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Does the truth make people happy?

  1. May 7, 2010 #1

    Ivan Seeking

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    Does "the truth" make people happy?

    I have often wondered if faith, fantasy, or even delusions, are, on the average, critical to happiness. Frankly, some of the happiest people that I've known were and are people that I consider to be the least in touch with reality.

    Is it possible that our inquisitive nature and yearning for knowledge actually betray our emotional needs? I have sometimes been struck by people's desperate need to believe strange things. Debunk a belief, or explain a mystery, and one can often make the believer very sad - profoundly sad. In fact, esp when it comes to religious matters, a failed belief, or lost faith, can be devestating for some people. And it works both ways. People often get angry when they can't debunk something they believed to be debunkable. It seems that, again, on the average, people don't really want to know the truth about something; they just want to be right. They want their belief confirmed.

    Another twist on this idea: I once knew someone whose wife didn't understand what causes rainbows. So, one day he explained it to her. According to his wife, he ruined rainbows for her. Years later she was still slightly angry about it. I found this to be quite striking.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2010
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  3. May 7, 2010 #2

    Borg

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    I would like to comment but, I'm afraid that one of us might become unhappy. :tongue:

    Seriously, I think that the main problem is a person putting too much faith in their belief of something. Personally, I accept the fact that I don't know everything and that my belief systems could be disproved. When I find out that I'm wrong, I deal with it as a learning experience. I think that I'm pretty happy as a result and I would find it sad to treat my beliefs otherwise.
     
  4. May 7, 2010 #3

    alxm

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    Depends on how much you like delusions. Personally I've always had a strong preference for the truth; as a child I hated when adults lied to me.

    In my opinion, the truth has proved itself to be more interesting and fascinating than anything we'd ever be able to imagine.
    Just survey historic human thinkers on "What is the sun?" and the results will be "It's a god.", "Yup, it's a god.", "It's the torch of the gods", etc..

    Nobody had ever come up with the idea that the sun was, in fact, a gigantic furnace of nuclear fusion -
    transmuting elements and creating the very matter we're made of.
    Stable in a precarious balance between the explosive energy created from these reactions,
    and the crushing force of gravity trying to compress it together..

    That's a lot more interesting to me than claiming it's a god.
     
  5. May 7, 2010 #4

    radou

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    I'll quote Feynman:

    "I have a friend who's an artist, and he sometimes takes a view which I don't agree with. He'll hold up a flower and say, "Look how beautiful it is," and I'll agree. But then he'll say, "I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull." I think he's kind of nutty. [...] There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowledge of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds. I don't understand how it subtracts."

    Basically, it's all a matter of how open/closed minded you are.
     
  6. May 7, 2010 #5
    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    I think this is the most important point, and it applies to most people whether they are "delusional" in their beliefs or see themselves as upholders of empiricism and rationalism. People pick beliefs and stick with them, usually with some level of emotional investment, and become angry or defensive when their beliefs are challenged. Richard Dawkins strikes me as a good example of someone who has high emotional investment in his beliefs.

    Studies have shown that people are far more receptive to information coming from a political party they already side with (regardless of what their political beliefs are). If we are being open-minded ánd unbiased, I think we have to admit that we are guilty of these faults as much as any "deluded religious person" or whoever else you might try to pin it on. It seems to be a fundamental trait of human nature that we try to retain the beliefs we form rather than taking on new ones every day.
     
  7. May 7, 2010 #6

    Ivan Seeking

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    You chose something already consistent with your beliefs. Purely for the sake of conjecture, how would you feel if God appeared and announced that everything in the Bible is true; that he really is a trickster and all of science is bogus? Would you find that to be personally devestating?
     
  8. May 7, 2010 #7

    Ivan Seeking

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    If true, then what might be the best path to happiness? And, more specifically, how do we as a society address irrational beliefs that may be critical to people's happiness? To what end do we destroy rainbows?
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2010
  9. May 7, 2010 #8
    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    One of the basic human needs, aside from food, breathing, sex, that was identified is the feeling of importance in relation to other people, and being respected.

    I think as a result, when one is proved wrong, it subconsciously says you are not being worthy. In group environment it can screw up your reputation permanently as other people will perceive you as being weak, and perhaps you will not get promoted. I noticed there are some people who are very perceptive to subtle reputation changes, and will do anything to uphold it.
     
  10. May 7, 2010 #9
    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    I'm not sure which irrational beliefs you are referring to, but unless they are causing harm to anyone I would leave them alone. I'm sure in 1000 years people will look back and say many commonly held beliefs today are irrational, just like we do to people from 1000 years ago. I can't help but accept that every single thing I believe might be wrong, and I think I might be happier I didn't think this way.

    I suppose two possible ways to be happy are to either have solid faith in your beliefs or to take the Feynman type approach mentioned above and be happy to not understand and enjoy the mystery. If, for example, a Christian surrounds themselves with other Christians and involves themselves with Christian activities, then there is not much chance that someone like Richard Dawkins will come and try to upset them by debunking their beliefs, and they should remain fairly happy.
     
  11. May 7, 2010 #10

    apeiron

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    Speaking psychologically, the real need people have here is to smoothly predict their worlds. Being able to anticipate, and thus control your world, removes stress and anxiety, promotes feelings of reward and contentment. This has been called "flow experience". It is why people enjoy sports, music and other kinds of skilled action so much. We can get into something and just do it.

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199707/finding-flow

    People also experience flow in their social worlds - when all is predictable and controllable.

    Given this, we can see how false beliefs about reality, like religion or whatever, make people happy to the extent they make the world seem predictable and controllable. If prayer gives you an illusory of control over what is actually not a very controllable reality, then people will cling to it, and the social structures that foster such illusions.

    Other people also find comfort in science for the same reason of course. Global warming and peak oil troubling you? Take comfort in the dream we can invent our way out of our problems.

    So this is not a religion vs science deal. Plenty of people have a deluded faith in what they think of as the scientific view - because they have chosen to be selective about the science they believe.

    The key here again is flow. The ability to predict and control the world we know.

    So we can be generally happy and content if we keep the scale of what we know quite small (the wider problems you don't think about can't trouble you as you live in your small bubble of prediction and control).

    And if we enter that larger world of scientific knowledge, then again we will be happy to the degree we can accurately predict the world and exert some measure of control over our lives as a result. So knowing about peak oil and global warming is very troubling. But there is then comfort in making what seem sensible preparations.

    Of course, those actually doing this are currently treated as cranks with a "foolish faith". But I've met some happy preppers recently. In the flow. :tongue:
     
  12. May 8, 2010 #11
    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    An interesting adjunct to this is the decline of science in schools and the swing of
    Alven's cosmological pendulum towards magic.

    I'm sorry to say that all too often the snazzy scientist reinforces this response in ordinary folks, or even scientists in other disciplines, with a 'it's beyond your pay grade son' type of explanation.

    With my feet firmly planted in the applied camp I am well used to and therefore comfortable with the notion
    'We know this is not the correct explanation of the mechanism, but we need a working overall model to enable useful calculations'
     
  13. May 10, 2010 #12
    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    I agree! Understanding the beauty in an object or phenomenon, a flower, a rainbow etc. can only add to their beauty and the fascination I might derive from them.
    I'd certainly never ignore a rainbow because I know it is 'only droplets of water' creating that brilliant colour display.
    I appreciate blue sky more, now that a native of England pointed out that it is much bluer here than there.
     
  14. May 10, 2010 #13
    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    I think 'knowing the truth' depends on how much the previous 'truth' was important to you and your security in your existence.

    If, for example, someone you didn't know came up to you, or while waiting in line, and told you that someone had just stolen a hundred (or 100K) from him and slept with his/her wife/husband, you may have some sympathy for his situation.

    But, if it happened to you, you would have different feelings about the situation just after you were told.

    The people who lived in the Love Canal area before they knew about what was buried under them, more often than not, lived normal lives.

    So, I think 'happiness' deals more with the fewest fears to one's security being present, plus the presence of thought that 'all is just about as good as it can be' without the anxiety of something good or bad 'may' happen to you, those close to you, or your possessions.

    I think 'knowing the truth' makes some people happy, if knowing the truth doesn't detract from their beliefs of what makes them happy and secure to begin with.

    In a way, it's a wonder why more people aren't Buddhists.
     
  15. May 10, 2010 #14

    Kerrie

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    While I agree with this statement, I couldn't help but think about the temporary "happiness" addicts experience when they are in the midst of their addiction. This may be a matter of the definition of happiness however.

    I think those who take this state of mind to the extreme are no longer seeking truth, but an affirmation to validate the little confidence they have in themselves.

    This is a sad little story in my opinion! The very fact that nature has the means to produce something so beautiful and appealing to us is in itself an act of something beyond our comprehension.

    I completely agree, a very simple thing that is determined by our own free will.
     
  16. May 10, 2010 #15
    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    This is the same as the Love Canal example. Sure, in the short term, information can be disruptive. But isn't it obvious that in the long term it would probably be more devastating to have remained ignorant of the one true religion? Wouldn't you rather knowingly having to move house now than to gradually acquire inexplicable chronic disease? Relativists certainly wouldn't want it suppressed if recent telemetry data had disproved GR.

    I think I often find rainbows and the like even more fascinating than do those who have not learned the beauty of the underlying mechanism.

    It does seem as though the science of happiness is either underdeveloped or not effectively communicated.
     
  17. May 11, 2010 #16

    Ivan Seeking

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    Love Canal is an example of a proactive response to a threat. In most cases of belief, as far as the individual is concerned, we are talking about beliefs that do no harm. What someone believes usually matters very little to anyone but that person. Where I think we do have a problem is at scale and over time. While the beliefs of any particular person usually have little to no significance to the rest of us, there is plenty of evidence to show that science and rational thought serve us well as a society. We [the global community, on the average] have a far better life that any generation before. We know to go to the doctor if we get sick. We don't blame illness on evil spirits [though I have always thought that "evil spirits" is a pretty good description of infectious bacteria! So maybe we just found a better name]. We know how to treat our drinking water so that it's safe to drink. We make air conditioners and refrigerators so that we can be comfortable and eat well. We have learned to produce food in sufficient quantities to feed most of the world. We all know that, on the average, science and rational thought makes life better for everyone. I think we all agree on that. However, I don't think even scientists are immune to this problem of faith. Consider for example the words of Max Planck

    - Max Planck

    So he seems to be saying that faith never dies, just the faithful, even in science. So what exactly do people like Dawkins hope to achieve? :biggrin:

    I love the suicide warnings associated with anti-depressants. Yes, I would say we have a bit to learn.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2010
  18. May 11, 2010 #17

    Ivan Seeking

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    Hmmmm, in fact, in principle, doesn't science tell us that happiness can be reduced to biochemistry? Isn't this why drugs work in the first place? And how far can we take it? In principle, isn't a mother's love of her child reduced by science to hormones and brain evolution?

    But the entire point of science IS to comprehend it. You seem to be using ethereal concepts to defend the very opposite.

    I wonder if the problem is deeper than that. Consider for example the quote that I use for the header in the S&D guidelines.

    - A. Einstein

    Einstein seems to be saying that life itself is found in the mystery of things, not the explanations. He seems to suggest that, were science to be completed and the entire universe explained, we would be as good as dead. Surely he as much as anyone could appreciate the beauty of science. But he still believed that mystery is critical. Yet he could not believe that God plays dice? If you ask me, the whole business is downright paradoxical! I guess we only want the mysteries that we like. :biggrin:

    Our brains have evolved with only the most rudimentary understanding of the world around us. Almost everything that we know has been learned in a brief moment of human history. Sometime I wonder if, on the average, our brains have evolved such that we can adapt well to this age of science and information. A review of typical internet sites is not encouraging!
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2010
  19. May 11, 2010 #18
    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    I saw a book based on psychology that claimed happiness is largely in-built. People tend to have a base-level of happiness, which they can fluctuate around but generally return to. For example, someone who wins the lottery will become very happy for a while and then settle back to their normal happiness level, and the similarly for someone who becomes disabled. I'm not sure how seriously to take this idea, but I think there is some truth to it. I'm sure through practices such as meditation/cognitive therapy (positive thinking etc.) someone could chance their happiness level - self-willed neuroplasticity is a well documented phenomenon.
     
  20. May 11, 2010 #19

    Kerrie

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    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    Do you think it is possible for our brains to even comprehend complete science? The "simpler" explanations (such as the rainbow) of course is something we have the capability of understanding. It would seem that our minds are designed (by 'what' is the big mystery :biggrin:) to rationalize, understand, dissect, label how our world functions. It seems more likely we will always find another mystery to mull over before we are content with the answers because it is in our nature.

    Another Einstein quote I like:
    "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing."
     
  21. May 12, 2010 #20
    Re: Does "the truth" make people happy?

    Nice quote. An important point about this is that curiosity isn't geared toward seeking lies or obfuscation. I forget where I read it but this writer said that the problem with lying is that even when it's done with the best intentions, it is still basically like saying that you have a right to more access to reality than the person you're lying to or withholding truth from.

    When someone wants to be kept in the dark because they think ignorance is bliss, they are asking something that is unfair to ask. They are asking you to protect them from knowledge that is not going to go away because you don't tell them. It's one thing to want people not to talk about something because you don't want to hear about - another thing to expect people to deny their knowledge on your account.

    Probably the worst thing, imo, is when people don't want to subject their knowledge to questioning because they are afraid it might be false. This is usually because they benefit in some way from maintaining belief in something that is simply untenable in the long run. When lots of people insist on maintaining a lie because it suits them, the question is whose detriment does the lie work in? What right to people have to benefit from untruths that cause problems for someone else?
     
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