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Interesting article, kc. I agree with you that universal traits don't necessarily have to be explained in terms of evolutionary biology, but I suppose the article is about evolutionary biology... I also noted that the writer only took the "relation between different brain mechanisms" explanation, and didn't consider more straightforwardly the capacity for greater symbolic thought of an enlarged neocortex.

Adaptive or a neutral by-product, the propensity for belief is in any case apparently not negative in its effects. This is something that struck me:

But religious rituals "generate greater belief and commitment" because they depend on belief rather than on proof. The rituals are "beyond the possibility of examination," he wrote, and a commitment to them is therefore emotional rather than logical
(my bold)

Is it possible that, the more you call on people to believe, the more they respond with belief?

Or, put another way, why is proof an insufficient narrative form?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 04:20:43 PM EST
why is proof an insufficient narrative form???'

Oh man.. this is the keystone question.. but I rephrase it.. why some people take some narratives over other when there is some kind of different offers?

Are there some mythologies which are universal? Why are they taken?

So proof in the scientific science is not enough if you are not in a mythical scientific world.

An example. There is an old history about an anthropologists applying science proof in a compeltely different world view... prrof was irrelvant in their society.. they were worried about why?

So .. you can proof something.. like that you had a car accident because of bad brakes ina car.. but in another frame the key question could be why the combination of bad brakes, and bad wetaher and your car having it and you being there happened to you?

Different mythologies have different focus so scientific proof or why explanation or any other question or mythology I may heard of has sense..

But why when there are different options available some people choose one over other?

Finally, rituals based on belief are more powerful in a judeo-christian vision of the world. I am not sure it is teh same in all cultures.. so the answer of this anthropologists may not be really universal.. but very common in society where the one-God is a possible thought (the idea that there is only one God is quite complex and it does not exists in a lot of places... therefore the evangelical "success").

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 05:02:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you have to be taught not to accept narrative.

Narrative shorthand pseudo-explanations seem to be the default form of primate social signalling.

Going beyond that to deliberate reality-testing (even to some limited extent) seems to be an optional stage of development.

Effectively it's a meta-narrative ('question what you're told and what you believe') that fills the space that's usually filled up with default signalling.

It's also a question of how safe the surrounding environment is perceived to be. If surroundings are safe, mistakes and exploration are acceptable and you'd expect narrative systems to reflect that.

If the environment is threatening, mistakes are potentially fatal, and narratives are more likely to converge on much simpler ideas of right and wrong.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 05:46:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It certainly can be that way.. I do not know enough about that.. but it certainly can be true.
Environment contraints is something present...although we may choose to ignore them. But they could constrain the myths available..

Absolutely.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 06:51:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
proof in the scientific science (sense?) is not enough if you are not in a mythical scientific world

Right, but it's not quite what I meant. Most people in the cultures we live in (and with whom we would wish to communicate) are, to some extent, in a mythical scientific world. They have notions to do with "proof", "facts", "observation", they share a narrative about science's ability to deal with these things (even if the narrative is relatively sketchy). In some cases they may believe in science in a quasi-religious manner. So that kind of narrative may be persuasive.

But I was asking, with the word "proof", about rational discourse that does not demand a leap of faith. The free market ideology offers a belief system: invisible hand, wheels within wheels, immutable laws calling for purity of application to produce magical outcomes. This narrative works, people go along with it. If you tell them, look, reality is complex, there are all kinds of problems with asymmetric information and influence, not to speak of plain power, that skew things so the pure market narrative is inapplicable, you'll be followed by a small number who were probably already thinking that anyway.

So I was wondering, do people really prefer to be asked to believe? Is a leap of faith attractive?

I think I can say from my own experience, having lived part of my life in a very religious setting, that a leap of faith offers relief. People speak of their happiness that a burden has rolled away from their backs. In the Christian narrative, that burden is explained as sin, but I think it's the burden of existence as an individual with the responsibility of making choices; the leap of faith is abandonment to predetermined choices, to a complete explanatory narrative of what you must do each day, to a new belonging to a collective existence (the body of believers). Those who find that hugely satisfying may have psychological weaknesses of the kind exploited by cults... But still, one can see the kind of pleasurable emotions the leap of faith can bring about.

Does an attractive/persuasive narrative (seductive, to use tbg's term), have to offer some or all of these elements, even in an attenuated form?

By asking people to accept a narrative that we call reality or fact-based, are we at risk of producing anxiety?

How far are we willing to think in terms of a new progressive narrative that entails a leap of faith?

Or does any complete narrative, anyway, call for the suspension of disbelief?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 8th, 2007 at 11:47:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
seduction was Melanchthon, not ThatBritishGentleman.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Mar 8th, 2007 at 11:53:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the problem is that the more complex the narrative, the less appealing it is. All narratives are fact-based, what makes the "scientific method" narrative unappealing is that it is open-ended. There is a narrative of "scientism" which is that science has an answer for everything, and that is appealing. But if someone who subscribes to "scientism" asks a follower of the "scientific method" for the "scientific answer" and the answer is "you see, things are really complex, and we don't have all the facts, but...", eyes start rolling.

Sort of like students wanting you to tell them the answer to their homework but not being really interested in an explanation.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Mar 8th, 2007 at 11:54:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thus the appeal of an Ideology where every question is answered and the future assured.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Mar 8th, 2007 at 12:48:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok.. this is mmy  absolute personal opinion, afew. No facts involved whatsoever (now that I get your question poroperly).

I think that an  anthropologists called M. Delgado is right. He states that science is really powerful when it is combined with magical explanations.

According to him.. nothing beats science and factual science when the explanation outwards is magical and directly mythical myths clear in the air..

And I agree with him.. but now convince scientists that they should learn a lot about magic thinking and magic explanation and eyes start rolling.

My humble humble opinion... yes science together with magic thinking is more powerful that faith jumps... the mysticism .. the wonderful, the amazing is more powerful that the security.  But jump of faiths are better than plane "compelxity"

My equatiosn would be

sicence < jump of faith

science + amazement + myths >> jump of faith

At least in our society.
Ei, afew.. no proof whatsoever for this.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Thu Mar 8th, 2007 at 01:48:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the following, I will use indiscriminately the words narrative and paradigm, because in this case a narrative is the rhetorical form of a paradigm.

Any new narrative/paradigm requires a leap of faith in the beginning. Verification/proof comes only afterwards. And this for very rational epistemological reasons.

First, we all believe in science, not as a religious belief, but as trust, because we are not able to make all the experiments which prove the laws of physics, chemicals, biology... We can learn which has been the process of a demonstration or experiment, but we nevertheless have to believe/trust the scientists. What makes us trust them is the specific culture and methods of the scientific community (openness, peer review, debate, reproducibility) but, at the end of the day we have to believe/trust them. Hence the scandal when a fraud is unveiled.

Second, the question of the proof is a very peculiar one in social sciences. It is very difficult to demonstrate/proof something in the field of social sciences. What they can do is propose models which have a good explanatory/heuristic power for a givens set of facts/phenomena. Only certain social sciences like experimental psychology and economy can demonstrate some  "laws", but these are "demonstrated" only within the conditions of the experimentation, and their transposition in real life is very problematic. (to use a quantum mechanics metaphor, the decoherence delay is very short...).

Third, and this has been clearly explained by Thomas Kuhn and Edgar Morin, there is a logical impossibility to demonstrate/prove the efficiency of a new narrative/paradigm. Why? Because, as it is new, it has not been widely tested/experimented. Even if the new narrative/paradigm is promising, its promises will only  be held in the future. And to test/experiment/prove it, you have to convince a significant number of persons (in Kuhn's case, scientists) who accept to drop the certainties/habits of the old narrative/paradigm and to adopt the uncertainties of the new one.

It's even more true if it's a new economic/social narrative, because you can only test/experiment it in real conditions, which means involving a number of people and institutions. For sure, your new paradigm will eventually have to deliver, otherwise, people will go back to the ancient one but, at the beginning, you have to rely upon a leap of faith.

That's the reason why I said that you have to seduce a significant number of people in order to make possible a  narrative change in the socio-economic domain.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Thu Mar 8th, 2007 at 03:27:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Only a small note to a brilliant comment.

In science you do not only have to beleive /trust in scientists.. somehow... the important thign is that yo have to believe , understand or think as relevant the scientic mythology or paradigm.

Notions like facts, experiments or reality as an object as understood in our science businenss is pure mythology.. just as another myhtology. An as any other mythology which is quite ingrained we can not avoid believing in it if we are in the business.

For a lot of people science is just a status genrator.. like religion used to be.. but for the people doing scince or understanding the notions of "fact".. and the "how"question and other basic scientific mythologies.. the real leap of faith is believing in science, whcih we do nto feel like a leap of faith because we consider ours special (as any other perosn with other mythology would do).. in the sense that it is a myth as any other one.. and as obvious as any other religion could be to a religios person or buddhism to a buddhist or any gender relation learnt or spatial symbolic strucutre in any given society.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Mar 9th, 2007 at 04:30:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is the Enlightenment's refutation by reductio ad absurdum.

Here's how it goes: the enlightenment produced both Kant's epistemology which made it clear that we don't know what there is (noumenon) but only our perceptions (phenomena) that we assume caused by a noumenon and so allow us to infer things about it. The enlightenment also produced the narrative of the scientific revolution and the scientific method, and the belief that reason is a powerful force that can ultimately address and solve any problem. Then people like Humboldt founded anthropology. And then anthropology shows us just how fragile the basis for rationalism, the enlightenment and the scientific method is: it's just a narrative, and not a particularly appealing one at that.

We're doomed, I tell you, doomed.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 9th, 2007 at 04:55:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gee.. that's a great summary!!!!!

But we are not doomed (well maybe .... I just hope not)... if we apply your ideas about a scholars and my ideas about using magic thinking to transmit ideas about science...everything is solved :)

That would make science particularly appealing!!!!!

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Mar 9th, 2007 at 05:11:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not my ideas, it's Morris Kline's.

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 9th, 2007 at 05:33:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You need a scholar who can read about magic thinking applied to maths .. or physics. or biophysics.. or whatever...and also can teach well...

A pleasrue

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Mar 9th, 2007 at 09:16:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A scholar performing the functions we have just described may not be a good teacher.


"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Mar 9th, 2007 at 09:33:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Teacher of the public.. so may be...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Mar 9th, 2007 at 10:25:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree that we have to believe in science in order to believe the scientists (in their field). That's what I meant when I said "What makes us trust them is the specific culture and methods of the scientific community (openness, peer review, debate, reproducibility)". I could have added scientific myths, heroes and medals...

But I beg to differ: I think there is a difference between the religious belief/creed and the rational belief/trust. The difference lies in the revocability of trust and the radical doubt that is at the heart of the scientific culture (and which you practise with incomparable virtuosity...). The religious belief/creed in science leads to scientism, as Migeru says somewhere in this thread.


"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Fri Mar 9th, 2007 at 05:04:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I see.

And sure.. there is a difference..absolutely .. no doubt.. each mythology is absolutely different, and of course religion and science are...

Although Kant envisioned that both would address different issues...pity, people did not like Kant and his "!how" and "why" questions.

So in mythologies, mechansims and basis , the same.. content, different... and I guess you know which mythology I like more... or trust more :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Mar 9th, 2007 at 05:08:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
why is proof an insufficient narrative form?

The question is what moves/motivates us ?

The strongest drivers of our behaviour are emotional/affective, even if they can be channelled or oriented by rationality.

If I am a progressive, it's not because I have made a long comparative study between right-wing and left-wing narratives and decided the second ones performed better! This came afterwards. I am a progressive because I place some values like justice and equality above others and because I am moved by the obscene level of injustice of the society in which we live.

Any proof or demonstration only makes sense within a certain set of values.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 06:54:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And all this general narrative comes in a culture where emotions and affectios are given spetial roles. Otherwise you dcould not even think that way.

For example we do not adscribe feelings with state of movements.. or states of objectsa s other people do... or consider humans to be "all  bout emotions".

We also have a strong mythology about humans being necessarily affective which makes by the way any scientific analysis of emotions almost impossible to carry on given the strong cutlrual baggage stating that all emotions are universal..even when they evidently are not.

So I could not agree more with you. It is within a framework about emotions.. and with a way of looking at the world.. and understanding injustice that we are left-wing... and it is this narrative and explanation that drives us... And I am personally proud of it.

Demonstration comes later on.. and absolutely.. and only becasue we value proof if we adquired and assmilated the "scientific imagianry" (which by the way it is clearly not universal in western societies sicne you can live perfectly without understanding science as a mere status generator).

Dead on.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 07:09:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When I said "within a certain set of values", I should have said: within a certain set of definitions, values, rules, methods, scales, visions and stories... in other words within a certain paradigm.  

As Thomas S.Kuhn and Edgar Morin pointed it, the only way to make people think/behave in a new narrative/paradigm is to seduce them into adopting it. So, the key word is seduction...


"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 07:51:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The values are, er, rationalised rationally. You're quite right they're not caused by narratives - or reason.

But people still persist in trying to persuade others using pseudo-rational narratives. And sometimes they even succeed.

I think values like justice and equality are already narrative statements. The emotional roots for the soft left probably come down to empathy, curiosity and inclusiveness.

The hard left seems more likely to be driven by jealousy, and a desire for revenge against parental figures.

The right seems to live on a dominance/submission axis, where the prize for dominance and 'success' is the right to live out your instincts with only minimal guilt.

(This is maybe one reason they prefer authoritarian values. They know how dangerous they are - they assume everyone else is just as dangerous and can't be trusted without external control.)

You can't map these root emotions into each other. Left and right narratives make no sense to other side, because they literally lack the emotional make-up that gives them a foundation.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 07:49:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can't map these root emotions into each other. Left and right narratives make no sense to other side, because they literally lack the emotional make-up that gives them a foundation.

In T.S. Kuhn terms : incommensurability

Whereas I share most of your view, I beg to disagree on one essential issue: Apart from a (more or less) small number of fanatics, most of the people share share a certain set of basic human values, but they do not prioritise them in the same order. Example: for some people of the right, individual freedom is the highest value. It is also a value I share, but I don't put it above social justice.

That's the reason why (except for the fanatics), it is possible to discuss and make alliance with people from the right and even seduce them into a progressive narrative (see above).

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Wed Mar 7th, 2007 at 08:08:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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