Believing Is Seeing

A friend of mine forwarded me this Pirsig quote (from his book Lila):

He had slept exhausted for most of the next day, and when he woke up and went outside it was afternoon. He asked someone how far it was to Cleveland.

You’re in Cleveland, he was told.

He couldn’t believe it. The chart said he was in a harbor miles from Cleveland.

Then he remembered the little ‘discrepancies’ he had seen on the chart when he came in. When a buoy had a ‘wrong’ number on it he presumed it had been changed since the chart was made. When a certain wall appeared that was not shown, he assumed it had been built recently or maybe he hadn’t come to it yet and he wasn’t quite where he thought he was. It never occurred to him to think he was in a whole different harbor!

Wherever the chart disagreed with his observations he rejected the observation and followed the chart. Because of what his mind thought it knew, it had built up a static filter, an immune system, that was shutting out all information that did not fit. Seeing is not believing. Believing is seeing.

Anyway, Confirmation Bias goes a long way toward explaining our willingness to see Jesus in a pane of glass or the tinkerings of God in our evolutionary past (but then, perhaps the bias is blocking me from seeing God’s full and perfect plan as revealed in the Bible or Koran… I’m heavily inclined toward the former).

In any case, there’s no getting around that we see what we want to see—that when you are a hammer the world is a nail… 

And people say this sort of thing all the time, mocking the masses for their mass-like singlemindedness, their herd-mentality…

 

…it is always the ‘other guy’ who is missing reality, who is biasing his thoughts with the litter of his childhood—the misinformation passed down through so many generations of ancestrial cattle…

 

But it’s not the other guy—it’s me, and it’s you.

8 Responses

  1. What I think is weird, particularly with the religious believers is how negatively they see themselves. Dwelling on their imperfectness and their faults while giving their whole exisitence and its patterns to some unseen divine ruler.

    I dont like religion for all its negativity and does not dwell much on the here and now of anything but looks toward some future ‘heaven’ where they will be ultimately rewarded for their deeds while they lived.

    I don’t doubt jesus was a good intentioned fellow and he changed the world in many powerful ways. ITs the bible that troubles me. Its written by men, many times over, as an interpretation of what god wants. Its silly to believe it to be divine or some rule book to guide your life.

    Do people really have such a hard time knowing what is right from wrong? I don’t think so.I think we all know it, but the choice to do it or not does not come from some book, but our own choices.

    But I guess that does suck, to believe that we are all ultimately responsible for ourselves and no one is there to save us from ourselves.

  2. Not that I’m about to proclaim that I saw Jesus in a slice of toast (though there are many interesting things in my pantry), but this notion creates an epistemological difficulty–where do you draw the line? As you say, you could just be biased and not seeing the “reality” of the “plan.” The hammer makes the nail a nail, in some respects. But perhaps it doesn’t stop it from also being a screw.

  3. True dat… if you are a hammer, not every-everything becomes a nail–not even every piece of long metal with a flat head and pointed tip, i assume… but, you are certainly more willing to see it that way…

  4. what about staples or thumbtacks? perhaps we as hammers could use less force in our driving ambitions…or maybe golf tees if we are rubber mallots. wait, what are we talking about?

  5. “Do people really have such a hard time knowing what is right from wrong? I don’t think so.I think we all know it, but the choice to do it or not does not come from some book, but our own choices.”

    Disagree strongly with above. We are a mass of conflicting signals about right and wrong. Some of those signals come from the books you denigrate. Some of those signals come from our biology. Some of those signals come from peer groups. Some from authority figures. The only way it would be *easy* to tell right from wrong would be if all the signals carried the same message. I submit that rarely is the case.

  6. Okay, Yeiser, you seem to be confused.

    My point is,it doesn’t have to be some law, or something written in some magical book divined by humans who many believe were spoken to by god…we just know what is wrong and right.

    Knowing what is wrong and what is right is VASTLY different than the action you choose to take regarding your particular issue.

    Signals are not confusing unless you are crazy. Say for example, NAMBLA (google it …) says they believe in Man/Boy love and there is nothing wrong with it. Most people, I feel safe in saying, ‘know’ this to be wrong. Perhaps I am evening willing to say that many NAMBLA members also know, somewhere in their pysches that it is wrong but we constantly rationalize what we want to do versus what is the best thing to do.

    Your line of thinkings states, imo, that unless we are told, we don’t know right from wrong. I think we are told what the consequences for our actions are and that is the main contribution from authority figures, magical books, invisible people and our biology.

    Knowing the difference between right and wrong is easy. Choosing the course of action for the situation is far more complicated because it involves all those things you mention. Action is tricky, knowing, not so much.

  7. “Okay, Yeiser, you seem to be confused.”

    Wow, that’s insulting.

    “Knowing what is wrong and what is right is VASTLY different than the action you choose to take regarding your particular issue.”

    No argument. I agree.

    “we just know what is wrong and right… Most people, I feel safe in saying, ‘know’ this to be wrong… Knowing the difference between right and wrong is easy…”

    I disagree, but I’m not here to disabuse anyone of his or her faith.

    “Your line of thinkings states, imo, that unless we are told, we don’t know right from wrong. I think we are told what the consequences for our actions are and that is the main contribution from authority figures, magical books, invisible people and our biology.”

    Your line of thinking states, imo, that there is some Absolute Right and Wrong that we are all attuned with. How, then, can we explain the evolution of what has been Right and Wrong throughout history? The ancient Athenians *just knew* that Man-Boy Love was right. The Aztecs *just knew* that cutting out the beating hearts of sacrificial people was right. The early American settlers *just knew* the displacement/destruction of native tribes was right. Medieval Europeans *just knew* that bathing regularly was wrong.

  8. I still think you line of logical implies a gray area and I believe we just rationalize our choices to make them okay.

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