BELIEF AND ACTION
You have probably heard it said, "I don't care what you believe; it's what you do that counts." And you have probably heard it said, "It is not doing good that is important; it is having faith." (Of course, those who say the latter will probably also say that if you have the proper faith or belief, you will probably most of the time do good. It's just that believing the proper thing has value in itself that goes beyond the doing of good.)
Well I, as a Humanian, have a different opinion to offer. Now a person does not have to have the same opinion as mine in order to be a Humanian. He or she is only committed to the REUEP. So let us restate it:
WE SHOULD DO THAT WHICH WILL PROMOTE NOT ONLY THE SURVIVAL OF OUR SPECIES, BUT ALSO THE GOOD LIFE FOR EVERYONE, NOW AND IN THE FUTURE, "THE GOOD LIFE" MEANING AS MUCH JOY, CONTENTMENT, AND APPRECIATION (JCA) AS POSSIBLE AND AS LITTLE PAIN, SUFFERING, DISABILITY, AND EARLY DEATH (PSDED) AS POSSIBLE.
So the only requirement of me by virtue of being a Humanian is that my opinion seem to me to be consistent with the REUEP.
Well, the REUEP states "We should do…." Do. That's behavior, action, right? So what is important is what I do, right?
But I believe I should do that which will promote…(REUEP). It is my belief that I should do it that makes me want to do it.
But given that I want to do it, how do I do it? I have to know how to do it, right?
And what does knowing how to do something mean? Does it not mean having accurate beliefs about what will happen when I do things to try to bring about what I am trying to do? That means having accurate beliefs about the way the world works.
When I act, I do something to bring something about. I walk to get somewhere. I eat to get pleasure and become satiated. I work to make money. I turn left to get to work. I remain silent to refrain from disturbing. I speak up to get my idea considered. I dial the phone to talk to someone. I open the door to go outside. I go to bed to go to sleep. I get a good night's sleep to feel good and function well the next day. I treat others well to be liked and to promote the good life for them.
Whatever I do, it is to bring something about. But what I choose to do is determined by what I believe will happen if I do it. And if what I believe will happen when I do something is what actually happens when I do it, or would happen if I did it, then my belief is probably, at least to that extent, accurate. My beliefs are probably accurate if, when I act according to them, what happens is what I expect would happen.
If I do something because I believe doing so will bring about what I want to bring about, and it doesn't, then I have made a mistake, and my belief was probably inaccurate.
So to be maximally successful, I should try to have beliefs that are as accurate as possible.
If success of action is important, accuracy of belief is important.
The more important success is, the more important accuracy of belief is.
Okay, of course we will have to address the term, "accuracy."
There are two kinds of accuracy, though deep down they are essentially the same.
First, there may be only two possibilities, yes or no, right or wrong, good or bad, heads or tails…. So if you believe one of the possibilities is true and you are correct, then your belief is accurate. Otherwise, it is inaccurate.
Second, there may be more than two possibilities, perhaps even an almost unlimited set of possibilities. In measuring the distance between two points, the answer can be to the nearest tenth of a unit, the nearest hundredth, the nearest thousandth, etc. There is, then, what is called a margin of error. So the distance may be thirty feet, plus or minus one inch, with any number of possibilities between those two limits.
How are these two kinds of accuracy the same? Whether the belief is accurate depends on whether all of the predictions you could make by having that belief would turn out to be correct. I believe the light is on in the next room, and I go see if it is. I believe the distance is thirty feet, and I measure this distance with my yardstick to see if it is.
Of course your belief may be accurate, but your prediction nevertheless be off because of other, inaccurate, beliefs contributing to the prediction, such as that your yardstick is accurate when it is not. The correctness of your prediction depends upon the accuracy of all of the relevant beliefs.
But now you can ask, how certain is it that the belief is accurate?
You may be close to 100% certain that you are right, or maybe only about 50% certain that you are right, or so uncertain you might as well just flip a coin to come up with an answer. So certainty is on a continuum.
If the belief is accurate, then predictions based upon the belief will most likely be correct--even though you may not be very certain.
So your belief, or prediction, may have been very accurate, but very uncertain. ("Amazingly, I was right.") And, unfortunately, your belief may have been very inaccurate, but very certain. ("But I was so sure!") Or maybe you were very certain and your belief indeed turned out to be accurate. ("I knew I was right!") Or maybe you were uncertain, and indeed inaccurate. ("Well, I'm not surprised!")
Isn't there one thing we can be certain about, namely, that we can't really be absolutely certain about anything? (Yes, I know.) After all, we could be dreaming. (In my teens, I once concluded from something that seemed awfully odd that I must be dreaming despite my being able to find no other evidence of being asleep, and it turned out I was right when I woke myself up.)
To be thorough, we might mention that belief can vary regarding precision. "It is roughly 30 feet." "It is 30 feet plus or minus about one inch." "There were about 100 people at the party." "His exact words were…." "We are headed for a recession, but not a depression."
If you are following me, then it should be fairly clear that sometimes the more precise the belief is, the less certain we may be that it is accurate.
But what is the bottom line? It is that we are always playing the odds. We are always taking a chance. We could be wrong.
And yet, if we don't want to make mistakes, we need to be right, that is, as right as we can be. We need to know what will happen when we do things, that is, know the best we can. We can't be absolutely certain, but we have to take a chance, make a decision, and act.
(And we know that not doing so is making a decision also, and is therefore acting. Inaction is action. We can decide to stay on the railroad tracks or get off. We can decide to decide now or decide later. We don't have a choice as to whether to act, only as to what the act shall be.)
So it is my opinion that in order to be committed to the REUEP, it is important to have as accurate beliefs as possible, at least as related to decisions that are efforts to implement the REUEP, recognizing that the feeling of certainty that one is right is not the same as being right.
And it is accuracy that is needed, not certainty.
Let me emphasize this last point, because we have a natural tendency toward the opposite. At this point in our career as a species, we worship and advocate certainty much more than accuracy.
The open mind seeks accuracy. The closed mind seeks certainty.
The open mind is consistent with the REUEP, the closed mind is not. That is my opinion. Do you agree?
Of course there is no reason to agree until you are sure that we mean the same thing by our terms. The following is how I am using the terms:
The open mind let's things in; the closed mind keeps things out. The open mind engages in behavior that allows for and encourages feedback; the closed mind engages in behavior designed to reduce feedback, at least of certain kinds. The open mind is open to the possibility of being wrong; the closed mind is closed, at least to a great degree, to this possibility.
The person with an open mind is willing and eager to discuss difference of opinion. Such an individual tries to understand the other's viewpoints. He or she will ask the other to elaborate regarding the other's opinions that are different, in an effort to find out exactly where the opinions diverge and why, and in order to grow in wisdom and improve in communication.
The person with a closed mind avoids doing the above. In fact, he or she may actually avoid, shun, interrupt, shout down, attack, and/or kill those with a different opinion.
A given person may have an open mind with regard to some beliefs while having a closed mind with regard to certain other beliefs.
A culture or subculture may encourage and even require closure of the mind in certain areas, and such a culture or subculture is at a high risk for engaging in group behavior leading to PSDED.
Mild examples of closure of the mind include deliberately changing the subject, agreeing to disagree and move on, and engaging in hostility during the sharing and comparing of opinions. (The hostility is designed to let the other know that continuing to express disagreement is unwanted, and to cause the other to desist in order to avoid the anxiety produced by the hostility.)
The degree to which people avoid feedback by avoiding discussion of difference of opinion is enormous, but goes unnoticed because of the mutual agreement of individuals to refrain from discussing in any depth certain issues, based upon a recognition of the likelihood of the appearance otherwise of anger and hostility.
Because I am a Humanian, meaning that I try to make all of my decisions and therefore behavior consistent with the REUEP, I wish to minimize the chances of my making a mistake based upon inaccurate beliefs. Therefore, I recognize the possibility that I could be wrong no matter how certain I feel that I am right, I want to find out that I am wrong if I am, I specifically want feedback on any and all of my beliefs, I want to understand why someone believes differently than I do, and I believe I should not be hostile in discussions with those who have a different opinion.
Do you believe that my above opinions are consistent with the REUEP? If not, where would you say I am going wrong? How? Why?
Now assuming you are still with me, we have to ask how to accomplish having as accurate beliefs as possible.
We have already talked about having the open mind, and therefore the wish to share and compare ideas with anyone, especially those that disagree. But we can go farther than that.
We can ask what the best sources for accurate beliefs are. Remember, we are not going to say that any beliefs obtained from any particular sources are 100% accurate, nor worthy of 100% certainty. We are playing the odds, as always. But we are asking where we are most likely to get beliefs that are the most accurate.
First, there is formal education, what we advocate for and try to provide to our youngest Humanians (and others). Formal education provides basic knowledge (including basic skills, how to do things best). Basic knowledge is that set of beliefs that the society feels fairly certain about and that will help most anyone, by reduction of mistakes, to live well and contribute well to the society. There is basic knowledge that almost everyone needs, and then basic knowledge that certain people need because of their special roles or occupations within the society.
Formal education is carried out by societal educational institutions that are responsible for doing the best they can to identify those beliefs that are most likely to be most accurate. Peer review, open debate, and certification are some of the methods used.
And then there is the actual acquisition and testing of beliefs about how the world works, with methods that emphasize and promote maximal precision, accuracy, and certainty. The sciences, with their scientific methods based upon the rules of logic and the rules of evidence, test the accuracy of beliefs by deriving predictions from them and then seeing whether those predictions turn out to be what happens (by making observations of either natural phenomena or the results of experiments).
So as a Humanian, attempting to do that which will promote the REUEP with as few mistakes as possible, I value formal education and the sciences as primary sources of accurate beliefs, and believe that my beliefs should be logically consistent with beliefs from these sources, with the constant recognition that new evidence may be obtained that could reduce the certainty of such beliefs or cause them to be replaced with even more accurate ones. If I learn that I have beliefs contradictory to those provided by formal education and those arrived at by science, I have reason to be very uncertain regarding my beliefs, and motivated to check them out further.
Belief and action are mutually dependent upon each other. Our beliefs motivate us to do things, and they determine which things we will do. It is especially important, then, that our beliefs be accurate, in order to avoid mistakes causing PSDED. That is my opinion. What is yours?
Do our religions currently foster and advocate for openness of mind? My impression is that they are increasingly doing so, despite a history of having had a strong tendency to demand belief as an act of obedience. So, as a Humanian in one of these religions, I would see if there were ways that I might advocate for more openness of mind, and therefore more inclusiveness in the religion of those with differing viewpoints. I would advocate for discussion groups within my religion in which the questioning of everything would be allowed and honored.
We cannot have no beliefs. All we can do is strive for increasing accuracy and certainty. But certainty without accuracy can be a deadly combination. Enormous amounts of PSDED have resulted from certainty without accuracy.
So my opinion as a Humanian is that we should seek to attain accuracy of belief through openness of mind, this perhaps being the second highest ethical principle, second only to the REUEP.
Okay, so now we come to the most difficult part of all. We know that many, perhaps most religions have had as a part of them a requirement that a member of the religion believe certain things that many people, even some within the religion itself, find it very difficult to believe.
There have been two main reasons for such difficulty in believing.
The first reason for such difficulty in believing is that all the person has to do is to look next door into another religion, or into the beliefs of someone not a member of any particular religion, and the person will find that there is more than one belief to choose from.
Now if there is no reason to choose one belief over another, then the odds that one of those beliefs is the most accurate are equal to one divided by the number of such beliefs. Usually there are quite a few to choose from, so the odds of one of them being the accurate one are extremely low. When the odds are extremely low, we would say of that belief that it probably was not so, or not accurate.
But what if there is indeed a reason? That would make things a lot different. That would increase the feeling of certainty considerably.
But what if each of the other beliefs had advocates that claimed that they did indeed have good reasons for believing as they did? Well then the odds go back down again.
And isn't that exactly the state of affairs that exists? If you were to ask any member of any religion whether he or she had good reason to believe the tenants of that religion, how many do you think would answer "no"?
And the other disturbing thing that one might notice is that the reasons given may be worrisome. Wouldn't we worry a little if the person said, "Well, it makes me feel so good to believe it," or "Well, I would just feel terrible if I didn't believe it," or "Well, I was taught to believe it in my childhood," or "Well, several people I know believe the same thing," or "Well, I got a special message from a deity that I was getting this special information directly," or "Well, if I don't believe it I will be tortured and/or killed." These would indeed be reasons for believing, but do any of them have to do with accuracy? And have we not seen many examples of belief maintained for one of these reasons, yet causing enormous amounts of PSDED because of inaccuracy?
The second reason for such difficulty in believing is that many of these beliefs, that perhaps first came into existence centuries or millennia ago, are contradictory to beliefs more recently acquired through the scientific methods, beliefs so precise, accurate, and certain that we rely upon them to make our most important decisions that affect our very survival, both individually and collectively. It is by virtue of science that we undergo surgery, travel by air, prepare for natural disaster, rely upon computers, etc.
So when a religion expects its members to believe that which would contradict the findings of the sciences, such members may feel caught between loyalty to their religion and loyalty to openness of mind and the valuing of accuracy.
So it is my opinion that when religions expect of their members maintenance of belief as an act of obedience, this is one of the bad components of such religions. As a Humanian in such a religion, I would seek to enable myself and others to shed this requirement of the religion's members.
But now how can that be done if the religion bases its identity upon such beliefs? Would not an individual in such a religion, if he or she were a Humanian, or if he or she simply could not believe as required, have to leave that religion?
I don't believe so at all. There probably would be many others within the same religion who would find themselves in the same situation. Yet, it is most likely that the religion was doing a lot of good for its members and also perhaps for others within the community or elsewhere in the world. It would be quite unfortunate to detract from something good that was happening. So what would be the appropriate approach to this problem?
I believe the answer lies in understanding, tolerance, benevolence, and reasonableness.
Everyone should understand that we all come from a background initially of highly inaccurate beliefs and only gradually make our beliefs more and more accurate. Our species once had beliefs similar to those of chimpanzees. The idea of the Earth being similar to a sphere is "counterintuitive." It took us a long time to arrive at that more accurate belief. In the same way, each of us starts with the mind of an earthworm, so to speak, and from birth onward begins acquiring beliefs. These beliefs originally were quite inaccurate, but through the processes of child rearing, formal education, interactions with others, and absorption from the media, our beliefs become increasingly accurate (making us increasingly capable).
So each of us individually, and our species in general, all come from traditions of somewhat inaccurate belief. (When we look at certain inaccurate beliefs about the origin and nature of the world and about our history, beliefs that others have or have had, we refer to such beliefs as "myths.") So it is only to be expected that any religion will have its tradition, its myths, its leftovers from its childhood, its perhaps even cherished inaccurate beliefs, all of which have had a reason for their existence. And that reason has been the effort to cope, the effort to find out how best to live life, the effort to do the right thing.
So rather than turning away from such tradition, what makes more sense is to look more deeply into it for the understanding it provides as we attempt to learn about ourselves and each other and the world in general. This is no different than any of us undertaking self-improvement through understanding of the self and thereby transcending where we are now to become someone better still. It is the valuing of our childhood.
Within any given religion, there will be individuals who are still taking the identifying beliefs concretely, others who are taking them more abstractly and metaphorically in order to understand ourselves better, and others who are making more discrete judgements among the beliefs with regard to the issue as to how much or little they are consistent with the REUEP. Any particular religion should have within it the capability for individuals to grow religiously in this manner. In this way, such religions become dynamic, not static. They become more responsive to the needs of all its members. And they become more able to keep up with the demands of a changing world and all of the ethical dilemmas that therefore arise.
So discussion groups within the religious organization that are at various levels of religious growth would meet the needs of all the members of the religion, and would help the religion to grow, to improve, to go up the mountain toward the REUEP and therefore Humanianity.
We will always have difference of opinion. What we need is openness of mind, understanding, and benevolence even toward those with such difference of opinion.
The above have been my opinions as a Humanian. You as a Humanian are not required to agree. But it is hard for me to believe you could be Humanian without being concerned about these issues and wanting to arrive at solutions in behalf of the REUEP.
So now what do you believe? What do you propose and advocate for? Why?