Disbelief

Perhaps it seems counterintuitive to define ‘disbelief’ before defining ‘belief’.  Yet, in this case, approaching things ‘from behind’, can allows a definition of what does not constitute belief.  Since belief is such a complex matter, it may, in fact, be effective to define ‘disbelief’ first so as to better focus on the different concepts we all lump together as ‘belief’.

Disbelief is simply ‘absence of belief’.

If I were to present you with the statement:  ‘my great-grandmother’s eyes were blue’, and if you would have no way of knowing if it is true or not (no facts are supplied along with the statement and there are no means for you to obtain the facts/you do not dig for the facts).  You would now be faced with two choices:

 

1. Believe

Having read some of what I have written, you could conclude that I am a reliable source and that if I say that ‘my great-grandmother’s eyes were blue’, then they truly were.  While this particular belief may not alter your life to any significant degree, you  invest your trust into me  and accept the statement at face value. 

You believe that at least one my great-grandmothers indeed had blue eyes.

 

2. Disbelieve

You may find that even though there is no reason for my statement to be false, without any supporting evidence, there just is not enough there for you to believe the statement. 

The following sub-categories of ‘disbelief’ are in not somehow official, scholarly, or in any way learned from any source.  Please, do not consider these divisions as somehow ‘authoritative’ or based on any specific philosophy (something I chose never to train in – but that is tangential to the issue….) – they are just my way of looking at the principle of ‘disbelief’.  Yet, I hope they will help to clarify the concept of ‘disbelief’, because it seems to me to be terribly misunderstood in current popular culture.

  • Tentative acceptance (conditional acceptance) 

You may decide that the information came from a credible source, so it is likely to be true.  You have no reason to doubt it.  Yet, you reserve committing to belief  in the veracity of the statement: if more information were to come along (like, say, a statement from several people who knew my great-grandmothers, or some other unforseen event which provided contradictory data), you would have no problem changing your mind on the matter.

On an intellectual level, in the absence of further evidence, you tentatively accept the statement as true, but you do not putt any emotional investment into its veracity.  Were you to learn that the statement is false, you might change your opinion of me as a source of information, but it would not greatly trouble you.  Though, for now, you may behave as if the statement were true, the absence of any ’emotional investment’ in its veracity means you disbelieve it.

This is why I contend that Pascal’s wager  does not constitute belief, but tentative acceptance.  Therefore, in my never-humble-opinion, it is a form of disbelief:  it is an acceptance on an intellectual level, but not on an emotional one.  The emotional investment is, in my opinion, necessary to constitute ‘belief’.

The tentative/conditional acceptance is what, in scientific terms, is termed a conclusion.  It is similar to belief, but not quite there.  It asserts that according to the best information currently available, this seems likely – it is the best conclusion from currently available information – yet, this conclusion is open to ammendment as additional information comes to light.  This is as close to belief as science ever gets….and, irritatingly (to me, anyway), many scientists refer to their conclusions as beliefs.  In reality, when a scientist replaces conclusions with beliefs, they cease being a scientist!

  • Possibility/probability assessment

Here, instead of believing the statement, or tentatively (conditionally) accepting the premise pending further data as truth, you may entertain its veracity as a distinct possibility.  Perhaps you might even give it a ‘probability rating’ – whether scientific or subjective.  Whether this probability is 1% or 99%, it is still a probability assessment – not a belief.

Back to scientists:  if a scientist assesses a conclusion to have a  high probability of being true, they may express this.  Again, this is not in any way the same as belief:  it is a probability assessment, without the emotional investment necessary to cross the boundary between possible or probable on the one hand and belief on the other.  Irritatingly, many people (including scientists – most of whom are not really all that up on liguistics and the nuances of expressions, and many of whom are rather deaf to ‘social nuances’ to start off with) erroneously lump this position in with belief when they speak about it – yet they do not, in any way, imply belief in the religious sense..

  • Absence of opinion

You may read the statement, file away in your mind that I had made it, but make no conclusion about its veracity.  You simply do not care enough to believe it.  It’s there, you can recall that this statement had been made, but that is really the end of it for you. 

  • Belief in the opposite

OK, I admit it:  I am uncomfortable including belief in the opposite into the category of disbelief.  Why?  Because unlike the other positions, listed above, it involves holding a belief.  Not a belief in the statement itself, but rather, a belief in the opposite of the statement in question.  What would be the opposite?  Here, you might believe that my great-grandmother’s eyes were green or brown, so long as you believe they were not blue.

This is disbelief=withholding belief with respect to the statement in question, even if it is not general disbelief. 

  • Belief in unknowability

Again, I am not happy to include this positive belief in the category of disbelief, but, it must be included because it constitutes disbelief with respect to this statement.  The positive belief held here is that there is no way of finding out whether or not the statement is true:  that the veracity of the statement is unknowable.

 

This is not a perfect division – and I am aware that not everybody will agree with the lines I have drawn up to distinguish belief from disbelief.  Yet, I have attempted to apply logic consistently throughout.  I would welcome any and all comments which would help enrich this discussion.

 Aside:

If you are interested in a great documentary on the topic of disbelief, I would recommend ‘Jonathan Miller’s Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief’.  While I am not sure if I agree with everything he says (I’ve only been pondering it for a little over a year – and I am a slow thinker), it is interesting and thought provoking.  It is available for sale, or order over the internet in various places.

Alternately, the 3-hour series can be found many places on the web…  YouTube has many channels which feature it.  One of them has broken it up as follows:

Part 1.1,   part 1.2part 1.3,  part 1.4part 1.5,  part 1.6

Part 2.1part 2.2part 2.3part 2.4,  part 2.5,  part 2.6, part 2.7

Part 3.1part 3.2part 3.3,  part 3.4,  part 3.5part 3.6

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Defining some more terms…

Words matter.

Words matter a lot.

They carry a direct meaning (and, perhaps, an implied meaning) as well as hidden ‘colouring’ with a number of associations, sometimes conscious, sometimes subconscious.

This ‘colouring’ changes and evolves within a culture – and can be quite different in another language.

I am not a linguist.  Yet, during my life, I have picked up a few languages:  some of them I am fluent in, some are shadowy and hiding in the recesses of my memory… and will only come ‘flooding back’ if I immerse myself in that language.  In other words, I am not speaking as an expert, rather as just an observer.  (And, I must admit, misuse and misrepresentation of the core meaning of words causes my blood pressure to rise.)

Yes, in my ever-obsessive way, I have contemplated starting a ‘Wiki’ where people from all over the world could post their particular linguistic and cultural colouring associated with a particular word….  But, at this point, this is just a fun contemplation!

Let me give a few ‘simple’ examples: 

Cat – this word’s plain meaning is rather straightforward:  a domestic animal, felis catus, of the family felidae…  Cute and cuddly, clever and aloof – we have all met cats we have loved, and perhaps a few we disliked (I know I have met both kinds). 

Yet, in English, ‘cat’ can also mean a ‘guy’, when in the context of jazz.  And, calling a woman ‘catty’ is no compliment – it implies she is gossipy, capricious and petty.

Switch to Slavic languages – calling a woman ‘catty’ (or a ‘cat’) means she is graceful in a very sexy way!  By culturally highlighting very different aspects of ‘cat’, it is a compliment, not an insult, to call a woman ‘catty’!

Bitch – the plain meaning means ‘female dog‘:  a domesticated animal, canis lupus familiaris, of the family canidae…  Dog is a loving and loyal companion of humans, the first domesticated animal to be ‘in’ the house, rather than ‘outside’ it… and thus ‘in’ the social sphere of humans, inside our ‘monkeysphere’, rather than ‘outside’ it!  A dog is ‘man’s best friend’!

In English, the feminine form, ‘bitch’ has some very definite negative connotations:  from ‘submissive’ (as in, someone was ‘made somebody’s bitch’) to argumentative and quarrelsome (especially as applied to women).  The explression ‘son of a bitch’ is definitely an insult – and is understood as such.  Curiously, the word ‘bitch’ does not carry any of the positive connotations of the term ‘dog’.  (I wonder why – and what it says about the attitude of the ‘Anglo-linguistic culture’s’ attitude towards ‘female friendships’…but that is going off on a tangent…)

Again, looking at Slavic languages, the word ‘bitch’ has quite unrelated connotations!

In Russian, for example, the direct translation for ‘dog’ is (and I am transliterating – perhaps not perfectly, as my Russian if very rusty) ‘sobaka/sabaka’ (spelled, it transliterates as ‘sobaka’ but due to emphasis, it is pronounced more like ‘sabaka’) is a feminine word.  Thus, the word ‘dog’, directly translated into Russian, becomes ‘female dog’=’bitch’!  Yet (and I would like to be corrected here if I am in error) the term does not carry the negative connotations of ‘bitch’!

In Czech, the most direct translation of ‘bitch’ is ‘psina’, which carries the connotation of ‘having a really fun time – while remaining within the social boundaries of politeness/proper etiquette’.  There are other terms for ‘female dog’, but they are either scientific (‘fena’) – devoid of cultural colouring – or or extremely contrived and ‘artificial’-sounding (psice).  And while I am not fluent in all the Slavic languages, I do speak a few – and in none of the ones I speak (as far as I am aware) does the core expression for ‘female dog’ have negative connotations!

I recall, as a kid, reading books translated from other languages, which contained the insult ‘son of a bitch’:  I was puzzled!  I could not understand why somebody would think this expression was in any way insulting, even though from the context I understood it was meant to be bad….

Therefore, in my ever-obsessive way that cannot let go of ‘patterns’, I find ‘words’ to be important: not due to their primary meaning, but because of what they imply outside of this narrow interpretation.

(Aside:  I suspect that some kids – especially ones who are obsessively concerned with ‘accuracy’ of expressions – may start out learning language naturally.  Then, as they discover that the words have additional meanings they were not aware of – the ‘colouring’ of the word, in my description – they may become unable to use that word any longer as they know they cannot use it accurately, without this additional layer of meaning…  This is just an anecdotal observation, but I would not be surprised if the ‘natural early language development’ followed by ‘regression’ which is sometimes seen in Autistic children was, in some nebulous way, connected to this principle.)

If this ‘colouring’ is so very different, affects so much the non-primary meaning of words as simple as ‘cat’ and ‘dog’, how much deeper are these different connotations experienced – consciously or not – when we talk about concepts as personal and deeply held as spirituality, faith and religion?  They have the power to affect our reasoning without us being aware of it!  Yet, if I plan to present a comprehensive view of ‘The Big Picture’, I cannot avoid the area of influence on individual humans – as well as on the evolution of whole societies – which ‘spirituality’, ‘faith’, ‘religion’, ‘dogma’ and ‘belief’ and their specifics have. 

I must admit – the concept of ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ has always fascinated me.  Perhaps because as an Aspie, I lack the bit of brain structure required for ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ (religious meaning), the ability other people had to ‘believe’, to ‘have faith’, had puzzled and attracted me from when I first became aware of it.  While in my teens, I did a lot of reading up on different faiths.  And even though my education is in Physics, every one of my ‘electives’ was used to study anthropology and sociology of religions (I actually came only 1/2 credit short of a minor in this, but thought a degree in Physics with a minor in Anthropology of Religion was not likely to make me ’employable’… so I made a conscious choice not to take that last course.  Yet, this did not prevent me from doing the reading, plus more…)

Therefore, before I delve into examining the role of various religious beliefs and various religious organizations (they truly are very separate from each other, even if related) on ‘The Big Picture’, I think it essential that I take some time to define a few terms.  Yes, these are not going to be ‘new’ terms…  However, tracing their origins and ‘pure’ meaning, as well as the cultural change they had undergone (and defining in what sense and with what ‘colouring’ I use these terms) is important if I am to convey my perceptions of what is happening accurately.

In the next little while, I will make a post for each of the ‘big’ terms I am talking about, in the hope that this will both aid in linking to them when I use them in my later descriptions of ‘stuff’, but also in order to generate ‘term-specific’ comments, corrections and recommendations.  So, if you have something to add to these upcoming posts, please, do so.  It will be most appreciated!

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Muslims Against Sharia: ‘Hypocrisy in Action’

Here is an interesting post on ‘Muslims Against Sharia’s’ Blog:  ‘Hypocrisy in Action’:

After listing a number of headlines from many various ‘news sources’ from around the world which unanimously decry the Israeli air raid on Gaza, Muslims Against Sharia ask this key question (emphasis and colour accent is theirs):

Where were Egypt, Russia, OIC,

EU, Britain, Sarkozy, US and Austria

when Hamas was pounding Israel

with daily barrage of rockets?

 

Where indeed…

At least, many people are now asking the question.  (Yes, I am an idealistic optimist…)  And, ‘questioning’ is the first step towards change. 

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Corporate censorship – tip of the iceberg…

‘The Economy of Ideas’ by John Perry Barlow, the co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, is an excellent (if a little long – but well worth reading) essay published in 1994 in Wired Magazine.  I would be a visionary essay were it published today!  Here, Barlow warns us that in the coming years, corporate censorship could be the greatest danger to our freedom of speech.

A provocative – but well reasoned – position, to say the least. 

“Throughout the history of copyrights and patents, the proprietary assertions of thinkers have been focused not on their ideas but on the expression of those ideas. The ideas themselves, as well as facts about the phenomena of the world, were considered to be the collective property of humanity.”

“Notions of property, value, ownership, and the nature of wealth itself are changing more fundamentally than at any time since the Sumerians first poked cuneiform into wet clay and called it stored grain. Only a very few people are aware of the enormity of this shift, and fewer of them are lawyers or public officials.”

“Whenever there is such profound divergence between law and social practice, it is not society that adapts. Against the swift tide of custom, the software publishers’ current practice of hanging a few visible scapegoats is so obviously capricious as to only further diminish respect for the law. “

“I believe that law, as we understand it, was developed to protect the interests which arose in the two economic “waves” which Alvin Toffler accurately identified in The Third Wave. The First Wave was agriculturally based and required law to order ownership of the principal source of production, land. In the Second Wave, manufacturing became the economic mainspring, and the structure of modern law grew around the centralized institutions that needed protection for their reserves of capital, labor, and hardware.

Both of these economic systems required stability. Their laws were designed to resist change and to assure some equability of distribution within a fairly static social framework. The empty niches had to be constrained to preserve the predictability necessary to either land stewardship or capital formation.

In the Third Wave we have now entered, information to a large extent replaces land, capital, and hardware, and information is most at home in a much more fluid and adaptable environment. The Third Wave is likely to bring a fundamental shift in the purposes and methods of law which will affect far more than simply those statutes which govern intellectual property.” (my emphasis) 

Barlow makes the case that corporate interests will, if allowed, protect their investment in the ‘ideas’ which are the ‘currency’ of the Third Wave – and that could involve significant curbing of our freedom of expression.

Interestingly enough, I have come across this video (and there are many others which raise this issue) that might just demonstrate a tiny little bit of what Barlow is talking about:

It is something to ponder….

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Merry Christmas, everyone!!!

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This is your working life meme

I’ve been tagged!  Thanks, Robert.

”It’s simple. Just list all the jobs you’ve had in your life, in order. Don’t bust your brain: no durations or details are necessary, and feel free to omit anything that you feel might tend to incriminate you. I’m just curious. And when you’re done, tag another five bloggers you’re curious about.”

OK, these are in order – sort 0f – but many overlap, sometimes several at a time….

  • looked after sheep (while in refugee camp in Austria)
  • helped make dried flower wreaths in a florist shop (same as above)
  • pet sitter/house sitter (during high-school/early university)
  • clerk in a ladies clothing store (actually, this one was interesting because it was very close to the Parliament Hill – and I’d get to talk to a lot of interesting people who came to The Hill and strolled by during their breaks)
  • flower shop – from answering the phone to making floral arrangements
  • clerk in a gift-shop in a hotel within a sight of the Parliament Hill (again, interesting people to talk to)
  • tutoring Math, Science, Physics and English
  • summer jobs in various hi-tech companies:  from writing code to writing up bids on contracts to more technical ‘stuff’
  • Started my first company:  clothing design (‘one-of’ pieces only, design captured my ‘impression’ of customer)
  • Satellite testing 
  • Programming
  • Designing specialized data acquisition and management systems/high tech sales (job evolution) 
  • Started an import/export company in a specialized field
  • Stay-at-home mom  (the most challenging – and rewarding job of them all!) 
  • While stay-at-home mom, have stayed active professionally – from sitting on a BOD of a professional association to little contracts
  • unpaid blogger

Yes, I know:  I cannot stay in one field for very long, at least, not full time (though I keep the connections).  I guess this proves my ADD!  Not the focused career-path most people have…  but, this is who I am!

Now, to tag five others (in no particular order):

Yeah, OK, so that is 6:  rounding off error!  But, I am curious… 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

Update:  Here is a link to ‘Stageleft’ – who started this meme and put together a nice little ‘catalogue’ of some of the Canadian bloggers who responded to this meme.  Thanks, Balbulican!

Update:  Here is the ‘Web-Elf’s – Binks’s’ list of jobs (scroll down a little).

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Help fight Sharia

It took the Western society several centuries to separate the Church and the State. I like that.

No longer are great thinkers like Bruno (and many, many others) burned alive for the crime of saying what they think… It took a lot of work and many lives, but we have achieved a wonderful thing: we govern ourselves by laws which are made by men (I use the term inclusively) – so they can change to accommodate our evolving society. As flawed as this system is, this system respects our human rights, regardless of who we happen to be.

In contrast, all forms of religious laws are necessarily oppressive: they are dictated by immutable dogma which does not evolve along with the society. Here, I should be clear that I am not critical of religious laws that people choose to impose upon themselves in addition to the society’s legal system. I do not mean the term ‘religious laws’ in this sense. What I am describing is using religious laws as the legal system of a society. That is a very different thing.

The effect of dogma-based legal systems are always to freeze the society in the time and place where these laws were formed. As the circumstances of the society change, this society has no room to evolve to accommodate these changes… Social stagnation necessarily follows.

We have seen this replayed in many societies, in many different times. That is why I find it so surprising that some Western democracies are returning to this oppressive system.

As many of you may be aware, Britain has instituted Sharia courts as part of its legal system. Yes, it is true. Sharia court decisions are now legally binding in Britain. Yes, it is true. Even though the Sharia courts operated in Britain in an unofficial capacity for years (and this was widely reported on early in 2008), their ‘official’ status is not all that widely known about, especially in the USA. Perhaps this is because this happened in September of 2008….when much of the Western media was busy covering the US presidential election (and not much else).

I must be honest here – Sharia scares me. It scares me a lot. As an immigrant (and as someone who still helps immigrants learn English), I get to meet a lot of people who come to Canada from all kinds of places: including places where Sharia is the legal system.  They have helped me understand exactly how Sharia works…  And even though we have succeeded in exorcising the spectre of official Sharia in Ontario, there is more and more ‘Sharia creep’ in our society. 

This makes me feel powerless and frustrated.  Which is why I was very happy to find that there IS something every one of us can do to help stop Sharia’s growth!  It may not be much, but every avalanche starts with a snowflake…

The above link is a petition which people worldwide can sign to protest the institution of Sharia Courts in Britain.  One does not have to be British to sign it.  Every signature counts:  it was the large scale protests by Muslim women in Europe that helped avert the imposition of Sharia on our Canadian Muslims. 

So, if you, too, think that separating state from religion – be it a church, a mosque, a temple or a coven – if you think separating these is a good idea, here is your chance to stand up and be counted.  (Well, actually, more like ‘click and be counted’, but you get the idea..)

Here is the statement from the petition:

Global Statement

Sharia Law is discriminatory, cruel and barbaric.

People of all nations should be unequivocally supported in their struggle against Sharia law and should be able to live in societies where universal human rights and nationwide citizenship rights are guaranteed.

There is no place in the 21st century for Sharia.  Full stop.

The full manifesto is here.

You can sign the petition here

(edit – adding in a video on it)

Go forth and sign!  And don’t forget to share the linkie with your friends!

 

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