Sunday, September 7, 2008

On Spraining My Brain

A little while ago I wrote a post about belief that involved a discussion at Crooked Timber. Shortly after that, Dana at Edge of the American West indulged my curiosity with a followup post that was much more thoughtful and productive than my quick request for input. While I was merely looking for other people's ideas about a possible difference between mundane belief and religious belief, Dana provides an overview of ideas, draws some important distinctions, and comes to the conclusion that the CT comment

doesn’t look to me like a debate about different kinds of belief, but a debate about what should count as evidence, and whether personal religious experience gets to count.

The discussion that follows the post covers a pretty broad spectrum, from lay ideas to fairly-well developed specialist views. Some of it, I'm not afraid to admit, is over my head, but it's all interesting to consider.

This consideration of evidence in relation to belief--and, by extension, to knowledge--is at the heart of an article published by Juan Comesaña and Holly Kantin in response to another paper by Timothy Williamson in which Williamson posits that Evidence equals Knowledge. Williamson expresses this in the biconditional relationship (E<-->K). Comesaña and Kantin disagree with this based on the conditional relationship that if something is known then that something is evidence. They find fault with Williamson in this derivation of the original equation:

The proposition that p justifies S in believing that q only if S knows that p.

The evidence they use is twofold: Gettier cases and something called "the closure of justification." Gettier problems have bothered me for years, and I'm happy to think of them more. I need to familiarize myself with the closure of justification, though, because that seems closer to my interests. It has to do with justifying beliefs based on the justification of other beliefs. Man, this is fun stuff.

On a mildly related note, I came across on an article at the Buddhism Channel called "Flesh Made Soul" that boasts the tagline "Can a new theory in neuroscience explain spiritual experience to a non-believer?" I've scanned the article, but I want to go through it a little more carefully, and follow up on some of the source material. The core of the article is this:

A stunning new description of how the human body and brain communicate to produce emotional states -- including our feelings, cravings, and moods -- has all the elements needed to explain how the human brain might give rise to spiritual experiences, without the necessary involvement of a supernatural presence, according to Dr. Martin Paulus, a psychiatrist at the University of California in San Diego who is also a Zen practitioner.

All I need is more time. Then I'll know everything. Or I'll believe I know everything. Or I'll have some evidence to support the belief that I know everything. Or I'll have justification for the evidence that I believe that I know everything.

I think I just sprained something.

1 comment:

Liz said...

Hey! I've been reading some more of this stuff lately - and if my doctorate plans pan out, I'll get even more on it. I'll try to find the links and email them to you. Neuroscience is cool!