Native Skeptic

Native Skeptic
Apache Crown Dancers 1887:

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Feeling Something Is True Is Not an Argument for Something Being True

Everyone has their own unique upbringing filled with distinctive experiences. These pivotal events lay the foundation to how we will relate to the world and the information we receive from it. I doubt many would argue with the notion that our personalities and behaviors are shaped by our experiences. It’s rather easy to overlook our past history’s influence on us and forget how deceptively powerful they can be. Perhaps it is due to our brain’s ability to mask its own limitations by bridging the gaps between any perceived inefficiencies. Or in other words, we can’t see the gaps found at the end of our cognitive limitations because part of what our brain does is hide these from our conscience mind so that we experience reality more smoothly.

There are so many things that the brain is doing that we are not aware of most of the time. For instance, our hearts beat and our body temperature stayed regulated without any conscience effort. Well, it appears that our ideas and beliefs might also arise in a similar fashion, starting deep from within an inaccessible place of our minds that we are not aware of until it reaches a certain level into our consciousness.

Our emotions are no exception to this notion either. Usually, we do not think of our feeling of certainty, or our feeling of being right, as an emotion. However, I have come across more recent discoveries made through research being done in this area of brain science that has shifted my view to consider the feeling of “knowing” to be classified more as an emotion. Even just philosophically, this is a fun conversation to have and ponder upon. But, when boiled down to the bones, it all comes back to describing a feeling. A feeling like an emotional state of being, or you know, like an emotion. So, like with the other examples of how things enter into our consciousness, the feeling of “rightness” begins with a process in the brain that we do not consciously initiate. I can even vividly recall experiencing this feeling in certain instances of my dreams where nothing makes sense but know what I’m supposed to do or where I’m supposed to be. This might also lend some insight into feelings of déjà vu. Our brains might just be interpreting a situation as being familiar and produce the feeling of familiarity without our conscience awareness, sort of like knowing without knowing. Some people who have damaged parts of the brain that are needed for functioning properly lose their ability to experience any sort of feeling of certainty. Think of that for a second. These people report to recognize that everything about a person, place or thing to be identical to something they used to know like a person they are married to or even their own children, but without the feeling of certainty they insist these things to be imposters. So, sometimes our feelings of being right can obviously throw us off from time to time.     

Now, it might seem obvious that our feelings of something being true are not arguments or good explanations to support something being true. Like saying something is right because it feels right. Just think of all the instances in which people can’t explain what they saw, but still protest they know what they saw. These are some reasons why we should be cautious of individuals that operate with no shadow of a doubt, making claims of absolute knowledge or absolute certainty about anything. In many circumstances, this feeling can act as an obstacle to the process of expanding our understanding and acquiring new knowledge.

The inspiration for this train of thought came from something I read in Carl Sagan’s, The Demon-Haunted World. This all comes back to why understanding the inquiry process of science is so important to EVERYONE in ANY field.
"Science is different from many another human enterprise — not, of course, in its practitioners being influenced by the culture they grew up in, nor in sometimes being right and sometimes wrong (which are common to every human activity), but in its passion for framing testable hypotheses, in its search for definitive experiments that confirm or deny ideas, in the vigor of its substantive debate, and in its willingness to abandon ideas that have been found wanting. If we were not aware of our own limitations, though, if we were not seeking further data, if we were unwilling to perform controlled experiments, if we did not respect the evidence, we would have very little leverage in our quest for the truth." (Sagan 1997)

Sagan, Carl. 1997. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Antiscience. (pg 263). Ballantine Books.