Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Practical Beliefs, part 2

Part 1

I think that we can answer the first question, " How do we determine what, if any, of what we experience is real?" with another question, "What difference does it make?" This may seem unsatisfying at first, but bear with me.

Suppose that I'm hungry. Does it matter if the world I experience isn't real? If, say, I'm a conscious computer program, and  there is no such thing as a human stomach, or food, or a mouth? If I respond to my hunger by eating, the unpleasant sensation of hunger will go away, and I'll have the pleasurable experiences of eating food, the smell, taste, and feel of something tasty and satisfying. If I ignore my hunger, I'll experience increasingly painful hunger pangs. Therefore whether or not there is such a thing as a stomach or food in an objective sense, I am forced to behave as if they are real.

Whatever there may be "out there," I am forced by my subjective experiences of pleasure and pain to treat what I perceive as real. Once I am treating my perceptions as real, I can form beliefs about them, such as, "If I eat food, I won't be hungry for a while." These beliefs may or may not mirror an objective reality, but that doesn't matter. They're practical beliefs about my consistent perceptions that allow me to navigate the world I experience. I can empirically explore that world, learning how it functions and adding or altering my practical beliefs about it based on what I learn.

Whether or not what I experience is objectively real truly makes no difference, so long as my experience is consistent. My subjective experience forces me to treat my perceptions as if they are real, and I can build a consistent system of beliefs on that experience. Whether or not what I experience is real is an interesting question in the abstract, what difference does it make?

Which brings us to the second question, "Are we justified in making any and all claims about reality, given that all claims are equally unprovable?" We can make any and all claims about some objective reality "out there," but again, what difference does it make? Unless there is something I experience, I can't form practical beliefs about it. I can guess at what things are like outside the Matrix, but those are just guesses.


  1. First, it's not a belief, it's an observation which gets into the whole difference between association and causality but the bottom line is that after a while you don't believe eating takes a way your hunger. Through repeated testing you know it does because you've proven in.
    But if this is a Matrix like reality, so what? First of all, you are not Neo. Even if we're floating in suspended animation tubes somewhere south of Newark there's not a thing you and I can't do about it. We can't even get a hint that it's not real so from our perspective it is. It's the only reality we've got, it's testable and interactive so as far as it needs to be, it's real for us. Yes, some computer program out there might be laughing at us but we can't hear it so what does it matter?
    Are we justified in making any claims about reality? Sure because there's a concept of reasonableness to factor it. It's entirely possible we're in the Matrix. Is it reasonable to believe it? And in the absence of any resources to break out or even knowing where to start such a strategy, is there a point to caring?

    1. > > after a while you don't believe eating takes a way your hunger. Through repeated testing you know it does

      A belief is a proposition that you hold to be true to a greater or lesser degree of certainty. In this case, the belief that eating takes away hunger is a belief that you are 100% certain of.

      > But if this is a Matrix like reality, so what?

      That is largely my point.

  2. Even solipsists look both ways before crossing the street.

    You needs to make some assumptions, accept some axioms, in order to build any system of knowledge.