Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Nature of Belief: Our Dogmatic Thoughts

There is something really funny about the notion of belief. Think of something that you hold to be true...be it the color of the scarf that is hanging in your closet or the face of the waiter that served you that cup of coffee yesterday, or even what you think the weather will be tomorrow, there is something dogmatic in that belief. You not only believe in an idea to be true in itself, but you also believe that everyone should prescribe to the same belief i.e. what I believe in, everyone should also believe in the same thing.  Our beliefs are inherently imperialistic. In fact this is why we believe in something/anything to begin with. Any truth that I may discover, at a certain level becomes universal for me. My belief in that truth is not only supported by my reasoning but also by my belief for that belief. It is for this reason, one cannot really believe in relativism, i.e. we just have different ways of looking at the truth  and "every view is as good as the other". For if this was the case, then we could say that everyone is right, or everyone is true. Well then if everyone is true, then we can logically say that "there is no truth". But in order for this to hold true, there must be at least one truth, namely -"there is no truth". This creates a paradox which points to a certain kind of dogmatism in our effort to distinguish between truth and falsity.

This way of inquiry was developed by Rene Descartes, known for his famous statement - "I think therefore I am". A religious french mathematician in the 17th century, Descartes started questioning his own reality. He was haunted by a feeling that the devil was playing a trick on him by masking reality, something like the movie The Matrix. The only way out of this was to clear himself of all his beliefs, by being skeptical at his own reasoning. He finally concluded that the only thing he can be certain of is his ability to produce thoughts, hence "I think therefore I am". Later expounded by Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century, this mode of reasoning led him to develop a deep understanding of morality/immorality, good/evil, true/false and rationality/irrationality. He once raised an interesting question for philosophy - "What if truth turned out to be the woman?". He pointed out that men were out there running businesses, trying to find answers of the universe, engaging in science, exploring uncharted territories of the earth, fighting each other to find the truth (keep in mind that society was highly patriarchal at his time), but what if all this was just a game. What if all these activities were just a ploy to keep the men engaged to hide the fact that the real person in charge was the wife at home. What if truth existed between the nominal acts of gossiping amongst neighboring housewives? While the men were wasting their time and energies, women had in fact found all the answers and the egos of men prevented them from seeing this. Nietzsche, often called the master of suspicion, did not strive to provide us with an answer, but rather urged us to think about what forces and powers caused us as human beings to develop distinctions between right and wrong.  

In order for us to find the real answers it is not enough to question truth and facts that shape our convictions - our dogma will prevent us in this pursuit. The only way to overcome is to question the conditions and circumstances that enable us to come to a certain conclusion.


  1. Nice! Provoke some doggy's now.. hopefully. Lol.

  2. The problem is that we don't differentiate between belief and truth. Truth, defined as justified true belief, is problematic. Are there plural truths as plural beliefs? - Ritwick

  3. I always liked thinking about the colour thing. We may both call your scarf red, but we may not be perceiving the same colour. I know this because my eyes see different colours from each other -- and two is a ridiculous number. We need a shared language for utility's sake in order to share enough of "reality" to exist and communicate with each other; however, there's nothing which requires us to share *everything* about that reality. We can describe colours as wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum, but we can't describe what we perceive except in terms of other objects around us which, by definition, will conform to the shared language. Kinda stuck there.