that way.” In fact, we know that they *don’t* always work that way. We *know* that sound is subjective. We *know* it works differently depending on the subjective being interpreting it. If the pressure oscillation has less distance to travel before getting to me, it will “seem” louder. But this doesn’t mean the pressure oscillation is objectively “louder.” It’s a difference in perception. And obviously, if our pressure oscillation doesn’t register anything within me, it will seem as if it never happened. But this doesn’t mean that the pressure oscillation didn’t happen. It’s a difference in perception. So, taking a less extreme position doesn’t fail to take into account the extremes. It simply points out that you don’t need to take an extreme position to show the same point. Because my point *does* work both for extreme positions and less extreme positions.

    (As to the aliens, I have to say that abduction is not a very subjective term. If you were taken against your will, or against your knowledge you have been abducted. It is very objective.)

    If I am taken against my will in a dream, this is very different than being physically taken against my will. The dream produces objective data in the form of “brain waves.” The physical event produces objective data in the form of “my physical displacement.”

    I can clearly perceive (which is subjective) of both events as being an abduction…and I may be COMPLETELY opposed to calling it a “dream” or “hallucination,” but the fact is that the perceptions don’t say anything about the objective nature of what actually occurred.

    As to the phone call, let us think of those conspiracy theorists who claim all kinds of things that the general population know to be false. You say I can trace the call, but how do I know that the person doing the trace is honest in his work?

    Because YOU can also do the trace. YOU can verify the results of anyone else’s trace by also doing the trace. And if YOU are dishonest, then ANYONE ELSE can come by and also do the trace. We can have MACHINES do the trace.

    The key is that we can verify. And the information will be constant, consistent, and persistent.

    If I am doing the trace how do I know someone is not intercepting that trace to trick me?

    You don’t. But if you are doing the trace and I am doing the trace and the machine is doing the trace, then that someone would have to intercept all three of us for the data to be constant, consistent, and persistent.

    Please note: this is why I am not actually making a stance regarding solipsism and universal skepticism. Because let’s say that universally, everyone is being tricked. Everyone’s sense data is being “intercepted” by lies and is therefore false. In this case, it actually doesn’t matter. Because everyone is being “tricked” in the same constant, persistent, consistent manner. This is really all we need.

    Even if it was all done right I have to have faith that the equipment is working right, or that the people who invented the machines actually did invent them and I am not part of a huge scam (as some conspiracies go)?

    The key is that you can make the own machines yourself. You can make your own blueprints yourself. This is the fundamental idea of the scientific method — because people document their methods and methodologies, anyone can come by and use similar conditions to retest. So if there is a scam, it must be consistent, constant, and persistent, or else it can be caught on a retest.

    The possibilities are endless. Because I am not the one who invented the phone I have to have faith in the one who did, as well as in all those who have improved it over the years, that it will work as they claim, and that I am really speaking to the person I am calling and not some actor on the other line.

    Yet the deal is you CAN invent a phone. You CAN improve it. You CAN “reverse engineer” it. You CAN analyze it. You CAN go through the “paper trail” over the airwaves. You can do ALL of these things. The reason you don’t do all these things is because hundreds of thousands of others have done these things and you trust them. But you don’t trust them blindly…you trust them because over and over, they have yielded constant, consistent, and persistent results. if you don’t trust them, you go and make your own phone. you reverse engineer the phones you have. You study engineering. You study it all. You make it your task. The fact that this is possible is critical to my point…because if it were NOT possible, then you’re right…we would be in a whole lot of trouble. And that’s the difference between the “phone” and the “prayer.”

    Does that mean there’s no scam? No. But if there is a scam that is constant, consistent, and persistent over all of these various data points, then truly, it is irrelevant. (This is why solipsism *doesn’t matter*. Let’s say we cannot trust our senses or sense data. Let’s say the universe and all of the other “people” around are all scam data. Lie data. Falsified. Only you exist [you think, therefore you are], but the rest of us are lies. This does not make a difference because everything works consistently, constantly, and persistently AS IF everything were true.)

    to be continued…

  32. re shematwater (part 2):

    As to knowing God exists, you still don’t seem to understand what I am saying. God is a subjective term. What I know is that there is a being who is not me, and is not anyone else I have met, that exists. I know this being has great knowledge and wisdom. Because I this I have desided that this being is worthy of my praise and worship, and as such I will refer to it as God.
    I completely agree that calling it God is a subjective interpretation, but it is based in the knowledge that it exists. You seem to be thinking of God as an objective term, and this is where you fail to understand what I say.

    The part I’ve bolded is my problem. This bold is a subjective interpretation that you will not “own” in subjective terms.

    Let’s compare and contrast. With “sound,” we have a pressure oscillation. This pressure oscillation truly is something that “is not me, and is not anyone else I have met, that exists.” But you don’t know the pressure oscillation exists because you experience sound. No, you know the pressure oscillations exist because they are constantly, consistently, and persistently measurable regardless of the subjectivity. If a tree falls in a wood and there is no one to hear it, you could say that there is no sound (because sound *demands* someone to hear it)…but there most certainly *is* still a pressure oscillation.

    But why can’t we use sound as a “proof” for the external, objective pressure oscillation? Firstly, because people perceive sound differently. Some people don’t even perceive it at all!

    But secondly, and this is an area we haven’t gotten to, some people perceive sound without external pressure oscillations. When you have a song stuck inside your head, you can perceive it as vividly as a song, but in fact, the difference is that when a song is playing, there are external pressure oscillations that your ears simply interact with…but when you have a song “stuck in your head,” it literally is stuck in your head. Most times, we recognize the difference between a true song playing and a song stuck in our head, but sometimes, we *don’t,* and we insist that a real song must have been playing somewhere.

    Let’s compare with your example. With your experiences, we don’t know the objective source. We do know that there is some interfacing with your mind — and that it produces brainwaves that can be measured. But we don’t know whether these brainwaves are a reaction to something external like a pressure oscillation…or something internal like other brain waves.

    SO…while it is completely ok to say that you perceive this experience as coming from an external source…someone who is not you or anyone else you have ever met, you do not know whether it is coming from an external source or an internal source and there is not a way for you — much less any other person or machine or tool or whatever — to discern.

    But you don’t simply say that you perceive. You don’t simply say that you feel or believe. No, you insist that you know. This is my problem here.

    Now, as to duplicating death, this is not alway the case. There are diseases and toxins that imitate death. There have been those that have technically died, but have come back. These things happen, and because they happen, according to your philosophy, one cannot know another is dead. This is why they burried people with bells tied to them, incase they arose after being buried the grave diggers would know to unbury them (saved by the bell).

    shematwater, but you highlight MY point here. You know how you know about these toxins and diseases? It is because we can independently verify the existence of these toxins and diseases. And even if we can’t, we have machines and tools that can. So we can constantly, consistently and persistently say that the presence of these toxins and diseases will contribute to a certain effect.

    So, because we can and do know when these toxins and diseases are around (and when they are not), we can know when people are dead or when they simply appear to be dead.) So, this is a point in favor of my philosophy, not against it.

    I’ll tell you something…if there were no external, objective, persistent, consistent, constant, reliable variable that caused the difference between the false death and the real death, then we would have a real problem. Indeed, we would not be able to know if people were dead or not. But the fact is that there are external signs and symptoms that we can search for.

    What my point is is that there is always another possibility to explain something, and thus nothing can be known by your philosophy.
    It is not that I do not understand your philosophy, it is that I do not agree with it. It is a logical train of thought, but as I said it cannot lead anywhere when taken to it’s full conclusion.

    We can know things by objectively eliminating possibilities. For example, if we can find the particular toxin or disease, this is an objective piece of information.

    However, in many cases, we cannot objectively eliminate possibilities, so we shouldn’t claim to know things at all. This shouldn’t be controversial. We should be humble enough to realize that there are some things we simply don’t know, but we believe one way or another or are convinced one way or another.

    to be continued…

  33. re shematwater (part 3):

    However, I will say that a lot of what you say is very much what I say. You talk about duplicating or observing the same thing as proof that leads to knowledge, and all I am saying is that if you have not seen that duplication or observed the occurance more than once you can’t have that knowledge.
    A person who has never watched a dead body decay cannot have knowledge of the things that occur under such conditions, but must take the information on faith. Once they ahve observed such an occurance, and done so more than once, then they have knowledge.

    On the other hand, as you pointed out with your very analogy, our perceptions aren’t knowledge either. So, someone who is watching what he perceives to be a dead body still doesn’t know, until he can find out the consistent, persistent, constant traits of dead bodies. He can eliminate death as possibility if he finds a certain toxin or disease which is known to simply produce the appearance of death (in which case, his perception would be led astray from the objective reality of things.)

    As far as God is concerning, I have had the experience more than once. You can claim it may be all in my brain, but I also have the witness of many other people who had the same experience. Thus I have all the evidence to prove the event and thus I have knowledge. However, one who has not had the experience cannot have that knowledge.

    “As far as songs stuck in my head is concerning, I have had the experience more than once. You can claim it may be all in my brain, but I also have the witness of many other people who had the same experience. Thus, I have all the evidence to prove the event and thus I have knowledge. However, one who has not had the experience cannot have the knowledge.”

    The key point here is that your subjective experience of hearing a song in your head never points to the external, objective existence of the pressure oscillation, even though songs being stuck in heads can often be triggered similarly. You have knowledge of your perception for sure, but you don’t have knowledge of the cause of that perception (that is, an external pressure oscillation).

    It still sounds like you are simply refusing to accept another person has knowledge of anything that you do not personally have knowledge of (at least in matters of faith).

    No, I am saying, “show me the pressure oscillation.” Show me the consistent, persistent, constant data. Don’t show me your subjective experience. Don’t show me others’ subjective experiences. And don’t conflate your subjective experiences with knowledge of objective things.

  34. also, I really apologize — my comments are just getting way way way too lengthy. It’s one of my faults.

  35. shematwater permalink

    Andrew, I do understand what you are saying, and the more I consider it the more it really seems that we have escentially the same train of thought, but have different ways to explain it.

    Sorry, I did not have time to read all your posts, but let me just say this.
    A blind person can used the equipment you speak of, but until they do they must have faith. The same can be said of a deaf person using tools to detect sounds. Once they have used the tools then they can have this knowledge, for now they have experienced it, but until they actually use the tools they cannot have this knowledge, but must have faith.
    However, in the way you analize this, I still have to say that you still can only have faith, because the only knowledge you have is that the equipment will consistantly give you the same information, but you do not have knowledge that the builder of the equipment did not design it to deceive you. Do you know that the devices that detect infrared light are really detecting that light and not just showing you that they are?
    Following your logic you cannot know anything, because if you use a machine created by someone else you must have faith they did it right and are not deceiving you, and if you made the machine or observed something naturally you have to have faith that your own mind is not deceiving you.

    However, you do not follow the full logic of the idea, but except that when a machine or the human body can consistantly get the same information from an occurance you will except it as knowledge.

    For me, I simply say that once it has been observed by the senses of my body I know that it is real. All other things must be taken with at least a small amount of faith. Having said this, I will also point out that I am assuming I am of sound mind and not halusinating everything.

    • Sofal permalink

      You seem to think that accusing Andrew’s point of view to be solipsism somehow picks it apart. He has already demonstrated clearly what his definition of “knowledge” is: information that can be consistently and independently verified.

      If you claim that God’s existence can be consistently and independently verified, that’s one thing. The next question would of course be “how?”. If on the other hand you claim that the existence of God is objective knowledge which you have but that cannot be consistently and independently verified by anyone else, then you have completely undermined the meaning of the word “objective” in the first place.

      Remember, there is nothing wrong with your subjective interpretation of your experience. “Subjective” does not mean “worthless”. It only means that it belongs in a separate category of information, to make sure that it doesn’t obstruct our compassion or understand for those who do not share our subjective experiences. We’re all trying to get along, and misinterpreting “subjective” for “objective” is one the greatest sources of misery in human history.

      • Thanks, Sofal. You have really captured in a single, concise comment what I’ve been trying (and failing, I guess) to say in several, long-winded posts.

  36. However, in the way you analize this, I still have to say that you still can only have faith, because the only knowledge you have is that the equipment will consistantly give you the same information, but you do not have knowledge that the builder of the equipment did not design it to deceive you. Do you know that the devices that detect infrared light are really detecting that light and not just showing you that they are?

    Following your logic you cannot know anything, because if you use a machine created by someone else you must have faith they did it right and are not deceiving you, and if you made the machine or observed something naturally you have to have faith that your own mind is not deceiving you.

    The only knowledge that we claim *is* that we have consistent, constant, and persistent information. We don’t claim to know that it is not a deception, and in fact, we do not know if it is or is not. The reason we don’t claim to know if it is a deception or not is because this isn’t important — what is important is the consistency, constancy, and persistence.

    So, we can still know that we have consistent, constant, persistent information. Whatever this information is (deception or truth), it is consistent to me, but more importantly, consistent to you and anyone else. This is the meaningful difference.

    My issue is that you take your experience and then claim to know it is not a deception. You claim to know that it is real. But you don’t know. Not only that, but the method that you use doesn’t even produce consistent, constant information for *everyone*. If I try the same things you have tried, I may not even get the same results you have. Whereas with our machine, regardless of if it’s deceiving us or not, it *will* give us consistent results independently. We can independently build different machines, and they will give us consistent results independently — even if they are deception.

  37. FireTag permalink

    While working on my next post yesterday, I stumbled across a quote that said that in any given year, 5-10% of the population experience visual and/or auditory hallucinations — and it specifically does not attribute this to mental illness. In fact (though this is obviously not applicable to Mormons), there is a strong correlation with consumption of caffeine.

    Guess we have to establish some numerical criteria for exactly what’s consistent and repeatable. 😀

    • FireTag, except we really already have. In this case, we know that correlation does not equal causation. In this case we are beginning to narrow down objective links to the hallucinations (e.g. something about caffeine and something about these individuals correlates with these hallucinations). The problem is we don’t have the full story, so we can’t describe the chain in a one-to-one manner. We can’t say, “caffeine is known to have x effect on the body. X effect interacts with Y body composition to increase % of a hallucination by Z.”

      In this case because we know the limits between causation and correlation, we can say we don’t have the consistency to say one thing causes the other…but we do have enough consistency to say that one thing *correlates strongly* to another.

  38. FireTag permalink

    Andrew:

    If we have your X, Y, Z chain involved with “hallucinations”, then we have one or more X’, Y’, Z’ chains involved with “not-hallucinations”.

    You can get along without relativity or quantum mechanics in everyday life and say that Newtonian mechanics are persistant and consistent only because you don’t spend 5-10% of your time in situations where Newtonian mechanics doesn’t give noticably inconsistent answers. But at some point, it becomes better to start saying, “I can get away with the Newtonian approximation of reality when X’, Y’, and Z’ are involved”, than to continue to treat the fuller theory as an exception.

    The “machines built in our heads” are giving us consistent results with somewhat less confidence than we normally assume. We move among different states of consciousness more than we often assume, and our scientific understanding of consciousness itself is still rapidly developing.

    That’s all I’m saying.

  39. I’m not denying that we can’t have X’, Y’, Z’ chains involved with “not-hallucinations.”

    But what I am saying is, raise *that* up. Show us stuff regarding that.

    The reason that we can talk about relativity and quantum mechanics as opposed to classical/Newtonian mechanics is precisely because what we’ve done is repeated testing. And what we’ve found is that when you change certain variables (e.g., the size of the particles measured or the speed), then our *explanations* and *descriptions* becomes less accurate.

    It’s not that reality is becoming less consistent itself…but rather that our *explanations* and *descriptions* fail to contain the entire picture…they hit at a picture that is *not* quantum and *not* approaching the speed of light.

    Am I making any sense?

    The machines built in our heads are still giving us consistent results. The problem is we don’t know how to explain them consistently. We can correlate some things, but our models don’t cover everything…so we discover new things, unexpected things, all the time.

  40. FireTag permalink

    I can agree with that. It’s the search that I love as a scientist. And it’s my “default” RLDS setting that draws my attention to the intersection of science with my experienced-based beliefs.

  41. shematwater permalink

    The only problem I have with Andrew’s thinking is, as I said, it does not account for the extremes, or the exceptions. He is excepting as knowledge that which the majority of people can consistantly and constantly observe, but there is always going to be an acception to that (like the man who thought his wife was a hat rack as mentioned before). I agree with what he is saying, but I disagree with his deffinition of knowledge, and that is the only place that we disagree on.
    The machines may give the same results to the majority of people, but mental illness, or damage, or whatever can cause a person to receive a different observation, and they may have a consistant and constant result, but that is unique to them. There will always be an acception, and thus nothing can truly be known (which does agree completely with science and the laws of statistics).

    As to God, let us use of a different example. Let us say that I took you out into the woods, and told you a hermit lived there, hiding. Now, he would leave messages written in the bark of trees, or in the ground, from which I have learned a great deal. I also told you that I have seen him, and spoken to him.
    Is it possible for you to go into the words and find him? Yes, if you approach it in the same way I did. So, I went in, looking for guidance, wanting advice on what to do. I spoke aloud so he could here me, and waited, later finding the messages. After a while of following his advice, and on occassion bring him some food and other necessities he actually spoke to me. Again, after several months of faithful devotion he came out and I saw him face to face.
    Now, you want to have the same thing so you can verify the consistancy and constancy of the things that I claim. First, you have already gone in with a different attitude (seeking proof and not advice). Thus, when you ask any question he can here this in your voice and does not respond. Thus, you can claim that you did the same things as I did (asking for advice aloud) and did not get the same result, and thus I cannot know the hermit is there, I can only believe.
    Of course, you could always come back with high-tech gear to detect tracks, or heat patterns, or other such signs, but that would do you know good, for he has his own technology, far more advanced, that hides him from all your technology. Thus supporting your claim that I cannot know he is there.
    None of this changes the fact that I saw him, and spoke to him, and have those things that he has written. These are things I would know, but that you could not know, because you did not experience them.
    (of course you could always bring back the hole figment of the imagination idea, but I could say the same about everything you say you know, so let us assume we are not in that 5-10% of halucination time)

    It is the same with God. He is a living being, with power far greater than ours. Thus, only those whom he chooses to give the knowledge too are going to get that knowledge. He has set down the way to receive it, and if you very even slightly you will not get it. There are many people who have a knowledge that some being of great power and wisdom exists, but this is generally the extent of their knowledge (like me). There are others who have actually heard his voice (like my father). There are others who have seen him in person (like Moses, or Elijah, or John the Divine). Each has a different level of knowledge, for each has been given a different amount of knowledge. Those with less knowledge must have faith in those with greater knowledge (thus all must have faith in God).

    It is not that I am taking a subjective interpretation and claiming it as knowledge. As I said, it is that I am using subjective terms to name and desribe that which I have observed objectively.

  42. I really have accounted for the extremes, though. You’re just not satisfied with it.

    For example, it’s very clear that the man who thinks his wife is a hat rack does not know his wife is a hat rack. He may fully believe this…fully think this…fully perceive this…but he does not know this. We know that his perception of his wife as a hat rack is subjective because this perception is distinctly tied to him. When you try to account for subjectivity (by pulling in different observers), what you consistently and constantly find is not that she is a hat rack.

    That being said, I have not said that our consistency and constancy will yield us a reality of things as they actually are. For example, it is certainly possible that we are being reliably, consistently, and constantly deceived. But when we say we know something, we don’t mean to say we know it is a truth over a deception. We just know the constant, consistent, persistent appearance.

    I don’t know why you need to bring up “mental illness” or “damage” or whatever. Subjectivity isn’t something with a bad connotation. A completely functioning human being will see a great many things subjectively. The issue is if his subjective interpretations should be kept to himself or if they can be generalized to others.

    Now, your god analogy actually becomes very interesting. If it truly related, it would change the scenario But I argue that it does not. For example, you say:

    Is it possible for you to go into the words and find him? Yes, if you approach it in the same way I did.

    But I disagree. Spiritual experiences do not work like this. Even if I approach it the same way that you did, I am not guaranteed to have an experience. I am not guaranteed to see him. In fact, if I approach it the same way that you did, I could have a drastically different experience. I could come to a different conclusion (e.g., see someone else) or a conclusion that there’s no one there at all (e.g., not see anyone).

    This is the crucial distinction. If what you were saying were the case, then 1) we wouldn’t see such a diversity of different religions with mutually exclusive “setups” and 2) we wouldn’t see people who had “unanswered prayers” and so forth. And yet we do.

    The fact is we don’t have a reliable, constant method to find this guy. You have prescribed one way (do what you did), but this method has been shown to be unreliable. (The reason why I say this is because this is the case with all religions: the LDS church describes its own “ways” to find God…but these are unreliable. Reading scriptures, praying, fasting, and so on [add in any other thing you want] are not a reliable way to have a spiritual experience.) No matter how you change the “requirements” to receive knowledge, it simply doesn’t hold up as reliable, consistent, and constant.

    So, I say you cannot know he is there because you have raised something that seems dependent on your subjective perception. It is not generalized to the public. If we were relating this to the man who thought his wife was a hat rack (but getting RID of the connotations of illness…I don’t believe this scenario connotes illness), what you’re doing is saying, “Hey, I know there is this hat rack…Just do x, y, z to find the hat rack.” And then what we find is that “x, y, and z” are “Go to my wife, look at her. She is a hat rack.”

    So, when others do this, they can follow the same steps as you did, but they do not get the same conclusion. They do not see a hat rack like you do.

    Furthermore, in the forest analogy, you point out that God has left messages in the barks of trees, or on the ground. But this too seems to be subjective, and not objective. For example, different people will disagree as to which are messages from God. Some will argue, “No, that is a fraud made by man!” Others will argue, “That is not even a message: you’re seeing something where nothing is there!” So again, these messages are subjective interpretations…they aren’t consistent, constant, reliable.

    So, hey, I’m not bringing up hallucinations. I’m bringing up ways that healthy people can differ on subjective interpretation. These subjective interpretations don’t say anything about knowledge…they only say things about subjective interpretations, beliefs, and so on.

    It is not that I am taking a subjective interpretation and claiming it as knowledge. As I said, it is that I am using subjective terms to name and desribe that which I have observed objectively.

    The issue is that you have not observed God objectively. you have observed something…and then you have used subjective terms to name and describe it as God. So, it is a subjective interpretation.

  43. Here is the dilemma; if I give shematwater his definition and use his criteria of “Knowing” I can in all good conscience claim with the same assurance that the God as described by the LDS faith is absolutely non-existent . As shematwater stated:

    “Now, do I know that God exists? Yes. I have seen enough of this world and felt his presence in my life enough that I know he is there. Do I know that the LDS church is his true church? On this I would be more accurate to say “I believe,””

    Through my experiences and tests of the spiritual witnesses I received while a Mormon and then as not a Mormon, I know that God as defined by Mormonism is non-existent, I also believe that all current God Myths are also just that myths but sense I have not had the same intimate experiences with each of those myths I must take a weaker position and to be more accurate just like shematwater I would have to say “I Believe” God doesn’t exist.

  44. shematwater permalink

    Andrew
    I will tell you what the real problem is. The problem is that we are not speaking of a quantifiable substance or occurance, but of a conscious, living being. To say we would have the same experience with God is to say that a human being will give the exact same response every time they are asked the same question. If the response is not the same we do not have consistancy or constancy, and thus no one can really know.
    It is very much like the whole idea of the hermit in the woods, but consider a being who can actually know your thoughts. How difficult would it be to hide your intensions, or motivations from such a being? Now, if he will only appear to those with certain intensions and motivations than you have to be very certain that those are your motivations and intentions or you will never see him.

    Basically, a living, intelligent being who does not want to be found is not going to be found. But if he is found by one and not another than the one has knowledge of his existance, and the other does not.
    I am speaking of knowledge concerning that which cannot be quantified and measured, but most surely can be detected by all people. I believe we can know these things, but only through our individual experience, which is why we take things on faith until we have the experience.

    Now, I do believe, as you say, that there is a set method that will consistantly and constantly yield the same results when followed by any person, but that method is one of the mind, and thus cannot be measured or quantified.

    Coventryrm
    One thing I think Andrew might agree with is that you cannot know a negative. Thus, you cannot know the God as described by the LDS church does not exist. All you can know is that you have not had experiences to support a belief in such a being.
    (the idea of the Null hypothesis, and either rejecting or failing to reject it.)

  45. I think you are confusing the idea that you can’t “prove” with you can’t “know” a negative, but based on your definition of “know” I can “know” a negative through personal experience and revelation just as much as you can “know” there is a God.

  46. shematwater:

    (I’d say first that if God isn’t a quantifiable substance or occurrence, then this *is* admittance that God doesn’t exist. After all…living beings *are* quantifiable substances…their actions are quantifiable occurrences…)

    The problem is that we aren’t dealing with a conscious living being. The problem is we don’t *know* what we’re dealing with. We are dealing with something unknown that you subjectively perceive to be a conscious, living being, but then you can’t back it up. I simply point out that just because your experience leads you to believe it is a conscious living being, this does not mean that you know that it is. You don’t have knowledge of anything except your perception and interpretation.

    If the hermit in the woods truly exists, then whatever way we can find his location and then seek that location, we should be able to do it.

    You believe there is such a way to do the same thing with God. The LDS church believes there is such a way to do the same thing with God. You just make this process relate to “intentions” and so forth (which is fair enough). The problem is that when we independently test these claims, they do not hold. Even if you have those intentions, you may not find. Even if you do everything you are supposed to, you may not find. And in fact, people can find different things because they have done different things.

    You interpret that when someone doesn’t find God, it is because God does not want to be found. This is like saying, “If you don’t see my wife as a hat rack, it is because she doesn’t want to be seen as a hat rack…but I know my wife is a hat rack.” Your knowledge of your wife as a hat rack is null in the same way your knowledge of God is null. But you are perfectly free to believe that your wife is a hat rack. You are perfectly free to believe that the answers to your prayers, your searching, and so forth come from God.

    But beyond that, you do something (and the church does it too) that is even MORE arrogant and insulting. Your message is laced with is an implication that if someone doesn’t find God, it is because they did not have the right intention, the right attitude, the right faith. If someone doesn’t see your wife as a hat rack, it’s because they aren’t doing something right…because you insist that you know your wife is a hat rack. They truly didn’t follow the steps they needed. This is quite frankly insulting and arrogant, but in some way, I can’t blame you, because you actually need such an insulting and presumptive crutch for your position (e.g., that you “know,” instead of merely “believing,” to survive) to hold. It’s just quite lamentable (and I think other ex-members or struggling members would agree) that you and the church take this path.

  47. shematwater permalink

    As fun as the conversation has been, it again grows to long. I really don’t think the subject is one we will ever agree on, and so let us part with friendly feelings and call it good.

  48. I guess those are fine terms with me, but I always think it’s a shame when things end like this.

    Do you happen to have a blog or some place you post your thoughts regularly?

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