Beliefs and Reference Levels

[From Bruce Gregory (990105.1740 EST)]

Rick Marken (990105.1320)

Maybe it would be better to say that PCT views "belief in something"
rather than just "belief" as the setting of a reference for the
state of a perceptual variable. When I _believe in_ my fly being open
a certain amount I am setting a reference ("open X amount") for the
perception of "fly openness" and I will control that perception,
keeping it in the state I believe in. When I _believe in_ water
draining down a storm sewer I am setting a reference ("drain")
for the perception of "drainage" and I will control that perception,
keeping it in the state I believe in. When I _believe in_ selection
_by_ consequences I am setting a reference ("selection of behavior
by reinforcers") for the perception of "selecting" and I will control
that perception, keeping in the state I believe in.

I'm still having trouble with this. Normally when we talk about
controlling a perception we mean acting in a way that brings a
perception to a reference state or maintains it at the reference state
in the presence of disturbances. Let's say I have a strong "belief in"
my ability to track a target. If the joystick I am using is not
connected to the computer, I will in fact be unable to track the target.
You seem to be saying that I will nevertheless perceive myself to be
tracking accurately. This sounds very much like a hallucination.

Bruce Gregory

[From Bruce Abbott (990105.2040 EST)]

Bill Powers (990105.1503) --

Bruce Abbott (990105.1430 EST)

So, if you believe that your fly is open (embarrassing under the
circumstances), this belief is a reference-perception that specifies the
"right" state for your fly to be in.

If that is what I consider to be the right state, I wouldn't be embarrassed
if my perception matched it. The error would be to believe confidently that
it's open and discover that it's zipped up (for example, standing in front
of a urinal). However, I usually believe my fly is zipped in public (i.e.,
that's how I want it to be), and it's an error, which I quickly correct, to
perceive that it's not.

I didn't say you believe that your fly _should_ be open (or closed); I said
that you believe that your fly _is_ open. A simple check will confirm or
deny this belief.

I can't see why this simple idea causes such a problem. Is it that it's
different from the conventional concept of a belief?

Yes. Conventionally, to hold a belief is to hold that some state of affairs
is true. As Bruce Gregory points out, one may have reason to maintain the
belief, in which case one will oppose its disturbance. However, it is
perfectly possible to hold a belief without attempting to maintain it
against disturbances. Believing that your fly is up, you strut confidently
onto the stage. Hearing titters and seeing people pointing fingers, you
look down and discover that it is not. Having seen the evidence, you now
believe that your fly is down -- your belief has changed, without
opposition. If you prefer to have it up, then you will act, but that is a
different matter.

A belief is a conclusion you have reached, based on evidence, analysis,
instruction by those you respect and trust, and so on. That you may adopt a
reference to maintain your belief against disturbances to it is an important
fact, but not one that is essential to the definition of belief.

Your network of beliefs constitute your model of the world you inhabit. It
is a model that you constantly update as a result of your experiences.

Bruce

[From Rick Marken (990105.1830)]

Me:

When I _believe in_ my fly being open a certain amount I am setting
a reference ("open X amount") for the perception of "fly openness"
and I will control that perception

Bruce Gregory (990105.1740 EST) --

I'm still having trouble with this. Normally when we talk about
controlling a perception we mean acting in a way that brings a
perception to a reference state or maintains it at the reference
state in the presence of disturbances. Let's say I have a strong
"belief in" my ability to track a target. If the joystick I am
using is not connected to the computer, I will in fact be unable
to track the target. You seem to be saying that I will nevertheless
perceive myself to be tracking accurately. This sounds very much
like a hallucination.

In the example you give, hallucination (imagination, really) might
be the only successful means of getting your perception of your
tracking ability to the reference state. I think many people
believe in (have references for) perceptions that they can only
produce in imagination. I bet you can think of at least one!

Bill Powers (990105.1503) --

I can't see why this simple idea [belief = reference perception]
causes such a problem. Is it that it's different from the
conventional concept of a belief?

I think it's just a very unfamiliar notion. I also think it can
seriously offend (disturb) one's sense of fairness and impartiality.
I know because this is how I felt when you first suggested the notion
to me during a visit here a couple years ago. I said that I didn't
_believe_ that Bruce Abbott would ever get PCT and you scolded me
for adopting this belief since doing so meant that I had now
adopted "Bruce not getting PCT" as a reference perception. I was
offended by this suggestion since I thought of my belief as an
impartial prediction based on data. Indeed, I was quite sure that
I wanted Bruce to get PCT and become a fellow PCT researcher. So
I thought you were wrong -- way wrong -- about beliefs being
references.

But I've changed my mind since then because I've seen beliefs
function as reference signals in myself and others. I've changed
my belief about belief;-) I think what we believe can become a
reference for perception and when it does we act accordingly (to
bring the perception to the reference state). So I think it's wise
to believe carefully. I am currently trying desperately to believe,
for example, that Bruce Abbott will become a PCT researcher, that
he will publish some of the best PCT research ever done and that
he will become one of the most articulate and popular spokeman
for PCT science ever. With beliefs like this I'm sure that the
success of PCT science is just around the corner -- I believe;-)

Best

Rick

···

---
Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken/

[Martin Taylor 990105 15:30]

[From Bill Powers (990105.0903 MST)]

I think it more likely that what we call a belief is a reference-perception
that specifies the "right" state for some variable perception which can be
in any state. While I don't control the color of my glasses frames, I would
be very startled to take my glasses off and see that the frames are bright
orange. That wouldn't be right at all. I might even look around to see
where my real glasses are, and to find the person whose glasses (obviously
not mine) I am wearing. In short, I WOULD try to control the color of the
frames of the glasses I am wearing!

Let's modify this scenario in a trivial way, by positing that you do have
a pair of glasses with bright orange frames, and since obviously in your
scenario the glasses have your correct prescription, these orange glasses
are ones you could wear. But you believed you were not. Seeing the
orange would indeed "not be right at all." If you were out of the house
somewhere, would you try to control the colour of the glasses? If you
were in the house, and did change glasses to the colour you had believed
you were wearing, would it be to sustain a belief, or because you
preferred that colour?

This doesn't become obvious until there
is a discrepancy between what I _believe_ I _should be_ perceiving and what
I _know_ I _am_ perceiving. That's in accord with the principle that you
can't determine what is under control until something disturbs it.

True. In the modified scenario, I suspect you would experience both the
startle and the discomfort. But maybe you would be controlling your
perception of self-image as reliable, having a good memory, and so forth.
That self-image perception could be quite disturbed by the discovery that
your imagined perception of the colour of your glasses differed from your
visual perception of their colour. I really don't see you controlling
your belief that you are wearing brown glasses, having observed that you
are wearing orange ones. You may indeed have a reference to perceive
yourself wearing brown, but that's just like any other reference perception,
and has nothing to do with the belief that you are in fact wearing brown
ones.

A moral belief (thou shouldst honor thy father and mother) is a
reference-principle, isn't it?

As soon as you say "should," then of course it is. The belief, though, must
be that I do (or do not) honour my father and mother. If I have the
reference you state, and the actual belief differs, there is error, and
probably associated emotion and perhaps action.

The actual perceived state of affairs may
match that principle, in which case there is no error. But the belief
becomes apparent when the actual state of affairs is that you _don't_ honor
thy father or mother (note that not-(A and B) is equivalent to ([not-A) or
(not-B)]. The belief that you should honor your father and mother remains
the same, but the perception changes. So here, the belief is clearly a
reference signal and not a perception.

A moment, here. The belief "I do honour my father and mother" has a value,
which may be anywhere from zero (I don't honour them at all) to some
high value (I honour them as highly as I can imagine). If I have a reference
belief that I "should" honour them (to what value?) and an actual belief
that has a different value, then there is an error, and unless there is
a conflict with some other controlled perception, you may do something
about it.

In fact, in all cases I can think of, when there is a deviation of the
perceived world from the state defined by a belief, it is the perception
that changes while the belief remains the same, implying that the belief is
the reference signal.

OK. I guess then that I perceive the water flowing down the storm drain,
and drive through the bridge underpass. But I'm not clear how I manage
to perceive the car proceeding when it is window-deep in water, or how
I perceive myself staying dry under those conditions. Imagination may
be powerful, but it's not that powerful. No, I think my belief that
the water will run down the storm drain is more likely to change.

Martin

[Martin Taylor 990106 0:58]

[From Rick Marken (990105.1320)]

Remember that "belief" can also refer to imagined perceptions. I
think this is what we have in this case (and probably in Martin's
storm drain case as well). My belief that my fly is open is
really just an imagined state of a percpetual variable (size of
fly opening). Similarly, my belief that the water will drain down
the storm sewer when it rains is just an imagined state of a
perceptual variable.

I quite agree. And that's more or less what I said in my first foray
into this thread--a belief is a perception whose components are largely
in imagination.

Maybe it would be better to say that PCT views "belief in something"
rather than just "belief" as the setting of a reference for the
state of a perceptual variable.

Now you are getting at the two kinds of belief that I discussed--belief
in a current state of the world, and belief in a way the world works.
The latter is "belief in." But "belief in" may also be just a perception.
What it does is determine how you will imagine yourself being able to
influence your controlled perceptions. If you "believe in" prayer, you
may pray as a mechanism to solve a problem, or to put you in good standing
with one who may help when later you have a problem. If you don't
"believe in" prayer, you will do something else to address your error
signals.

"Belief in" is more likely to be a controlled perception, since to change
it involves a potentially substantial change in the hierarchy, with
attendant (possibly transient) error. Even in the absence of direct
feedback, reorganization would tend to return the "belief in" to its
earlier (low error in the hierarchy) state. In words which state the
case reasonably well...

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

"Belief in" has two forms, as I'm sure you have noted. One is unconscious,
and is embodied in the structural organization of the hierarchy (much as
knowledge is embodied in the weights or a neural network), and the other
is in the output-to-perception transfer function in the imagination loop
of an elementary control unit. That "belief in" can become conscious as
a perception of "the way the world works", and can be controlled. (Of
course, the structural organization of the hierarchy is also controlled,
by the reorganization process that tends to destroy structures that lead
to persistent large error).

I'm amused at your characterization of the storm drain example. If I
understand you correctly, I _have to_ control my belief that storm drains
will allow the rain water to drain away, by cleaning out the drain, by
getting elected to city council and having them cleaned, or soemthing. You
will not allow that I can easily and with no strain change my belief, as
a consequence of having observed on TV that the water did not drain away.
I find that odd, since I think I would be happy to change not only that
belief about fact, but also my "belief in" the route under the bridge as
a way to my destination on that day.

Personally, I'm quite happy to change some of my beliefs as a consequence
of observation, even "beliefs in". Others, I control. But as Bill says,
one often cannot know what one is controlling until it is disturbed. So
I don't know what beliefs I control, and which are just perceptions of
the way I imagine things are.

Martin

[Martin Taylor 990106 1:20]

[From Rick Marken (990105.1830)]

But I've changed my mind since then because I've seen beliefs
function as reference signals in myself and others. I've changed
my belief about belief;-) I think what we believe can become a
reference for perception and when it does we act accordingly (to
bring the perception to the reference state).

I don't think anyone with whom you have been arguing would dispute that.
The disputation is about a different assertion--that _all_ beliefs are
reference providers and only reference providers, and that _no_ belief
is a perception, imaginary or otherwise.

Of course "what we believe can" generate "a reference for perception."
(I don't think it can "become" a reference for a perception of a nature
different from itself). (Just to be wary of nit-picking, I do know that
the nature of a perception is a neural signal. I mean the nature of what
an external observer/analyst might see as the pattern corresponding to the
neural signal).

Martin

[From Rick Marken (990106.0750)]

Me:

I think what we believe can become a reference for perception
and when it does we act accordingly (to bring the perception
to the reference state).

Martin Taylor (990106 1:20) --

I don't think anyone with whom you have been arguing would dispute
that.

Great. Then why all the dispute? I think the novel (and important)
observation from a PCT perspective is that beliefs often _do_
function as references for perceptions. This was all Bill Powers
said in his original post on this subject; I think he said that
beliefs that are not just imagined perceptions are references for
perceptions. Beliefs that are just reference perceptions are not
really very interesting; if I believe that there is a pot of
gold at the end of the rainbow then big deal. This belief makes
no difference to anyone (including me) until it becomes a reference
perception and I start wasting my time and energy trying to find
that pot of gold.

The disputation is about a different assertion--that _all_ beliefs are
reference providers and only reference providers, and that _no_ belief
is a perception, imaginary or otherwise.

Then it was an unnecessary dispute since no one on the "beliefs are
references" side -- not Bill Powers, not me -- said that beliefs are
_only_ reference perceptions. But it seem to me there was (until now)
some rather strong dissent from the proposal that beliefs _can be_
(and often are) references. But I guess we now all agree on this;
beliefs can be -- and often are -- references specifications for
the state of perceptual variables. (I don't it makes sense to call
perceptions "beliefs"; I can say I "believe" that I am seeing a
clear, beautiful, warm sunny day out there; but I don't really
believe it; I know it; I am experiencing it).

Again, I think the idea that beliefs can be reference perceptions
is a very powerful notion. It helps explain why people will
fight and die for things like "freedom" or "God" or "the holy
land" or whatever. Once your belief in such things functions as
a reference for a perception then one good way to protect the
perception from disturbance is to remove the sources of
disturbance: the "agents of repression", the "heathens" and
the "foreigners".

Beliefs serving as reference perceptions are probably responsible
for more human misery than all natural disasters put together.

Best

Rick

···

--
Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken

[From Rick Marken (990106.0900)]

Me:

Beliefs that are just reference perceptions are not really very
interesting;

Bruce Gregory (990106.1125 EST) --

I assume you mean "imagined," rather than "reference."

Yes. Thanks for catching that!

The notion that you search for the pot of gold because it is a
reference level for a perception strikes me as unlikely.

PCT says that behavior (like searching) is the control of
perceptions (like that of a pot of gold) relative to internal
reference specifications. If the notion that one searchs (controls)
for a pot of gold (perception) because one has a reference for that
perception strikes you as unlikely then what explanation of this
behavior strikes you as likely?

The real question is why is this a reference level for a
perception?

That's another -- and certainly very interesting -- question.

My guess is that if I offered you 100 million dollars to abandon
your search you would do so without a second thought.

I guarantee you that I would abandon it. But that doesn't mean that
I wasn't controlling on the basis of my belief in the pot of
gold before you made the offer.

The conjecture that people die for things like "freedom" or "God"
or the "holy land" needs to be tested in the same way that any
conjecture about a controlled perception needs to be tested.
Personally, I doubt it.

I agree that it would be best to test to determine what people who
fight wars are really controlling for. But it sure seems like
people do die (and kill) to protect perceptions that are controlled
relative to belief references. Why do you doubt this? What is a
Nazi who kills innocent civilians doing? I think many Nazi's were
controlling for a perception (racial purity) relative to a
reference (Aryan race) that is based on a belief.

Why don't we scientists conduct holy wars against people who doubt
evolution or the nature of DNA?

But scientists _do_ conduct holy wars. Look at how carefully
evolutionists protect their field from disturbances that suggest
a mechanism for evolution other than "natural selection"; look at
how psychologists protect their field from disturbances that
suggest mechanisms for behavior other than lineal cause-effect.

Best

Rick

···

--
Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken

[From Bill Powers (990106.0921 MST)]

Rick Marken (990106.0750)--

Great. Then why all the dispute? I think the novel (and important)
observation from a PCT perspective is that beliefs often _do_
function as references for perceptions. This was all Bill Powers
said in his original post on this subject; I think he said that
beliefs that are not just imagined perceptions are references for
perceptions. Beliefs that are just reference perceptions are not
really very interesting; if I believe that there is a pot of
gold at the end of the rainbow then big deal. This belief makes
no difference to anyone (including me) until it becomes a reference
perception and I start wasting my time and energy trying to find
that pot of gold.

Thanks, Rick. That about wraps up the arguments for me. The word belief,
like so many words we trip over, is essentially undefined (like most
critical terms in psychology and philosophy), so it's pointless to argue
about what belief "really means." We can use it to refer to a number of
interesting situations, one of which is when we are _trying_ to keep a
belief true and modifying our behavior so as to keep it true (-seeming). In
that situation, the believed state of affairs seems to operate more like a
reference signal than a perception.

Best,

Bill P.

···

The disputation is about a different assertion--that _all_ beliefs are
reference providers and only reference providers, and that _no_ belief
is a perception, imaginary or otherwise.

Then it was an unnecessary dispute since no one on the "beliefs are
references" side -- not Bill Powers, not me -- said that beliefs are
_only_ reference perceptions. But it seem to me there was (until now)
some rather strong dissent from the proposal that beliefs _can be_
(and often are) references. But I guess we now all agree on this;
beliefs can be -- and often are -- references specifications for
the state of perceptual variables. (I don't it makes sense to call
perceptions "beliefs"; I can say I "believe" that I am seeing a
clear, beautiful, warm sunny day out there; but I don't really
believe it; I know it; I am experiencing it).

Again, I think the idea that beliefs can be reference perceptions
is a very powerful notion. It helps explain why people will
fight and die for things like "freedom" or "God" or "the holy
land" or whatever. Once your belief in such things functions as
a reference for a perception then one good way to protect the
perception from disturbance is to remove the sources of
disturbance: the "agents of repression", the "heathens" and
the "foreigners".

Beliefs serving as reference perceptions are probably responsible
for more human misery than all natural disasters put together.

Best

Rick
--
Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken

[From Bruce Gregory (990106.1125 EST)]

Rick Marken (990106.0750)

Great. Then why all the dispute? I think the novel (and important)
observation from a PCT perspective is that beliefs often _do_
function as references for perceptions. This was all Bill Powers
said in his original post on this subject; I think he said that
beliefs that are not just imagined perceptions are references for
perceptions. Beliefs that are just reference perceptions are not
really very interesting;

I assume you mean "imagined," rather than "reference."

if I believe that there is a pot of
gold at the end of the rainbow then big deal. This belief makes
no difference to anyone (including me) until it becomes a reference
perception and I start wasting my time and energy trying to find
that pot of gold.

The notion that you search for the pot of gold because it is a reference
level for a perception strikes me as unlikely. The real question is why
is this a reference level for a perception? My guess is that if I
offered you 100 million dollars to abandon your search you would do so
without a second thought.

Again, I think the idea that beliefs can be reference perceptions
is a very powerful notion. It helps explain why people will
fight and die for things like "freedom" or "God" or "the holy
land" or whatever.

The conjecture that people die for things like "freedom" or "God" or the
"holy land" needs to be tested in the same way that any conjecture about
a controlled perception needs to be tested. Personally, I doubt it.

Once your belief in such things functions as
a reference for a perception then one good way to protect the
perception from disturbance is to remove the sources of
disturbance: the "agents of repression", the "heathens" and
the "foreigners".

Why don't we scientists conduct holy wars against people who doubt
evolution or the nature of DNA? Surely evolution and DNA are references
for our perceptions. What I find missing from your analysis is a
recognition that whatever perception is being defended in the cases you
sight must be more important than life itself. Do you really think that
Ken Starr's persecution of Clinton is the result of Starr's having made
'always tell the truth" into a reference level for a perception? I still
maintain that the only belief people fight for are those that play an
integral role in their own plans to perceive themselves as surviving. No
one I know of died to defend the belief that 2 + 2 =4, which most of us
share.

Bruce Gregory

[From Rick Marken (990106.1030)]

Bruce Gregory (990106.1230 EST)--

There is something about the Nazi's belief that puts it in
a different category from my belief. What is that something? I think
that's an important question.

I agree! And this is certainly something that would merit some
study. I wish someone would study it. My guess, based on PCT,
is that the difference between your belief and the Nazi's is 1)
gain (how important it is to you to have the specificed perception,
which is probably determined by higher level control systems) and
2) the fact that you are controlling for other variables, like
fairness and kindness.

I think scientists basically ignore those who they differ with.
At any rate, they rarely kill each other over their differences.

I agree. Ignoring usually does the job. Sometimes they play a
little bit rougher (as in the "cold fusion" situation). So here
is another reason why people like Nazi's might go to extremes (like
killing) to control for their beliefs while people like scientists
rarely do; people go to extremes only when they have to. The Jews
wouldn't just pick up and move out of Europe and nobody would take
them anyway so the _final solution_ was just that; the final level
of output that had to be produced to get the desired perception: an
Aryan nation. Scientists don't have that problem; they can easily
control access to the journals, the conferences and the academic
research and teaching positions. They've got it locked until the
opposition gets a big enough following. But they don't start killing
the opposition even in this case because scientists are basically
decent chaps and they will at least _try_ to base defense of their
beliefs on evidence rather than fisticuffs.

Best

Rick

···

---
Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net
http://home.earthlink.net/~rmarken

[From Bruce Gregory (990106.1230 EST)]

Rick Marken (990106.0900)

me:

> The notion that you search for the pot of gold because it is a
> reference level for a perception strikes me as unlikely.

PCT says that behavior (like searching) is the control of
perceptions (like that of a pot of gold) relative to internal
reference specifications. If the notion that one searches (controls)
for a pot of gold (perception) because one has a reference for that
perception strikes you as unlikely then what explanation of this
behavior strikes you as likely?

My point was really the next one.

> The real question is why is this a reference level for a
> perception?

That's another -- and certainly very interesting -- question.

> My guess is that if I offered you 100 million dollars to abandon
> your search you would do so without a second thought.

I guarantee you that I would abandon it. But that doesn't mean that
I wasn't controlling on the basis of my belief in the pot of
gold before you made the offer.

I agree.

> The conjecture that people die for things like "freedom" or "God"
> or the "holy land" needs to be tested in the same way that any
> conjecture about a controlled perception needs to be tested.
> Personally, I doubt it.

I agree that it would be best to test to determine what people who
fight wars are really controlling for. But it sure seems like
people do die (and kill) to protect perceptions that are controlled
relative to belief references. Why do you doubt this? What is a
Nazi who kills innocent civilians doing? I think many Nazi's were
controlling for a perception (racial purity) relative to a
reference (Aryan race) that is based on a belief.

My point is simply that "clearing up the misunderstanding about racial
purity" is unlikely to lead to the Nazi becoming a model citizen. I
believe that Republicans often show little concern about the
consequences of their actions, but I (rarely) have the urge to murder
one of them. There is something about the Nazi's belief that puts it in
a different category from my belief. What is that something? I think
that's an important question.

> Why don't we scientists conduct holy wars against people who doubt
> evolution or the nature of DNA?

But scientists _do_ conduct holy wars. Look at how carefully
evolutionists protect their field from disturbances that suggest
a mechanism for evolution other than "natural selection"; look at
how psychologists protect their field from disturbances that
suggest mechanisms for behavior other than lineal cause-effect.

I think scientists basically ignore those who they differ with. At any
rate, they rarely kill each other over their differences.

Bruce Gregory

[From Bruce Gregory (981226.1627 EDT)]

Recent exchanges on CSGnet might have left the impression that people act in
certain ways because they believe certain things. This, of course, is simply
a variety of S-R thinking. People act in order to achieve desired outcomes,
not because they have beliefs. Beliefs are not reference levels. In the
impeachment hearings, no one's vote was changed by the arguments because the
arguments were directed toward beliefs. People tend to believe whatever it
is convenient to believe in order to further their ends.

Bruce Gregory

[From Richard Kennaway (941226.2243 GMT)]

Bruce Gregory (981226.1627 EDT):

Beliefs are not reference levels. In the
impeachment hearings, no one's vote was changed by the arguments because the
arguments were directed toward beliefs. People tend to believe whatever it
is convenient to believe in order to further their ends.

What are beliefs, then? If they're outputs, they must be outputs of
control systems not accessible to awareness, because I -- my conscious
"I" -- don't seem to be able to choose to believe or not believe anything.

-- Richard Kennaway, jrk@sys.uea.ac.uk, http://www.sys.uea.ac.uk/~jrk/
   School of Information Systems, Univ. of East Anglia, Norwich, U.K.

[From Bruce Gregory (981226.1835 EDT)]

Richard Kennaway (941226.2243 GMT)

What are beliefs, then? If they're outputs, they must be outputs of
control systems not accessible to awareness, because I -- my conscious
"I" -- don't seem to be able to choose to believe or not believe anything.

Good question. Maybe Bill or Rick will enlighten us.

Bruce Gregory

[From Bruce Gregory (981227.0740 EDT)]

Bruce Gregory (981226.1835 EDT)

Richard Kennaway (941226.2243 GMT)

> What are beliefs, then? If they're outputs, they must be outputs of
> control systems not accessible to awareness, because I -- my conscious
> "I" -- don't seem to be able to choose to believe or not
believe anything.

Good question. Maybe Bill or Rick will enlighten us.

While we await enlightenment, perhaps we can lay some groundwork. One way to
approach beliefs is to separate them into two broad categories--those we
have evidence to support and those we embrace despite a lack of evidence.
Science presumably is encompassed by the former. I say presumably because it
often takes quite a while for evidence to accumulate to the point where it
tips the balance to new beliefs.

Beliefs supported by little evidence paradoxically seem among the hardest to
displace. Most people seem to have little interest in subjecting their
beliefs to tests. In fact, they seem much more interested in defending their
beliefs from attack. It is almost as if we identify who we are with what we
believe and consider an attack on our beliefs to be an attack on ourselves,
i.e., we have a very high gain associated with perceiving that others accept
our belief.

If we have a belief supported by little evidence, but with little gain
associated with maintaining it, we are much more likely to discard the
belief and accept another.

I conjecture that the beliefs most resistant to being changed are those we
adopt as an element in a plan to achieve a desired outcome associated with
our survival. Since death represents the greatest threat to our ability to
continue to exercise control, we develop stratagems to overcome this threat.
Religion is a particularly popular stratagem. Strangely some of us have
little interest in trying to maintain control after death. I'd like to
attribute this to our good sense and the lack of evidence for life after
death, but I'm beginning to think it may have more to do with genetics.
("Religiousness" seems to have a high habitability although the particular
religion does not.)

Bruce Gregory

[From Greg Wierzbicki (981227.1130 EST)]

Bruce Gregory (981226.1627 EDT)

Recent exchanges on CSGnet might have left the impression that people act in
certain ways because they believe certain things. This, of course, is simply
a variety of S-R thinking. People act in order to achieve desired outcomes,
not because they have beliefs. Beliefs are not reference levels.

Why do you choose to believe this?

Greg

[From Bruce Gregory (981227.1130 EDT)]

Greg Wierzbicki (981227.1130 EST)

>
> Bruce Gregory (981226.1627 EDT)
>
> Recent exchanges on CSGnet might have left the impression that
people act in
> certain ways because they believe certain things. This, of
course, is simply
> a variety of S-R thinking. People act in order to achieve
desired outcomes,
> not because they have beliefs. Beliefs are not reference levels.

Why do you choose to believe this?

Because I choose to believe PCT. I choose to believe PCT because all of the
evidence of which I am aware is consistent with PCT.

Bruce Gregory

[From Bill Powers (981227.1020 MST)]

Bruce Gregory (981226.1627 EDT)--

Beliefs are not reference levels.

I contend that they are, where they are not simply imagined perceptions. It
is very useful to look upon one's own beliefs in this way. Suppose I
believe that I'm hopeless at mathematics. If someone presents me with a
problem requiring some math to solve it, what will I do? I will say, "Oh,
I'm hopeless at mathematics, I can't solve that problem." And I will NOT
EVEN TRY. In other words, I behave so as to keep the belief true.

Try interpreting some other beliefs this way and see if it doesn't make sense.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Bruce Gregory (981227.1700 EDT)]

Bill Powers (981227.1020 MST)

Bruce Gregory (981226.1627 EDT)--

>Beliefs are not reference levels.

I contend that they are, where they are not simply imagined
perceptions. It
is very useful to look upon one's own beliefs in this way. Suppose I
believe that I'm hopeless at mathematics. If someone presents me with a
problem requiring some math to solve it, what will I do? I will say, "Oh,
I'm hopeless at mathematics, I can't solve that problem." And I will NOT
EVEN TRY. In other words, I behave so as to keep the belief true.

I, on the other hand, might say that your belief is that if you try, you
will fail and that you do not try in order to avoid failure. My theory, in
this case, is that you will avoid situations in which you believe failure is
likely whether or not mathematics is involved. (You have a high gain for
perceiving that you are not failing.) If I give you a simple mathematics
problem, I predict you will try and successfully complete it, since the risk
of failure is small. You would have to predict, I surmise, that you would
not even take on this simple task because it would threaten your belief that
you are hopeless at mathematics. Two different predictions, so we can
perform a test.

Try interpreting some other beliefs this way and see if it
doesn't make sense.

Let's apply the same reasoning to those who voted to impeach the President.
They say they believe that he lied and that lying is absolutely
unacceptable--especially lying under oath. If they truly believed this, I
would expect that they would have called for a special investigation of
Clarence Thomas to determine if he was lying or Anita Hill was lying, since
both were testifying under oath. Since the Republicans did not do this, I
conclude they do not believe that lying under oath is invariably wrong. Or,
more accurately, that this belief cannot play an important role in
determining their actions. (It may play a role in how they would answer the
question, "Do you believe that lying under oath is wrong?" but not in any
decision of consequence.) I conjecture that what they do believe is that
Bill Clinton should be removed from office by whatever method will succeed.
Further, I conjecture that they are controlling for removing Clinton from
office and that their actions reflect this. So I guess I am claiming that
what people say they believe has little to do with how they act, and we must
infer their "true beliefs" from their actions and then test our conjectures.
Further, I conjecture that many people would vehemently deny that they
believe what their actions demonstrate that they must believe, if belief is,
after all, a reference level.

Bruce Gregory