Beliefs as references -- an example

[From Richard Kennaway (990108.0940 GMT)]

Some beliefs certainly look like references, as in the following part of a
story by Terry Bisson, called "Meat". Notice the second speaker's belief
"sentient beings cannot be made of meat", and how he...she...it responds to
the first speaker's disturbance.

···

====

Imagine if you will... the leader of the fifth invader force speaking to
the commander in chief...

"They're made out of meat."

        "Meat?"

"Meat. They're made out of meat."

        "Meat?"

"There's no doubt about it. We picked several from different parts of the
planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, probed them all the way
through. They're completely meat."

        "That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to
the stars."

"They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them.
The signals come from machines."

        "So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."

"They made the machines. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Meat made the
machines."

        "That's ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You're asking me
to believe in sentient meat."

"I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. These creatures are the only sentient
race in the sector and they're made out of meat."

        "Maybe they're like the Orfolei. You know, a carbon-based
intelligence that goes through a meat stage."

"Nope. They're born meat and they die meat. We studied them for several of
their life spans, which didn't take too long. Do you have any idea the life
span of meat?"

        "Spare me. Okay, maybe they're only part meat. You know, like the
Weddilei. A meat head with an electron plasma brain inside."

"Nope. We thought of that, since they do have meat heads like the Weddilei.
But I told you, we probed them. They're meat all the way through."

        "No brain?"

"Oh, there is a brain all right. It's just that the brain is made out of
meat!"

        "So... what does the thinking?"

"You're not understanding, are you? The brain does the thinking. The meat."

        "Thinking meat! You're asking me to believe in thinking meat!"

"Yes, thinking meat! Conscious meat! Loving meat. Dreaming meat. The meat
is the whole deal! Are you getting the picture?"

        "Omigod. You're serious then. They're made out of meat."

"Finally, Yes. They are indeed made out meat. And they've been trying to
get in touch with us for almost a hundred of their years."

====

I see the commander going through the following steps:

* Blank disbelief, does not compute.

* Flat denial.

* Various alternative hypotheses proposed that would preserve the belief,
but each one knocked down.

* Comprehension that it is really, seriously, being said that the belief is
wrong.

* Revision of belief.

(The full text is at Yahoo | Mail, Weather, Search, Politics, News, Finance, Sports & Videos and
many other places on the web. It's a riot.)

Are all beliefs like that? Other beliefs seem to get revised instantly (in
subjective time) when a perception conflicting with the belief arises. If
I go to where I think my car is, and find it isn't there, there's nothing I
can to do maintain that belief. If I realise that I actually parked
somewhere else, I'm not going to go and drive my car back here just to
perceive that belief.

From the armchair, I can come up with a PCT description of both sorts of

belief. If beliefs are references, beliefs must also be outputs of the
next higher controller. When a mismatch between perception and belief
arises and one observes that the belief gets changed while the perception
remains the same, that may just be the higher-level system working to
correct its own error. When I perceive the empty parking space, the output
capabilities of the controller for that belief are completely ineffective
in producing the perception of my car. It fails to control, and only when
an error at a higher level varies the output which is that belief does the
error go away. In "Meat", the commander's controller for his belief tries
several actions to bring the perception close to the reference, but all of
them fail. Eventually, a higher-level system changes the belief.

Armchair Just-So stories are ten a penny though.

-- 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 (990108.1030 EST)]

Richard Kennaway (990108.0940 GMT)

Are all beliefs like that? Other beliefs seem to get revised

instantly (in

subjective time) when a perception conflicting with the belief arises.

If

I go to where I think my car is, and find it isn't there, there's

nothing I

can to do maintain that belief. If I realize that I actually parked
somewhere else, I'm not going to go and drive my car back here just to
perceive that belief.

When I encounter a belief that I seem unwilling to revise, I try to ask
what role that belief plays in some "grand scheme". Why is it so
important that x be true? This is my version of "going up a level".
Beliefs seem to me to function as elements in solutions to problems. If
you know what the problem is, you can see if there might not be another
way to solve it--a way that does not require you to hang onto the belief
despite the evidence.

Bruce Gregory