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How do we know what we know, and what is faith all about

Re: "I just know it's true!"

Postby Jet Ski » Sat Sep 15, 2018 12:23 pm

> the idea that we get to choose choose what we believe, at least in some cases

I thought about it a bit, and I think this is definitely a crucial issue and fundamental to Christianity, this notion of choosing to believe in Jesus in order to be saved. In the end it'll probably boil down to free will, but first I want to fully understand your position. Consider the following thought experiment: If I created a perfect clone of you and immediately after that presented evidence for some claim to both of you, could you be convinced to a different degree?
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Re: "I just know it's true!"

Postby jimwalton » Sat Sep 15, 2018 12:24 pm

I think your thought experiment is a bit contrived, but I think I'll bite anyway. If I am correct (and I wouldn't suggest this if I thought I were remembering wrong), geneticists have claimed that even if they were to create a clone of Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein from their own DNA, that we would not necessarily be guaranteeing we'd get another Abe or Albert. People are more than just their physicality (their genes), and you can't just reduce them to synapses and chemicals. Brains and personalities, values and morals, develop based on many factors: genetic makeup, upbringing, experiences, environment, relationships, and chance factors.

But your hypothetical specified, "...and immediately after that." While I'd like to comment, it's too contrived to contribute to the discussion.
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Re: "I just know it's true!"

Postby Jet Ski » Sun Sep 16, 2018 10:09 am

Then let me change my thought experiment into a more specific question: Could two people with exactly the same brains in exactly the same neurophysiological state act differently given the exact same stimuli?
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Re: "I just know it's true!"

Postby jimwalton » Sun Sep 16, 2018 10:33 am

It's still an unrealistic hypothetical, but I know what you're getting at. I would say yes, because we are more than just neurons and chemicals. As two separate entities, these two hypothetical people are indubitably seeing life from two distinct vantage points because they are in unarguably different spatial relation to the stimulus.

Just for a little bit of explanation. "Physicalism" is the position that claims physical existence is all there is. Everything can be explained by mindless molecules and chemical neural events, and all perception of reality is governed by the laws of neurobiology. But if this is the case, I believe that reason, volition, and even language are suspect. Reason necessitates considering unique paths of cause and effect, possibilities, plausibilities, and even nonsense. I believe that determinism is reductionistic. Reason requires dynamic neuronal processes including not just data processing, but also social-relational processes and an assessment of possibilities and probabilities. As such, deterministic neural connections are inadequate to explain the capabilities and functioning of the brain. And since language is effective only if it is endowed with meaning, and meaning is non-material (neither matter nor energy), the essence of meaning is entirely distinct from both energy and matter. Language therefore demands a non-material source, since it is impossible that the meaning of language has a material cause. The laws of chemistry and physics offer no clue whatsoever that matter can assign meaning or otherwise deal with meaning at even the most rudimentary level. Atoms cannot assign meaning to meaningless symbols to form vocabulary or to give meaning to vocabulary. Therefore I conclude that high-level conscious thought, including free will, is non-reducible to mere neural activity.

Therefore it is entirely possible that two people, despite their identicalness as outlined in your hypothetical, are separate entities with distinct spatial perspectives, distinct consciousness, given the dynamic nature of neuronal possibilities, and therefore capable of unique reactions to the exact same stimuli.
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