Comments on “Reasonable believings”

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Great post!

Kenny 2021-01-11

I would love to read the output of a “book, or an extensive research program” about this (written or summarized by you)!

I particularly liked the ‘fact’ versus ‘belief’ distinction.

Grounding all of the ‘believings’ in ‘reasonableness’, and especially in the sense of ‘accounting’ for those ‘believings’, seems very insightful.


sidd 2021-01-11

My current belief is that the tarot works, but it’s evil. It’s a pack of Platonic Ideals. If you have one, I strongly advise you to stab it, burn it, mix the ash with salt, and scatter it in running water.

Could you elaborate on this? On the tarot working, and on it being evil?

"The tarot works but it's evil"

David Chapman 2021-01-11

That’s partly a casual joke. But:

Divination methods can “work” by giving something for your unconscious or imagination or feelings to work with. Useful insights do come out of practices like the tarot. They can also generate delusion.

Part of the reason the tarot in particular works seems to be that it’s a collection of “archetypes” or generic myth fragments that are deeply embedded in the “cognitive grammar” of our culture. So they are a fast, effective way of shifting yourself into the “mythic mode” which I wrote about very briefly here.

The “evil” part is that the its archetypes are partly derived from the Neo-Platonic occult tradition, which has real value but which is also (in my opinion) highly distorted and distorting in some ways. It will tend to guide your unconscious/imagination/feelings along particular lines that may be harmful. And there’s some of the Medieval worldview in there, and a bunch of 19th Century Romanticism. These also are problematic, in my opinion.

Great article

tr4nsmute 2021-01-20

Excellent article!

In Practice

Kevin 2024-01-20

Thank you for the insights, especially the commitment to belief as practiced in the wild. I think it is highly under-rated (especially amongst people committed to rationalism) how useful “truth-orthogonal” practices are. (Where here “truth” is in the narrow, rationalist sense, and not in the broader sense that you use it, including things like hagiographic/“mythic” truths).

One thing I wanted to get your thoughts on: I agree that, from a stage 4+ perspective that a lot of modes of believing are not interested in truth. However, it seems to me that in stage 3, people can’t tell that is the case. I.e. to the conspiracy theorist, they are one and the same. Everything looks like capital-T Truth. And so you have people drinking bleach, because they take their beliefs really seriously (well, seriously enough to act on them, though perhaps not enough to commit to them if they stop serving their core function of organizational/social/mythic concerns). I.e ethnographically, I am not so sure that fact/belief distinction is clear from a stage 3 perspective. The things they believe feel like fact to them… They even have a word for this: “alternative facts.”

Being able to see the difference seems to be very hard to communicate — perhaps that is what the typical STEM 3->4 education does, and it is much to my chagrin to see so many people working against seeing this transition. The worst part of it is that in a sense highly practical, because most people negotiate the world using reasonableness.

My hope is that stage 5 thinking can find more productive ways to engage with stage 3, though I have my reservations as well.

Developmental changes in the meaning of "believe"

David Chapman 2024-01-20

I agree with everything you say here!

There’s a very striking, relevant observation I read somewhere (unfortunately I can’t remember where). You can go through any amount of education in non-STEM disciplines, get a PhD or tenure, and have never had the emotional experience of being unambiguously wrong. Everything is always arguable, and “wrong” is indistinguishable from “not in accord with in-group consensus.” Whereas in learning math, you are wrong dozens of times per day. Some things are actually true or false, not just a matter of in-group opinion. This used to be true in much of non-STEM education as well, but… postmodernism.

My hope is that stage 5 thinking can find more productive ways to engage with stage 3

Yes… an explicitly developmental orientation seems to be characteristic of stage 5. The question “how can we help people move through the stages, if that’s appropriate for them” becomes clear and pressing.

As you observe, there are major cultural forces, recently entwined with mainstream politics, that actively oppose the 3->4 transition. Perhaps this can only be addressed at the level of mainstream politics, which is a bit discouraging for someone (me) who tries to avoid that. Maybe some jiu-jitsu move will emerge that does an end-run rather than direct confrontation.

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