Emotional “truths”: What are they, and what is their proper place?

 
arildno
 
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arildno
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16 February 2008 05:59
 

Many religionists are saying that:
a) There exist truths that are “deeper” and “truer” than mere factual truths
b) That these truths are deeper because they speak to our emotions, rather than to our intellect and understanding
c) That it would be morally wrong to “deprive” people of their emotional truths, or cheapen the experience of them (for example through mulishly arguing that the emotional truth is factually wrong, or contains claims that are rationally indefensible)

So, what is this really about?

As I see it, the first mistake the religionist does is to conflate a statement’s truth value with a statement’s effectiveness in engaging a listener’s emotions, whether or not that statement is true or not.

The contrast between truth and falsity on the one hand, and dullness/liveliness on the other are two separate dividing lines that divides the set of all statements into four distinct sub-categories. (True&dull;, true&lively;, false&dull;, false&lively;)

We all know what it means that some statement is “emotionally true”, namely that we feel “uplifted” by it, excited or engaged, that it somehow resonates with facets of our individuality that become awakened by the reception of/consideration of/ belief in that statement.

For example, for me, the statement “there is life elsewhere in the universe” is somewhat uplifting, it makes me feel good to think so, even though I haven’t the slightest evidence for the truth or falsity of that statement.

Would I be saddened if indubitable proof came along that denied the existence life elsewhere in the universe (such proof could theoretically be acquired in that ALL places of the universe had been examined, and deemed lifeless)?
Of course.

Would I still cling to my belief in the face of evidence?
I hope not.

More importantly, as long as evidence for it is absent, would it be morally wrong of others to dismiss my belief in it as unevidenced?
Of course not, I do not have any evidence for it, but because of some personality quirk I happen to get into a better mood by thinking it is true, than not. That others don’t have that particular personality quirk, and that they therefore have no particular inclination to jump into belief in this like I do does not make their personality more impoverished than mine, nor does their dismissal sadden or anger me.

I’m sure they have emotional truths that fit their personality quirks that I would be disinclined to believe in.

And that is okay, as long as there does not exist compelling evidence that practically resolves doubts about the probability distribution of the statement’s truth or falsity.

To persist in believing statements whose truths are highly improbable (or deny statements whose truth is highly probable) is a personality fault, and not a virtue.


That is, however, what religionists do, and they cannot invoke c) towards those who “cheapens” or dismiss their highly improbable claims about the universe, no matter how good belief in those statements makes them feel.

Those who gear themselves, and their emotions in such a manner that their primary source of emotional enrichment comes from extremely dubious statements have made their own well-being extremely vulnerable and fragile.
And that is their own fault, not others, and they ought to gradually change their personality make-up to forge an identity that can remain unruffled and unharmed, by whatever unpleasant facts that might come along.


And they certainly do not have the right to raise children and other humans in such manners that these persons grow up equally fragile as themselves.


Perhaps I’ll post some more later on..

 
Carstonio
 
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16 February 2008 07:02
 
arildno - 16 February 2008 10:59 AM

To persist in believing statements whose truths are highly improbable (or deny statements whose truth is highly probable) is a personality fault, and not a virtue.

I agree. My answer to the religionists is that there are two types of “truths.” The first involves objective facts about the physical universe, and the second involves subjective observations about the “emotional” universe, meaning the human experience. Using your example, emotions are irrelevant to facts about the physical universe. Either life exists elsewhere in the universe or it doesn’t, and having an emotion about either choice doesn’t make the choice true or false. I see that as the critical mistake made by religion. Any “truths” about the human experience have no existence outside the mind.

 
CanZen
 
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16 February 2008 09:25
 

Excellent topic arildno.  The further implication of these stratifications of truth might be to examine how those false “facts” about the universe that appeal (appear) as true to the emotional aspect of the person, eventually fall into the “false&dull;” category (how do false&lively;eventually become false&dull;?).  I’m thinking about all these conspiracy theories concerning the collapse of the twin towers, they are obviously false, but even in their falseness these “beliefs” are lively.  However, lively as they are even for me on an emotional level, I will still conclude that these are ideas are untrue.  But for some people this liveliness seems to tip the balance over the rational factuality of the situation and they believe in it’s truth, even though it actually defies logic, rationality, and even possible human potential to act. 

Maybe it all depends on how many other of your emotional beliefs are caught up in the truth or falsity of the proposition.  People who are extremely patriotic, who are superstitious, who are paranoid about their own government, etc., are more prone to allow enough emotional impact to tip the scales that make an obviously false conjecture appear to them to be true.

Historically speaking, most conspiracy theories eventually fade away - perhaps when the emotional commitments are at enough of a distance from the event in question?

(A warning to those of the conspiracy theory mindset . . . please do not hijack this thread, but if you want to expose you larger emotional commitments by listing your other beliefs, then go ahead.  This is not the place to argue about the truth of any particular false&lively;proposition.  If you want to do that - start another thread.)

Bob

 
 
arildno
 
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arildno
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16 February 2008 09:38
 

But for some people this liveliness seems to tip the balance over the rational factuality of the situation and they believe in it’s truth, even though it actually defies logic, rationality, and even possible human potential to act.

Indeed.

One realm of human activity that constantly produces false (or distorted)&lively;statements is art.

Taken at face value, these are just made-up stories of non-existent people’s lives.

But,  the vast majority of artists and recipients never fall into the belief that these statements are factually “true”; it is the engagement value of the story, and its ability to inspire people’s emotions or acts, i.e, its liveliness that is the central significance of the artwork.

A story doesn’t have to be objectively true in order to become engaging and enlivening, and most people know this.
(Except art critics who derail, say, fantasy for being “unreal” and “escapistic”, as if that weren’t true of all artworks..)


Religion parasitizes on people’s aesthetic senses, as well as warping their real-life perceptions, and often as well their morality.

 
eucaryote
 
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16 February 2008 12:31
 
arildno - 16 February 2008 10:59 AM

Many religionists are saying that:
a) There exist truths that are “deeper” and “truer” than mere factual truths
b) That these truths are deeper because they speak to our emotions, rather than to our intellect and understanding
c) That it would be morally wrong to “deprive” people of their emotional truths, or cheapen the experience of them (for example through mulishly arguing that the emotional truth is factually wrong, or contains claims that are rationally indefensible)

So, what is this really about?

Yes, very good topic arildno.

I don’t think that there is such a thing as emotional “truth”. There are just statements, experiences, thoughts etc. which one learns to associate with an physiological emotional response. It is this association with emotion that seems to lend logical credence to the experience. In a word, the emotion “reinforces” the the idea that the thought is correct. I mean this in a very Pavlovian, even Skinnerian kind of way. We are trained to have these experiences. We have emotions associated with certain thoughts and experiences in the same way that my dog has learned to salivate when she expects a treat.

The physiological experience of emotion is undeniable, when we laugh and cry…..we emote. The response in the physiology is un-mistakable. But feeling and thinking are two different things.

Think of the things that pull our emotional strings, religion is just one of them. I see nationalism as similar to religion. In both cases we are trained to have the emotions that we have. We have even been conditioned to emote upon exposure to symbols. Think of the patriot that gets a “lump in his throat”, when he sees the national flag, the christian emotes on exposure to the cross etc. etc. ad nauseum…
What we identify as rational is thought and identified truths free of emotional attachment. As I understand it, the greeks starting using the word rational in this way when they learned of…..ratios, that is the relationships between the angles of a triangle and its sides, the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle, etc. These ratios represented identifiable truths of the world that were clearly independent of “emotional thought”.

It occurs to me that thought must be more of a newcomer on the evolutionary scene, whereas the emotional animal in all of us is very much part of the “old brain”.

Edit to add another thought. It seems that whenever one speaks of something that one “believe in”, or whenever one may speak of their “beliefs”, especially their “core beliefs”, they are speaking of the thoughts and experiences to which they are most emotionally attached. The thing that push their buttons the hardest, elicit the strongest physiological responses, and which they most consider “true”. Usually, it’s just their training…...

[ Edited: 16 February 2008 12:37 by eucaryote]
 
 
arildno
 
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arildno
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16 February 2008 12:44
 

What we identify as rational is thought and identified truths free of emotional attachment.

I beg to differ somewhat.

I DO have some emotional attachment to some scientific, rational truths, for example Euler’s identity, e^(pi*i)+1=0.

Whether some statement stirs my imagination (i.e, being emotionally “true”) is quite independent from whether that statement is factually true or not.

Any statement might find some individual to whom that statement is emotionally “true”.

Emotionally “true” statements enriches our private experential worlds, but they are a different set of statement than those that are factually true.

And we shouldn’t conflate those categories..

And if there IS a conflict between, say the objective falsity of a statement and its emotional truthiness so that a person refuses to relinquish his belief in it, then it is fully justified for others to “force” him to reconsider, for example through disdain, ridicule, or simply ignoring the idiot (the last option should hold for individual kooks with no societal influence, but not necessarily for individuals within groups that wield considerable societal power).

[ Edited: 16 February 2008 12:51 by arildno]
 
keith
 
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keith
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26 February 2008 14:22
 

Arildno,

Good post. I offer here some grist for your mill. And/or, come on over for a visit on ‘First post and introduction’.

Best regards,

Keith

arildno - 16 February 2008 10:59 AM

Many religionists are saying that:
a) There exist truths that are “deeper” and “truer” than mere factual truths


This is indeed what they say. When they do I ask them why they say it; why they believe it. I ask them if they have any coherent basis for believing it. I don’t request a good basis. I request any basis whatsoever that can be understood to be capable of distinguishing knowledge from non knowledge. They may find it emotionally gratifying to believe in a big red god who spins slowly to the left, while I may find it emotionally gratifying to believe in a small blue god who moves rapidly up and down. In that none of this can be seen to be in any sense convergent or coherent, and in that our species can be seen to have invented millions of such ‘gods’, each of which is delineated from the rest through its possession of logically exclusive properties, I can find no functional basis for believing in any one of them. And none has ever been shown to me by any theist.

[quote author=“arildno”] b) That these truths are deeper because they speak to our emotions, rather than to our intellect and understanding

So basically, they are superior exactly through their failure to make sense. This is an alternative statement of Turtulian’s credo: “I believe it because it is absurd”. In this stark form its non functionality is equally stark. The set of all absurd proposals can be seen to be infinitely large, in that for any particular absurd proposal it is trivially easy to generate any desired number of related proposals of equal or greater absurdity. The moon may be made of green cheese; or it may be filled with pigs, or cabbages, or may perhaps be a cube and only seem – to our limited and biased observations – to be spherical. Most simply; Turtulian’s credo, and/or our emotions as a basis for knowledge, cannot be understood to be capable of selecting any particular proposals from the set of all understandable proposals.

[quote author=“arildno”] c) That it would be morally wrong to “deprive” people of their emotional truths, or cheapen the experience of them (for example through mulishly arguing that the emotional truth is factually wrong, or contains claims that are rationally indefensible).

It would be morally wrong if the emotional ‘truths’ could not be seen to be harmful. Most of us would concede that if we come across another person who is in the act of cutting himself up, or banging his head against a wall, our moral duty would lie in doing our best to stop him. Most would try first to do this through words. To reason with him. If, from this, we came to believe him to be insane, then most of us would escalate to physically restraining him. I think that I may be morally wrong in not so escalating in regard to people who can be seen to have accepted and be passing on to their children rationally absurd proposals as the actual state of reality. I can see how and why such behavior is ruining their minds – and so by extension their lives, and our shared world – just as clearly as in the case of the physical self harm being done by the person with the knife or the wall. But there are almost infinitely more of such people then there are of people like myself; so direct restraint, whether moral or immoral, is not a real option. I will therefore be as moral as I can, in continuing to do all within my power to argue them out of it.

[quote author=“arildno”] So, what is this really about?

As I see it, the first mistake the religionist does is to conflate a statement’s truth value with a statement’s effectiveness in engaging a listener’s emotions, whether or not that statement is true or not.

The contrast between truth and falsity on the one hand, and dullness/liveliness on the other are two separate dividing lines that divides the set of all statements into four distinct sub-categories. (True&dull;, true&lively;, false&dull;, false&lively;)

We all know what it means that some statement is “emotionally true”, namely that we feel “uplifted” by it, excited or engaged, that it somehow resonates with facets of our individuality that become awakened by the reception of/consideration of/ belief in that statement.

For example, for me, the statement “there is life elsewhere in the universe” is somewhat uplifting, it makes me feel good to think so, even though I haven’t the slightest evidence for the truth or falsity of that statement.

Would I be saddened if indubitable proof came along that denied the existence life elsewhere in the universe (such proof could theoretically be acquired in that ALL places of the universe had been examined, and deemed lifeless)?
Of course.

Would I still cling to my belief in the face of evidence?
I hope not.

More importantly, as long as evidence for it is absent, would it be morally wrong of others to dismiss my belief in it as unevidenced?
Of course not, I do not have any evidence for it, but because of some personality quirk I happen to get into a better mood by thinking it is true, than not. That others don’t have that particular personality quirk, and that they therefore have no particular inclination to jump into belief in this like I do does not make their personality more impoverished than mine, nor does their dismissal sadden or anger me.

I’m sure they have emotional truths that fit their personality quirks that I would be disinclined to believe in.

And that is okay, as long as there does not exist compelling evidence that practically resolves doubts about the probability distribution of the statement’s truth or falsity.

To persist in believing statements whose truths are highly improbable (or deny statements whose truth is highly probable) is a personality fault, and not a virtue.


That is, however, what religionists do, and they cannot invoke c) towards those who “cheapens” or dismiss their highly improbable claims about the universe, no matter how good belief in those statements makes them feel.

Those who gear themselves, and their emotions in such a manner that their primary source of emotional enrichment comes from extremely dubious statements have made their own well-being extremely vulnerable and fragile.
And that is their own fault, not others, and they ought to gradually change their personality make-up to forge an identity that can remain unruffled and unharmed, by whatever unpleasant facts that might come along.


And they certainly do not have the right to raise children and other humans in such manners that these persons grow up equally fragile as themselves.


Perhaps I’ll post some more later on..

 
burt
 
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27 February 2008 09:26
 

I think I can understand the claim that some such “truths” are “deeper” than logical or empirical truths.  I’d paraphrase it as: “This particular belief is so deeply embedded in my internal worldview that it has become an integral part of my personal identity and I will fight to the death to hold on to it.”

The mathematician George Polya wrote a couple of books on plausible reasoning in mathematics and science.  In the introduction to the first he said that while there are certain things that we dare not question because doing so would prove too upsetting to our emotional balance, the general principle ought to be “believe nothing, but question only that which is worth questioning.”

 
arildno
 
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27 February 2008 10:27
 
burt - 27 February 2008 02:26 PM

I think I can understand the claim that some such “truths” are “deeper” than logical or empirical truths.  I’d paraphrase it as: “This particular belief is so deeply embedded in my internal worldview that it has become an integral part of my personal identity and I will fight to the death to hold on to it.”

And in some cases, such persons should be killed, like a rabid, heart-ripping Aztec priest on the brink to perform yet another gruesome offering.