General Question

DancingMind's avatar

How do you know, to believe?

Asked by DancingMind (5812 points ) November 1st, 2012

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I’ve heard of an experiment done on cats, to study the processes of sight. The experimenters took extra care to be sure that the cats, as kittens, (their visual perception developing,) never encountered vertical lines. No vertical stripes, no vertical corners or edges or surfaces, etc: no vertical. In the controlled environment, the cats were perfectly normal. Once they were brought into the actual world, where this physical ‘concept’ of vertical is very much present, they couldn’t see it. They’d just walk into things, their vision was so distorted/vertical-blind. Many of the cats actually took to continually tilting their heads, making vertical respectively horizontal and so emerge in their vision. Their eyes never adjusted: developing, they never needed to see vertical lines, and now it was too late. They never would. It may have been horizontal they couldn’t see… I can’t remember.

Our ability to perceive seems so flimsy already. To hear that the actual mechanics of something as seemingly concrete as sight can be so erroneous, so oblivious…. is jarring. And yet I find myself believe it, or at least give it serious consideration.

I heard about this particular vision study a while ago; I mention it now because it came back to my mind today. I hope it frames this question better than my otherwise attempts to describe, inevitably vague, would have… I believe it does, I don’t know…
We construct our understanding of the reality that surrounds us, (I believe,) and hope we’re more or less correct, and with our senses think we see, that we’re more or less correct…. and we believe…

When I say belief, I mean the base, core, assumptions you carry with you. From mundane, uncontroversial, practically instinct, to the ones you had to sweat through aquiring. It doesn’t have to be theistic; it can be. (This question isn’t a religious one, at least not specifically. It also isn’t specifically about what you believe, as much as the processes that got you there, that you’re aware of. Although, the what can effect the how.)

Do you know what you believe? How you believe? What makes some things believable to you and others not—what do you find you rely on to help filter through the mass of human concept and personal perception, and why that/those?

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12 Answers

Buttonstc's avatar

Both animals and human children go through stages of development. And it’s during these stages that learning takes place.

This is when the synapses of the brain are firing and making webs of connection.

If the young ones are denied those experiences, both physical and emotional, during the optimum time for learning, they are impaired for life because those brain connections weren’t formed in the early stages.

Because of the brains incredible adaptability (called neuro-plasticity) and learning capabilities, some degree of the missing info can still be learned in adulthood. And it varies from one person to another. But they will never achieve the same degree of neural connections because the optimum window for that has closed.

If babies are not held, cuddled and interacted with, they will have lifelong difficulties forming connections. This was markedly demonstrated years ago after the wall came down and many of the babies from overcrowded orphanages in countries part of the former USSR were available for adoption to Americans.

But many many of these kids had severe deep seated emotional problems falling under the general term “attachment disorder”.

While they may not have been physically abused or hit or anything like that, the orphanages were horribly understaffed. Basically these babies were pretty much confined to their cribs 24/7 (even past the age where most babies are crawling, learning to walk etc.) with almost no interaction with caregivers other than feeding, diaper changes etc. No cuddling, being held when they cried, nothing.

Even tho their new adoptive parents were very loving, thrilled to have them, doting on them, giving them all the loving attention they had missed, for many it was just too late.

Their view of the world and people in it was still a cold and sterile place to them, bereft of tenderness and care.

They had literally never learned how to connect emotionally to caregivers and parents because no one had the time to connect with them.

Their emotinal “map” had huge holes in it. Large chunks of missing information were never experienced or learned. The critical optimal time for that had passed. These neural pathways for loving and responding to love and connection had not been formed so they were going thru life with a very faulty map filled with all kinds of gaps.

And the examples you gave of the deprived kittens is quite similar except that there missing info was physical rather than emotional.

The neural pathways had not formed at the crucial age and it was so much more difficult for them to navigate this totally different world.

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rojo's avatar

I do believe that we percieve the world through our experiences and that what we see is not necessarily what those around us see.

I have a friend who has spent time each year with a shaman learning, as he puts it, to see. As he describes it, it is a matter of refocusing the mind to allow the eyes to view what is there.
Part of the learning has to do with tracking and being able to see things that “normal” people do not or cannot see. Part of it is being able to tell where someone has been and infer where they are going. It is not presented as a mystical ability but a physical one that can be learned or more correctly relearned over time.
His abilities and his world view has definitely changed over the years.

Also, I recently read an article written by someone in the late 1800’s about his experiences with the Bedouin of North Africa and their ability to find water where to his eyes there was none and to be able to look at camel tracks in the desert and know who the camels belonged to, the age and sex of the camel and whether it was being ridden or loaded with goods. While he was amazed, the Bedouin did not think it was at all unusual. To them it was simply a part of what was required to survive and thrive in the world.

rojo's avatar

I remember reading a book called “Drawing With The Right Side Of The Brain” many years ago and as I recall, a large part of improving your artistic abilities had to do with overriding the left side of the brains preconcieved notions of how something looked and allowing the right side to actually observe.
One way this could be accomplished was to view the object upside down. Another was to not draw the object but to draw the negative spaces surrounding or within; an example being not drawing a chair but the spaces between the slats, legs and braces. If you did this then the chair would appear.

thorninmud's avatar

My approach has been to reconcile myself to not knowing. Embrace the mystery.

When you get right down to it, your entire world is your human mind. I’m not making a philosophical claim that the existence of the world depends on the functioning of your brain; just that the world that you know is as it is because of your mind. In that sense, you don’t look out on an external world.

The reality that underlies all of this perceiving is a deep black mystery that isn’t available to perception. Your world, the “you” that inhabits it, and all you think you know are like waves ruffling just the surface of this ocean of mystery. So we romp up here in the realm of waves, studying the ways of waves, living the life of a wave—but all of these waves have nothing but ocean underneath, and are themselves ocean.

CWOTUS's avatar

The experiment you’ve described sounds like a form of Cargo Cult Science. The relevant paragraphs (regarding running rats in a maze) occurs toward the end of the text or audio presentation, and it’s a longish presentation by internet standards (about 20-odd minutes), but it’s very interesting.

ETpro's avatar

Great question, @DancingMind. I am in @thorninmud‘s camp. I don’t believe. I have certain working knowledge that yields results for me now, and I continue to use it till it proves inadequate, or in need of refinement. But if I believe anything it is in not believing, but being open to question everything.

LostInParadise's avatar

The greatest illusion in the universe is that our minds are a single entity. They are in fact made up of billions of neurons. Science has only caught a glimpse of how all these neurons coordinate their behavior. There is so much processing that goes on in the background that we are unaware of. For example, most optical illusions are based on taking advantage of visual cues that we automatically use to process visual information.

I can’t think of anything off the top op my head, but if you ever read anything about neuroscience, you will come across things that we have learned about brain behavior from people with brain damage. The regions of the brain are highly specialized, so that damage to a tiny part will cause a person to malfunction in very specific ways.

Another thing to keep in mind is the close connection between nature and nurture, as @Buttonstc pointed out. There are some genes in our DNA that need to be triggered in order to express themselves. This seems to be related to the problem the cats had in the experiment that you talked about and the cases that @Buttonstc cited.

ETpro's avatar

@LostInParadise Yes, that research on brain damage and the consequences thereof makes it extremely difficult to accept the postulate that consciousness arises from some sort of unmeasurable, ethereal soul that inhabits the human at conception or some time thereafter and is responsible for us being aware of being aware.

ninjacolin's avatar

@DancingMind asked: “What makes some things believable to you and others not—what do you find you rely on to help filter through the mass of human concept and personal perception, and why that/those?”

I guess a good place to start is that I don’t happen to believe that beliefs are chosen; I don’t believe I have the freedom to believe whatever I want. I can only believe what is forcibly made evident to my brain. That is, I can only believe what I happen to have been convinced is true.

For example, I’ve been convinced that formal logic and the Scientific Method produce more dependably accurate conclusions than superstition, whimsy, bias, and/or ignorance. This notion has been so impressed on me that I find myself literally incapable of making decisions without first filtering for scientific/logical reasoning. Another example: I’ve been convinced that my name is Colin, that I live on a spherical (more likely pear shaped) planet, and that we orbit a star that spends all of it’s time burning incredibly hot and bright. I can’t seem to unbelieve these things no matter how hard I try.

I have certainly undergone paradigm shifts in my time as many have. But they never happen simply because I want them to, rather, they happen because some sufficient evidence out there happens to crash right into my scientific/logical brain and I become coerced.. convinced that my new beliefs are “better” than my last.

Like others in the thread, I consider myself open to new evidence on any topic. If someone could prove to me that the sun isn’t there, I’m totally willing to buy it. I’ll buy anything! As long as the evidence is sufficient enough to overwhelm my current paradigm: As long as the evidence is convincing.

Whether or not I can be convinced by some set of evidence doesn’t ever seem to be my choice either. I used to think I would become a video game developer. I’m now convinced that that will never happen, like it or not.

Everything in the universe is malleable and subject to the laws of physics. If you hit a rock with a harder rock, it chips. Physical forms of all types (rocks, trees, arms, etc..) can be broken, bent, chiseled, burnt, and chemically reacted against numerous ways and then they are stuck that way until they are influenced further. Well, brains are no different! They’re just more complex. We don’t shape a brain with a chisel (well, sometimes in some experiments and surgeries we do, but normally I mean) but we shape the brain through our five senses and through our thought processes and various internal chemical influences over time. The result is the same as with any object, albeit, more complex.

Seems evident to me that a “belief” is no more than the result of the current physical formation/condition of your brain. Like a rock chiseled into a former president’s head, you can mold a brain to believe one thing or the other given sufficient influence. The brains of the cats in your example were so influenced to impair their vision.

I believe tools like the scientific method and formal logic, as well as education, good diet, exercise, and good association influence the brain in similar fashion and for the better.

LostInParadise's avatar

I agree with what you say, but the use of scientific method is historically very recent. It becomes intuitive only after we are taught it. Much of what science tells us conflicts with our intuition.

Left to our own devices, we develop an Aristotelian view of the world. The sun revolves around the earth. Heavier objects fall faster. It takes constant energy to keep an object moving. We have rational immortal souls that dictate our actions. All of these are of course completely wrong, but you would have a hard time convincing a five year old or a hunter gatherer that these beliefs are wrong, and, in the last case, you would be disbelieved by a majority of the world.

ninjacolin's avatar

I dont understand the “but” in your post, however, i agree that recent education has been influencing a growing number of brains to filter for science and formal logic. They are among the most fashionable ways to mold your brain and it can work wonders.

If you fail to apply the science/formal logic upgrade appropriately or if you simply don’t have access to sufficient raw data for these to work with.. Yes, I believe it’s easier for the brain to accept fallacious conclusions based on shoddy evidence.

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