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Epistemological considerations on the metaphysical and spiritualist discourse on this blog


Fernando Luis Cacciola Carballal

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There is a variety of metaphysical and spiritualist material on this blog, and, naturally, metaphysical/spiritualist propositions are not scientific.

The fundamental feature of a scientific propositions is that they are highly dependable. Science doesn't pretend to hold the ultimate truth, only the truest that we can possibly get at ay given moment. But for all practical purposes, the closest we can get to the truth is essentially as good as the actual, ultimate truth itself.

But the whole of reality, with its objects, processes, actors and rules is, unfortunately, far larger than what we scientifically know about it today. And, in my informed but humble opinion, it is going to be like that for a long time.

What are we to do with all of the things that we wish to know, but we can't know scientifically? While many people are quite happy with the limits of science (which expand all the time to be fair), and don't need to know unless scientifically, several others, like me—and presumably any reader of this blog—would like to know something about all the things outside of the current scope of science. But, how does one go about that in a rational way?

That is a trick question, because a complete, totally satisfying answer would have to say that the (only) rational way to know something about reality is through science. And that is, in itself, correct. But we are trying to work around the problem of knowing, nevertheless, what we cannot, scientifically, know.

A practical solution is to reconsider and relax the conditions for knowledge. That is, traditionally, knowledge is said to be Justified True Belief. That seems like a simple definition. For example, if I believe something about nature, and science provides me with a postulate that matches that belief, then the belief is true and I have the scientific justification for believing it, hence, I can loudly assert that I don't just belief so, I actually know so.

But as it turns out, however, the conditions under which it is reasonable to promote a belief to the rank of knowledge are far from simple. There are several considerations, different approaches (such as, reliabilism vs evidentialism), and even different theories of what the truth is to begin with.

Binary classifying propositions as either (mere) believes or knowledge, is, probably, an impediment on itself. Can there be of degrees of truth? Can a proposition have a probability of being truth, rather than being just true or false? We humans have degrees of certainty, and that is the really important cognitive feature of knowledge (that we are certain of the truth of the things we know, and we are only uncertain about the things we merely believe).

That propositions can be probably true (rather than certainly true) is debatable and largely debated.

I am a huge fan of this approach to the problem of knowledge and the truth, often known as Bayesian Epistemology.

This approach can be summarized in these simple concepts: rather than promoting, by means of whatever epistemic process I choose, a (mere) belief, which does not certainly corresponds to a truth, to the category of knowledge, which does certainly corresponds to a truth, what we can do is to consider any belief as having only a probability of corresponding to the truth. In this logic, there is just never the binary question of whether something is true or false. Rather, the question always is how much probably true it is.

Bayesian epistemology, that is, the idea that believes only have a probability of corresponding to the truth, is specially practical, in my opinion, for it allows me to handle the certainty associated to the belief as a separate, related but still separate, epistemic process. That is... a scientific proposition has a very high probability of truth [1], and I can (and reasonably will), in consequence, attribute a high level of certainty to it. But then I can also come across a non-scientific proposition that is given, by whoever proposed it, a probability of truth of, say 60%, and attribute to it a level of certainty of, say, 30%. Or maybe 100%. It's up to me.

Likewise, I can make a proposition giving it a probability of truth of, say, 40% (based on whatever criteria), while being myself a 100% certain about it (for whatever reason).

The way I see it, Bayesian epistemology allows us to consider the full spectrum of degrees of truth for any set of propositions, so that we can produce, share, discuss, even teach (if appropriately done) a Body of Bayesian Knowledge. That is, a knowledge not of certain truths (like the scientific knowledge) but of probable truths.

Bayesian knowledge is specially suited to cover the part of reality that is currently outside of the scope of science. The reason is that, the traditional, binary account of knowledge, is by definition true, thus, one is bound to atribute it full, or at least reasonably high, certainty.

For example, if you read in a respectable, scientific source that a proton is made of three quarks, then you are now certain that this is the truth, for that is a piece of scientific knowledge.

Bayesian knowledge, on the other hand, makes no promise of telling the truth. It only says that it is possibly the truth, with whatever measure of probability based on this and that. But then, you are not automatically bound to attribute any certainty to it. Instead, you are pretty much forced to judge for yourself. You might, for example, decide to dig up why it is said to be so, where does it come from, what is the evidence, etc...

That is, a body of Bayesian knowledge does not forces itself into your own belief system. Instead, it simply presents itself, and forces you to integrate and adopt it as you see fit.

Sheer speculation, for example, would be classified as Bayesian knowledge with a very low truth probability (whether admittedly or not). And ideally, in the process of integrating it into a given belief system, critical thinking and correct rational evaluation will discover that low truth probability and attach the appropriate certainty.

Suppose that we consider that a truth probability of, say, 95% and above corresponds to scientific propositions; 20% or below to magical thinking, dogmatic doctrines, etc... between 20% and 50% to conjectures with little evidential support, or theories that clash with highly certain accepted knowledge. What would be a reasonable truth probability threshold and how would a proposition deserve it?

This is not a trivial matter, but I would think that a propositional system with the following properties, can be reasonably given a truth probability in the range of 60% to 90%.

(a) Well integrable into the accepted knowledge, that is, which doesn't contradict Science.
(b) Supported by evidence, even if not scientific grade evidence, such as Clairvoyance, Out of Body Experiences (OBEs), or Automatic Writing.
(c) Sufficiently well formulated, even if not with a scientific language, so that is is comprehensive and can be adequately taught and learned.
(d) Can be falsified, that is, proven wrong.
(e) Can be experimentally tested, even if the experiments are not reproducible by any experimenter (that is, the experimenter is so entangled with the experiment that it becomes one of the critical variables), or the measurements can not be performed with a human made machine (for example, the measurement can only be done by a human mind of certain characteristics, such as a Medium or a Psychic).
(f) When the object of study becomes a part of science, the propositions are more likely to be refined than to be refuted.

The inescapable hard work of scientific rigor puts all the burden into the scientist. Once they put out a theory (and is accepted by the scientific community), it comes with a sort of strong guarantee. Not that is is infallible, but that is highly probably the truth. Metaphysical and spiritual discourse, cannot have such a strong guarantee, but it can have some. Depending on the case, maybe weak, maybe moderate.

In this blog you will find, therefore, Metaphysical and Spiritual Bayesian Knowledge which I think ranges from 60% to 90% of probably truth, depending on the specific subject. And you are specifically supposed to integrate and adopt into your own belief system, whatever part of this you deem reasonable, using your own judgment and criteria.

I will try my best to provide in each post sufficient justification material so you can, in practice, judge for yourself.


The ideas and propositions in this blog come from a variety of sources, but I will NOT, in general, make any formal reference list, mainly because in most cases the ideas cannot be simply traced back to this or that source.

There are, however, some primary sources to which almost everything here can be traced back to.

The most relevant one is the many books, conferences and general teachings of a very contemporary [2] Spiritist kind of Church from Argentina, known as Basilio Scientific School Association (BSSA). I am a member of this church, thus, a significant part of what is written in this Blog comes from there. There is an unofficial but very well written, comprehensive coverage of the core teachings of the BSSA in the book The Spiritual Theory

The second most relevant source is the so-called Spiritist Doctrine as codified by Allan Kardec and his many books.

Another quite influential source are the many many books of Theosophy I should clarify, however, that I am not really a huge fan of theosophy, specially the part developed by its founder Ms. Blavatsky. But this doctrine is nevertheless highly influential for me, is just that you won't find in this blog many direct correspondences or quotes [3].

I am however, a huge fan of Rudolf Steiner, specially on his metaphysical work. He parted from theosophy and funded Anthroposophy.

Other highly influential—and quite varied—sources include, but are not limited to, The Seth Material, A Course In Miracles, and many books on the After Life (there is very good reading list recommendation on this Keith Person's video).

Footnotes:

  1. One which I can even specifically know, in many cases, since often that probability is directly integrated into the scientific theory.
  2. It was funded in 1917.
  3. I much prefer the works of C. W. Leadbeater and of Annie Besant.
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Wow, this is a very good article Fernando. It made me think a lot. What I find so appeasing about the Bayesian knowledge system is that it is always open for new  insights. This raises the question why science is so much focused on gaining bullet proof safety in the adoption of knowledge. In my eyes this attitude mainly is used to draw red lines. Everything that is before the red line is officially accepted knowledge and basically not questionable anymore. People questioning this truth are merely ignores. Knowledge behind the red line is more vague knowledge. it is seen as valuable to continue researches in these areas. It is questionable in my eyes if this process is fruitful in the quest of finding truth or rather on the fringe of a belief system itself.

The second thing that I feel very comfortable about the Bayesian system is that evaluating pieces of truth by the probability of being really true is more near to practical life instead of absolute acceptance or rejection of knowledge. In daily life we are constantly confronted with problems and decision where we don't know exactly how things will turn out at the end. Dealing with probabilities is a very common behavior we e.g. apply unconsciously if we do risk assessments. A very interesting outcome of this consideration is that the original question "What is truth?" is replaced by the more practical one, "If this would be true, what would that mean for me?". We would absorb the previously rather objective question with our personality. Maybe then we would decide to follow a spiritual path just y considering that, if it's true we would gain so much and if not we would loose only a little.

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Hello Andres

Indeed. Most scientists are focused on getting that level of bullet proof safety. 
And I said scientists, instead of Science, because this is a side effect of the so-called human factor. In itself, the Scientific Method (i.e. Science) is designed to provide us with far less conclusive results about the facts of reality than many scientists try to obtain, far more forms of evidence than the ones scientists usually accept, far more areas of study than the ones most scientists dare to explore, and far more flexibility in the stages of the construction of scientific knowledge than many scientists consider.
I think that this human factor permeates all our activities, and it is just that Science doesn't escape it.
That human factor is our almost desperate need to be right, to be certain of our believes.

One can understand the neurobiological basis for such an obsession: A long time ago, when we where cave men, our very survival depended on our ability to correctly asses the environment, its resources, threats and changes in order to make the right decisions. Mistakes costed lives. Quite literally.

I would say that it is quite probably the case that, the cost of making mistakes have been radically decreasing ever since, so much that, even though a mistake can still be quite serious in several cases, in our daily lives, we can most definitely afford to be happy rather than right, which is the opposite of how we impulsively operate, hooked on being right rather than happy.

Arguably, one would think that, unlike the mundane chores of daily life, scientific knowledge has to be right for we directly depend on it. Just imagine the outcome of getting on a boat, if Archimedes had not correctly reasoned that it is the weight of the displaced water which pushes up keeping a body afloat.
We do depend, to a certain extent, on Science being correct. But how large is that extent, actually? As it turns out, it is the job of Engineering, not Science, to apply the scientific knowledge. And as it turns out, there is a huge margin of error in the actual application of said knowledge, so big that it can be argued—and fairly in my opinion—that then margin of error that would result from "highly-probable but not bullet-proof-certain scientific theories" is comparatively far less significant.

In other words, we demand bullet proof correct theories out of science, because knowledge is supposed to be true, but then the actual applicability of that truthfulness becomes not as significant as it appears to be, in the face of the so many calculation, application and implementation mistakes made by the engineers which put the science into practice.

 

 

Interestingly, one can view our obsession with the truth, crystalized—extremely in several cases—in the requirements we put on the truthfulness of scientific knowledge, as just another expression of our desperate need of control, to shape things the way we want them; our general resistance to accept things as they really are.

That is... I believe that developing the capacity to accept, to let go—in fact, even to forgive—naturally leads to the capacity to be positively wrong, which is, to see mistakes as opportunities, not as failures

We don't need the ultimate truth if we don't need to be right. And we don't need to be right if we just need to do our best. What we really need is to be as far from wrong as possible, which isn't the same as being right. And we can do that with a reasonably probable truth.

 

 

This is a  relatively new epistemological perspective. Not yet prevalently popular, but I would think is just a matter of time.

Attached are a few of the interesting papers on the subject if you would like to dig deeper.

Bayesianism_I_Introduction_and_Arguments.pdf

Bayesianism_II_Applications_and_Criticis.pdf

ON_PROBABLE_GROUNDS_Probabilistic_Though.pdf

Bayesianism_II_Applications_and_Criticis.pdf

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