Uncertainty and Belief

We don’t know as much as we think we do. We are often mistaken and wrong and we need to rethink some of our beliefs a lot.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about uncertainty and correcting beliefs. But I also have been reading and thinking about commitment too. Sometimes we want to commit to beliefs, and hold to those beliefs, even when other people say we’re wrong.

I think it’s a miserable existence to only believe in what is supported with a proper meta-analysis and scientific consensus. Science can be great. But science is not the most important way we gain belief.

I believe there is truth, truth that is not relative. But I truth cannot always be discovered through the scientific process. There are many ways to discover truth, and to hold on to truth.

We learn through living. We learn through relationships and connection with others. We learn with experience. We learn sometimes through faith and action and seeing what works out and what doesn’t.

I want to be open to new beliefs, to updating what I think is wrong. But I am also committed to certain beliefs–beliefs on how to be a good person, how to raise my family, and how to live my life. Those aren’t the sort of beliefs I want to rethink over and over again. I just want to hold on to them and keep trying to live up to them.

I pray every morning and every night, and my prayer is often that God can guide me and that I can hear Him in my life. There are moments when I feel something that cannot be adequately explained except to say it is divine, that it comes from a power outside of myself. That is what I am committed to. That is what I believe.

So I will be a skeptic, sometimes, and I will be a scientist, sometimes, and then most of all, I will be a mother and a wife and a daughter and a friend, and my commitment to the most important beliefs will guide me to become an even better version of myself.

Graduate School

I have started graduate school. As I walk around campus, I look for people who are my age, and I don’t see many of them. Most people there are younger than me, and many are older than me as well. Sometimes I do feel a bit out of place–I know that there are graduate students my age, but I am settled in my life in a way that feels very unique: happily married, owning my own house, raising four kids.

Sometimes I feel a bit strange going to school. Unattached to my children, I somehow have transported myself to where I was 13 or 14 years ago, and yet I am not the same person. I think about them often, and I feel more alive and more of myself when I look to them.

But now I exist where people don’t know me as a mom of four children. By way of introduction, they want me to state my area of research, something that I am still figuring out. I’m not really figuring out what I want to study–I’m just figuring out the terms of how to categorize it. “Practical reason,” I finally decide to say, and then I add, “And economics,” just because it’s interesting. And I still very much like economics, and find myself slipping an economic term into a philosophy paper because different fields of study aren’t really that different after all.

There is always too much to learn, but I try to be a bit mindful of my time and my resources: I can’t go after every interesting idea and topic, but yet there are so many interesting ideas and topics.

It is a strange thing to tell people that you are getting a Ph.D., but in philosophy. As if the two things cancel each other out somehow. Smart, but completely unpractical. I get to spend years of my life writing things that no one will read, learning things that not many people care about.

But it fits me right now. And every time I learn, I want to maintain in the back of my head: how is this practical? Why would I care about it? Why would other people care about it? And hopefully, find some element of something useful and true in the sea of everything.

Personal Experience vs. Reasoning

Pretend that you’re a young college student, and you go into a class about the universe. And you learn about how massive the universe is and how much space there is. You learn that you can never travel faster than the speed of life. Your professor very convincingly argues that aliens can’t exist–and even if they do exist, they would be too far away to ever hear from.

Now let’s say at home, you’ve taken up a radio hobby, but one day, you start getting weird interference and you end up intercepting very strange noises you can’t interpret. You start transmitting back on this frequency basic information–like how the weather is and what day it is and all of that. For quite a few years, you transmit back and forth on this frequency, and you start to understand the person on the other end, who gradually learns English and tells you that they are an alien.

Well, of course, aliens don’t exist, so this must be a prank. But the alien gives you instructions on how to conduct a few simply experiments that allows you to see amazing things that you can’t explain and goes beyond current scientific reasoning.

Reasonably, aliens can’t exist. And yet, your experience is starting to tell you something totally different. You’re talking to an alien. The alien is talking back to you. You’ve see amazing things that seem at the very least highly improbable.

What would you believe?

If you had to trust your own personal experience (the things that happened to you and the things that you witnessed) or a well-reasoned argument, which would you believe?

If you saw a blue tree, but then heard a really good argument that there can’t be blue trees, would you think that your experience was wrong, or would you take the person with the really good argument and try to show them the blue tree?

I often trust my own experiences more than I trust reasoning. Reasoning can often be based in incomplete information, and no matter who convincing an argument may seem, it is almost never perfect.

But sometimes my experiences are fallible too. Sometimes my senses deceive me. Sometimes I don’t remember right. I have to use my reasoning too to make sense out of my experience.

So they both have to come together. I want personal experience and reasoning. I can’t just learn about something–I want to experience it too. If I learn about a location, I want to go there. I want to meet people. I want to have conversations. I want to see and hear and feel what something is like. And when I experience something, I want to know the reasoning behind it.

Certainty is difficult to achieve, and when my experience and my reasoning don’t line up, I sometimes have to press forward and keep hoping that I will learn more in the future. I’ll figure out how I could talk to aliens, even though it seemed scientifically impossible.