Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Necessity of Doubt


Doubt is the subjective condition that belongs to mind which judges the facts, where the mind is suspended between two or more propositions and is not able to assent to any of them.  Is doubt necessary to our attainment of knowledge and aspiration to a higher consciousness?  Or is it a limitation to these, leaving us in mistrust, suspicion or uncertainty and without belief?  Is doubt necessary?  Does it exclude faith?
Aristotle believed doubt to be preliminary to philosophical inquiry and the only means by which the necessary removal of prejudice may be effected.  Bacon believed that the scholastic proof of a proposition or thesis begins by the statement of doubts or contrary arguments.
Thomas Huxley gave the name agnosticism to the state: “of being strictly doubtful towards all that lies beyond sense-experience.”  Pragmatism regards all reality as doubtful, and truth as perpetually changing with the progress of human thought.
What do YOU think?
Artwork by Jayne Edwards   Many Thanks

54 comments:

Francis said...

I'm reading a marvellous book at the moment; "Doubt: A History", by Jennifer Michael Hecht (HarperCollins, NY, 2004). http://www.amazon.com/Doubt Doubters-Innovation-Jefferson Dickinson/d... In it the author, an historian and poet, takes an eloquent trip through the whole history of ideas, from the pre-Socratics and the Buddha to Salman Rushdie and the Brights, tracing the story of questioning certainties throughout the ages. She quotes Pierre Charron, a student of Michel de Montaigne, who wrote in his book "Of Wisdom" (1601) concerning doubt:

"It alone can provide true repose and security of our spirits. Have all the greatest and most noble philosophers and wise men who haveprofessed doubt been in a state of anxiety and suffering? But they say: to doubt, to consider both points of view, to put off a decision, is this not painful? I reply, it is indeed for fools, but not for wise men. It is painful for people who cannot stand freedom, for those who are presumptuous, partisan, passionate and who, obstinately attached to their opinions, arrogantly condemn all others ... Such people, in truth, know nothing. They do not even know what it is to know something." (Hecht, p. 307)

It's a marvellous pageant of priests, philosophers and poets, scientists, heretics and oddballs who all dared to "step outside the box" and question the conventional wisdoms of their environments, frequently at the cost of intense internal spiritual suffering and external opprobrium and persecution. Not all of them are atheists, she includes figures such as Jesus and Augustine as well, but all of them are people who dared to doubt, to question.

It strikes me that Charron's view of wise searchers as those who dare "to doubt, to consider both points of view, to put off a decision" is not a bad aphorism for us.

Maitreya said...

Doubt is lack of experience...period. Nothing can go by when not experienced one way or another...
To experience one needs courage, which is the total of experiences from previous times/lifes.
This total of experiences is called individual Akasha. To bridge individual Akasha with the Universal Akasha, one needs devotion, devotion to Self and through Self with the Universe...and when in Universal Akasha one is truly One.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjDBU_3Hf6Q

Arthur said...

Well there is the process we have even today in science that involves (1) thesis... (2) antithesis and (3) synthesis and it all involves I believe faith and doubt as part of the process.

You have faith that you are correct and propose an argument a proposition..

Someone else comes who has equal faith that their proposition is correct offers a counter proposal.."to set against, oppose"

A third person looks at both sides and proposes a "synthesis" or a conmbination of the attributes of both the thesis and antithesis..

this is how things can move along and we can expand knowledge and gain insight.

Most people are probably only familiar with one side or the other of an argument and don't consider the other persons point of view and also are not aware that there can be a synthesis of both points of view!

like one of the blind men in the ancient parable and this is the Jaina version:

Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant's body.

The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar;

the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope;

the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch;

the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan;

the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall;

and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.

A wise man explains to them:

"All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned."

(This is the Synthesis of the process)

This resolves the conflict, and is used to illustrate the principle of living in harmony with people who have different belief systems, and that truth can be stated in different ways (in Jainist beliefs often said to be seven versions).

This is known as the Syadvada, Anekantvad, or the theory of Manifold Predictions.

Maitreya said...

It all starts with Hypothesis...


...and ends with plastics.

Mark said...

I concur completely with your observations. Doubt is the handmaid of truth and the adversary of blind faith. Theosophy was founded upon freethought principles. To know thyself is to think for oneself and depend on no outside authority. Krishnamurti's remarks on the dissolution of the Order of the Star in the East so beautifully summed this approach up & created a new era of self enquiry along the esoteric path. The Hegelian dialectic that Arthur Gregory mentions is the way humans acquire knowledge through analysis of the data available to us in light of personal experience.

Knowing & doubt are not mutually exclusive. Dr. Stephan Hoeller as said that he does not give a fig for what one believes, but rather in what one has faith in. Faith should be the wisdom of life sought through experience and tempered by doubt. The Jains have the wonderful expression, "Reverence for all of life, relativity in thinking."

Alija said...

I have no doubt, at all, Doubt is the main obstacle on the spiritual path. Doubt excludes faith and with Doubt real spiritual ascension is not possible, imo.
However, Doubt, certain level of Doubt in a certain period of life or under certain conditions is necessary if you are in a search and not having clearly defined Faith properties.
I have glimpses of something, of course I am talking about myself, but these ideas, glimpses have never been my clear leading force. I didn't have any great teacher who could pour in my head some doubtless ideas so that I just have to follow him.
Whole my life, and especially last 18 years, I am in a permanent search.
I am dreaming so much that it is becoming exhausting, so I decided to pay much more attention to this field; Lucid Dreaming.
I have a Faith, I do not doubt I am on the right path, but this kind of doubt is necessary if we are talking about attainment of knowledge because we have to chose which book to buy, what video to watch, etc.

From the other side, I believe if I had a clear, doubtless faith not any other knowledge would be necessary.
Or,...do we need our, in any case so miserable knowledge, for any kind of the ascension, spiritual development. I doubt!!! And because of that I am going again and again to buy a new books, new CDs, DVDs for my search of my doubtless truth, doubtless faith.

So, you can conclude I doubt that doubting in doubt is again doubt, or not???
I hope my point of view is very clear. One day I'll understand it, hopefully.
First thing in my next lucid dreaming will be this subject "Doubt".

SM said...

I believe doubting is important on the path toward spiritual growth. Without it one may become stuck in the dominant religion or ideology of their upbringing without questioning it.

The more I doubt the dominate beliefs of the world, the more I have faith in my own personal meanings.

Omnes said...

..doubt, to me, is the great equalizer; the default state of philosophical being. Every transcendental question could be answered with, "doubtful". Seen in that light, doubt is a wonderful contamination of the inquisitive mind with honesty and sincerity. Much of which is lacking in our overtly religious societies...

schrodinger said...

Let's not forget Rene Descartes, who said " In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt as far as possible all things."

I think the emphasis has to be on that "once" meaning that we cannot go through life in a continuous state of doubting everything, and expect to be contented. Doubt needs to be taken in measured amounts, as does any good medicine.

Michael said...

As long as the question remains based in theory the answer will remain there too. The only way to find the answer to the question for oneself is to surrender yourself, live without doubt and see what happens.

Peter said...

there have been times in my life where sometimes i don't have a single shred of fact to go on is doubt not then your best friend

Kris said...

Doubt is a state of suspension. Therein lies its value and its limitations. Its a brake on the mind and can prevent hasty decisions. It can also lead to indecision and lead to lack of progress.

Doubt should always be an option; never a necessity. When doubt is an option, the doubter is in charge. When doubt becomes a necessity, the doubt rules the doubter. Doubt should be our tool, never our master.

From personal example, I have always had doubts about religion. No more. Now the doubt is gone. I have concluded that religion is a form of insanity.

When Alexander asked Aristotle how he should treat all the people whose lands he was planning to conquer, Aristotle's advice was to treat the conquered people like plants and animals. Apparently doubt did not help Aristotle much in removal of prejudice.

Reality does not reveal itself to us easily. Knowledge of reality is not an entitlement. We have to earn it. I have never seen truth change. What is changing is our state of knowledge of the truth.

Alan said...

It's a marvellous pageant of priests, philosophers and poets, scientists, heretics and oddballs who all dared to "step outside the box" and question the conventional wisdoms of their environments, frequently at the cost of intense internal spiritual suffering and external opprobrium and persecution. Not all of them are atheists, she includes figures such as Jesus and Augustine as well, but all of them are people who dared to doubt, to question.

What I would like to know is why when you step out of the comfort box and challenge idea and there is the internal doubt whay ther is so much suffering and turmoil. especially when you know you are right.

Francis said...

Aaah, but do you KNOW you're right? Are you SURE you're right? What Charron and others (including e.g. Marcus Aurelius, or - according to some interpretations - the Buddha) are talking about is a basic questioning attitude, living with and in doubt, which, at a certain stage, brings its own contentment/enlightenment at a deeper level - while the process continues ... Openness ...

Alan said...

I know I am right ,, I and sure I am right,, everything I see points to the fact I am right. yet there is that very ultra tine possibility that I could be wrong. That is very frightening, probably terrifying can be a better description. I am thinking as I am writing this is maybe the real problem comes from knowing the extremely high stakes that are involved because you are dealing in the realm of the soul and me I really don't like gambling and high stakes are frightening , to me there is no higher stake.

Vam said...

True, the freedom to doubt !

But the freedom to doubt meets its completion in what rings back to be true, abidingly.


There is no limit to what you can doubt, but to how long.

Alan said...

It is not the freedom to doubt. everyone has that and it is okay. When you come against civilization and thinking standing alone doubt is not a freedom.

Molly Brogan said...

I think that it would be easy to get tied up in semantic differences here. There are translations of the word fear in the bible that mean absolute reverence - a meaning that is a far cry from the crippling emotion usually associated with the word fear. Also with doubt, if associated with destructive criticism, the chronic attitude that knowledge is unattainable, or the position that no truth can be established (all usually associated with skepticism), then it has a very different meaning that the doubt suggested by Francis above, where doubt can establish a space of disagreement for the moment, and lead us into greater possibility.

Neil said...

Once we are into doubting when do we start to doubt doubt? What would be the 'rules' of doubting? Even Descartes wasn't a radical doubter. There are some epistemological answers. Most of us wouldn't take the idea that Tony Blair is CIA that seriously - yet in fleshing out what might be entailed if he is we might well find serious reasons to doubt the integrity of our political system and change it.

Molly Brogan said...

doubt, I think, has an emotional or psychological element to it as can be seen in Webster's definition: to be afraid of : FEAR -- used with an infinitive phrase or a clause as object to lack confidence in : DISTRUST, SUSPECT find myself doubting him even when I know that he is honest -- H.L.Mencken b : to be inclined not to believe or accept :consider unlikely or improbable to be uncertain or undecided in opinion or belief

discernment, I think, has a more integrated approach, leaving us less in fear, distrust and uncertainly, and leading us more into greater possibility (again I will reference Webster): to sense or come to know or recognize mentally especially something that is hidden or obscure - the inductive apprehension of a truth imperfectly discerned -- B.N.Cardozo - the ability to discern and analyze the essentials of complicated questions -- K.C.Wheare - to mark as separate and distinct : put a distinguishing mark upon b : to recognize or identify as separate and distinct : DIFFERENTIATE, DISCRIMINATE discern right from wrong - discern the false from the genuine - intransitive verb : to see or understand the difference : to make distinction - discern between good and evil


in other words, when we discern, we reveal to ourselves what was hidden, recognize more or discriminate. When we doubt, we seem to stop there and go no further, disregarding what we doubt and remaining ourselves, in doubt.


The material Francis presents suggests the importance of moving beyond the doubt and find the greater wisdom, or, in essence, move from doubt to discernment. To this I say, Bravo! because in doing so, we may reach a point where doubt is replaced by discernment and no longer necessary.

Neil said...

You are no doubt right Molly,though dangers of 'discernment Nazis' remain. I've just been reading some HRM "research" making the usual vapid claims that we could summarise as 'Eight out of ten people prefer designing their own jobs to eating powdered glass, this confirming HRM is wonderful'. The problem is not becoming so cosy in discernment that all one can offer is positive gloss. I prefer the Kantian sublime in these areas to radical doubt and recognition that renewal processes are necessary from time to time (perhaps even potlach). Life is in some kind of cycle with decay after all.

Molly Brogan said...

the dark night before the dawn

Neil said...

I suspect 'doubt in use' is extremely complex. I doubt politicians, but what might this mean? Anything from thinking of them as 'self- interested scumbags' to fears 'aliens take their families hostage as soon as they get in power'! The politicians certainly don't appear to be able to doubt some kind of central theme or dogma that gets hold of them once they can change things.

Alan said...

To me doubt can be very beneficial for society and the spirit of question is needed in politicians and in life in general. I think the original topic is dealing with spiritual and religion. When the greatest of people step out of the box such as Christianity they step directly into a different box such as Buddhism which is defined.


The real problem comes when you step out of a box such as Christianity re-evaluating the ideas and teachings you find your self outside the box standing alone. Then you have the problem or rather the question that arises naturally, 'what makes me right and everyone else wrong?' you are defining own narrow path and doubt is very much part of it.


The oddity that i have found personally is that when it seems you are on this solitary path there are many others that see thing the same as you do and you are not truly alone.

Gibbs said...

appreciate your comments Francis re doubt.... My soon to be published book on Demystifying Meaningful Coincidences (Synchronicities) started with my being a defacto Jungian who over the course of my personal and professional experiences began to doubt his basic assumptions.


To do justice to the study of these challenging anomalies requires a serious student to view their nature through the composite lens of such fields of knowledge including speculative philosophy, depth psychology, science, aspects of the esoteric occult and spirituality.


In so doing there is a clear argument between the Platonists (Jungians) and the Aristotelians ( a couple of naturalists including myself). Each begins with an alternative primary assumption about the nature of reality (ontology) and how reality is known (epistemology).


My serious investigation began when I realized that Jung's categorical assertion that he doubts as to whether a rational explanation of these events is even possible.... I doubted the doubter..


In reading the details of his thinking (and appreciating some of the massive blindspots in his personality affecting his radical anti scientific point of view_ I realised his assertions raise more questions than provide absolute answers.


Among the questions raised are: what is the nature of causality.... If you eliminate conventional scientific linear logic (causality) as an inadequate explanatory principle to understand the link between the inner event and the outer event in all synchronicities - then before you dismiss causality as a rational explanation - (throwing out the baby with the bath ) is there perhaps a need to expand the concept of causality? Additionally since meaning is a core concept - then there has to be a thorough understanding as to the meaning of meaning. This Jung does not do.


He assumes there is a reality of so called absolute meaning apart from human interpretation that can be channeled and its 'wisdom' extracted.... I think this assumption is seductive but fanciful.. At least I doubt it strongly....


There are other questions which I doubted and took seriously all of which became the culmination of my original naturalistic theory of synchronicities....


I doubt I will turn any committed Jungians to doubt but I don't doubt that my doubting has been in vain.


At least I for one feel that I have done a great deal to reenter the mind and rationality into the discussion largely dominated by intuition, so called spirituality, and magical thinking.

Neil said...

I've thought for as long time that the ontology, epistemology, methodology base itself makes almost no sense. One can be ontologically relativist and yet want a realist-empiricist epistemology, and relativism itself implies realism. Doubt can become a very practical form of correction. We may simply not want to become overbearingly smug, sanctimonious sellers of oration. Perhaps is we didn't use the term doubt and admitted to 'fuck me I could be wrong' we might have naturalised to psychology what philosophy can't handle?

Francis said...

The broad theme of Hecht's book is to trace the history of "doubt" as a particular theme throughout the whole history of ideas. In western terms, this begins with the pre-Socratics questioning the polytheistic Hellenic religious view of the world; in a Jewish context, she looks at the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes (Quoleth); in India she sees Suddhartha/Buddha challenging the conventional Brahmin-dominated, hierarchical view of karma/samsara/moksha. But much of the book has, of course, to do with the stories of those who were "atheists", who denied the pictures of God (and religion) generally accepted in their societies.

What I particularly liked about the passage from Charron I quoted is its epistemological modesty - its championing of the possibility of one's own fallibility:


Have all the greatest and most noble philosophers and wise men who have professed doubt been in a state of anxiety and suffering? But they say: to doubt, to consider both points of view, to put off a decision, is this not painful? I reply, it is indeed for fools, but not for wise men. It is painful for people who cannot stand freedom, for those who are presumptuous, partisan, passionate and who, obstinately attached to their opinions, arrogantly condemn all others ... "


Or, as Oliver Cromwell (not always a champion of tolerance!) famously put it: "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken!"


It seems to me that a cultivation of such an attitude is helpful in many circumstances; to give but one example, it enables us to truly listen to what others are saying.

Molly Brogan said...

You're right, of course, Francis, and I probably see too many people steeped in doubt - stuck there as the emotional thrill of doubting provides more than the listening or discovery beyond doubt. Being attached to doubt to allow opposition and argumentation, I think, is a real show stopper, and I see far too much of it. However, if we don't stop there, and can immerse ourselves not only in the object of doubt but the possibilities of more, doubt becomes the vehicle for change. There are other vehicles at our disposal, but if doubt is handy, and we can get beyond it, why not?

Vam said...

" ... it enables us to truly listen to what others are saying."

Only to ascertain the merit in the person, and no more ! Let not listening to others become a virtue beyond that. However, one must continue to listen to oneself, whether that ( which one says to oneself ) be right or wrong.

Francis said...

I think you understand, Molly, that I'm not arguing in favour of laissez-faire reletavism here. There are better and worse answers to most things. It is important for us to stand up for our principles and defend them against other positions we judge to be less convincing. Yet we should be careful of certainties. There is, I hope, growth in wisdom. And there are enough situations in life where an argument (or sometimes just a comment) from someone else may bring us to the realisation; I never thought of that, or, I never saw it that way before. But this can only happen if we are prepared to let go of our certainties, to be open to growing, to change. This is what makes me suspicious of absolutes; something to which religions are often prone. This attitude is what I understand Charron is arguing for - something particularly impressive coming from someone at the beginning of the 17th Century.

Neil said...

I'd be serious about the cursing there are questions about how we leave one paradigm behind (at least for the time being and for those of us who can). The doubting in thought is difficult enough, but working in doubt is very wearing. There are always questions as to whether one works in doubt as a martyr or a more pragmatic and strategic sense. My current sense of this is that we are at a point of collapse, though I don't subscribe to the need for rupture between modes of thought and action to bring the new. The book looks an interesting foray into the term Francis - to doubt to see the other is particularly interesting - though at this rate Vam will have me talking to the fairies at the bottom of the garden on the basis of having doubted their existence. How are you old chap? I may be close enough to lob a wet tennis ball in your general direction early next year. Have to agree on the relativism Francis - I never understand on that point why we can't listen to stories with assumptions in them as thought experiments or ripping yarns and see the sets they all contain. Much doubt arises in ignorance as through effort.

Doubt is very important stuff, but look at what happens to the potential dialogue on it, even when we try to keep things simple.

Neil said...

There's a distinction between ordinary incredulity and philosophical doubt. “The Truman Show” and “The Matrix” might help a bit here. In 'Truman' a character is placed, without his knowledge, in a contrived environment so that his “life” can be broadcast on television. He begins to wonder whether the world surrounding him is, in fact, what it appears to be. Some events seem to happen too regularly and many other things are just not quite as they should be. Eventually, Truman obtains convincing evidence that all his world is a stage and all the men and women are merely players. The crucial point is that even had he not developed any doubts, there is, in principle, a way to resolve them had they arisen. Such doubts, though quite general, are examples of ordinary incredulity.


The deception practised in The Matrix, when everything is running as programmed by the machines, there is no possible way for the “people” in the matrix to determine that the world as experienced is only a “dream world” and not the real world (the world of causes and effects). The only “reality” that it is possible to investigate is a computer generated one. (See Irwin 2002, 2005 for collections of articles on The Matrix.)


The Truman Story is a depiction of a case of ordinary incredulity because there is some evidence available for determining what's really the case; whereas The Matrix depicts a situation similar to that imagined by the philosophic skeptic in which it is not possible to obtain evidence for determining that things are not as they seem (at least when the virtual reality is perfectly created). Put another way, the philosophic skeptic challenges our ordinary assumption that there is evidence available that can help us to discriminate between the real world and some counterfeit world that appears in all ways to be identical to the real world. Ordinary incredulity arises within the context of other propositions of a similar sort taken to be known, and it can be removed by discovering the truth of some further proposition of the relevant type. On the other hand, philosophical skepticism about a proposition of a certain type derives from considerations that are such that they cannot be removed by appealing to additional propositions of that type — or so the skeptic claims.


These movies illustrate one other fundamental feature of the philosophical arguments for skepticism, namely, that the debate between the skeptics and their opponents takes place within the evidentialist account of knowledge which holds that knowledge is at least true, sufficiently justified belief. The debate is over whether the grounds are such that they can make a belief sufficiently justified so that a responsible epistemic agent is entitled to assent to the proposition. The basic issue at stake is whether the justification condition can be fulfilled. A corollary of this is that strictly reliabilist or externalist responses to philosophic scepticism constitute a change of subject. A belief could be reliably produced, i.e., its causal pedigree could be such that anything having that causal etiology is sufficiently likely to be true, but the reasons available for it could fail to satisfy the standards agreed upon by both the skeptics and their opponents.

Irwin, W., 2002, The Matrix and Philosophy, La Salle: Open Court. -----, 2005, More Matrix and Philosophy, La Salle: Open Court.

If I had to talk to people like this every day I think I'd shuffle off to be a cog in the Matrix!

Vam said...

My position should be well - known by now : There are truths everywhere, even in the fairy stories. There are truths that win the argument at the moment or situation. There are higher truths, beyond the winning and the losing, that we have discovered as worth remaining with on death bed. And, the supreme truth !

Alan said...

As i read this I see a statement that answers with out saying a thing. Yes there are truths that are beyond winning and losing..

Now I wonder if you can tell me just what your supreme truth is in simple words with out dancing around and side stepping the question you will be surprised just how much simple people like me can grasp.

Molly Brogan said...

These are good fictional examples of discernment, and maybe even doubt, and how they can suspend our belief long enough for us to allow new possibility into the scenario. But I agree with Vam, that if we are looking for truth rather than looking to doubt, we get further in our discovery. Doubt by definition includes fault finding as well as the emotion of fear and they can bog us down in the process. I think that everything that comes into our experience has some truth in it. If we allow that to lead the way, we will not be distracted by our doubts.

Vam said...

Molly, in my tradition, truth equates being, existence.

Even lies and falsehoods are. They being in mind space does not negate their being. Existence manifests equally truly ( really, if I may say so ) in all three spaces : Gross ( Material ),Subtle ( Mental ) and Causal.

Neil said...

There are often prudential reasons to be sure of one's own beliefs. In telling the truth you are very likely to upset someone else. Amongst academics, Dawkins is known as 'The Cardinal' (so sure of his atheism) and Habermas 'The Professor' (as he was so right he insisted on teaching colleagues). In my little backwater, I was 'Mad Einstein'.

Doubt is often painful and seems to open up chasms - one might say as Doris did somewhere recently, that kicking a few holes or breaking a few windows might let some fresh air in - the anarcho existential form of consultancy. This is Orn's take on my reading of him from time to time. Nature does not abhor vacuums (most of it is one but may only be so on a statistical basis), but we all know greenfield sites tend to be cheaper (actually this is wrong too, if one is forced to do fair accounting on a green basis). Doubting may sometimes be little more than experimenting with the pressure or temperature, trying to find the variables in play. It is a key in science.

I doubt you all and I doubt myself - and I could value no one without doubt. I value honesty but see its negative consequences. I value ripping yarns and the hard work of making something entirely unlike the first one you dreamed up work at the bench. There seems to be a process in moving from doubt to letting go in a manner that doesn't throw the baby away with the bathwater (though these days the bathwater should go through a heat-exchanger and be recycled through the vegetable plot).

Neil said...

Francis may know the pain of doubt somewhat more intimately than I. Like many he has been a great help and might be amused that I have felt some similarity between him and others with a philosophical commitment to reason and revelation as joint grounds for knowing and living (for the revelation, much doubted, is left in the Francis I know from his words). Saadya was an example, creating space for the interplay of faith, understanding, tradition, and law. Saadya defends the truth as well as the reasonableness of Biblical and rabbinic writings within the Jewish tradition, engages in polemics against members of the Jewish community who dispense with rabbinic authority, and brings a unique blend of philosophical and theological sensibilities to bear on questions of epistemology, morality and religion. He is clever to a point on the difference between “laws of reason” and “laws of revelation” (which, of course, I don't believe in). Strangely, against rabid forms being spread for the last two centuries, in his focus on the importance of human reason, Saadya is seen as following certain trends in Islamic (in particular, Mu‘tâzilite) Kalâm theology. You can all rest assured that a doomed- to-hell scientist like me knows sod all of any of this. Francis has obviously drilled more wells of exploration than I in this area and come up dry. In sharing the effort of his doubting, he has been of great consolation to me, so 'how dry' was the effort? He and I do not doubt scholarship (as most seem to as they do none?), so what are we doubting?

Saadya ben Joseph, known in Arabic as Sa'id ‘ibn Yusuf al-Fayyûmî was born in Fayyûm (upper Egypt) in 882 and died in Baghdad in 942. I was born in 1953 and taught Xtianity as though people like him had never existed, as though I was only fit to be told fairy tales and be controlled as a serf or African woman bound to the village by Mumbo Jumbo threats. I doubt the society that trusts itself so little it can't even brace its main lies. I doubt god, though kind of expect her to want me to. I doubt everyone in here, including myself. If Vam makes mistakes in his 'supreme truth' his should be a matter of some joy, as in his story of the counterfeit camera purchase; if Molly wobbles on her stool as the golden idol a grin is appropriate (you wobble mate!); my Orthodox in-laws howled long into the night blaming me for their lapsing in a complicated ceremony I suspect designed to let me into the family. Years ago, I got a peek at my positive vetting form (stop smiling Vam, no sharp knife involved!) and at the bottom, after some qualms I'd been a Communist Party member at 16, the words 'the right stuff' were written. Thank god the same people wouldn't accuse me of this today!

Just what it is we doubt is interesting.

Molly Brogan said...

What we doubt is interesting, what we fear is interesting, what we love is interesting...and, as Vam so poignantly tells us, it is all true.

Neil said...

We even have to doubt vision in order to understand it. The best example is probably the 'hollow face' illusion - we see this as a real face, but as soon as it moves it blurs and the experience becomes nauseous for some. We now know that the retina only has a two- dimensional image and the brain learns to make the image we witness 3- D. People generally do not believe these optical illusions until 'forced' to see them. I've found it very difficult to teach business classes about perception - the challenge to their prejudices being too much for many.

Molly sounds a bit like a pre-match talk above. One doesn't want to take on Bradford Northern quaking in fear of one's tackling ability or general aversion to violent giants. She is right in the context of certain points of action. Questions remain though about why doubting becomes so fearful - instruments of torture being a case in point, though most experiments show most people cannot go against the grain of what has already been said or convention. At the same time, we all believe we will stand up and speak the truth, indicating we don't doubt ourselves enough (yet when the chips are down most people have low self-esteem?).


One might say, in terms of doubt, that it starts with a complete failure to trust people with the truth. This is what religion arises in too, a set of fairy tales for social control. Doubt probably comes before this, as a source of alternatives in the gene pool. Quite where the ability to genuinely listen to the other and be confident enough to learn about what doesn't fit with currently set experience arises I'm less sure. Molly's assertions go back to the Kantian sublime and just how free and frightening thought may be, 'removed' from biology. This in turn might require return to Orwell and modern society where we have been bullshitted so much that only a character steeped in work can be certain enough to doubt and know the only response to DoubleSpeak bureaucracy is 'fuck you all'.


A typical and crass way to think about this is unfreezing, free- thinking and re-freezing in problem solving, or single and double-loop thinking (Argyris). I tend to go for team-work solutions (Belbin). People mostly just pretend, rather than really engage. The tests involved show most people as pretty bland and they hate that. Single loop thinking might be working on a better typewriter, double-loop coming up with word processing. Quite what 'thinking', in response to the new word-processor, sends non-typing managers on the training course and not the secretaries, is another matter!


Doubt is a conundrum. We need to doubt our political systems (not fatalistically accept the corruption) and yet have been made to doubt we can replace them. We need rid of bwankers, yet have been made to believe we need then as surely as overseas 'ringers' in our sports teams. If we could start to see a peaceful planet of plenty instead of doubt it, we might well doubt many more of the myths that hold nearly all of us in 'normal unhappiness'.

Justin said...

What is interesting, perhaps, is why he is not able. Can you say Vam?

My attempt would be "Being is being" but it would fail because of the "Oh that's all" effect and because its meaning is therefore not communicated.

There are many religious traditions that impose a similar silence. The old Jewish religions refused to have the name of God mentioned. The Islamic religion prohibits image's of God being made and I remember the Zen Koan about the master who had his hands tied behind his back and was thrown over a cliff and caught a branch by the teeth. His students came to the rescue and looking over the cliff asked him "Master, what is the meaning of the Tao". The koan asks what the Master said. Or then there is the example of Wittgenstein's Tractus which said basically "...what can be said at all can be said clearly,and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence" and his withdrawal from philosophy to teach. I am reminded of the entire contemporary art movement. Why not just skip the complex symbolism metaphor and attempts to express by painting and sculpture? Just write down that one truth! Just say what Jackson Pollac's drips mean!...and do it "in simple words with out dancing around and side stepping the question" You can put the whole art world out of business! We just take a look at your words and ... presto... What about the Morman's prohibition about revealing their ceremony or the Catholic tradition of the Mass of the Catecumenent or the secrecy of the Mystery Cults. I am even reminded of that adolescent behavior of silencing a lover with a kiss. What is it about the Word that makes it not a word?

Such sometimes is the meaning of a silence...and as always those that do not perceive its meaning and request to be simply informed of it, doubt the credibility of the claim that it exists.

So what is your excuse Vam? ;) !

I bet dollars to donuts, Iam, that your conclusion that:"... from your (Vam's) reaction is the only supreme truth you know is that there are supreme truths and that is all that is important.." is missing the point - not by a little but completely. There is a very long history to this. It is not an easy question. Your assumptions that the answer should be forthcoming can only be countered if you, yourself, experience what he is talking about and then try to express it. Right now, the fact as I see it is that, you just don't know what he means, and given that are too ready to conclude he means nothing.

Since this is a rational forum via the charter of the group I add that the origin of the problem has something to do with Being and meaning and expression. How does one express it fully, simply, and conclusively or conversely why is such a simple idea so resistant to expression and so impossible to capture in an expression that conveys its meaning unequivocally and finally? The closest our language has come has been to use capital letters to indicate it. I wish I could say that I know the answer to it. It is beneath where I know. I am actively trying to understand this relationship.

I hesitate to say it because I too am guessing as to why its this way but... Guess again, Iam.

Vam said...

Justin, the challenges you have "guessed ' are true.

My first impulse is always to make the attempt. But, what made me hold back was my sense that the ' glass was already full !'

Conclusion : It would have to wait for another time.

Francis said...

My interest in the theme of doubt - and I think this is in line with the approach Hecht takes in her book - comes from a suspicion of appeals to absolutes. This is, as Neil has recognised, to a large extent , a result of my own biography. I spent many years identifying myself as a believer in God, at the same time trying to square this with another - ultimately stronger - belief in reason and intelligence. I took the whole issue seriously enough to spend nearly a decade as a Dominican. After a fruitful, often painful journey (as I see it, of growth) I was forced to admit that I had been continuously reworking my definition of the meaning of God and his revelation in Christ to humanity (within the Catholic tradition) until it had become so refined and complex as to lose any real meaning. This journey was not only intellectual, but also more completely human - personal, emotional, even spiritual, if you like. A subsequent flirtation and attempted identification, over a number of years, with more Protestant paradigms, centering on Luther's "sola fide" failed to bring me, personally, any more satisfaction. Admitting and accepting my deeper agnosticism(/atheism) was a personally liberating experience - even if I can still, at times, justify this - from a Christian point of view - by arguing that faith is a gift of God, a gift which he/she does not deem to grant me. Seen from this point of view, I can still, as a post- Christian, explain my lack of belief from a Christiantheological perspective and, even on this level, find another argument in favour for an attitude of openness, doubt - a sort of waiting for God-ot - even if I have little expectation that he/she will ever arrive.

But enough of this "Apologia pro via peregrinatia spiritualis sua"- suffice it to say that I am still on the way, still making new discoveries and still - generally- enjoying the experience! Saadia ben Joseph (you will be glad to hear, Neil) is one of Hecht's many heroes of doubt and she devotes a couple of pages to him in Chapter 6 of her book, where she describes medieval doubt "looping-the-loop" around the Mediterranean from Muslims to Jews to Christians between 800 to 1400 C.E.

Neil said...

Doubt can move us on, but I suspect we cannot doubt enough at the moment to 'see' what has to change for the new dimensions to unfold and maintain the belief that forms in recognising what is wrong with what others won't let go and we can leave without leaving them. Life is hard and then I will have died! The memoir will remain to continue the fight against the Undead when time changes.

akatsuki said...

The argument whether doubt is necessary or not -is really not worth arguing..

One,of the reasons m saying this is because- doubt may arise out of ignorance or out of excess knowledge..Come on guys I think its a personal choice where one wants to stop doubting - see examples below

Besides I also believe it is something inherent to the chaos-randomness existing in this universe (of which we are a minute "part").

people who accept this super dynamic nature of the universe,are doubtful,because they know one thing for sure that "nothing is constant"..something in lines with Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle> and hence the truth they are perceiving might not be the same after a day/month or after any given span of time.I agree with Kris' statement that" I have never seen truth change. What is changing is our state of knowledge of the truth.But again I doubt that whether -"Truth is constant in all cases".. it depends.

For eg.-Today,everyone has the knowledge that "Sun rises in the east",which is the knowledge we have about the truth that its due to rotational motion of the earth in a certain direction.Suppose 10 yrs down the line,if due to some event the earth starts rotating in the opposite direction-our perception/knowledge about truth will change.Everyone would say-"Now the Sun rises in the West"..However the truth is that- the truth which was the basis of our knowledge has also changed..
I mean this is just an example.. don't get nervous knowledge is nothing but the conclusions we have derived from some observations with some repeated proof.So in the end it all depends..please don't start a silly discussion around this statement,if you disagree,i respect you view point

Coming back to our topic-

The remaining ppl who do not accept ever-changing & unpredictable nature of the universe,simply accept whatever they have/perceive as truth..and they are happy with it (may be they accept it as a truth and stop worrying themselves further).We really cant conclude whether this is right or wrong,which brings us back to our topic of discussion-"Doubt-required or not?"..I think that's what is being discussed here.

Lets get at the roots of "Doubt"-

Doubt arises out of the necessity to know more accurate info..or lets say -"the Absolute"..so once you have that info/data/knowledge or whatever ...you are satisfied..

Why do we want to know more?Cant we be content with whatever info(correct or inaccurate ) we have?

The answer to the above question , i believe , is NO..because we (at least a major chunk of us, excluding the great sages,sadhus,gurus etc,. who claim to achieve the "state of enlightenment") have this in built restlessness which keeps our mind/body (or whatever) "ticking"..and thats why we keep on searching for the truth..if we get it we try to find more precise & accurate truth..& keep on refining it..

Of course the above is true ,for only those people who have a doubt and want to get it resolved,,we can always set up a limit/threshold where we can stop this process...

Its like someone discovered the value of PI as 3.14.After a few years,some guy/gal doubted the accuracy of this figure and came with his/more more precise version of PI like 3.1428 something something....and so on..

So to conclude it doesn't really matter..

Justin said...

When you consider the situation rationally there is some kind of understanding of meaning deficient in the "rational" discussion. What is being asked is simple. "Say what you mean" There is a kind of parsing that is done in rational thought A a kind of clearness that, at the foundation of rationality, is assumed to be available. If it is not simply understandable by me then it is meaningless. This is not as wrong as it sounds. Occasionally I tutor mathematics and one of the big problems that one can have in mastering it is abandoning this belief and instead "trying to believe what the teacher is saying" the student is hopelessly confused and incapable of progress. They tend toward guessing then. They really want to succeed and don't understand that the first step is to stop guessing and refuse to believe! What is necessary is to rekindle a kind of doubt, its not really doubt, but it is a refusal to believe. Unless one achieves understanding oneself then the fact is not given, and absent that property a mind has no chance to understand the simplest of mathematics. If one stands firm and refuses to "just believe" then progress can be made as the meaning is conveyed step by step. Doubt, in that sense, is the defining requirement for understanding. Not believing unless you see for yourself, or at least saying that you don't understand when in fact you don't is critical. Ok, if you admit that maybe your teacher knows its ok but you at least must refuse to say that you do understand unless meaning is actually occurring in you, and you must subject your teacher to a requirement to further show you because until it is clear it remains in a sense unproved and there must be a kind of level of disbelief. Understanding is not belief. And substituting belief for understanding or accepting unclear understanding instead of pressing
for clear understanding de-rationalizes the student and renders mathematical intuition impossible.

And anyone who has rationally analyzed the foundations of the religions know that they rest on the simplest of perceptions. There is no "secret room" that one must gain access to. The possibility of enlightenment exists in all situations. Even standing in line at the supermarket. And there is that feeling, when enlightenment comes, "Why did I not see it always? It is so obvious."

When you look at how meaning is communicated it us usually done through a series of "illustrations" that attempt to "describe" what the meaning means. As they are said, the listener enters a state where there is a kind of act of will, the will to understand. If the listener does not fall off of the cliff and choose to assign the term "belief" to a state that is producible by his or her own choice then the listener remains rational. If not then they descend into the kind of "faith" that is completely false and almost impossible to break free of - the lying of the mind to itself about the fact that it knows. That is, I think, what iam was trying to prevent - in everybody reading as well as in Vam. If, instead, one remains true to ones mind, then the attempt to understand rationally continues. There may be questions back and forth and even "inklings" or precursors to the final experience. Then, sometimes, suddenly, one "sees" the meaning. Something happens and the listener, again only sometimes, "sees what is meant". Once that occurs the listener can then attempt to describe what he or she sees with respect to the meaning and is no longer dependent on the teacher. The meaning comes from their own mind or is seen by it and they can readily produce their own descriptions.

Justin said...

Some meanings are difficult to grasp. I am trying to grasp the meaning of a differential manifold in topology. One needs to lay a foundation and at each step the process repeats. If you can understand what a set and subset are, then the union and intersection of a set become understandable. If you understand union and intersection, you can understand, what a topology is. In order to understand it you need to understand what an "open set" is and a "closed set" is etc. You go on and on like on a stair case step by step gaining incrementally the insight until the final step is reached. I can even predict that I will understand it within the year, and if I had more time could understand it with in a few weeks.

What happens with the meaning that Vam talked about the "supreme truth". What about that meaning which is at the foundation of the religions? Can it be approached "step by step"? Is there a rational approach? The answer I think is yes. You can see it in the tradition of Western philosophy and in theology, but, significantly it is absent from religion. I know of a monastery which considered any attempt to argue out the truth rationally as just a distraction. They wanted to live! and they saw "just talking about it" as a kind of critical denaturing of the experience. I am reminded about the apple of knowledge from the garden of eden. It is not accidental that it is knowledge that is the apple. Perhaps it is true that the rational approach can get you so far. To an awareness of its own limitations, but, if one sets aside the issue of the utility of rational knowledge about ... ok... lets just call it the "beyond the infinite" to borrow a term from science fiction, and then one decides to pursue it then one is struck with a simple question.

Why is it so hard to see? What is it that separates us so easily from an awareness of the truth around us? Unfortunately, the answer is that we do not know. Preceding that question is an even more fundamental one. Is the meaning of .... ok let's call it "the most meaningful thing" .... now instead of "beyond the infinite".... just to make a play of words and illustrate the dilemma.... is that meaning a revelation of the truth or is it some kind of distortion of what is the "true" meaning of existence. Some give up on that word "true". I just can't. I really believe it is central to the whole "rational" approach. So I ask, "Is it true?" Is the center of the religions true?

Justin said...

The answer, rationally, seems to me to be yes. The analysis of experience causes one to arrive at the meaning. But there is still a problem. I remember being at a Mountain Air music festival in the Sierra California. There was a guru who came on stage and led a period of meditation for the whole crowd. The, crowd was, well lets say it was significantly left of center, (it is not accidental that Ayn Rand is the darling of conservatives), and so there was a kind of hopefulness in it and everyone, or almost everyone began to meditate. I did too, and as the silence deepened and the crowd settled down the day and the light began to break into my consciousness and a kind of connection of communal experience of the Tao began to unfold. Then from across the crowd some young men started catcalling. I wish I caught exactly what they were saying. All I can say was that the tone was mocking. It was mocking what was happening but, you see if that were the only problem then it would have been easy, no, they were challenging the sacred interpretation, again I am sorry I don't remember the words but want to be honest about the description as I can. Basically whatever they said it was something like "You a-holes are just getting off on each other - this is all bunk and we are the enlightened ones because we can see through it" - definitely not a quote.

Now that is the interesting part from a rational perspective. How they could pierce the bubble and what happened was very strange. At first there was anger. I could feel it coming from around them and I could feel - sorry to be so imprecise - the meditation begin to collapse in the audience by the distraction. And then there was a kind of surge by the audiences will to resume - on purpose now! - in defiance of the ridicule the mediation. It was very interesting. An act of mediation motivated by a kind of politics! Of course you can't meditate that way. Perhaps it would have been better if the guru had stopped the meditation and offered to bring the catcallers on stage and introduce themselves then it would have been better but he either did not think of it or did not risk it. In either case I felt if I could just understand what had happened I could have a big piece of the puzzle.

Profanity is more than dirty words. It is a challenge to the sacred. Its most potent word is "just" - not in the sense of "justice" but in the sense of "its only". There is a way that this experience of life and its possibilities for love have trouble being sustained. We choose to live lives that are not focused on it. Only in the monasteries are there people attempting to make every action an expression of it, and even there, doubt stalks them. They are human after all.

Rationally, the experience of meaning as "just being" something you can say clearly and easily and finally is fundamental and in that is its limitation perhaps. Unlocking that is a big piece of the puzzle. I confess I do not have the key, and perhaps that is why I find Alan's challenge to Vam so interesting. "Just say it Vam". If we could understand this here - rationally- it would be progress. Not easy though. Any ideas?

Pat said...

I've a strong suspicion that a differential manifold is structured such that one can perform calculus across its topology. An important factor if one's 3-d manifold is consciousness itself and can then, because of the topology OF that 3-d consciousness, one can differentiate it into an infinite variety of 'awarenesses'. It is just that fact that I hypothesise is behind consciousness itself. I.e., our consciousness is one 2-D slice of a 3-D consciousness (God's) that has a topology that affords such differentiation (from God's perspective) in to our consciousness and, by the reverse procedure, the integration of those differentiations, The One can integrate all awareness into a form that is omniscient by virtue of it being the integration of all consciousness.

It was the knowledge of good and evil, not just knowledge. And that's a big difference. When humans, without omniscience, start making judgment calls (perceiving good and evil) without omniscience, they WILL run into problems as they have no access to the entirety of space- time and can only draw their conclusions on a small number of factors. So we may praise a mother for the birth of a child (thinking it good) and then the child grows up to be a Hitler or Stalin and we change our mind. Later still, we might understand in a new way once the ripple effects of so-called 'evil' have had 'good' outcomes. The ability to perceive good and evil is a powerfully dangerous thing for those who are not omniscient (i.e., humans), as we'll tend to go on what we believe to be true rather than any REAL knowledge, which could only come from knowing ALL effects of any given cause.

Pat said...

Usually, our own preconceptions and assumptions. We make assumptions and don't like them challenged, especially if we've become comfortable with them. Like 'Free Will'. People won't give it up, yet space-time doesn't allow for it. So the answer is??? Each person will 'choose' their truth irrespective OF the truth and disregard what they don't like, whether or not it's true. We tend to fool ourselves in many ways, which is why I almost always try to think outside the box first. If my paradigm gets 'upset', then I MUST review the situation and see if there's anything I've missed, either by 'choice' or inadvertancy. It's my obligation TO the truth and, so far, it has led me all over and taught me (and re-taught me) many things.

One would have to define the 'center'. I have no doubt that there is a 'larger One' of which we are all extensions. If an individual wishes to call that one God, or Brahman, or The Tao, or Allah, it is all the same. We only have to look at ourselves as an analogy. We think of ourselves as individuals when we KNOW that the truth of the matter is that we are billions of individual cells working together AS one. As above, so below. When it comes to the varying doctrines of faith, each one has to be tested against reason. Many would think that Heaven and Hell are unreasonable, but if, for example, the One is just (and, furthermore, is the Most Just thing that exists) and the universe (God/Tao/etc.) intends justice for conscious entities within it, then reward and punishment become not only understandable, but vital to the integrity of the One. Yet each doctrine has to be reasoned, as you say.

That usage of 'just', when applied to any human, should engender immediate disgust, as it tends to illegitimise the individual, as in 'just a janitor'. To the One, the janitor is 'just as important' as the President, but we, in our finite 'knowledge of good and evil' see them in ranks.

'Meaning', though, is as individual as the observer. It's a relative truth, rather than an absolute truth. Einstein went is search of truth and discovered Special Relativity. Absolute Truth is only achieved by the understanding of existence itself, i.e., ontology. Only when we know 'what it is that exists' do we have ANY chance of determining its meaning. I, of course, have my opinions and cannot prove many of them empirically, but they match up with core teachings of most religions and can be backed up mathematically. But my struggle was through ontology, as I saw that existence was what mattered. (no pun intended!)

Molly Brogan said...

I woke up thinking about this good dialogue and Neil's keen observation that doubt and trust may be interrelated. Is it trust that allows us to shed out doubt and make the leap into an integrated from of non dual reality where, as Pat observes, the word just becomes irrelevant to the value of a person? I completely understand Vam's reluctance to discuss the absolute truth, knowing the emotional reactions coming out of this group where viewpoints sometimes depend on doubt and evil existing and running rampant. It is very difficult to convey meaning, probably for reasons that Pat sites, relative truth becomes confused with absolute truth when duality prevails. I very much like Justin's notion of the sacred which may just be a pathway that all can understand, unless there are those among us that doubt there is anything sacred to life at all. The sacred may indeed bridge the gap between dual and non dual, relative and absolute truth, but for those who do not experience the non dual, trust will be needed.

Jake said...

Doubt comes from something inherently rooted within. Ultimately when you doubt, you doubt yourself in some way. The next step after doubt is proof. There are many things in this universe that we are far from proving. All that lies is speculation and faith.

Faith does not necessarily mean religion. Faith is to believe in something without doubt though you have no proof. For someone of true faith needs not prove anything to anyone. The need to prove is just a testimony of your own doubt.

Just as doubt comes from within, so does truth. So is it necessary to have doubt? From a Philosophical standpoint, doubt is a limitation, one must overcome doubt completely before they can truly embrace the truth. From a Scientific standpoint, doubt is needed to obtain the data that proves a hypothesis, so doubt is a necessary drive of which one still must overcome or succumb.

Thomas said...

The thing with doubt is that the meaning of this word covers a spectrum from critical rational analysis (which is good) to obsessive mistrust and skepticism (which is bad), so we can never meaningfully answer the question whether doubt is good or bad. It always depends.

Count Sneaky said...

We can never meaningfully answer the questions about anything in this world, because the reality that I create is different from the one you and the other billions create. This flood of words...we create