False beliefs that are useful

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False beliefs that are useful

Postby MechanicalMonster » Sun Nov 17, 2013 11:45 am

If a belief system that is false (or which we have good reason to believe to be false) is in fact useful somehow, which is to say gives something that cannot be gotten elsewhere (perhaps peace of mind, or emotional stability, or happiness, etc.) or gives more benefit than detriment (assuming we can even know that to be the case), would a person be justified in adopting that belief system?

Nietzsche asked this question in a similar but opposite-like manner, as: what is the value of truth? And are not lies also valuable at times, and even necessary? Nietzsche points to the fact that blind and unconditional devotion to truth and against falsehood might not be justified. But in what sense could this be (or not be) so?
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby MechanicalMonster » Sun Nov 17, 2013 11:52 am

Further, an even more difficult question: what degree of certainty would we need to reach before we are justified in adopting a belief system? And how would we know that level of certainty is reached?

I think this illustrates that a lot of beliefs (ideas or judgments) and belief systems (such as religions or philosophical positions) are accepted not because we have adequate certainty of their truthfulness, but rather for some other reason. If having reasonable certainty of the truthfulness of a belief system were a condition for accepting a belief system, then what belief systems would ever be accepted? I would think: not very many.

Thus, perhaps, we have at least one reason for the low threshold of reasonable certainty of the truthfulness of belief, which also points to what Nietzsche was getting at: the lack of a necessary condition of known truthfulness produces a situation wherein many more beliefs and belief systems are allowed to arise and spread out through time and space, in cultures and individuals, than would otherwise. A kind of 'grand experimentation' of beliefs is thus permitted. Surely this must have some great value not only for societies in an evolutionary sense, but also for the individual rather he wishes to refine his understanding or merely to discover and develop (tend naturally toward) that paradigm of thought and emotion which best suits his particular situation and need/preference.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Ben JS » Sun Nov 17, 2013 1:10 pm

I made a thread expressing that I don't value truth intrinsically. When I said this, I was speaking in regards to 100% accuracy. Accuracy is a means to an end.

We don't need complete understanding of something in order to take advantage of it. For instance, we can invent solutions based on inaccurate information, and still get the desired result without negative repercussion.

As you say, for the sake of progress, we can accept beliefs for their benefits, and if something better comes along, embrace that. If we didn't move until we had utmost certainty, we'd surely stagnate.

Is it justifiable to embrace a belief system that is false?

This would appear to be lying. If one believes a belief to be false, then they can't truly embrace it. They could however lie, for the 'greater good'. For example, a loved one is dying, and your will is to comfort them, I'd say it is justifiable to lie to them if you believe it gives them comfort.

This assumes you value the person over accuracy and that overall the result is a net positive.

However, I find it difficult to think of scenarios where a person's only option is to embrace a lie for it's benefits. I think whatever the system entails can be broken down, and the positive, desirable elements can be strived for independently of the greater system.

If you could think of an example, I may be able to respond better.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Diekon » Sun Nov 17, 2013 1:21 pm

MechanicalMonster wrote:And are not lies also valuable at times, and even necessary? Nietzsche points to the fact that blind and unconditional devotion to truth and against falsehood might not be justified. But in what sense could this be (or not be) so?


His view's on this are rather nuanced, so i'm not sure i can do it justice here in a short post... but by and large, the reason truth might not allways be a good thing, is health. Taking the quest for trith to far might end up being unhealthy, against life. He essentially weighing the value of truth against other values, instead of blindly assuming the value of truth to be absolute, like some of the philosophers he was reacting to seemed to be doing.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby MechanicalMonster » Mon Nov 18, 2013 3:27 pm

Health conditions the value of truth, just as consciousness conditions the value of existence.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Uccisore » Mon Nov 18, 2013 10:18 pm

I hope this isn't too big of a digression, but could you give some examples of held beliefs that are both false AND useless to the person believing them? It seems to me that the 'false but useful' category is very, very very large.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Fixed Cross » Mon Nov 18, 2013 10:53 pm

Obviously belief in God or the righteousness of their killing helped many people to survive fights to the death. That's just one example. To believe that one is morally right in doing what one does is always a motivation for doing it better. And in the end a doing things well gets you further than doing only what you absolutely know is the right thing to do.

So by a couple of very loose inductions on top of each other you can easily argue that what matters isn't truthfulness but the intensity of belief. You'll make it true if you believe it hard enough. True enough anyway, for as long as you're there to benefit from it.

Nietzsche's position on this is separate from his own dedication to the truth - what did he care if it was justified? He'd have to justify it for himself anyway. But a sense for the virtuous lie was fundamental to everything he did, as it's the origin of his first published ideas.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Uccisore » Mon Nov 18, 2013 10:59 pm

Fixed Cross wrote:Obviously belief in God or the righteousness of their killing helped many people to survive fights to the death. That's just one example. To believe that one is morally right in doing what one does is always a motivation for doing it better. And in the end a doing things well gets you further than doing only what you absolutely know is the right thing to do.

So by a couple of very loose inductions on top of each other you can easily argue that what matters isn't truthfulness but the intensity of belief. You'll make it true if you believe it hard enough. True enough anyway, for as long as you're there to benefit from it.

Nietzsche's position on this is separate from his own dedication to the truth - what did he care if it was justified? He'd have to justify it for himself anyway. But a sense for the virtuous lie was fundamental to everything he did, as it's the origin of his first published ideas.


If you're responding to me, I was asking for examples of false and useLESS, not useFUL. I'm tending to think that anything believed with any conviction is useful.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Fixed Cross » Mon Nov 18, 2013 11:20 pm

Uccisore wrote:
Fixed Cross wrote:Obviously belief in God or the righteousness of their killing helped many people to survive fights to the death. That's just one example. To believe that one is morally right in doing what one does is always a motivation for doing it better. And in the end a doing things well gets you further than doing only what you absolutely know is the right thing to do.

So by a couple of very loose inductions on top of each other you can easily argue that what matters isn't truthfulness but the intensity of belief. You'll make it true if you believe it hard enough. True enough anyway, for as long as you're there to benefit from it.

Nietzsche's position on this is separate from his own dedication to the truth - what did he care if it was justified? He'd have to justify it for himself anyway. But a sense for the virtuous lie was fundamental to everything he did, as it's the origin of his first published ideas.


If you're responding to me, I was asking for examples of false and useLESS, not useFUL. I'm tending to think that anything believed with any conviction is useful.

Response was to the OP.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Moreno » Tue Nov 19, 2013 12:09 am

MechanicalMonster wrote:If a belief system that is false (or which we have good reason to believe to be false) is in fact useful somehow, which is to say gives something that cannot be gotten elsewhere (perhaps peace of mind, or emotional stability, or happiness, etc.) or gives more benefit than detriment (assuming we can even know that to be the case), would a person be justified in adopting that belief system?
I don't Think one can justify a belief system this way and have it, but barring that practical issue, sure. A choice that leads to more benefits - according to your schema. That would be by definition a good choice. Someone else might Think it was a bad choice, because, say, Peace of mind over knowing what is really going on and have even a slim chance of doing somethign about it might be their preference. IOW I don't Think one can say it is universally good, though arguable objectively good for certain organisms.

Nietzsche asked this question in a similar but opposite-like manner, as: what is the value of truth? And are not lies also valuable at times, and even necessary? Nietzsche points to the fact that blind and unconditional devotion to truth and against falsehood might not be justified. But in what sense could this be (or not be) so?
I'd first like to raise the time issue. It would probably not be good for a 20 year old to suddnely realize Everything he or she feels and Thinks and notice how people are actually reacting to him or her. All at once. Bang. I Think many would off themselves. But a trend towards uncovering all this with a result of getting as much as one can over time, that seems good to me, period. But even then one might live 'as if' some of these truths are not the case.

Again looking at it as a process. Even the urge to 'get at the truth' can often be a mask for other things - if interpersonal, it can be aggression covering up terror and distrust. So the person engaging in an unconditional devotion to truth may actually harm themselves and others because they are fundamentally lying to themselves about what they are doing. And the process they engage may not be the one that let's them in on this, in fact it may cover it up. ' I am the one interested in truth.'
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Moreno » Tue Nov 19, 2013 12:13 am

Uccisore wrote:I hope this isn't too big of a digression, but could you give some examples of held beliefs that are both false AND useless to the person believing them? It seems to me that the 'false but useful' category is very, very very large.
False but without any use would be odd. False and overall useful would also be odd, I Think. That it would have some benefits seems a given.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby anon » Tue Nov 19, 2013 12:25 am

MechanicalMon wrote:...would a person be justified in adopting that belief system?

In whole, without qualification? No. That's like asking if I'm justified in believing that a bunch of movie characters are real and are my friends. Belief has many facets. It's important to believe wisely, in the right way. When I'm watching a good movie, I believe the characters are real. In a sense, and for the time being.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Uccisore » Tue Nov 19, 2013 1:02 am

Moreno wrote: overall useful would also be odd, I Think. That it would have some benefits seems a given.


Use is such a context thing. Useful to what end? And the ends themselves can be judged....
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Faust » Tue Nov 19, 2013 1:09 am

I think the belief in spontaneous generation was both false and of no real use.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Moreno » Tue Nov 19, 2013 1:12 am

MechanicalMonster wrote:If a belief system that is false (or which we have good reason to believe to be false) is in fact useful somehow, which is to say gives something that cannot be gotten elsewhere (perhaps peace of mind, or emotional stability, or happiness, etc.) or gives more benefit than detriment (assuming we can even know that to be the case), would a person be justified in adopting that belief system?

You could also come at it looking at science. Many models in science are false, at least to some degree. They are useful metaphors, images and diagrams for homosapian Brains. Ones that work fairly well - certainly for a time in many cases. This would also seem to be beneficial.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Moreno » Tue Nov 19, 2013 1:16 am

Faust wrote:I think the belief in spontaneous generation was both false and of no real use.
It was used as a step away from attributing the appearance of Life. One could look at it as a stepping stone away from theism, for those who would find it useful to take a step in that direction.

Instead of all these magical acts -regularly- by the gods you have an explantion for how some plants and animals arose without eggs or seeds, etc.

So it lessened the need for ongoing magic and is a step towards natualism.

As part of his overall attempt to give natural explanations of things that had previously been ascribed to the agency of the gods, Anaximander believed that everything arose out of the elemental nature of the universe, which he called the "apeiron" or "unbounded".

Aristotle was building on his and other philosophers' ideas.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Faust » Tue Nov 19, 2013 1:42 am

What? It was merely another form of magic. It was not progress at all, and certainly was a belief held by many a theist. It was a step towards nothing. It was wrong, served no purpose.

Look - any belief serves a purpose, sure. It's an "explanation" to whoever holds the belief. Makes them feel like they know something. But this is to say nothing, rather loudly.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby von Rivers » Tue Nov 19, 2013 2:01 am

The belief that "1+1=3" is both false and useless. So is the belief that "1+1=4". False and useless. Onwards. That should supply you with an infinite number of false and useless beliefs.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Moreno » Tue Nov 19, 2013 2:06 am

Faust wrote:What? It was merely another form of magic.
From our perspective, sure. But it's a shift from gods doing something, there in that carcass or in that seaside mud, to something inherent in certain substances - that certain substances can have Life come out of them, and also, yes, via eggs, seeds, etc. It is an incorrect naturalist explanation. There are less things that people will Point to and say 'god X did that'.

It was not progress at all, and certainly was a belief held by many a theist.
I never said it wasn't held by theists. I said it was 'a stepping stone away from theism' since Another 'thing' is not caused by direct god Agency.
It was a step towards nothing. It was wrong, served no purpose.
I also did not say it was right.

Look - any belief serves a purpose, sure. Makes them feel like they know something. But this is to say nothing, rather loudly
I'll take this as an aside since it is not responding to anything in my post. I certainly didn't argue that all explanations serve some positive purpose. I was being specific.

And I will specifically put you on ignore again. I live and hope.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Moreno » Tue Nov 19, 2013 2:13 am

von Rivers wrote:The belief that "1+1=3" is both false and useless. So is the belief that "1+1=4". False and useless. Onwards. That should supply you with an infinite number of false and useless beliefs.
I responded to the OP in terms of single beliefs and the discussion is tending to focus on these. But he actually says belief system. You could come up with a math system that would be false and useless, but I am not sure that's really a good example. (I am not critiquing your nice example, just wanting to get your take on systems). Has there been a false system of beliefs that is useless? Or is this an unfair question since systems may have core errors, but, for example, stray truths?)

Tangent from that: It also seems to me that some false systems have given people advantages - at least for a while. Like manifest Destiny or Christian views of non-Christians. Or even men's beliefs about women?
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Faust » Tue Nov 19, 2013 2:31 am

Moreno -
From our perspective, sure. But it's a shift from gods doing something,


But it was not a shift from the gods. You don't have to deny God, or gods to believe in naturalistic or scientific processes, either good examples of these or bad. Beyond that, it is arguable that believing that god "just did it" is more useful. Even this atheist could make that case.

Honestly, Moreno, it's this sort of stuff that makes me crazy. "Everything is useful in some way".

It's mind-numbing.

And yes, you are saying that. If SG is useful, then anything can be, for there is nothing in "science" more false. Or less false. It's just false. It has no predictive power, doesn't help generate probabilities - does nothing that science can do. If a scientific theory has zero predictive power, well, there is nothing less useful than that.

Why is SG not god's agency? Why is quantum mechanics not God's agency? Belief in God can exist with any other belief, just about. Certainly with any "scientific" belief.

And here I thought I was showing unusual restraint.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Stuart » Tue Nov 19, 2013 11:09 am

Uccisore wrote:I hope this isn't too big of a digression, but could you give some examples of held beliefs that are both false AND useless to the person believing them? It seems to me that the 'false but useful' category is very, very very large.


The second category is larger for obvious reasons; why choose useless, when you can choose useful? But, the other reason is that those who choose false useless beliefs aren't usually going to admit the fact that they are useless; if they ever find out at all. The difference is that we're speaking in terms of "beliefs" rather than simply "notions"; people will more readily admit to having a mistaken notion than belief.

Fixed Cross mentioned a belief in morality or God as false and useful, but I could give plenty of personal examples of how they are useless. By a useless belief I mean one that simply makes early death much more likely.

Then Fixed Cross went into the idea of belief making truth. It seems he's never had a mind set outside of his own well being; or is naturally purely egotistical. I have more will than anyone I've ever known and I've willed false useless beliefs so hard that they all but killed me, and they remained false. And by false I mean anything other than pure nonsense fantasy, the kind that makes Mo's "1+1=3" seem to be highly coherent, with a firm foundation.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby von Rivers » Tue Nov 19, 2013 4:50 pm

In the days of yore, it was once an actual practice to decide some question by poisoning a chicken. If the chicken died, the answer was 'yes'. If the chicken did not die, the answer was 'no'. Something along those lines. And there was some system of beliefs about spirits that gave this a foundation. I am not saying that believing in spirits is false, only that this particular belief system in those particular spirits seems to be false.

Oh, sure, you will say... "but Mo, this belief system got them outdoors, gave them some exercise, etc, etc". Yes, indeed. But the belief system was still useless because it had less use to them than abandoning it would have. Because people still practice the poisoned chicken system I believe, and some will eschew actual medicine because of it.


I would also like to add to the list everything that Stu-bones believes.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Stuart » Tue Nov 19, 2013 7:19 pm

Believes? Believed? You're going to have to be more specific, unless you want to make the chicken handlers look rational by comparison.
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Re: False beliefs that are useful

Postby Uccisore » Tue Nov 19, 2013 9:28 pm

von rivers,

Yeah, that makes sense. I can see plenty of false beliefs being useless if we're defining use by total utility as compared to some potential replacement, and not 'does it serve some end or another'?
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