Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Knack of Faith

There are some activities that seem to require a 'knack', it isn't enough to just follow a set of instructions or to have somebody demonstrate the procedure in order to get it. Nor is there necessarily a gradual improvement via practice until mastery is achieved. More often, we will be hopelessly bad at something like this until it suddenly seems to 'click'. Think of patting your head whilst rubbing your tummy. Practice is still required if you haven't learned how to do it yet, but I don't think progress is usually linear.

I wonder if perhaps faith is a knack. If so, it is one I lack even though I can see that to have faith in some circumstances can be very useful. This seems similar to the realisation that accuracy in appraising our abilities can be inversely correlated with a sense of well-being. In this context the phrase 'ignorance is bliss' is fitting, since those who are unskilled at self evaluation but unaware of it, are also less likely to be responsive to evidence that contradicts the basis of their high self esteem: namely that they think they are good at stuff.

Turning back to faith, the ability to take the Kirkegaardian leap in response to our absurd existence might be good for keeping our spirits up when life is difficult. But if the thought occurs that faith in this sense is a bit like the knack of being able to put your fingers in your ears and sing 'la la la' every time somebody is about to tell you bad news, then you might think it better not to have it.


Andrew Louis said...

Well, perhaps you're just not good at faith with regard to certain sorts of paradigms? I mean, you have faith in your friends and family don't you? Maybe faith in your country, HAHA.

I guess all I'm saying is, faith doesn't just have to apply to the ineffable.

Psiomniac said...

Yes, my lack of faith in the ineffable probably represents something like my inability to juggle if I can't even catch well. So I recognize I do have faith in everyday affairs, but I'm not even very good at that. In short, in the faith game I'm in the low ability range.

Andrew Louis said...

Maybe I'm wrong though, now that I think about it.I mean I'm not even sure what faith in the ineffable means. It's seems a bit like a scapegoat, i.e. you pack all your guilt and sorrows on this metaphysical / transcendental goat, smack it on the ass and death ain't so bad anymore.

Faith in your friends is different I think. You're not scapegoating anything, you're just betting on an inference that the behavior you usually get from them will continue in the same way into the future. It's just the ol' reasoning from inference thing; if the first 78 ducks to land in the pond were female, you can reasonable infer that the 79th will be female too - course there's not way to be certain of that, but it's a rational position to have, not a faith one.

I mean lets be honest, people that don't have a lot of faith in their friends aren't people that have trouble with faith. It's just that on average their friends aren't very faithful. i.e. the subconscious data suggests you can't be certain either way that he'll come through on a given thing.

Now that I've gone way to far with this I may as well add one last thing. Faith in "humanity", or individual strangers, is the same math. In this case, what are the statistics behind your dealings with people historically?

In other words, P, maybe faith is bullshit!? We're really just doing subconscious math, keeping track of our experiences (and other peoples commitments), then making a rational decision on inference...? Faith is just an old metaphor people used to use before they understood these sorts of concepts - I mean shit, Hume wasn't around for thousands of years.

Psiomniac said...

Maybe we do use heuristics to evaluate long run probabilities in an informal way, as you say. It seems likely that people vary in interpretation and weighting of judgements, perhaps some being more optimistic or trusting than others. On the uniformity of nature and the problem of induction we are again using rules of thumb that seem to work despite no logical justification being available. Maybe 'faith' is shorthand in this context for doing these things well?