Today In Philosophy: Mind Puzzles, Part I

It’s literally called that, “Mind Puzzles.” I like puzzles in theory, but in practice I am usually not very good at them, and the only time I succeed in working out a puzzle is because I found some way of explaining why the conditions of the puzzle were incorrect to begin with.

TO THAT END, let’s talk about Paradox Number One, the Paradox of Self-Deception:

(Just in case you were wondering, in Philosophy — a refined, exclusive activity only mean to be practiced by the wisest and handsomest among us — the word “iff” means “if and only if”. This is a special procedure to make the sentence “if and only if” somewhat shorter, which I suppose was very important back when most Philosophy was being done with goosequills or something. Anyway, that’s why they keep using it, it’s a Philosophy Tradition.)

(I don’t know what that squiggle thing before the p is supposed to indicate. Around? About? Isn’t that usually what it means?)

Whatever. I want to go back to that thing that Blaise Pascal and Anselm indicated might be true, this possibility that there was more than one way of knowing about something — to know it on one level, but to feel that it’s true on another level. And I suggested the possibility of a Gnostic Sense, which is an internal sense or suite of senses that tells us that something we’re thinking about is true, or may be true.

I think this follows, in the sense that I think that in addition to merely holding data in our brains, we also have a feeling about the relative truth of the data. For example:

  1. I believe that the moon is made of rock (though I haven’t visited it myself); if you told me it was made of cheese, I wouldn’t just know say, “this data is incorrect,” I would actually laugh at how absurd the proposition is.
  2. I believe that Federal Donuts is located at Fairmount an 12th street in Philadelphia. If you told me that no, in fact it is at Fairmount and 11th street, I would say, “this data is incorrect, but it could be true, maybe I am mistaken.”

(What’s particular is that I’ve actually been to that Federal Donuts several times, and my feelings about the truth of its location are much weaker than my feelings about the truth of the moon.)

So, that’s a description of a mechanism. If that mechanism is true, then maybe when we say, “self-deception”, we don’t mean “deception” in the specific literal sense of — “I with full knowledge of a situation, convince you that something is false when I personally believe it to be true.” Maybe what’s happening with self-deception is that, I think a particular thing, and that thing I might believe is false, or at least could be false, and then via some process I convince myself to feel that the thing is true.

Is that possible? Well, I said before that my experience with purposefully not saying “I know” statements had the effect of seeming to erode my gnostic sense — my feelings about being sure about things were less strong than they used to be. It seems reasonable to me to say 1) that convincing myself to doubt a thing that I was sure of might be a kind of self-deception, if I had good reason to intellectually believe that it was true; and 2) if I can erode my gnostic sense, maybe I can build it back up?

Certainly that seems plausible, and that at least satisfies our construction here, in the sense that it suggests that our construction is wrong: it presents the notion of “self-deception” as me lying to myself — with full knowledge and belief — but there’s no reason to construct it that way, nor is there any particular experience (at least that I’ve had or heard about) that this would illuminate. Instead, we’ve got a discrepancy between things that I think and things that I feel, and that I have some process available to change how I feel about something that I think and for which I have partial or incomplete knowledge, or potentially even contradictory knowledge.

(I suppose it’s not controversial to say that once I feel something is true, I might go out of my way to avoid getting information that contradicted me; maybe more controversial to say that this same process is what allows me to believe any number of ordinary things and go about my daily life. I don’t have to wake up every morning and question the existence of the moon because I have narrowed the parameters through which I’ll accept contradictory evidence — no hobo is going to come up to ME with a pamphlet insisting the moon is a government conspiracy, no thank you.)

This also resolves the question of “why is self-deception more common when we’re drunk” (though, is it? The old cliche is “in vino veritas”, not “in vino…uh…non veritas”; Socrates was famous for being basically the same person drunk or sober, and he claimed it was because he never deceived himself, and so nothing changed when he got drunk). Well, as you like — whether we deceive ourselves more or less when drunk, this is only a paradox if you imagined that I had two whole people inside me, an angel and a devil, one telling the truth and another telling lies. It would be strange to think that one could get drunker than the other in that case, but if what we have are simply different faculties, that evaluate information in different ways, this is hardly a surprising revelation — alcohol affects all of our different faculties differently, and there’d be no reason to think that it’d affect our thought-processes precisely the same as our feel-processes.

(Indeed, experience seems to bear that one out.)