How shall a poetic naturalist address the world?

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Rowland Johnston's picture
Just so, watchman, you have

Just so, watchman, you have grasped my intent, and I cannot even object to the disparaging--and artful--way you have characterized it.
Fortunately, my discussions with Algebe have helped me to formulate my next steps, the first of which involves studying the nature of politically correct language (perhaps analogous to my transformative metaphors) so that I can talk about the matter more intelligently.

But before I go, your resistance and I daresay hostility toward me has aroused my curiosity. At first, I considered your hypervigilence a natural defense against devious theists; but now I am beginning to think your suspicions about me may have some merit, and if you're willing to waste some more time on a shameless prevaricator, let's explore the matter.

Let's have a look at some epistemology. If you please, consider the following three statements:

1) My brother, a geophysicist, believes the earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old.
2) My 5-year-old granddaughter believes the earth was vomited from the fiery mouth of a cosmic dragon.
3) My sister believes that her personal god some thousands of years ago created the earth in six days.

As an aspiring poetic naturalist, I am quite comfortable with calling all the above "statements of belief." I would characterize the first as a factual belief, the second as imaginative, and third delusional.

Here is my question: Do you (or anyone else reading this) have any objections to the language I use to describe these statements?

chimp3's picture


Statement 1 is not a belief. It is a well supported fact. Your attempts to shade all human thought under one canopy leads to ever more gullibility. Some bullshit is not worth consideration.

Rowland Johnston's picture
Thank you, chimp 3. I

Thank you, chimp 3. I thought we might have some differences, and this one may be worth our efforts to investigate.

I am going to assume that even if I employ my manipulative dark arts and repharse the first statement to read:
"My brother, the geophysicist, knows the earth is approximately 4.54 years old," you will still object because I continue to describe this statement as a " factual belief."

If my assumption is correct, I must be a pest and ask a childish question: What is the difference between knowing a fact and believing a fact?

chimp3's picture
There is a difference in

There is a difference in belief of facts vs. belief in unverifiable claims. One is the basis of knowledge and the other the basis of religion. If I am driving my car it is a bit irrational to consider my relationship to the car and road as based on belief. Reality simply is. So, I may accept your claim that your brother believes in an ancient earth but that belief is a different action than the young girls fantasy of dragons vomit. I am asserting that the word belief has more than one meaning and are not interchangeable in practical matters.

Rowland Johnston's picture
If I understand you (and you

If I understand you (and you must correct me if I stray from your meaning), you accept the use of the verb " to believe" to describe a range of different actions. I hate to seem ponderous, but we both need to be very clear about what the other is saying.

So, please consider my revised version of Statement 1:

" My brother, a geophysicist, believes the earth is approximately 4.54 billion years old, and he told me yesterday that he believes in universal consciousness."

Here is my question: Are these acceptable uses of the verb " to believe" for you?

chimp3's picture
I think a possum and a

I think a possum and a raccoon can be described as furry mammals. They have very different genetic lineages but a common ancestor millions of years ago.

Belief in fairy tales and beliefs based on pragmatic reasoning can both be described as beliefs but are now different creatures. They may have had common ancestry long ago. Maybe not. I think they are very different "species" of cognitive processes and should not be grouped together.

Rowland Johnston's picture
A fine response, chimp 3. I

A fine response, chimp 3. I believe that our systems of belief are more similar than I had at first supposed.

Now, please consider my use of the phrase "systems of belief" in the preceding sentence.

As an aspiring poetic naturalist, I am quite comfortable using the phrase, "systems of belief" to refer to understandings of our world that include both my brother the geophysicist's comprehensive knowledge of our planet's geological history and my 5-year-old granddaughter's imaginative cosmology.

Before we continue, I must ask this question: Do you find my use of the phrase, "systems of belief" to be acceptable?

chimp3's picture
Rowland : Systems of belief?

Rowland : Systems of belief?

I would wager that a P.E.T. scan of a persons brain while performing a pragmatic critical thinking exercise such as solving a physics equation vs. someone in church worshiping a sky fairy would reveal very different brain activity. Your attempts to draw parallels between the two activities seems like begging the question.

Rowland Johnston's picture
I think now, chimp 3, our

I think now, chimp 3, our investigation is getting sidetracked. I know nothing of neuroscience, but I think I would also put money on your wager. This observation also accords with your statement that my brother the geophysicist's "believing" is a different action from my granddaughter's "believing."

I confess also that I know nothing of the social atheist worlds (I may end up exploring this website after all), but I wouldn't be surprised to encounter atheists who have argued endlessly about the merits of their respective views and now abhor using the word "belief" unless it bears a pejorative connotation..

But if my assumption about you as a truth-seeking chimp is correct, I know that you will not try to confuse our simple-minded but perhaps useful term, "system of belief."
In fact, as an aspiring poetic naturalist, I assert the existence of many primitive, transspecies systems of belief, all in accordance with evolution and natural laws, though I would draw the line somewhere down the stimulus-response ladder because it seems plainly absurd to talk about a mollusk's "system of belief."

Now I am afraid that we have gotten so sidetracked that you will be unwilling to consider again my previous post, but before our investigation can continue, I need to know that we are in accord.

chimp3's picture
Rowland: "Our investigations?

Rowland: "Our investigations?" "..we are in accord?"

In case you have not not noticed I have been disagreeing with you since my first reply. I am arguing with you! This is a debate forum!

Rowland Johnston's picture
Ah, I see my assumption was

Ah, I see my assumption was incorrect. I was foolish to have wasted your time.

chimp3's picture
Not wasting my time brother.

Not wasting my time brother. I lurk around debate forums because I love to debate.

chimp3's picture
When arguing with atheist

When arguing with a theist that does not accept the fact of evolution you could take a small fossil. Show it to them and say "See, a fossil!" Then throw the fossil just over their head. (Thanks , Lewis Black.)

Is that a metaphor?

I coined the word "goddog" (a palindrome) to describe the gods of modern days. In the very ancient past mankind domesticated the dog and dogs aided them in their hunting and guarding the camps. Mankind created gods. Gods helped mankind in the same way. Aiding in the hunt, harvest, and protection.
Then the gods and dogs went feral. The goddog arose and joined forces with the pigs. Now the goddog is used by power hungry pigs to keep us other creatures under control. The planet is but an Animal Farm.

It's a metaphor but perhaps not gentle to the ears of theists.

Rowland Johnston's picture
I like this description,

I like this description, chimp 3, because it tells in part the positive roles the gods and religions have played in the advancement of our species.

Atheists need reminding of this from time to time, I think, just as theists need to be educated about the nightmare that is modern religion today.

chimp3's picture
I did not imply that religion

I did not imply that religion was a benefit to our ancestors. Human sacrifice, time and resources wasted. Perhaps it has always been a nightmare. I simply implied humans created gods to serve humans. Like domestic dogs which unlike gods can be mans best friend.

Rowland Johnston's picture
Upon rereading your

Upon rereading your description, chimp 3, I see now it was my own cognitive bias influencing my first interpretation. I appreciate the clarification.
This is a huge topic that I am sorry I cannot delve into at the moment.

charvakheresy's picture
that was brilliant.

that was brilliant.

Pitar's picture
Searching for relevance in

Searching for relevance in life or a credible reason for existence, in the minds of men, is exponentially less meaningful than watching grass grow, and certainly less rewarding.

Men continuously search for some common purpose when there isn't one, and then attempt to explain why it isn't there when futility temporarily tires them out. We are alive, we exist on a planet orbiting a really hot sphere giving us light and warmth, and we are left to do whatever we do until we cannot do it anymore. The Great Cosmic Chemical Crapshoot placed us here and now we quake in our evolved state over the profound and immensely ponderous question: "Ummmm....what's up, Doc?"

Sir Random's picture
All language is basically a

All language is basically a metaphor?

This is text.
This text is black.
This black text is in a post.
This post is on a topic.
This topic is on a forum.
This forum is on a website.
This website is on the internet.

I see only factuality in that, not metaphorical value.

algebe's picture
A language is a set of

A language is a set of audible or visual symbols that we use to represent objects in the real world or ideas in our minds, together with a system of grammar to tell us how those words fit into each statement. Through various processes, we reach basic and approximate agreement about what each symbol means, but that meaning is constantly in flux, so in a sense every word is a meme. That process moves at different speeds and different directions in different places, so we get dialects. We don't always agree on the meanings of the most simple, obvious words, even within the same language. So when I hear the word "dog" I probably have a different image from you in my mind.

Imagine how big these differences in meaning can be between different languages. Some languages have many words with different shades of meaning that can only be translated into a single word in another language. Other languages might have one word that could mean several different things in another language. Japanese has no word for "water." They have a word for "cold water" and totally different word for "hot water" (probably because they starting taking baths earlier than the Brits!).

I'm guessing that most people who believe the bible is literal truth are monolingual with no concept of what can be lost (or found) in translation. Words like "love" are especially dangerous. Bibles, like every other translated work, are full of compromises, approximations and downright errors.

Sir Random's picture
But still, no matter how

But still, no matter how skewed the interpretation or translation may be, the original intent and meaning of what was translated reigns true.

"The blame for misunderstanding on your part lay not on me. It lay not on anything but difference. Do not approach me for penance when the meaning of what I said is lost on you."

algebe's picture
"But still, no matter how

"But still, no matter how skewed the interpretation or translation may be, the original intent and meaning of what was translated reigns true."

That's true in just enough cases to lull us into a false sense of security. But sometimes the totally opposite meaning can result.

For example, if I say to you "Aren't you an atheist?", I think you'd reply "Yes." But if I put the same negative question to a Japanese atheist, he'd reply "No." I've seen this simple difference cause major problems in business negotiations many times.

The Italians have a proverb that means basically "translator traitor." Never trust a translator!

Sir Random's picture
"I've seen this simple

"I've seen this simple difference cause major problems in business negotiations many times."

Again, "It lay not on anything but difference. Do not approach me for penance when the meaning of what I said is lost on you."


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