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How Do You Believe and Know?

  1. Sep 22, 2004 #1
    I would like to discuss the difference between belief and knowledge. How do we come to know? And how do we come to believe?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 22, 2004 #2
    I think the biggest difference is that even though one might know the right thing, thier beliefs might believe otherwise.
  4. Sep 22, 2004 #3


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    As a first pass, I would characterize knowledge as a strong kind of belief, specifically a belief that is regarded to be so well-justified that it cannot be wrong.

    'Belief in X' implies that the believer holds X likely to be true. There are varying degrees of belief, corresponding to varying degrees of certainty. There is nothing semantically wrong with asserting a belief in a proposition that seems obviously or inarguably correct (eg "I believe that I have two eyes"), but typically the word seems to be used in situations where the believer leaves open at least some room for doubt (eg a mathemetician might tentatively say "I believe this theorem is true" without rigorously proving it, or a detective may say "I believe he committed the crime" without having a smoking gun).

    'Knowing that X' implies that X has been shown to be correct to a practically inarguable degree, at least by the epistemological standards of the knower(s). That is, knowing that X implies that there is a no, or at least negligible, probability that X is false, as judged by the accepted epistemological standard.

    So the only difference between the two appears to be a degree of confidence. Thus the initial question becomes, how do we come to have a high degree of confidence in a proposition, and how do we come to have (practically) absolute confidence in a proposition?

    The degree of confidence in a certain proposition must come from the epistemological standards of the person or community in question. A religious community may place absolute epistemological authority in the hands of a prophet and thus come to say that they know that God exists. A scientific community relies on empirical findings, and ultimately inductive principles of inference, to bestow epistemological authority and thus come to say that they know the speed of light is constant in all reference frames via theory and experimentation. Even without science, common sense induction allows us to confidently say that we know the sun will rise tomorrow. The senses give us sufficient confidence to say that we know the sun is in the sky today. The common denominator for claiming knowledge appears to be some kind of epistemological authority in which we place our trust more or less absolutely.

    Belief, as a degraded or incomplete form of knowledge, seems to arise as a result of compelling but incomplete appeal to such epistemological authorities. A religious scholar may advocate a certain moral philosophy based on his belief that a prophet's claim should be interpreted in a certain way, but concede that perhaps the prophet intended a somewhat different shade of meaning. A scientist may believe that a certain string theory is true based on an essentially inductive appeal to mathematical rigor and beauty, but admit that he cannot be sure since he can provide no experimental verification. A witness to a crime may believe that a certain suspect is the guilty party, but concede that when he witnessed the crime he was not wearing his glasses.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2004
  5. Sep 22, 2004 #4
    Belief is a colorful hope or fear, the beginning of folly.
    Lao Tzu

    Beliefs are habits, whereas knowledge can be immediate and spontaneous. For example, I know I am sitting down, but in order to articulate that I rely on my habits of language.

    Is the world flat or round? Obviously it is both depending upon your point of view. Words such as flat and round, knowledge and belief only have demonstrable meaning according to their function in a given context. However, that context always begins with ourselves.
  6. Sep 22, 2004 #5


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    I was jawing with a co-worker one time, and somehow we got onto this same topic. He thought he was onto something of philosophical importance when he said, "We all have our own truth. If some statement X is true to me, then it won't do you any good to say that it is false, because it is still true to me." I asked him how such a claim was any different than saying, "I believe in X," and while he had no cogent answer to that, he still insisted his idea was profound. I was tempted to say, "It is true to me that your claim is a hollow shell of an idea," but I resisted the temptation.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2004
  7. Sep 22, 2004 #6
    There is a state of mind where you can just know. Belief has nothing to do with reality, the believer may be believing correct or incorrect. Knowing is beyond belief. It is reality itself. Knowing is not learned it is an experience of reality in which aspects of relative reality may be known. Relative reality does not have to come into play, but it does because for the most part that is how we operate.
  8. Sep 23, 2004 #7
    Ah, but you can never know that you know!

    You can only BELIEVE that you know.

    sorry, but even knowing gets reduced to a belief.

    olde drunk
  9. Sep 23, 2004 #8
    There is a knowing beyond belief in which one knows that one knows, an experience, a revelation or event that supersedes normal sensual inputs and perceptions that goes directly to our inner most being and we know that it is True.
    In the old PF's, when we used to have a signature, mine stated that I know nothing; but, I have and opinion on everything. I later changed it to read; "Okay, I know a few things, just a few..." A few of those few things are experiences likes those I mention above. How do I know that I know? I don't know. I just know with every fiber of my being that it is True and that I Know it to be True.
    Of course, it could have been just another psychotic episode. :surprised :confused: :rofl:
  10. Sep 23, 2004 #9
    I think this is a good point. Because, people can not know they are believing when they think they know. That is, if, you think there is a difference between knowing and believing, which keeps them from equivalent defintions.

    I'd say all knowledge has categories. Direct experience would be the first knowledge. AIndirect knowledge would be facts, which are symobos of some sort, language or thoughts etc, that represent something that exists in the world, past or present.

    Belief is simpley the order of empirical thoughts or memory ordering, when the elements (the direct experience memories) are magnified in the persons theory to a point that extends to far into the past or too far into the future or defies the physical laws of the present in some way.

    Although reasoning is simple ordering of empirical thought memories, but stay close to a high magnitude of knowledge and precision in makeing claims about the past, present or future.

    The war upon the Iraqis is a belief system. There is no quantified empirical basis for it. Even the after the fact logic is proof of an ignorant man's basis, that justifies it with a situation that is worse. The world is apt to disagree with beliefs when they come to promoting the murder of humanity, unless they are like German masses back a few decades ago, THE REPUBLICAN RETARDS. Boy, how did those Germans ever let that happen?, just like the Republicans are, it's called desensitiziation, denial, apathy, and ignorance of the actual casualties in theire face! But the knowledge in the war is that Bush is responsible for the murder of the Iraqis. He stood out and said he wanted to do it, but it called it by a different kind of name, freedom, and we all can see the're situatioin is much worse now.
  11. Sep 24, 2004 #10
    I agree with Royce, however --- I know I know because I BELIEVE that I know certain truths for me. Again, there is that foundation of belief.

    The 'knowing' we are refering to is an intuitive knowledge. Without commandments, we still know that it is wrong to kill. All killing must be justified for acceptance because we know that it is wrong.

    Does anyone believe that only Bush and the republicans wanted this war? Sorry, but that is naive.

    More importantly, let's preach peace and not point fingers. Blaming anyone but ourself is a waste of energy.

    olde drunk
  12. Sep 24, 2004 #11
    Olde drunk,

    Do you think knowledge can come by any other means than via the five senses?
  13. Sep 24, 2004 #12


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    I was listening to Christian radio this morning. The host of the show provided a website for the station. I just went to that site, and I found a link from it to this page:

    http://www.arizonaoriginscienceassoc.com/TestAnswers.htm [Broken]

    I am providing the same link in this thread because it asks the question, "Have you been educated or have you been indoctrinated?" The Creationists who wrote the quiz surely believe that Evolutionists have merely been indoctrinated.

    Item 8 in the quiz seems to imply that living things violate the Second Law, and also seems to imply that Earth prior to the time of the first living cell had nothing that increased in complexity. This is an argument that I have heard from Creationists several times, always delivered with a "gotcha!" tone of voice. I think Creationists are operating from a lack of understanding of thermodynamics when they go this route (particularly the fact that the Sun's presence 93 million miles away makes the Earth far from a closed system), but maybe that just means I am a brainwashed lackey of the Evolutionists. :rolleyes:

    Maybe somebody with credentials in thermal physics will see this and provide some ammo to use back at Creationists on matters of the Second Law.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  14. Sep 24, 2004 #13
    Define Things First

    Everyone keeps giving examples of the difference between knowledge and belief but they are all different examples of different things because knowledge and belief have not been defined. For my personal argument, knowledge is an absolute belief while belief is a statement supported by evidence.
    Human Beings can not "know" anything because we are not in a position to know. The comment about basing truth and knowledge on empirical evidence is worthless because our sense are false. Everyone has a different perspective and experience of the same object, idea, etc. Not to mention the the notion of empirical senses are defunct because of the argument of Zeno's Paradox(but I've heard that can be explained by time ??)
    Human Beings can only believe in things. Even scientific laws are based on belief in precedence. There is nothing that states that the second law of thermodynamics will be obeyed all the time. It is only a law because it has never been disobeyed(that we know of).
    Back to the empirical reasoning question. The Zeno Paradox states that we can never actually "touch" something else thus we can not use the senses as proof of existence. Western philosophy has tried to 'throw out" matter in general because it can not be empirically proved to exist. David Hume said that if matter is going to be thrown out then why not throw out the mind? Has anyone ever seen or touched a mind? So we actually "know" nothing. We believe in ideas, matter, etc. based on past and previous experiences.
    I'm personally a supporter of Plato's Theory of Forms which states that everything in this world is simply a shadow of the perfect. Even math. We may say that 2+2=4, but the numbers are only representations of the perfect value. When someone speaks of "happiness" it is only a representation of the perfect happiness. There are certain truths that will always be true. Even after the universe has come to an end, a triangle will always have three sides. If math is a perfect form just as happiness, why can't happiness always be a constant truth even after the universe has ended and humans are no more?
  15. Sep 24, 2004 #14
    I think Creationists are operating from a lack of understanding of thermodynamics when they go this route (particularly the fact that the Sun's presence 93 million miles away makes the Earth far from a closed system), but maybe that just means I am a brainwashed lackey of the Evolutionists. :rolleyes:

    How exactly does the fact that the Sun exists defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics?
  16. Sep 25, 2004 #15
    i find it very interesting that we are all responding with what we BELIEVE.

    Mahler makes a significant point. In order to know, in the absolute, we would have to be standing outside of this reality to see the evidence of a fact.

    Both creationists and evolutionists are viewing this world through their filter of belief(s). who cares? the fact remains, we are here.

    we do gain personal knowledge, however. this knowledge is use to hone, refine our beliefs so that we can get a better handle on what reality really is.

    perhaps we should explore how beliefs define reality???

    olde drunk
  17. Sep 25, 2004 #16
    there are no facts; only interpretations...
    i do not know who said this, but I beleive it is true... (sorry I said I beleive)
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2004
  18. Sep 25, 2004 #17
    To know - to believe

    Mahler's definition of knowledge and believe
    What is 'an absolute belief'? Does it not have evidence? Is it 'innate knowledge' that we possess? Why do we call that 'knowledge' (a better name would be 'bias'*)?

    Relativity of knowledge concept
    'How' 'did' 'you' 'know' 'that' 'your' 'senses' 'are' 'false'? What are your conceptions about 'truth' and 'knowledge'? Do you see them totally discoupled from what we 'sense'? Why do you assume that they exist?
    IMHO it's okay to stress the subjectivity of what we say and think, but we can't stick to it. We've to use them. Why don't we just register our subjectivity and go on with discovering, with reasoning?

    'Existence of evidence' versus 'character of the evidence'
    The subject is "to believe versus to know". I'll suppose another difference than having 'evidence'. A believer has evidence in the form of personal experiences (or even relics) that others don't take as evidence.
    One of the main differences to me seems to be in the continous versus occasional character of confirmation. To have a religious experience occurs not on a very regular basis (as far as I know). Scientific knowledge is about phenomena that are steady over time or at least repeatable.

    Definition of to know versus to believe
    To know is (within of course the subjective framework we live in), having positive evidence for some case** and continously confirmation. To believe is having positive evidence for some case** and occasionally some confirmation.

    There are people that say that their believe isn't based on 'experience' but on 'innate knowledge'. That's exactly the opposite of your definition.

    Do you really think that this is a paradox? Can you explain me why?

    Calling everything 'believe'
    Hmmm, I'm thinking it over. I think there exist one ontological system, one reality. And that's what I would relate 'knowledge' with. That's just an idea but that idea can be right, isn't it? The fact that everything 'could be' just an idea, just believes, doesn't make an idea just an idea.

    Reality as a shadow (of the non-existent?)
    I am definitely not a platonist. I think our ability for deductive reasoning [1] gives rise to our concept of 'infinity' and our averaging capabilities [2] to our concept of 'perfectness' and 'supernatural' phenomena (like a perfect circle).

    Eternal truths
    That presumes the concept 'existence', a non-existent object can be whatever it want to be. Besides, something with three angles and not three sides is even thinkable by humans. Even, if you want to say the 'proposition' "triangle = triangle" is 'always' 'true', what do you mean by that? Do propositions 'exist' when there is no mental world? And, back where we always start: 'what has truth to do with existence?'.

    * "I know that for sure" would mean "I am firmly biased about it" :yuck:
    ** Sometimes neglecting negative counter evidence, but that can happen to scientific as religieus issues as well.
  19. Sep 25, 2004 #18
    And you?
    In two sentences you're using the words 'fact' and 'knowledge'. You're even stating that it is a fact that we are. So you also respond with what you believe. In my last post I summed up several things (but everyone should read it with large subjective brackets around it; does not everyone 'know' :devil: that?). But, mainly I am interested in how others would define 'knowledge' versus 'believe'. How would you?

  20. Sep 25, 2004 #19
    While I am not Olde drunk, I would like to address this question myself.
    Absolutely! Most if not all knowledge comes via other means than our 5 senses. Our senses provide us with information not knowledge. Knowledge is what happens after our mind processes the information that it receives from the outside world.
    Not only, that which I don't think you had in mind, I believe we can and do receive knowledge direct and complete from a spiritual source both within and without ourselves. Not only is the knowledge complete but so to is our understanding.
    I may be wrong but I think that anyone who practices meditation would agree with me that we can receive knowledge from other than our senses. They may however disagree with the source.
  21. Sep 25, 2004 #20
    ah shucks! this leads right back to truth and/or absolute truth.

    I believe the only absolute truth is that there ain't no absolute truth!

    When I say "I know", all I am saying is that I accept the fact as my truth, filtered through my belief(s).

    IMHO, once we understand the extent or power of our beliefs we will be better able to understand this reality.

    My knowledge is a data base of all my experiences that I found important for my understanding of reality. all knowledge is subjective. even the flat-worlders had a reason to reject the information of a round earth or that it revolved around the sun, etc.....

    while we, as a matter of social agreement, 'know' that the world is round etc....., use this belief to understand the other events in our world. What kind of information will be revealed in 1000 years to make our current understanding seem foolish???

    I believe the sun iis shinning today(lol), let's play golf!

    olde drunk
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