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.

Tearing Down and Building Up

A professor in one of my classes told us that a philosophy paper gets lots of other people citing it when it is an easy target. Papers get cited not because they are good and authoritative, but because they are flawed, and then they get torn apart.

I have experienced this often in school: We read a paper. Not many people had nice things to say about the paper: It was quite faulty and not written perfectly. There are problems with the argument and examples and structure. The author cites too much or not enough.

In philosophy, unlike Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, maybe it is the critic who counts. I really like criticizing things sometimes. It feels powerful and fun. Like I’m better than someone else.

Sometimes I look on Reddit and comments on news articles and I am amazed at the loudness of all the critics who simply think that they are right and other people are wrong, so that entitles them to be mean and say whatever they want.

But I don’t like always tearing things down. I want to stop tearing things down. Start building something up instead.

Remember “constructive criticism”? When we criticize, we shouldn’t be doing it with the sole agenda of destruction. We should be building something up–making something better, working on improvement, or coming up with an alternative.

And if you want to destroy without building something up afterwards, then maybe it’s not worth it to tear that thing down. Maybe it’s best just to move on. So if it’s a really bad article, don’t read it or discuss it. If someone does something you don’t agree with, don’t pass judgment and complain about it with someone else.

Try to find good. Try to construct truth. Try to connect.

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.

The Heaviness of Unfairness and Finding Peace in Commotion

There’s been a lot of commotion in the world today. I don’t want to look at the news that are filled with violence and confusion. I don’t want to hear stories about house prices and gas prices and inflation that make it hard for people to afford basic necessities of life. I don’t want to hear all the frustrating developments in politics.

So many people are struggling. It wears at my heart: empathy drives me to mourn, and in that mourning, I want to act.

But what can I do? What can I do that has an impact?

I find myself realizing that I am powerless in so many ways. I can list out the problems in the world and I can list solutions, but there seems to be a chasm between the two–a chasm of power and money and inaction. Solutions are too complicated when too many people have their opinions and they never agree.

I want to do something, but I don’t know what, so I do nothing. Maybe I’m making excuses. Maybe there is something I could do to take this world a better place, but I don’t know what it is.

If I speak up, my voice just feels lost in the crowd and I am often ignored. Other people live their life, make their own decisions, and I must sit back and simply watch.

I feel too privileged, unfairly so. I know people have worked harder and have less. I have to sit in my nice house knowing that so many people can’t afford a home. I don’t deserve this.

And what do I do when all of this wears at me? How can I continue to try to live my dreams when I know of so much struggle?

I realize that there also needs to be happiness in the world. There needs to be people living good lives and serving in small walls and being kind to others. There needs to be people raising families. There needs to be people creating. We are working towards a better world, and so there needs to be joy somewhere.

While I am undeserving, I can also be grateful. And there is work for me to do–maybe I won’t change the world, but the small things I do do can increase happiness, step by step. I can visit friends. Listen to someone who needs to talk. I can mourn and pray. And I can write and speak, trying to make sense of a nonsensical world and finding some good that can bring a measure of peace.

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.