The upside of delusional beliefs

saying hiby Lisa Bortolotti

Imagine that you are taking a walk in your hometown when you notice a dog on the steps of a Catholic church. While you pass the front of the church, the dog gets up on his hind legs. Then he moves his front paw forward. What do you make of this? Probably nothing. But what if you felt that the dog’s action was meant for you? Maybe you would start thinking about other events involving churches that you witnessed recently. Maybe the previous encounters were also meant for you and led up to today’s event. Maybe the dog was trying to communicate something. Maybe he was delivering a message from God, revealing that you were chosen to carry out an important mission.

The hypothesis that the dog is a messenger from God is far-fetched, you can grant that. If one of your friends had come up with such a story you would not believe her, and so it is not a surprise for you if your friends do not believe you when you tell them. But you just know it is true. It explains everything. Knowing why the dog behaved as he did dissolves at last the anxiety and uncertainty that had become a constant feature of your everyday experiences: feeling that something important was about to happen, and the dread of not knowing what it was. When you realize that the dog is delivering a message from God, you feel relieved and empowered. God has found a secret and effective way to communicate with you.

What we call “schizophrenia” is often a severe and disabling condition. In the context of schizophrenia, if you are about to endorse a delusional thought (“God is trying to communicate something important to me through this dog”), then you are likely to have had anomalous experiences similar to the one described above (adapted from the one originally presented by Schneider in his 1959 Clinical Psychopathology). Prior to witnessing the event that led you to endorse a delusion, a number of events had become especially significant to you in a way that you did not fully understand and that caused considerable anxiety to you (this is called the prodromal stage of psychosis). When the delusional hypothesis emerges to explain a new event, it is compelling as it seems to shed light on your previous experiences as well, and on the questions they raised (“Why do I feel that the dog’s actions are so important? Was he saluting me? Could his actions mean something?”).

Delusions can differ in content. Some are very hard to believe, almost absurd (“I’m dead,” “My wife has been replaced by an impostor,” “My neighbor is inserting thoughts into my head”). Other delusions are extreme versions of very common beliefs. In delusions of jealousy you believe that your partner is unfaithful; in delusions of grandeur you believe that you are a misunderstood genius; in erotomania you believe that someone is secretly in love with you; and in delusions of persecution you believe that others want to cause you harm.

Whether outlandish or mundane, the delusion persists despite contrary evidence and external challenges, and often conflicts with other things you believe. Delusions are a clear sign that something is wrong — they are regarded as a paradigmatic instance of irrationality in the psychological literature, and are the mark of madness in popular culture and fiction. They can lead you to lose touch with reality, make bad decisions, and endorse other implausible beliefs. They can impair your capacity to function well by making it difficult for you to participate in family life, foster relationships, continue your studies, keep your job, and generally pursue your life goals. Delusions are a source of preoccupation, social withdrawal, and depression. As Roberta Payne puts it in her wonderful memoir, Speaking to My Madness, a life with schizophrenia can be a poor imitation of a life.

It is no surprise, then, that delusions have a bad press. My question today is whether delusions are the problem, rather than the beginning of a solution. Some psychological studies show a positive impact of delusions on wellbeing and meaningfulness [1], suggesting that forming delusional beliefs may be adaptive. The human brain is largely a predictive machine: it allows you to predict future events on the basis of your current experiences. Experiences with heightened significance may disrupt the way you learn and interact with your environment, and cause serious concern and anxious expectation: what will happen next?

By experiencing random events as especially significant you feel puzzled and unsettled until you find an explanation for those events. When you are unable to understand why the world around you has changed, the delusion may temporarily relieve anxiety by providing an explanation for events whose apparent significance is mysterious, and the sense of heightened significance becomes less threatening. In the case of delusions such as the one about the dog raising his paw to deliver a message from God, the delusion may also enhance the sense that your life is meaningful and make you feel engaged in a worthy project. When the conviction in the delusion fades, then the sense of meaningfulness decreases, and so does your wellbeing  [2].

This suggests that delusions can have benefits of some sort. By making your life more meaningful and coherent, the delusion dissolves negative feelings about yourself or your situation, thereby reducing anxiety and stress. Anxiety and stress have negative consequences for your capacity to acquire knowledge because they compromise (among other things) attention and concentration, and undermine the interactions with your physical and social environment. It would seem that delusions have epistemic benefits: by providing an explanation of anomalous experience that makes you feel better about yourself they indirectly boost your capacity to acquire knowledge and overcome the effects of the prodromal stage of psychosis.

The idea that beliefs that defy evidence can be good for you is certainly not new, when the benefits are cashed out in psychological or biological terms: some implausible beliefs can enhance your wellbeing and improve your chances of success. So-called positive illusions, that is, excessively positive beliefs about yourself or your future prospects (such as “I’m a good public speaker,” “I’m smarter than the average person,” “My cancer has been successfully treated,” “My marriage won’t end up in divorce”) can translate into better chances to perform well in a variety of tasks requiring self-confidence, to maintain satisfying relationships, and to have a long and healthy life. But the view that there is a trade-off between enhancing health and wellbeing and promoting knowledge seems too simplistic. Beliefs that defy the evidence can be good for knowledge too. When beliefs have psychological benefits for you, they also have good consequences for your capacity to acquire knowledge.

There may also be ways in which adopting a delusion promotes knowledge independently of its psychological benefits. Learning is the outcome of the process by which the brain predicts the future on the basis of present experiences, and it is impaired when random events appear highly significant. As Mishara and Corlett [3] argue, when your attention is captured by events that do not deserve it, other potentially significant events are neglected as a result. By offering an explanation for many (only apparently) significant events, the delusion releases attention that can be more usefully employed in other ways. You can stop worrying about the dog’s unusual behavior if you have come to the conclusion that the dog was the means by which God chose to communicate with you. And you can focus your attention on other events, becoming more alert to what is happening around you. A more balanced allocation of cognitive resources, attention included, guarantees that you continue to update your model of the world on the basis of the stimuli you receive. By enabling learning to resume, the delusion can be regarded as having benefits for knowledge that do not depend on increased wellbeing.

The idea that in some specific contexts even wildly false beliefs can promote knowledge is counterintuitive, just like the idea that a morally dubious act can have good moral consequences. But the analogy can help us. In some circumstances, an apparent offense can prevent a worse outcome from occurring. For instance, you stop a terrorist from detonating a bomb by shooting his leg and making him fall. Shooting people is bad. But stopping the terrorist may be the right thing to do in the circumstances, especially if the bomb is likely to harm other people. If less violent means of stopping the terrorist are not available to you at the time, then what you do is justifiable. Similarly, if even wildly false beliefs can play an important function by enabling imperfect human agents to acquire knowledge in imperfect situations, that counts as a powerful redeeming feature.

This notion may apply to delusions and other implausible beliefs. Without adopting the delusion, you would be overwhelmed by anxiety, puzzled and unable to engage and learn, because you would not have an explanation for your experience. You would see the dog’s actions, have a strong sense that the experience is significant, but have no clue as to what its meaning could be, and feel lost and maybe even threatened by it. Other (far more plausible) explanations for the experience (such as “This event appears significant to me because there is something wrong with my brain”) would be less likely to enhance your sense of meaningfulness and coherence and to make you feel important and engaged. Thus, they would have fewer chances of reducing anxiety and stress. Coming to believe that you suffer from a disabling mental condition would increase your anxiety and stress, and lower your self-esteem.

Adopting the delusional explanation allows you to continue to process information effectively in a situation where your capacity to learn would be otherwise compromised. It is an emergency response in a disastrous scenario, comparable to shooting the terrorist in his leg just before he detonates a bomb that is likely to harm others. Thus, adopting the delusion may have beneficial effects on your capacity to obtain knowledge, but only with respect to a situation that is already problematic. The positive effects of the delusion may be temporary and limited in scope, and will be outweighed at a later stage due to the considerable disruption caused by the delusion. By letting the delusion shape your life, you find new sources of anxiety and stress, and you are likely to experience social isolation and exclusion as well. But despite these important qualifications, the claim that delusions have benefits for knowledge is important, and has implications for treatment.

The clinical psychologist Daniel Freeman and his colleagues [4] found that when you endorse a delusional belief with conviction (in the acute stage) you are not open to acknowledging that there may be other hypotheses explaining your experience. As a result of this finding, they argue that it is not always a good idea to challenge a delusion. If you cannot think of alternative explanations, there is nothing you can replace the delusion with, and thus when the delusion is challenged you may be left without any explanation for your experience. If delusions are sometimes beneficial, and enable you to resume learning in the way I suggested, then there may be an additional reason not to challenge them at the acute stage. Delusions may be playing the role of an emergency response, partially deceiving you but at the same time allowing you to continue engaging with the world around you, and potentially acquiring knowledge at a critical time.

_____

Lisa Bortolotti is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. Her main research area is the philosophy of cognitive science, and in her work she has focused on the limitations of human cognition and human agency. She is also interested in the relationship between science and society and in the ethical issues emerging from biomedical research, psychiatry, reproduction, parenting, and the treatment of nonhuman animals. Her latest book is Irrationality (Polity Press, 2014).

[1] Delusional belief systems and meaning in life: A preferred reality?, by G. Roberts, The British Journal of Psychiatry 159:19-28, 1991.

[2] Sense of coherence among delusional patients: prediction of remission and risk of relapse, by M. Bergstein, A. Weizman, and Z. Solomon. Comparative Psychiatry 49:288-96, 2008.

[3] Are delusions biologically adaptive? Salvaging the doxastic shear pin, by A.L. Mishara and P. Corlett, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32:530- 531, 2010.

[4] Why do people with delusions fail to choose more realistic explanations for their experiences? An empirical investigation, by D. Freeman et al., Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology 72:671-680, 2004.

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103 thoughts on “The upside of delusional beliefs

  1. Philip,

    I don’t necessarily have trouble with parallelism, but don’t think we need multiverses to explain it.
    Consider the conventional description of space is that it is three dimensional, yet three dimensions are, when you strip away all the metaphysics, the xyz coordinate system. It is no more foundational to space than longitude, latitude and altitude are foundational to the surface of the planet. It’s a mapping device. So multiple frames can be used to describe the same space. Effectively politics is about using different frames, along with different, i.e. parallel narratives, to support these different frames. Then there is no ultimate top down frame, i.e. no absolute ideal.
    So this reality is already fundamentally parallel. That particle might be spinning up in one frame and down in an opposing frame.
    As for particles, what if all we knew of lightning bolts was the spot they struck the ground? We would be missing a lot. How much is the quantification of this energy a function of the physical structure used to absorb it? Something to consider:
    http://fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Reiter_challenge2.pdf

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  2. Hi Aravis,

    Let me get this straight. If one believes in one’s religion, then one is ISIS or akin to ISIS?
    Do you actually *think* before you say this sort of stuff?

    Well I was taking a very charitable interpretation of that, but now that you bring attention to it …

    At my father’s funeral I met a woman who had gone to my father’s nursing home every single weekend for the last couple of years of his life (whereas I had so often found excuses not to go) and taken him among friends.

    There were clearly many other very pleasant ways she could have spent that time, but she was part of the church my father attended and she felt it was her duty.

    It is something which brings tears to my eyes each time I think of it, not only shame at my failings as a son but with admiration and gratitude for her beautiful actions. We hear so much of the downside of belief and I let her down each time I allow that to go uncommented.

    I can’t imagine why anyone would do what she did for any other motivations.

    I can’t comment for the average ISIS foot soldier, I think that they may believe in some sense but also that they are getting something – action, excitement, a terrible certainty and passion, sex and control over women. I don’t know if they stop and think long enough to have something that actually approaches a belief.

    At my father’s funeral I met a community of people who took seriously the idea of loving their neighbor.

    So, yes – when you actually believe then sometimes you get love, duty, goodness, something like a beautiful sacrifice that brings companionship and happiness to a dying old man who can no longer walk or talk and who’s family are far away or just thoughtless like me.

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  3. I wonder whether this is because, in the case of cultural religious beliefs, most people don’t really and actually believe them, they just sort of “believe” them because it’s their culture.

    That’s some serious science. I’d like to hear more about the scientific mind-reading methodologies that the APA is obviously using rather than just basing it on whether beliefs are commonly held by the culture in which the person is embedded.

    (When people do believe them we get ISIS.)

    Now I know why that bible-study group tried to firebomb my house. Who would have thought that a group of elderly, upper-middle-class ladies could hurl molotovs like that?

    Thanks for the insights. Awesome science as always.

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  4. A fundamental delusion that I think we’re born with is that we can understand everything that needs to be understood.

    One place where I’d say this had a good epistemic outcome is the touching belief for thousands of years of practitioners of medicine that they could understand the things they were grappling with, with all its attendant false systems like that of the humors. Sometime in the last century or so, human knowledge and technology shifted such that that was no longer a delusion.

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  5. “At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty #253.

    In order to be able to show, by way of proofs, that statements are rationally warranted, I have to believe in the validity of the proofs. But, of course, the rational warrant for my belief in the validity of the proofs cannot lie in further proofs.

    In order to be able to show, by way of observational evidence, that my beliefs are rationally warranted, I have to believe that my observations are veridical. But of course, the rational warrant for my belief that my observations are veridical cannot lie in further observations.

    “If the true is what is grounded, then the ground is not true, nor yet false.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty #205.

    “If I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: “This is simply what I do.” ” Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations § 217.

    This is a terrific article, and its thesis, if anything, is understated. The ungrounded, the unjustified, the delusional…they all get short shrift.

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  6. Lisa Bortolotti: “Rather, I observe that, although the psychological and philosophical literature only focuses on the downsides of delusions, and defines them as epistemically deficient beliefs, there may be some epistemic benefits, of a limited and temporary nature.”

    Fair enough, for delusion at personal level. At societal level, delusion is the most dominant force around, such as religions (legitimating the falsity as eternal truth). But, my interest is about the delusion in science.

    What is delusion? It views falsity as truth. Then, can we distinguish falsity from truth? The answer is a big YES, by understanding the delusion PROCESS (the way of falsifying truths). I have showed two steps in my last comment, but there is at least one more very important step.

    One, vulgar power (the result of free connotation power of linguistics, an innate FUNCTION of linguistics), making good becoming evil: an innate faculty of human.

    Two, self-blindness (lying to oneself): looking while not seeing, decisively and subjectively reject the obvious reality; the power of FREE-WILL.

    Three, demonizing others, with the ad hominem-like tactics.

    As soon as one reaches the enlightenment of self-blindness with comfort, his demonizing power has limit no more. I should show that how this can be done in solid examples.

    The semantic meaning of LAW is TRUTH in a given defined domain. That is, there are truths around. The more powerful truth (with bigger domain) is the ENTITY law. So, {number A = number A} is a true statement without too much debate.

    Example 1 of self-Blindness: one number {(1/Alpha) = 137.0359 … } was discovered, and it is declared to be Un-derivable thus far (February 18, 2015). But, {Alpha equation = 137.0359 … } was available online 20 years ago, and is now available at many websites (http://prebabel.blogspot.com/2012/04/alpha-fine-structure-constant-mystery.html ).

    Example 2 of self- Blindness: the mission of M-string theory is the {string unification, written SM fermions with string LANGAUGE}. It failed on its mission thus far while declaring that there is no other game in town. Yet, a G-string LANGUAGE was published in the book (Super Unified Theory) 30 years ago, and it is available at INSPIRE (High Energy Physics Information System), see http://inspirehep.net/search?p=find+a+gong,+jeh+tween .

    Example 3 of self- Blindness: Bryan Appleyard (The Sunday Times, http://bryanappleyard.com/the-universe-a-buyers-guide/ ) wrote: “… the Standard Model of Particle Physics — is full of so many arbitrary numbers [cannot be derived] … invent trillions of other universes (the multiverse) in which these numbers are different.”

    What additional proof is needed to prove that {137.0359 … (derived) = 137.0359 … (observed)}?
    What additional proof is needed to prove that G-string is a language describing all (48) SM fermions?
    What additional proof is needed to show that all those derived constants are already derived?

    There is no problem of distinguishing truths from falsities in the three examples above. That is, {which are delusions?} is all clear. The science DELUSION is much bigger issue than the personal delusion.

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  7. Lisa Bortolotti
    “Causal” responsibility for the individual is “lost” if the environmental wash produces a beneficial outcome from “delusional subjects nevertheless being effective in the world”. In fact, at best, this would be a break-even positive spin, meaning its just a matter of whether an inconsequential “errant” participant in society happens to have matters resolved effectively for them. Its a piece about interface of self and world, and how the errant individual is supported socially (by species) in all sorts of ways. Its ultimately about the complex dynamics of individual within species, with emphasis on species rather than a more heroic story arc of the lone ranger. You can only emphasize species (society) if the individual is errant. Starting at church steps gave it away.

    Coel (to Marko)
    “According to *THAT* metric, yes, where that metric tells us whether something was selected for (a “feature”) or not (a side-effect or “bug”). Thus, for example, the delusion that one is more handsome or a better leader than the median might be selected for (even though a delusion). But that’s *ALL* that that metric tells us.

    “No, because that is the naturalistic fallacy. The virulence of the smallpox virus is a “feature” in the sense that it was selected for, but it doesn’t follow that we “should” spread the smallpox virus around.”

    Its not a “bug”. DNA divides as 3 Xs and 1 Y to procreate a whole individual, and its gender is only a random product of being in a procreative cycle – a cycle that produces “individuals” to “procreate” – two factors, not one! Individuals have valuable lives encoded by DNA to do many things except procreate, and also to procreate. One of the things people are free to do, psychologically and (safely) biologically as individuals encoded with sex, is to have sex as a gay. That is not procreation, but it is sex. From this logic, gay sex traits for “individuals” are simply outside the sex traits for “species” procreation, rather than in opposition to it. You go one step beyond logic to be judgmental, which is the definition of being judgmental. Good point Marko, look to individual functions as well as species functions, both equally important.

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  8. Hi everybody! The discussion has taken a life of its own, and that is great. It is not my intention to shape the direction of the debate, especially as some of the themes emerging are important in their own right. But I just thought I would say something about the intended subject of my essay and about the definition of delusion.

    The essay was about clinical delusions emerging in the context of schizophrenia. It was neither about irrational beliefs in general (although, as I said, we can learn something about irrational beliefs when we look at clinical delusions), nor about religious beliefs in general (although the example I used did make reference to a message from God, and some delusions have religious content). My essay was not about delusions emerging in the context of other pathologies, as such delusions may have a different aetiology and different characteristics.

    Is there a satisfactory definition of clinical delusion, one that is successful at providing necessary and sufficient conditions for something to qualify as a clinical delusion? Probably not. At least, there is no definition on which there is consensus. The definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders people discussed here has been criticised by philosophers, psychiatrists and psychologists alike. But there are working definitions of delusions that are useful for research or clinical purposes.

    One I like is this:

    “A person is deluded when they have come to hold a particular belief with a degree of firmness that is both utterly unwarranted by the evidence at hand, and that jeopardises their day-to-day functioning” (McKay et al. 2005, p. 315).

    This definition is not perfect. But what I like about it is that it includes a reference not only to the epistemic features of delusions (e.g., high conviction), but also to the effects that delusions typically have on people’s lives (e.g., delusions are disruptive). Another reason why I like this definition is that it does not claim that delusions are necessarily false, “fixed” or irresponsive to counter-evidence. Delusions are typically implausible, but they do not need to be. Delusions are usually resistant to counter-evidence, but that is not a feature that is peculiar to delusions, and “fixity” seems too strong anyway. Delusions may not be abandoned when counter-evidence becomes available, but they are certainly “sensitive to evidence” as people provide arguments in defence of their delusional beliefs when they are challenged.

    So I take delusions to be irrational beliefs that typically have a disruptive effect on people’s lives. This is not enough to distinguish delusions from similar phenomena, I acknowledge that, but it is a start. For instance, it can help us with the distinction between clinical delusions with religious content, and religious beliefs. Many beliefs with religious content are not delusional in the sense described, because they do not have a disruptive effect on people’s lives. (Indeed, research has shown that some religious beliefs are associated with long-term psychological benefits.)

    Sometimes in these debates I get the impression that we all tend to have an idealised notion of what science is and how it works. The suggestion seems to be that, unless we already have objective criteria or a tight definition for a phenomenon, empirical or philosophical investigation into that phenomenon is arbitrary or inconclusive. But science and good philosophy are work in progress. They are trial and error. Ultimately, our investigations will tells us what delusions are; whether that of delusion is a unified phenomenon, or further distinctions are needed; whether we can distinguish delusions from other beliefs based on their causal history; etc. The definition of delusion is the finish line.

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  9. Well that little aside about ISIS seems to have been a tad provocative!

    Hi Aravis,

    If one believes in one’s religion, then one is ISIS or akin to ISIS?

    From previous exchanges, you regard religion as more about social interactions and culture, whereas my remark was more about the delusional side of religon, namely the theology. I do not regard the social and cultural aspects of religion as delusional, but I do regard the theological side of mainstream religions such as Christianity and Islam as delusional (colloquial sense of the word, not the medical sense). I should probably have worded my comment in terms of “theology” rather than “religion”.

    If someone really believes that Mohammed, when aged 51, flew on a winged horse from Mecca to Jerusalem and thence to Heaven and back, then that seems to me fairly delusional (if, though, they just culturally “believe” it, or regard it as a metaphor for a dream or whatever, then ok).

    Do Christians actually and really believe their theology? If they really did then they’d live as though the theology and the everlasting life in the next world were of supreme importance. But most people who regard themselves as Christian simply don’t. In the UK, the half of the nation who call themselves Christian live lives that are de facto little different from the half who are non-religious. Their concerns are largely the same, their behaviour is largely the same.

    If, say, a 16-yr-old dies in an accident then everyone is sad for them, and mourns the lost life they could have had. But if you really believed they were then enjoying paradise then you’d be genuinely happy for them — not just seeking solace in that thought, but genuinely happy about it. Get, anyone genuinely happy about such a thing would be regarded as psychopathic.

    In cases where a mother kills her children because she loves them so much that she wants them to be in a better place, then the mother is regarded as psychiatrically ill; yet if various mainstream theologies were actually true it would be an entirely reasonable and loving act.

    The point about ISIS is that they really do allow their theology to totally dominate their behaviour. Personally I’m glad that most religious people do not, and instead live as humanists, with concerns for people and society dominating.

    Hi Robin,

    I can’t imagine why anyone would do what she did for any other motivations.

    I’m interested, do you have evidence that such things are much more prevalent among those who have certain theological beliefs, as oppose to those who don’t? The alternative explanation is that differences are down to different personalities and different cultural and social attitudes.

    Would you really be unable to imagine a non-religious person doing the same for someone they had known for decades through a golf club or other non-religious social activity?

    So, yes — when you actually believe then sometimes you get love, duty, goodness, …

    So you’re suggesting that those qualities derive from theological beliefs, and that those without such beliefs would never act like that? I know that this is the standard line that religions try to peddle, but is there evidence that it is actually true?

    The alternative explanation is that theology is invented as a commentary on humanity, and things are attributed to theology that are actually a product of humanity.

    Hi Asher,

    That’s some serious science.

    Starting a sentence with “I wonder whether …” is not a claim about “serious science”.

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  10. Lisa,
    I would refer back to my initial point and following comments; That the delusion you have is that there is such a thing as an objective perspective, an absolute ideal. The more you focus and concentrate on some specific definition of clinical delusion, the more you will lose sight of the network of relations and feedback loops that would explain any particular case. While our minds like that narrative vector, with a neat concluding point, since we are predatory animals and seek the goal of capturing, gathering that food source, more than we take into account the larger feedback loops of being prey and allowing the broader thermodynamic, energized situation to inform us of the environment. So the more you concentrate on the point, the more you loose sight of its context.

    As for religion, societies need both vision and management. That the vision most religions provide tend to be eccentric does serve to select for true believers, over those less willing to accept norms and compromise their views to the social entity. Trying to provide a vision which would serve everyone, would serve no one.

    Thermodynamics explains more than narrative.

    My last post. Good Luck.

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  11. Another way of putting it is that sex has a very wide arc that extends to many forms of physical and psychological states. The point of two sexes is to make one individual, who carries sex to do it again. In other words, on one view, being a person is more important than being a male or female person, even though sex comes with being a person. We want more persons, or not, so we reproduce, or not. The existence of a cycle is no guarantee that it will continue for a person by their sex – as “the thing that differentiates them from the other sex so that they can reproduce”, given that they are a person nonetheless. Anyway, in the vagaries of the broad arc of sex, who is to say that in the development of Coel’s so called “un-bugged” male or female, that they were not facilitated by a gay, by match making, advice, encouragement. What is the broad interplay across “fancies” in sex, to make clear who and what is influencing who and what across lives and circumstances?

    Coel

    To help you out, I suppose if you can dig out reliable stats in this area (hard to do generally in social sciences) to show adverse effects of liberal sexual attitudes on reproductive rates, a “dumb number” analysis to maintain an undiminished species might hold. Without that, I hold that gayness is up to the individual in a wide arc around procreation, in which a species would not easily stand at the edge of self-destruction by gayness, because that is part of the wide arc, levels of tolerance, not “bugs”. Maybe a bit of genetic lottery, but I would have to look at the research. However, as regards reproduction, not an issue. And more importantly, arguably, is the individual at the center of it who really doesn’t need to hear that their wonderful “love affair” as they might really experience it, is a “bug”.

    So, to close, the loop, this argument now we gets back to Lisa Bortolotto’s piece, which is about differentiating delusional (errant) experiences (of thought or belief) that have constructive outcomes in a complex world. Lisa might for the sake of argument say that the gay is having a delusional experience, so we reach a stalemate on the personal experience side of things. A stalemate here in saying who is delusional, usually meant society took responsibility for them (exorcised them and chastened them). Back to carrots and sticks, no progress that way, just warfare, ultimately, or at least escape with the help of robin hood! But today we know that is a confidence trick by authority in many cases, authority without much of a clue about these matters beyond some cortical tampering, if that. I go with the “wide arc of sex centering on procreation as its plug hole, that in some cases never gets to the plughole! That’s healthier.

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  12. Prof Bortolloti, I have a chicken and egg question that I would like to hear your thoughts on. It is not clear to me when I encounter what appears to be OCD type behavior in some people whether what might be described as a delusional explanation/belief is instead largely an ad hoc, after the fact defense for engaging in behavior that others might describe as delusional. In other words, the so-called delusional belief is a convenient story line or narrative used to explain behavior that is otherwise inexplicable.

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  13. This aphorism, courtesy of Aravis, is sort of what we have been struggling with: “At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty #253. Seems very reasonable.

    Belief that is unfounded is a delusion, especially when you know that it is unfounded. Most humans would seem to be completely unaware, carrying on with their daily lives as best they can.

    HOWEVER, if one is aware of this little problem of delusions everywhere, one has a choice to make:
    a. give up, essentially like Wittgenstein – ““If I have exhausted the justifications, I have reached bedrock and my spade is turned. Then I am inclined to say: “This is simply what I do.”” How would one know that one has ‘exhausted the justifications’? That might itself be an illusion or a delusion. The philosopher, on a priori grounds, suggests we close the door on curiosity, and be consigned to our fate.
    Or b. One could carry on digging. Get a different spade with which to smash the bedrock. This is what scientists do. They exercise ‘free will’, often pointlessly, but many times with astonishing success.

    Pragmatically, we all have to admit this is simply what we do at some point. However, because of the incessant tinkering and probing by the indomitably curious, many of our great delusions have shrunk down to almost nothing. Their atavistic vestiges pop up still all over the place, but that is no reason to give up!

    Thanks Aravis 😉

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  14. Coel:

    You’re backpeddling now, and that’s good, because your original claim — re: religious people and ISIS — was outrageous and insulting, not to mention false. My grandfather was a Hasidic Jew from a Galician shtetl. He definitely believed, in the sense that you abhor, and yet, he was a gentle, lovely, decent man — as far from ISIS as you can imagine. And I would suspect that is true of most really religious people.

    Your response to Robin either deliberately misreads him or is confused. It is possible *both* that the person he described *was* motivated by her theological beliefs *and* possible that someone without such beliefs might be similarly motivated.

    Asher got you pegged. Your response to him is the response of a person who got caught and doesn’t want to admit it. The fact is, your constant screeds against religious people and your assertions as to their pernicious qualities are hardly empirically based or scientifically sound. Rather, they stem from some distorted mental picture that you have of hundreds of millions of people whom you’ve never met, about whom you’ve done no empirical research. In fact, I wonder….might that not be something like…a delusion?

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  15. @Coel

    In the first section (to Aravis) you say that if someone *really* believed something, they would act as though that belief were true.

    In the second section (to Robin) you say that believing something isn’t sufficient for claiming that they acted out of their belief.

    Which is it?

    Wait — don’t answer that. Please, for all of our sakes, don’t answer that. Your arguments in the first section about mothers and their children contradict both Christian theology and what science does actually know about beliefs and motivations. Let’s leave the cavity at its current depth.

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  16. Hi Aravis,

    But, of course, the rational warrant for my belief in the validity of the proofs cannot lie in further proofs. […] the rational warrant for my belief that my observations are veridical cannot lie in further observations.

    Such aphorisms refute the notion of a chain of justification anchored in the bedrock of certainty. If, though, one gives up the claim to certainty, and instead of a chain goes for a web of interconnecting ideas, then the different parts of the web can validate each other, with no bit being either primal or unvalidated. The overall validation then comes from the match to our set of empirical experiences (where, ultimately, matching our empirical experiences is the only truth claimed).

    Asher got you pegged. Your response to him is the response of a person who got caught and doesn’t want to admit it.

    I’m amazed at the interpretation by you and Asher of a sentence that was quite deliberately and precisely phrased: “I wonder whether …”!

    Anyhow, I still do wonder [OED: “feel curious”] why if someone believed that they were the reincarnation of Napoleon, then they’re deluded (colloquial sense) but if millions believe that Mohammed flew on a winged horse to heaven then they’re not. Safety in numbers?

    … as far from ISIS as you can imagine.

    As explained in my previous comment, ISIS was referred to as an example of totally prioritising theology. It was not a claim that everyone who gives primacy to theology behaves like ISIS. Obviously it would depend on their theology.

    It is possible *both* that the person he described *was* motivated by her theological beliefs *and* possible that someone without such beliefs might be similarly motivated.

    I agree. It was Robin who said that he “can’t imagine” any other motivation, and thus attributed it necessarily to religion.

    … they stem from some distorted mental picture that you have of hundreds of millions of people whom you’ve never met, …

    I’ll admit to not having met “hundreds of millions” of religious people, but I have met a fair few. Nor do I concede that a sample size as big as hundreds of millions is required.

    To anyone who thinks I passed negative judgement on being gay: I didn’t. I was not passing moral judgements, I was asking about why certain features (in this case deluded beliefs) might have evolved. “It evolved” does not mean “it is good that it evolved” (Google “naturalistic fallacy”, “is vs ought” and see the above smallpox example — thankyou).

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  17. Aravis:

    The immediately following was written before I had noticed that there were newer comments:

    Coel, who wrote

    “…in the case of cultural religious beliefs, most people don’t really and actually believe them, they just sort of “believe” them because it’s their culture. (When people do believe them we get ISIS.)”,

    may have exhausted his allotment of 5, so I’ll butt in uninvited and briefly reply to your

    “Let me get this straight. If one believes in one’s religion, then one is ISIS or akin to ISIS?
    Do you actually *think* before you say this sort of stuff?”

    I take Coel’s phrasing as expressing a perfectly true proposition, admittedly using about the most extreme example one can find in recent years, when mentioning ISIS (rather than stating the proposition couched with quantifiers and the like, a careful style which never seems to happen much in these discussions, even where—-not here, but for example when blathering on about logic—it should be essential).

    As another example of perhaps his proposition probably closer to you, the book known to christians as the old testament is, I am sure, quite familiar. There seems to be only the choice of not literally believing its claims and suggested actions, or accepting that slavery and genocide are desirable in promoting the agenda of the god portrayed there and who is its supposed real author.

    To steal from

    http://www.salon.com/2015/02/15/faith_fueled_forces_of_hatred_obamas_religion_speech_was_troubling_but_not_for_the_reasons_the_right_alleges/

    it seems doubtful that, if resurrected and brought to a modern, supposedly scholarly, theological discussion of the koran, the author would agree that when he wrote about smiting off the heads of infidels, he actually meant giving them a stern talking to.

    Going on about metaphorical language is totally unconvincing in the complete lack of any rational criteria from the theologians as to what is metaphorical and what is not.

    And I do not regard myself as disrespectful to them in believing that my more immediate ancestors were not saying the truth when claiming to completely believe the propositions of their religion.

    Then after noticing a few newer comments, esp from

    Robin and Asher:

    To say that persons perform great kindnesses because of religious motivations in no way contradicts what Coel asserted. It is obvious from deduction not requiring the least extra scientific observation, beyond what is written in their holy books and their lack of action in respect to some of those writings, that these people “believe” rather than believe, in the way Coel originally put it.
    And any implication one might get from what you wrote that acts of great humanity (or at least refraining from firebombing your house!) can come only from this kind of “belief” is both false and pernicious.

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  18. There can be a fine line between speech acts and a kind of delusion.

    Depending on the circumstances, and to whom you say “I will get up and go to work tomorrow” the listener will hear a rock solid promise, I declaration of being reasonably determined, or something I idly think will happen.

    People in very subordinate positions (e.g. in prison) can’t safely make a rock solid commitment; “I will” likely means “That’s what I’ve been told, or the rules tell me, to do, and if the order changes I’ll do something else”.

    George Bernard Shaw said:
    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

    The ability to make a “real” promise that commits ones being is elusive, witness all the failed diet; and we have at least a popular image of it sometimes appearing spontaneously, not by design, as with the heroine’s “Never Again” in Gone With the Wind. It’s like the capability gets somewhat mysteriously turned on and off.

    “Listening to Prozac” cites a study that manipulated which Chimpanzee in a group acted as alpha male via changes in blood seratonin levels.

    There was a sucessful software system called “The Coordinator” by “Action Technologies” (Company started by Fernando Flores, who got his doctorate in philosophy(?) under Hubert Dreyfus and John Searle). It was, I think, largely programmed by Terry Winograd, a close associate of Flores for a while. It steered people towards making commitments that they would live up to in a team environment. Some who disliked it called it “Nazi-ware”.

    This gets us back to Asher’s comment on 12-step programs. Various tricks are used to access “will power” or what makes a promise really a promise, e.g. various kinds of oaths. Also, “surrender to a higher power” as in AA, may really be a matter of generating a persona inside oneself that enhances the act of promising.

    Goethe said (not quite – see http://www.goethesociety.org/pages/quotescom.html)

    “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

    Shaw adapted Goethe’s character Don Juan in his “Man and Superman”. If I’m viewing things correctly, many great accomplishments come from the declarer of a transformational declaration, but it can also be the source of awful religious fanaticism and of Hitler’s terrible “Triumph of Will”.

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  19. “At the core of all well-founded belief, lies belief that is unfounded.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty #253. Reasonable? No.

    If the “well-founded belief” is founded on the “unfounded”, it’s not well founded, Mr. Witt! Thus I object to Mr. Witt’s wit.

    Are there then “well-founded” beliefs?
    Yes.

    And then on what are “well-founded beliefs” founded?

    Not on other beliefs. That would be turtles all the way down.

    Instead beliefs are founded on experience. And the more powerful, painful and drastic, the clearer it is.

    So what founds well-founded belief? ISIS, of course. ISIS takes twenty Christians, and cut their throats because they were Christians. That founds a new belief: Christianism is bad for the throat. One feels it inside.

    Auschwitz too was designed to well-found a new belief! On the nature of the really elected people. Elected by force. Meaning what? Raw force is what experience is made of, if overwhelming.

    Freedom ends where my nose starts, but belief is also founded into hard ground, hard reality, especially when hit at speed.

    This is actually why Mr. Witt, a wealthy scion (I did not say Zion), went to build with his bare hands a cabin in the Norwegian woods. He wanted to ground his beliefs in reality. (That’s something so obvious, that even Heidegger noticed it).

    People who believe it’s so admirable that one should make a religion from whom, at first sight looks like a dangerous lunatic, Abraham.

    Suppose a man comes around to say he tied up his son, put him on a flat rock, and was going to slit his throat with a knife, when the god in his head told him that it had changed his mind.

    One would say such a man is not just deluded, but dangerously so. The prudent course is to lock him up.
    The imprudent course would be to make a religion out of his grotesque and potentially lethal delusion.

    Embracing deliberately a potentially lethal delusion is not nice. It’s not civilized. It’s dangerous. It’s playing games with the notions of killing who one should love the most, just to obey the boss, even when the boss (so-called “god”) is worse than the worst dog.

    Playing with the notion of one being the “elected people” invites others to do just the same.

    And then one hits the ground. The ground of hard reality.

    Ultimately all beliefs are based on force. If the force is that of cutting the throat of a child, for no good reason, one builds a religion that ends with Auschwitz (either building it, or visiting it).

    We all have to have metaprinciples, or superstition. The strongest one are built on force. What’s the ultimate force? Certainly not having the desire, as Abraham did, to cut his child’s throat. That would make the species impossible, the ultimate sin.

    No, the ultimate principle is not to cut throats, as Abraham had it, but to feed and protect children.
    Then the metaprinciples are in accord with what makes existence possible.

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  20. The author mentioned she was really talking about delusions in the sense of clinical psychology. I think the discussion might have gone a bit in a different direction had that been more clearly stated at the start, and we might not have had claims that religious belief in general is akin to ISIS. Or, we might have had something else just as bad, who knows?

    So, let’s take Prof. Bartolotti at that angle, especially as in her last comment.

    First, as she may know, what is in the DSM, or even the World Health Organization’s psychological section of its International Statistical Classification of Diseases, is very WEIRD or (“western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic”).

    Therefore, an American’s delusions may not be delusions in Japan and almost certainly aren’t in the highlands of New Guinea. And, to go a bit “meta,” this essay may be a bit WEIRD itself. Brodix’s last comment touches on this a bit.

    I would say that even the McKay definition that Bartolotti offers needs some cultural and sociological caveating. That’s especially true about the day-to-day functioning. Hearing voices may get you hospitalized in modern America; it may get you tapped to be a shaman in Siberia or Mongolia, and is therefore very functional there — so much so that faking hearing voices would also be functional.

    Therefore, beyond that, to get to language usage but without quoting Wittgenstein, hearing voices, or if we’re talking a belief rather than a misfiring of the brain, thinking those voices are from “other people” or whatever — is not irrational within a certain cultural basis.

    I want to add on to and nuance something else:

    Delusions may not be abandoned when counter-evidence becomes available, but they are certainly “sensitive to evidence” as people provide arguments in defence of their delusional beliefs when they are challenged.

    To the degree clinical-type delusions parallel denialism, as addressed last fall in an essay by Massimo, I think this puts the case mildly. As the fantastic (and unethically backgrounded) book “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” shows, delusions, like denialism, are likely to actually become more entrenched in the face of counter-evidence, especially if that is presented in a confrontational way.

    For more on that book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three_Christs_of_Ypsilanti

    I think we wind up almost at a tautology: If a counterfactual psychological belief state is adaptive (in the short term, not talking long term, or reproductively adaptive or whatever), then it’s not a delusion. If it’s maladaptive, then it’s a delusion.

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  21. part of the problem with that particular Witty quote is that modern philosophy has moved away from foundationalist projects (since Descartes, really). We think rather in terms of Quineian’s webs of mutually reinforcing beliefs, which means that Wittgenstein’s type of objections lose much of their force.

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  22. Several have suggested that somehow, the move to Quinean webs-of-belief views of warrant undermine the points made in the Wittgenstein quotes I posted. This is simply wrong.

    But, before I reply, let me remind everyone that exactly the same point was made by Hume, in the Treatise of Human Nature.

    “Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.”

    Hume’s point — and Wittgenstein’s — goes directly to the question of the limits of human reason and thus, human inquiry, both as a matter of *nature* and as a matter of our being bound to operate and inquire from within frameworks. This last point is important, because, the point I have been describing, here, was not only made by Hume and Wittgenstein. It was made by Quine as well. It is one of the central conclusions of his work on the indeterminacy of translation and the ontological relativity that follows from it. Dependent on our framework of “analytic hypotheses”, we may refer and ontologically commit to A, B, C and D, or, alternatively, E, F, G, and H. But if one wants to know, “Yes, but which framework is *really* correct,” the only answer that can be given is a pragmatic or prudential one. A variation, that is, on “This is what we do.” Davidson’s version of this argument is even stronger, in this direction.

    The Web of Belief is nothing more than one example of a Coherentist theory of warrant — and not even the best one. It hardly addresses the issue at hand here, as it can become the subject of precisely the same point made before about inference and observation.

    DK Aphorism #1: In order to show that beliefs are warranted by appeal to the degree of their coherence with other beliefs in the belief system, I have to believe that coherence provides a valid measure of a belief’s warrant. But, of course, my belief that coherence provides a valid measure of a belief’s warrant cannot itself by justified, by a further appeal to coherence.

    Liam asks: “How would one know that one has ‘exhausted the justifications’?” Hume would answer that one knows one has reached the limits of rational inquiry, when one’s inquiries yield skeptical conclusions. Wittgenstein would say something very similar — i.e. when one’s inquiries seem to imply insoluble philosophical problems.

    Oh, and I entirely reject your characterization of scientists as those who “keep digging, sometimes with astonishing success.” There is not a single skeptical problem or paradox that scientific inquiry has solved.

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  23. @Coel

    I’m amazed at the interpretation by you and Asher of a sentence that was quite deliberately and precisely phrased: “I wonder whether …”!

    You were wondering whether X was the reason for the religious exemption. You didn’t express any doubt about your unscientific idea that religious believers don’t “really” believe. And in fact you continue to express no doubt, implying that knowing “a fair few” believers is a valid way to reach your unwarranted conclusion. You have presented no evidence for your supposition beyond a few contradictory and poorly-reasoned examples that you haven’t attempted to defend further.

    Anyhow, I still do wonder

    Despite it having been explained to you, and despite that it’s clear from the language in the DSM.

    @phoffman56

    And any implication one might get from what you wrote that acts of great humanity (or at least refraining from firebombing your house!) can come only from this kind of “belief” is both false and pernicious.

    I guess it’s fortunate then that what I wrote doesn’t imply that in any way at all. Coel was asserting that most religious people don’t *really* believe what they claim to believe, and that those who do perform the sorts of acts that ISIS does. I was simply making fun of that.

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  24. Lisa Bortolotti: “The discussion has taken a life of its own, and that is great. It is not my intention to shape the direction of the debate, especially as some of the themes emerging are important in their own right.”

    This is the great difference between “Scientia Salon” (a public reviewed journal) and the “Peer Reviewed” journals. Peer Reviewed journals have done a great job in the past, but it has some innate birth-defects.
    One, how can my peer know more than I do. Thus, any revolutionary idea runs the risk of being rejected by the peers.

    Two, the truths of the universe are divided into many compartments in human knowledge while they are in fact linked in Nature. Thus, peers of one compartment are often lacking the knowledge of those kind of links, vital to the laws in the compartment. We have seen some peer reviewed articles which are not very great after reviewed by public.

    In the case of Physics Journals in the world, they publish a few thousand articles each year that is about 100,000 article in 50 years. Yet, at most 10 articles among the 100,000 did any good for physics; that is, the 99,990 of them can go into…

    On the other hand, the “Scientia Salon” has published many great articles (including yours) in one short years. SciSal is the first place letting the Ivory Tower citizens see the wild jungle where the true knowledge sits. Welcome to this knowledge jungle and thanks for Massimo’s great work.

    Your definition for delusion is perfect in your defined domain. Yet, as a linguistic token, it should have a universal definition while your definition as a subset of it. Your definition could be a subset of definition based on ‘phenomena’. A more universal definition should be based on “process” {what the delusion mechanism is?}, as the phenomena are always the outcomes of process.

    The semantic definition is {believing the false as truth}. Yet, that believing is the result of a process of falsifying the truth (FTP). I have showed one FTP with three steps: 1) metaphysical step {vulgarity faculty}, 2) self-blindness capability, 3) malicious demonizing intention. For personally delusion, these three steps could be hardwired, as a brain disease. But, at societal level, it becomes a collective subconsciousness. The key point which I am interested in is {is there any difference between the delusion falsifying process and the Popperian falsifying process?). It is not too difficult to show that there is no fundamental difference between the two.

    Delusion: falsifying the TRUTH.

    Popperianism: falsifying the false. Great, with great success.

    Yet, regardless of what Popper had said, the Popperianism today goes way beyond the above but with two more statements.

    S1, anything not falsifiable is not science.

    S2, anything not falsifiable is not truth {as it cannot be verified}.

    There is no difference between these two statements and the delusion falsifying process. More, next.

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  25. Marko

    Good job conuter Coel’s comment. Another way of putting it is that sex has a very wide arc that extends to many forms of physical and psychological states. The point of two sexes is to make one individual, who carries sex to do it again. In other words, on one view, being a person is more important than being a male or female person, even though sex comes with being a person. We want more persons, or not, so we reproduce, or not. The existence of a cycle is no guarantee that it will continue for a person by their sex – as “the thing that differentiates them from the other sex so that they can reproduce”, given that they are a person nonetheless. Anyway, in the vagaries of the broad arc of sex, who is to say that in the development of Coel’s so called “un-bugged” male or female, that they were not facilitated by a gay, by match making, advice, encouragement. What is the broad interplay across “fancies” in sex, to make clear who and what is influencing who and what across lives and circumstances?

    Coel

    To help you out, I suppose if you can dig out reliable stats in this area (hard to do generally in social sciences) to show adverse effects of liberal sexual attitudes on reproductive rates, a “dumb number” analysis to maintain an undiminished species might hold. Without that, I hold that gayness is up to the individual in a wide arc around procreation, in which a species would not easily stand at the edge of self-destruction by gayness, because that is part of the wide arc, levels of tolerance, not “bugs”. Maybe a bit of genetic lottery, but I would have to look at the research. However, as regards reproduction, not an issue. And more importantly, arguably, is the individual at the center of it who really doesn’t need to hear that their wonderful “love affair” as they might really experience it, is a “bug”.

    So, to close, the loop, this argument now we gets back to Lisa Bortolotto’s piece, which is about differentiating delusional (errant) experiences (of thought or belief) that have constructive outcomes in a complex world. Lisa might for the sake of argument say that the gay is having a delusional experience, so we reach a stalemate on the personal experience side of things. A stalemate here in saying who is delusional, usually meant society took responsibility for them (exorcised them and chastened them). Back to carrots and sticks, no progress that way, just warfare, ultimately, or at least escape with the help of robin hood! But today we know that is a confidence trick by authority in many cases, authority without much of a clue about these matters beyond some cortical tampering, if that. I go with the “wide arc of sex centering on procreation as its plug hole, that in some cases never gets to the plughole!” That’s healthier, more logical, and less nasty to gays. In fact, I doubt there can be a diffusion of sex across a person’s anatomy without a wide arc for sex beyond “the successful act of procreation”.

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  26. Directly on topic.

    I wonder how this topic looks from a psychoanalytic perspective. I know that psychoanalysis is not looked upon fondly in these quarters, and my aim is *not* to revisit that argument. But it seems to me that for Freud, our well-being as individuals — and as whole civilizations — depends upon successfully lying to and deceiving ourselves. Would this mean, then, that on a psychoanalytic view delusion — or at least a variety of delusion — is incontrovertibly a Good Thing?

    If so, then this might suggest some interesting things about our evolving self image. With the current dominance of CBT theories and models, the picture of human nature is essentially rationalistic — our thoughts determine our emotions and we can control those thoughts — in very much the manner that it was in the Enlightenment. And this represents a significant departure from the previous way of thinking, in the period between the Enlightenment and, roughly, the mid-twentieth century, in which the picture of human nature was much more mixed and much more inclined towards the non-rational and the irrational.

    I won’t deny that I am suspicious of this revival of the rationalist view, despite the apparent “empirical validity” of CBT. (And its empirical basis has been questioned quite a bit.) It sounds a bit like a kind of wishful thinking — maybe a way of banishing the very recent memory of humans behaving like animals on a global scale and to catastrophic effects, undreamed of in the millennia prior.

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  27. Aravis Thanks for joining in steering this back on topic.

    As one might guess, from my hints about subselves (not necessarily Dennett’s ideas about them, though) and “something like free will,” and my comments on Massimo’s Stoicism essays, I too don’t fully buy into a rational human self. Sometimes, we as a species, or individuals, are less rational in a sense of being actively irrational, and sometimes, rational vs. irrational is another of those old polarities that don’t totally apply.

    That said, your take on the psychoanalytic stance sounds more Jungian than Freudian, as it seems to depend on the universality of archetypes, etc. Delusions could, at least theoretically, arrived from repressions that are culturally driven and not universalist. To steer back to Freud, and his bête noire of sex, the New Guinea highlanders I mentioned in my second comment won’t have the same sexual hang-ups as a post-Edwardian European.

    Beyond that, of course, as some of the famous psychology experiments of the late 60s and beyond — Zimbardo and others — show, groupthink-like controls can produce at least quasi-delusional control beliefs.

    These may be socially adaptive for an individual — an extreme version of Sam Rayburn’s dictum, “To get along, go along.”

    That all said, Prof. Bortolotti (apology for earlier misspelling) at times seems to be talking about social adaptiveness), as in:

    Some psychological studies show a positive impact of delusions on wellbeing and meaningfulness [1], suggesting that forming delusional beliefs may be adaptive.

    While at other times, like in Footnote 3, by mentioning biological adaptiveness, talking about it in terms of evolutionary fitness.

    Well, the two aren’t the same. And, I’d appreciate it if she made more clear which was her primary focus.

    Delusional thinking may help me survive prison, torture and other things; it’s therefore “adaptive” in the sense of making me happier. That’s no guarantee that it has any evolutionary adaptive value, though.

    So, Prof. Bortolotti, please accept this as a “call out” to tell us if you’re primarily looking at psychological fitting in, or if you’re looking at the evolutionary value of delusional thinking.

    That’s because, if it’s the latter, I’m going to take this into … (David Sloan Wilson alert!) group selection!

    I’ve already noted that delusions are based on social and cultural context. While group selection doesn’t really select for behavior of small groups unless it’s radically different, as well as of higher adaptive value, nonetheless, I think that if we’re talking about evolutionary adaptation, and we’re talking about psychological delusions, and not things like “agency imputers” we have to ask if group selection isn’t at least partially involved.

    A general tendency toward psychological delusions would be an individual trait, of course, but it might have different value in a less rational culture vs. a more rational one, as one of many examples.

    All of this sets aside how well we can measure something like “meaningfulness,” and whether having more of it is evolutionarily adaptive. It may well not be.

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  28. I won’t deny that I am suspicious of this revival of the rationalist view, despite the apparent “empirical validity” of CBT.

    As far as I’m aware, CBT is not very effective at countering delusional aspects of schizophrenia (although there is some empirical evidence that it can be helpful for other surrounding symptoms).

    There are strains of CBT that are more and less rationalist. The basic assumption is that certain modes of cognition/habits of thought lead us toward self-defeating behaviors. This is often stated in terms of “distortion” or (way less popular these days) “errors” — so to that extent one could say that it’s “realist”. But in the end, it isn’t necessarily *totally* rationalist because it relies on a pragmatic approach to where a patient would like to be. Given that, it’s unsurprising that CBT’s best empirical results are with disorders in which “distortion” plays a big role but the patient’s basic ideas about what would constitute well-being aren’t compromised. In other words, there’s not a rationalist emphasis on “figuring out what is really true” as a way to answer our habitual cognitive patterns, but instead an emphasis on recognizing how those cognitive patterns work against our own goals for well-being.

    Does that make sense? I think there’s an inescapable aspect of rationalism about it, but I don’t know if the rationalism is *essential* to it, and it seems like the general movement is toward more pragmatic and less rationalist approaches. Cognitive science is already remarking upon the value of certain kinds of mild delusions in goal-directed activities. I could see CBT embracing that.

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  29. To everyone — I am afraid that I am out of replies and will not be able to comment further. Feel free to contact me at my Missouri State email, if you want to continue the conversation.

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  30. tientzengong
    “Popperianism: falsifying the false. Great, with great success.
    Yet, regardless of what Popper had said, the Popperianism today goes way beyond the above but with two more statements.
    S1, anything not falsifiable is not science.
    S2, anything not falsifiable is not truth {as it cannot be verified}.
    There is no difference between these two statements and the delusion falsifying process. More, next.”

    Back here again? I am surprised you got through the editor with this comment as it goes over old, old ground more related to recent other threads (or not, as you find a way to bring it up anyway, because it is “fundamental Methodology (or Epistemology”, but no more relevant than that). I guess you can justify bringing it up in any thread to some extent, but this is very repetitive. Basically you agree Popper is fundamental, but you say that Popper does not extend to verify truth. Clearly this is because Popper falsifies, and verification is impossible (which you apparently know, too).

    Then you suggest that “science” (substituting for “knowledge” – okay) in S1 is just what is falsifiable, but that is a view by you that does not fit with reality. A “whole theory” (Godel) may not, as yet, be falsified in some parts, and will never be verified in total. It is nevertheless open to discovery for falsifications in future. You have a view of the future, making progress, right? Do not close off discovery, and secondly, do not delimit science only to the falsifiable parts of a “theory” ( a “theory is a scientific tool) – allow the whole theory and adjust it continually by analysis and discovery for more falsifications! Your perspective is rather inconceivable in a real world of theory and discovery.

    S1 says science (reliable knowledge) is the falsifiable parts (please remove double negative where possible), and S2 says that truth is based upon being falsifiable. How can that be possible. logically, again? “Truth” is something magically, impossibly, “verified”. That’s “truth”. “Theory” is something in the real world that is not verifiable, but it is “falsifiable” and we keep progressing to do that with “theory” so that it is more and more “reliable”. Never “true”, just more reliable “provisional knowledge”. You realize that a most fundamental feature of nature, momentum, is impossible to “measure” at all, even using calculus (Coel’s illogical attempt). We cannot even measure momentum at one place and instant, which is how measurement is done, let alone “verify”. When it comes to understanding nature, you have an inappropriate “idealism” that does not match nature or how we make progress understanding it.

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  31. Aravis writes “Oh, and I entirely reject your characterization of scientists as those who “keep digging, sometimes with astonishing success.” There is not a single skeptical problem or paradox that scientific inquiry has solved.”

    That is an astonishing statement which I must reject. Our entire view of the cosmos, our milieu and ourselves as biological entities (i.e. everything) has been transformed by all the information discovered through scientific enquiry.

    Concerning science, paradoxes and skeptical problems, I guess the unsolved problems of idealism are being referenced. I would suggest that science probably is not interested since there is nothing ‘real’ about those problems and so they can not be solved via experimentation. I am not aware of any practical consequences of these problems of idealism. No lives are affected except for a few philosophers who take such conundrums seriously.

    However, it would not be utterly surprising if an adequate explanation of consciousness becomes possible in the near future. Some of the problems of idealism may then just fade away. Evidence already is accumulating regarding the reliability of the content of our minds: one should use the information therein with extreme caution. The persistence of delusions and their evolutionary role are fairly easily explained based on our current understandings. Delusions can be very useful, but they are still extremely problematic.

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  32. Two quotes from Professor Bortolotti’s article and comments:

    —–
    “Maybe the dog was trying to communicate something. Maybe he was delivering a message from God, revealing that you were chosen to carry out an important mission.”

    “But science and good philosophy are work in progress. They are trial and error. Ultimately, our investigations will tells us what delusions are; ….The definition of delusion is the finish line.”
    ——

    So, at the finish line mentioned in the second quote, can we be sure that what happens in the first quote will be included in our definition of delusion?

    What if “God” for me is a mythological construct of the most important personal being in the universe who happens to be concerned with my life?
    But this mythology has meaning for me only insofar as it reinforces to me that my life matters?
    I see no evidence anywhere that my life significantly matters to anyone, I’m unable to cope with this, and so “God” is another way of saying to myself “I matter” and serves no other function than this. Is this “God” a delusion–the real god-motive that gives rise to the god-mythology? Do I, in fact, really not matter after all?

    I am asked if the dog understood the message it was conveying, and I answer, “maybe, maybe not, it doesn’t matter if he understood the message; what matters is that I understood it to mean that my life matters and I have a mission”. Will this alone, qualify for the definition of delusion when we arrive at the finish line? How is this different than the meaning for our lives that we find in sunsets, or the laughter of children?

    What if the mission for my life that I have found confirmed in the dog’s actions is one of service to others in need — and I have the talent to be effective in this? Will any of this count as ‘delusion’ when we finally figure out what ‘delusion’ is?

    This article and discussion reminds me of a lot in Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil”, I could pick from a lot of relevant quotes, but I choose this one about WILL TO TRUTH:

    “ In rare and particular instances it may really be the case that such a WILL TO TRUTH, some extravagant and adventurous courage, a metaphysician’s ambition to hold a hopeless position, may participate and ultimately prefer even a handful of “certainty” to a entire wagonload of beautiful possibilities; there may actually be puritanical fanatics of conscience who even prefer to lie down and die on a certain nothing than an uncertain something. But this is nihilism and the sign of a despairing, mortally weary soul: however courageous the gestures of such a virtue may look.”

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  33. Everyone,

    There have been way too many comments to keep track of for responding, and as this is my fifth post, I will not even attempt to do so. Besides, most of the discussion was going off-topic (though I admit I may have contributed to steering it off-topic… 😉 ). Instead, let me just reply to the author herself, as she did answer my actual question. 🙂

    Lisa,

    First, thank you for the response! 🙂 In light of the definition of a delusion that you gave in your last comment, the statements of your essay are much more clear, IMO, and this benefits its overall quality.

    To begin with, it is now clear that generic religious belief does not count as a delusion (as you also noted in your comment), regardless of your opening example having a religious connotation. This goes a long way of helping other people to not misunderstand and misinterpret your words (it would also eliminate a sizable chunk of comments that started debating theism/atheism…).

    Next, it is also clear that a person claiming to have been abducted by aliens is not considered delusional, as long as this belief does not disrupt this person’s regular life and well-being. Ditto for the Joan-of-Arc example, my example of people who claim that consciousness doesn’t exist, and Ejwinner‘s example of a man who believes that his impostor-wife is an improvement over his real wife. 🙂 Some may consider these examples to be a flaw of the definition, but I still think we are better off in understanding your essay with at least some kind of definition than without any.

    It also becomes quite clear that your main point — that a delusion can have some positive effects for a person, related to relaxing their anxieties and liberating their attention to cope with other things — is completely reasonable and insightful (something to which I agreed from the very beginning, but now it is even more reinforced).

    So I see an overall improvement in understanding your essay, and this is the main reason why I insisted that you define a delusion, even if it fails to have consensus or provokes various criticisms.

    Finally, when you said

    The suggestion seems to be that, unless we already have objective criteria or a tight definition for a phenomenon, empirical or philosophical investigation into that phenomenon is arbitrary or inconclusive.

    it sort-of implies that you think I made such a suggestion. I didn’t really, since I believed that you actually do have some operational definition of delusion, despite not stating it explicitly in the essay. However, maybe I would have suggested something like the above if you had responded that no definition of “delusion” was necessary to make statements about it. As a scientist, I fully recognize that scientific or philosophical investigation is certainly more than just arbitrary and inconclusive opinion-making. But I think that science and philosophy are not so easy to do if one is trying to make statements about notions which have not been defined, at least operationally.

    There is a background context to this story, going back to one of the previous threads of SciSal, where I debated with Aravis and Massimo whether or not philosophers should offer a definition for a notion they are analyzing. My statement was that — in any philosophical analysis, even a lousy/flawed definition (of the notion discussed) is still better than no definition at all. Your essay, and the issue of defining delusion that was raised, is a nice example of why I think so.

    In the end Aravis, Massimo and I agreed that specifying definitions (even controversial ones) is a good thing if it can be done at all. And this is the second reason why I was insisting that you provide a definition, even a tentative one. 🙂

    Finally, thanks to everyone, I enjoyed the discussion! 🙂

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  34. Massimo:

    “…which means that Wittgenstein’s type of objections lose much of their force.”

    With all due respect to everyone on here, Aravis is quite correct on Quine and coherentist theories and it seems we need a wee bit of a refresher on Quine as well as on Wittgenstein (and apparently on Hume and Davidson, too).

    It may be helpful to remember this section of Quine’s most famous work, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” The Philosophical Review 60 (1951): 20-43, viz:

    “As an empiricist I continue to think of the conceptual scheme of science as a tool, ultimately, for predicting future experience in the light of past experience. Physical objects are conceptually imported into the situation as convenient intermediaries — not by definition in terms of experience, but simply as irreducible posits comparable, epistemologically, to the gods of Homer. Let me interject that for my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise. But in point of epistemological footing the physical objects and the gods differ only in degree and not in kind. Both sorts of entities enter our conception only as cultural posits.”

    As far as Wittgenstein is concerned, it is made *very* clear in On Certainty exactly what the point about ungrounded beliefs is (and hence why GE Moore’s question about his hands was a good one), so much so that Wittgenstein uses three quite helpful analogies to describe those beliefs with which we start and which are by necessity ungrounded: an invisible axis around which all our other beliefs turn, riverbanks between which all our other beliefs flow, and hinges on the door of all our other beliefs.

    On Certainty:

    94. But I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor did I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.

    97. The mythology may change back into a state of flux, the river-bed of thoughts may shift. But I distinguish between the movement of the waters on the river-bed and the shift of the bed itself; though there is not a sharp division of the one from the other.

    152. I do not explicitly learn the propositions that stand fast for me. I can discover them subsequently like the axis around which a body rotates. This axis is not fixed in the sense that anything holds it fast, but the movement around it determines its immobility.

    341. That is to say, the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were the hinges on which those turn.

    342. That is to say, it belongs to the logic of our scientific investigations that certain things are in deed [i.e., in evidence by what we do and take for granted in the doing] not doubted.

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  35. Commonly Accepted Delusions: Follies That Bind

    It is common to condemn the madness of the crowds, and to wonder about all sorts of follies, conflicts, moods and ideas favorable to mayhem.

    Why so little wisdom in so many moods and thoughts systems?

    Because there is a higher sort of wisdom therein.

    For millions of years, the greatest enemy of man has been man, the man of the distant tribe. Proper ecology required to find them repulsive.

    How does one recognize friend from foe? By a signal. It could be the color of a skin, the color of a badge, a flag, and other visual or auditory signal (an accent, say). However, the ultimate structure is a brain structure.
    They fall in two classes: ideas, and moods.

    So, to recognize the friend, the one who has the signal, and the foe, the one who does not, it’s best to entertain a particularly strong signal.

    One not seen in nature. That will be best, because no doubt very special.

    But are not the most clever, and wisest ideas and moods, faithful reproductions of nature?
    Yes.

    So the best way to identify a friend, and thus foe, are most stupid and most unwise ideas.

    This is why Judaism, Christianism and Islamism celebrate the would-be child killer, Abraham his name, as their founder. The idea of killing one’s child is assuredly unnatural, unwise, most cruel, and grotesquely inhuman. Thus it’s best to identify friend (the one who expresses intense admiration for the same despicable madness) and foe (the one who has kept common decency).

    What do we see here?

    The madness that binds.

    Thus many delusions are the cement that does not just unite the group, but even defines it.

    No doubt delusions will also help to unite those scatterbrains (schizophrenic) minds some of us suffer from.

    Delusion can be the crucible of the many, and the cement of the one.

    Are all groups defined by delusions? No, the Directly Democratic Republic can define itself without a common madness (this is why Switzerland holds together, in spite of its four official languages and several religions).

    By insisting on the basic ideas and moods of our common humanity.

    Human nature is made to make one out of many (mental fascism). That’s how lions and hyenas were fought. It’s also what was necessary to stay competitive on the (human meat) market.

    Thus humans sharing a group have a strong instinct to think all the same.

    Yet, human beings are truth machines. That’s an instinct going the other way.

    Those who search for truth will avoid the group (all the more as it is all too often defined by a delusion).

    Searching for truth is more human, and a way to reach for greater survivability. Hence the one, the philosopher, will, by necessity, fight the group. Between the delusions which define the groups and the truths, which define the philosopher, it’s a fight to death.

    The spirit of philosophers always won over the madness of the crowds.

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  36. @ Liam:

    “Belief that is unfounded is a delusion, especially when you know that it is unfounded.”

    “One could carry on digging. Get a different spade with which to smash the bedrock. This is what scientists do.”

    “Our entire view of the cosmos, our milieu and ourselves as biological entities (i.e. everything) has been transformed by all the information discovered through scientific enquiry.

    Concerning science, paradoxes and skeptical problems, I guess the unsolved problems of idealism are being referenced. I would suggest that science probably is not interested since there is nothing ‘real’ about those problems and so they can not be solved via experimentation. I am not aware of any practical consequences of these problems of idealism. No lives are affected except for a few philosophers who take such conundrums seriously.”

    ______________________________

    How is this at all responsive or even indicative that you’ve grasped the substance of the matter?

    No lives are affected in the sense of say, a new vaccine or better bridges (nor was such a comparison ever proffered in the first place), by understanding the following, but everything we think we know is seen in a new light (which matters to more than just “a few philosophers”):

    On Certainty

    105. All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments: no, it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which arguments have their life.

    To believe that you can respond to Aravis by asserting that you can just keep digging means you do not understand what you are doing when you do dig.

    Groundless beliefs in Wittgenstein’s sense are not delusions. Far from it. They are neither true nor false, because they make truth and falsity possible.

    205. If the true is what is grounded, then the ground is not true, nor yet false.

    @SocraticGadfly:

    “That said, your take on the psychoanalytic stance sounds more Jungian than Freudian, as it seems to depend on the universality of archetypes, etc.”

    Jung vs. Freud does not hinge on universal vs. non-universal here. I take it that Aravis is in part referring to works like Civilization and its Discontents (1929) in which Freud makes clear that part of the essence of civilization in general is to constrain the individual (via the fostering of delusions regarding society/civilization/law, etc) and his/her desires in the service of a larger goal- civilized life. As Freud says of guilt:

    “Civilization, therefore, obtains the mastery over the dangerous love of aggression in individuals by enfeebling and disarming it and setting up an institution within their minds to keep watch over it, like a garrison in a conquered city.”

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  37. Delusions can be understood in terms of underdetermination and opprobrium. I am discussing the societal uses of the word and not the clinical, a subject best left to clinical psychologists.

    Underdetermination allows the facts of the matter to be given many interpretations. Beliefs are generally underdetermined (Quine) but nevertheless we hold them because we(society) consider the web-of-belief sufficient justification(confirmation holism?). From the many possible interpretations of the facts of the matter we select the one which closest matches the prevailing web of beliefs. In this sense we tend to be more or less conformist. Some people, primarily for emotional reasons(or better insights?), tend to be nonconformist and they will select interpretations of the facts that do not closely fit the web of beliefs. This results in dissenting belief somewhere in the continuum from disagreement, partially valid belief, mistaken belief to severely mistaken belief(as seen through the lens of the prevailing web of belief).

    Society, valuing cohesion and consensus, tends to suppress what it considers to be mistaken beliefs. It can do this by attaching terms of opprobrium to dissenting beliefs, such as ‘nut case’, ‘paranoid’, ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘delusional’. Attaching terms of opprobrium to dissenting beliefs is always a form of silencing.

    Should we be trying to silence unwanted beliefs?

    I suggest that the measure is one of clear and present harm. For example, the anti-vaxxers are promoting beliefs that result in clear and present harm, thus we are justified in silencing the statement of their beliefs(preferably through legal means). As another example, in Europe, Holocaust denial is considered a clear and present danger and thus is suppressed.

    Other than that, should we be tolerant of dissenting voices and desist from attaching terms of opprobrium?

    I argue for tolerance and against the use of opprobrium to silence dissenting thought.
    1. It is harmful.
    Terms of opprobrium damage self regard and feed triumphalism. It leads to partisanship and radicalises discourse which is ultimately harmful to society.

    2. It is arrogant.
    No-one holds a monopoly on the truth and we need some epistemic humility(to quote Massimo).The arrogance of certain belief is harmful because it blocks the ability to learn and modify beliefs. Scientismists, nota bene.

    3. It becomes a weapon in the hands of bigots.
    For example, well known anti-religious bigots have hastened to apply the term ‘deluded’ to religious beliefs. This is a cynical ploy to further their attacks on religion.

    4. It is a betrayal of our liberal heritage.
    Liberalism was, in part, a belief in our rights to freedom of beliefs and their expression. It is an expression of the great value placed in tolerance.

    5. Promoting a rich plurality of beliefs is healthy.
    Allowing a rich plurality of beliefs promotes tolerance and it feeds innovative thought. From the richness of dissenting thought we can find important new directions.

    6. It is intellectual laziness to silence mistaken thought.
    The answer to mistaken thought is clear, reasoned and persuasive thought, something that takes more effort,

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  38. What about irrational beliefs that have a disruptive effect on OTHER people’s lives, but are “ego-syntonic” – that is, the person is happy and socially successful because of them? The recent review
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4108844/
    makes a strong case for persecutory delusions being one end of a continuum in the population, as per Prof Bortolotti’s comments. Then, it is not illegimate to see them as related to other socially acceptable irrational beliefs driven by anxiey, low self esteem, poor reasoning and lower intellectual ability (specifically poorer working memory, see the ref). All features associated with the conservative mind in a certain recent book…

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  39. Hi Aravis,

    The Web of Belief is nothing more than one example of a Coherentist theory of warrant … DK Aphorism #1: In order to show that beliefs are warranted by appeal to the degree of their coherence with other beliefs in the belief system, …

    The warrant of the Web of Belief does not derive (ultimately) from the internal coherence of the web, rather it derives from the correspondence of that web to empirical reality.

    Further, the “stopping point” is that the Web of Belief provides explanatory and predictive power about empirical reality (or about our stream of sensory experiences, if one prefers), which it demonstrably does, since science and technology do work. That is the stopping point because the only claim being made by science is of explanatory and predictive power about empirical reality.

    Dependent on our framework of “analytic hypotheses”, we may refer and ontologically commit to A, B, C and D, or, alternatively, E, F, G, and H.

    If the two alteratives are fully equal in terms of explanatory and predictive power about empirical reality, then, in a literal sense, they are entirely equivalent and are just different labels for the same thing (often in physics different ways of thinking about an issue are found to be profoundly equivalent).

    Afterall, if ABCD vs EFGH differ only in ways that are irrelevant to empirical reality, then the difference is irrelevant (indeed meaningless) with respect to the only claim being made.

    Morning Asher,

    You didn’t express any doubt about your unscientific idea that religious believers don’t “really” believe.

    Not so! The straightforward intrepretation of my sentence (“I wonder whether this is because … most people don’t really and actually believe them, they just sort of “believe” them because it’s their culture”) is that “I wonder whether …” applies to the whole sentence and indeed the whole thesis. Otherwise one would word it something like “… because of the fact that …”.

    Anyhow, I do think there is a strong argument for the idea (outlined in a previous comment) but I made no claim that it was established science (it was a comment on a blog that was explicitly flagged with “I wonder whether …”! OK?).

    Despite it having been explained to you, and despite that it’s clear from the language in the DSM.

    I was asking *why* the DSM exempts beliefs that are “ordinarily accepted” by a person’s “culture of subculture”. How big does a cult have to be before it qualifies as a “subculture” and thus is no longer delusional?

    The Heaven’s Gate mass-suicide involved 39 people. The Jonestown mass-suicide involved 900. ISIS involves tens of thousands (and certainly qualifies over the “disruption” of lives criterion).

    My remark about ISIS was made shortly after reading “What ISIS really wants” about ISIS theology (recommended, by the way). I still wonder why it gets exempted from being “delusional”. How about Scientology? How about closed monastic orders? Those are pretty non-normal lives. Idle musings now up with the end of my fifth comment.

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  40. jarnauga, Aravis,

    this isn’t really the place for a full fledge debate on foundationalism vs coherentism and related concepts, but I must say this is one of those topics where I find myself closer to Coel’s perspective (indeed, I am discovering that my ideas typically lie somewhere btw Coel and Aravis, let’s 2/3 of the way toward the latter.

    “Aravis is quite correct on Quine and coherentist theories and it seems we need a wee bit of a refresher on Quine as well as on Wittgenstein”

    Maybe we do, though I tend to think that talking about the ideas as we understand them today is more interesting than doing exegesis of the original texts (something that philosophers are far too prone to do anyway). What I take to be a crucial part of the idea of a web of beliefs is that it also includes empirical information. So, yes, it is coherentist, but not in the sense of being self-contained and being concerned only with its internal logic. It is the best understanding we have of how we (tentatively, always tentatively) know things. Reject it, and you slide almost immediately toward epistemic relativism, which I’m pretty sure you guys don’t want to do.

    “Let me interject that for my part I do, qua lay physicist, believe in physical objects and not in Homer’s gods; and I consider it a scientific error to believe otherwise”

    I think Quine was being disingenuous there. Yes, *very* abstractly speaking physical objects and Homer’s gods are “comparable irreducible posits,” but sometimes a quantitative difference becomes a qualitative one. Is anyone seriously going to claim that the two “posits” are really comparable?

    “Wittgenstein uses three quite helpful analogies to describe those beliefs with which we start and which are by necessity ungrounded”

    But, again, I reject he whole idea of “grounding” a belief.

    “I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor did I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.”

    He didn’t, and neither did I. But as a collective, humanity constantly checks on the correctness of its picture of the world. As Longing puts it, science is an inherently social enterprise.

    “the questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were the hinges on which those turn.”

    *No* proposition is exempt from doubt, but some are *much* more doubtful than others.

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  41. Labnut says:

    “…I argue (for tolerance and) against the use of opprobrium to silence dissenting thought…”

    Then he explains that with the following, um, opprobrium, is it?

    
”It is…triumphalism. … partisanship …radicalizes … arrogant…. need.humility…arrogance of certain belief …Scientismists, nota been….
    ….weapon in the hands of bigots.
….well known anti-religious bigots ….cynical ploy….attacks on religion….
    …betrayal ….intellectual laziness”

    Of course, “opprobium” and “ad hominem” aren’t quite the same, so you could answer my question above in the negative. And it is quite clear which people he is avoiding specifically naming to try to avoid accusation of engaging in ad hominem.

    Need anything more be said in response?

    Even pointing out the nature of his rhetoric above shouldn’t have been needed, but I doubt anyone else would here, unfortunately. And that lack would have been, in some inexperienced quarters, interpreted as assent to this kind of ‘cover me with “tolerance” sainthood while I slander my intellectual opponents’.

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  42. David Duffy hits on one good point. Delusional beliefs in psychology span a broad spectrum. Focusing purely on the evolutionary angle, some could be adaptive, others not. Related to that, looking at delusions in general that are not caused by trauma or injury, I don’t think we know enough yet about neuroscience to have an aetiological tree, or bush, or whatever, of all such delusional beliefs’ origins, either.

    So, contra the good professor, even if some beliefs possibly are adaptive, I’m pretty sure we don’t have the knowledge yet to say any of them are definitely adaptive, or close to it.

    Also per David, and the “continuum,” maybe a mild version of a delusion, caused by 2 extra expressions beyond “normal” of a certain gene, has some adaptive value, but more severe versions, caused by 3 or more extra expressions, are deleterious.

    Jarnauga If, in a psychoanalytic POV, delusions are beneficial for the great majority of humans, then that has to be, I think, in some anti-WEIRD way, and so, we seem to be talking about some sort of universal concepts at bottom line. True, they may not be Jungian archetypes. But, Freud was wrong in talking about “civilization” as a monolith here, I believe. That gets back to the issue of much of modern psychology being “WEIRD” in the first place.

    Otherwise, this discussion is probably petering out.

    Sadly, because we’ve yet to hear from the good professor more on how either individual types of delusional thoughts/beliefs, or a delusional thinking/belief system in general, might be evolutionarily adaptive, and how we might even be able to analyze for that at this time.

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  43. Coel,

    I myself suggested that Dr. Bortolotti’s article has implications beyond its topic; but its topic concerns individuals, not cultures.

    The problem has been through-out that you have been arguing that what is recognizably a rhetorical trope – ‘these people are delusional’ – could be clinically verifiable. That’s like taking the statement ‘he’s a son of a bitch’ to mean that the person belongs to some breed of canine, to be determined through dissection.

    Clinically, the term ‘delusion’ refers to reports and behaviors of an individual. At one point you asked whether there were “safety in numbers” for those who may be sharing what seem to be delusional beliefs, but are not ‘diagnosed’ so. The short answer is yes.

    When what appear to be delusions are shared among a variety of people, then we have different words to talk about their beliefs – ‘cultic,’ ‘fanatical,’ ‘conspiracy theories,’ etc., and such categorizations are useful in determining how to deploy responses to people holding such beliefs aberrant to the responding social order. When they are widely shared, then we address the organizations they engender to determine whether these present any threat to the society, or may prove beneficial to it, regardless of the irrationality of their foundations. There is other language, political and legislative language, addressing such issues, that need never raise the question of the rationality of the foundations for such organized beliefs.

    But then comes the kicker: When possibly delusional beliefs are shared among the general populace of a society, they are no longer aberrant, and they come under the rubric ‘culture.’

    David Spencer gave a brief discussion of how this might come about; and labnut gives a valid discussion of why we might want this process realized in a charitable way in a culture with democratic aspirations. The quotes from Wittgenstein are to the point here; the quotes from Quine less so, since this is no longer a question concerning empirical evidence, but social behavior and politics.

    I think the elaboration of irrational beliefs into culture is unavoidable (which implies that any culture must be founded on some irrational beliefs). A friend of mine maintains that all culture is pathological – that seems too strong, but analysis of social behavior indicates an uncomfortable level of probability to it. So we must always be somewhat skeptical of any belief we hold dear that we may share with others.

    I noted before, “there are beliefs that are widely accepted in a culture that can only be perceived delusional outside the culture, or at a later date.” This can’t be helped, it is in the nature of history. We share the assumption that the sciences and philosophy of our day are on considerably firmer epistemic ground than those that came before. But – we could be wrong. A century from now, scientists and philosophers may look back on us and remark, ‘oh, those delusional Moderns!’ But one benefit of mortality is that one gets to die before finding out just how wrong one’s beliefs really are.

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  44. Massimo:

    I respectfully disagree and actually find the exegesis of texts *very* helpful, especially if the philosophers in question have *already* answered the objections still directed at them. For example, Wittgenstein explicitly addresses the problem of relativism in Philosophical Investigations, answering the relativism charge of his fictional interlocutor:

    “240. Disputes do not break out (among mathematicians, say) over the question whether a rule has been obeyed or not. People don’t come to blows over it, for example. That is part of the framework on which the working of our language is based (for example, in giving descriptions).
    241. ‘So you are saying that human agreement decides what is true and what is false?’—It is what human beings say that is true and false; and they agree in the language they use. That is not agreement in opinions but in form of life.”

    “Yes, *very* abstractly speaking physical objects and Homer’s gods are “comparable irreducible posits,” but sometimes a quantitative difference becomes a qualitative one. Is anyone seriously going to claim that the two “posits” are really comparable?”

    If what we mean by comparable is the lack of unmediated access to Reality outside of all our frameworks, yes, they are (otherwise we would need to explain how we escaped our framework and accessed Reality and how we would know/understand that was even the case).

    “*No* proposition is exempt from doubt, but some are *much* more doubtful than others.”

    Of course there are beliefs we have which are exempt from doubt in terms of our behavior. They are precisely the ones presupposed by our practices, the ones which allow our practices to get off the ground in the first place. To use two examples from On Certainty, I believe that the earth did not wink into existence five minutes ago and I believe that I have two hands. Do I go around trying to demonstrate that? No, I take it for granted in everything else I do, just like I take many other things for granted in terms of the practices in which my life and understanding are embedded.

    On Certainty:

    115. If you tried to doubt everything you would not get as far as doubting anything. The game of doubting itself presupposes certainty.

    344. My life consists in my being content to accept many things.

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  45. phoffman,
    Since you have launched an attack on me I consider that I have at least the right of reply. I will do my best to make my reply courteous and rational, hat tip to Massimo 🙂

    First, for the obvious. Extracting a person’s words and presenting them out of their context is a well known artifice. It should not be done. In other words, deal with the substance of my argument and not with a selective presentation of my words.

    And then more generally. I consider it good practice to address one’s comments to the subject of the main post and bad practice to attack other commentators. It is also a courtesy to the author of the main post to confine comments to the main post.

    In other words, we should not treat this a contest between commentators, but as a reasoned assessment of the main essay.

    My comment was, accordingly, addressed to the main post and I made a reasoned argument for the avoidance of the use of terms of opprobrium, like the word ‘delusional’, arguing instead for greater tolerance. I stand by this argument.

    It was, I think, a rational argument, based as it was on the concepts of underdeterminism, web-of-belief and societal disapproval of dissenting beliefs. In the same way, I would like to see you address your comment to the main essay, making reasoned arguments in your turn. That is more productive than attacking another commentator.

    But it is an unfortunate fact of life that theists are legitimate targets for attack, as we have just seen. I guess it all started when Christians were thrown to the lions in Roman arenas.

    Mind you, I am happy that you applied the label ‘sainthood’. I just hope I don’t have to earn it in the arena 🙂

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  46. Thanks for the refresher on Wittgenstein and Quine, etc. It was mostly new to me.

    Once, on a round of golf with some friends, one of us, a retired, very well-respected professional, exhibited delusional behavior, completely unexpected. His ball was in a bunker, next to the green. Our friend, a very good player, entered the bunker and addressed his ball, in preparation of the shot. Everyone but he noticed that his ball was about 7 feet behind him. Our unfortunate friend was experiencing a visual hallucination. He had absolutely no doubt that the ball was where he saw it, except there was nothing, not a twig, not a stone. A few months later he was moved to a nursing home and died not long after.

    The kinds of ‘delusions’ that we have been discussing (contra the OP) are simply errors of understanding that bedevil the healthy human mind. Our thoughts are not grounded in anything other than our experiences as generated via our senses, and our assumptions about them. The key word in the last sentence is ‘our’. Who, what and wherefore are we? Unless one can adequately answer this question, one is just guessing about the significance of our thoughts. Fortunately, psychology, neuroscience and molecular biology is beginning to provide some hard data upon which the theorists can build more structurally sound edifices.

    Jarnauga111 quotes Wittgenstein “94. But I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor did I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.” This sounds sort of plausible, but what does it really mean, true versus false? In reality there are many components that contribute to our picture of the world, an ‘inherited background’ probably is not one of them. Our picture of the world does not really reflect the way it ‘really’ is, rather it is almost entirely made up of illusions and delusions of the physiological kind, not the pathological kind. (Temperature, pressure, pain, color, smell, taste, all are mostly illusion, artifacts of our neurochemistry.)

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