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invic's avatar

What is "faith"?

Asked by invic (110points) November 22nd, 2009

Exactly that, “What is faith”?

Does it necessarily need the religious connotation or is it something on its own? Not looking for the generic dictionary term really, but more as the feeling one has by having “faith” in a person, being, entity, et cetera.

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51 Answers

MrGV's avatar

No it does not have to be religious. For example I had faith in my Denver, Broncos winning today, but they ended up losing.

seekingwolf's avatar

Having a belief even though there is no scientific evidence to support it. And yet you believe it regardless, without having a need for “proof”.

That’s faith.

tynkerbella's avatar

i think its to believe to trust to feel sure and know.for the religious aspect its to walk by faith and not by sight.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Faith is a deep conviction that something is true or best without requiring any means of justification. You do not need a reason, you just have faith.

Judi's avatar

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
It may be a Biblical reference, but true even if the thing you have faith in is not spiritual.

MrBr00ks's avatar

Faith for me is sometimes the only reason I can get out of bed, the only reason I can go to work, college, deal with marital problems, etc. It is something akin to an energy drink: When I am using it, I am more capable to do everything on my to do list and I can go farther. When that faith runs out, I just want to go home and get under the covers. I cannot give a decent explanation of faith on my own, so I found some quotes on the subject.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

“Faith… must be enforced by reason…. When faith becomes blind it dies.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

“A believer, a mind whose faith is consciousness, is never disturbed because other persons do not yet see the fact which he sees.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Heb. 11:1 KJV

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien

“All the scholastic scaffolding falls, as a ruined edifice, before a single word: faith.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte

“A person consists of his faith. Whatever is his faith, even so is he.”
– Hindu proverb

“Be not imitator; freshly act thy part; Through this world be thou an independent ranger; Better is the faith that springeth from thy heart Than a better faith belonging to a stranger.”
– Persian proverb

“Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe. It is not enough that a thing be possible for it to be believed.”
– Voltaire

“Faith is a sounder guide than reason. Reason can go only so far, but faith has no limits.”
– Blaise Pascal

“Faith is not something to grasp, it is a state to grow into.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

“Faith is the force of life.”
– Leo Tolstoy

‘He who has no faith in others shall find no faith in them.” – Lao-Tzu

“I am one of those who would rather sink with faith than swim without it.”
– Stanley Bladwin

“I’ll take thy word for faith, not ask thine oath; Who shuns not to break one will sure crack both.”
– William Shakespeare

LKidKyle1985's avatar

You could have faith that things will turn out good in the end for example, and this would not imply any religious context to it.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Faith is jumping up and down with hands on your ears saying “but I know its true!!”

NewZen's avatar

I liked @Judi‘s answer. I don’t know why exactly but this question reminded me of a quote; A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.

I guess you need a little faith to re-marry.


MrBr00ks's avatar

lol @NewZen , I can personally relate to that, having been married twice to the same woman.

PooperDood's avatar

Absolute trust in someone or something

mowens's avatar

Faith is the difference between believing something is true, and proving something is true.

Ivan's avatar

Faith is what you have when you have no good reason for believing something.

CMaz's avatar

Faith is a way to subside you confusion.
Us silly humans, always need an answer for everything.

Sort of allowing you to push what is concerning you to the side so you can move forward.

ninjacolin's avatar

Faith is simply conviction based on evidence.

It is not conviction based on nothing. There is always some sort of evidence that convinces a person to have faith. There is never an instance where a person has faith without any reason whatsoever.

Just like a court case, evidence may come in the form of Testimony (eg. the advice of your parents), Historical Records/Finds (eg. Bible), other documents or objects.

Everyone who thinks faith is more (or less) than mere conviction based on evidence is misguided. :P

7Proxies's avatar

Faith is believing in something with all your heart, a sort of Hope really. It is something you cannot see, something you cannot predict, but you put your trust in it.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ninjacolin There is little evidence for gods or a god, and what does exist is easily discounted in the light of more powerful evidence. Yet religious belief is the most common context in which the idea of faith is used. I stick to what I said before, that faith is covering your ears and refusing to listen to reason. A person may say there is a god because they watched a friend return from the brink of death, but yet be unwilling to examine the reasons for their recovery.

Shuttle128's avatar

@ninjacolin Great Answer! The evidence doesn’t have to be ‘hard’ evidence. Anything that a person can experience can be listed as evidence; however, I think some people don’t explain their beliefs and resort to the word “faith” to avoid the realization that their evidence is not objective.

The problem with faith is that it is a reasoned response diffuser. It is an emergency word used in order to not explain the reasons for your belief. Everyone has reasons of belief for everything they believe yet the word “faith” is used to remove these beliefs from rational discourse. When used the word “faith” removes the beliefs from the possibility of discussing rationally even though they should certainly be fair game to discuss.

In my experience a person defending their beliefs will defend them up to a certain point through reason. When the conversation begins to make them uncomfortable the word “faith” is used to deny the possibility of discussing further the persons reasons of belief.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@Shuttle128 Faith is not based on evidence in the mind of the average believer, because it is used as a “get out of jail free card”. Once they run out of evidence, reason and logic, they resort to accepting something “by faith.” I have come across numerous believers who, although giving a fair audience, will admit to never having questioned a subject or teaching because they just have faith.

mattbrowne's avatar

Faith is a belief in something that you can’t prove. Even science requires faith. Here’s an example:

Next year the physical laws will be the same.

No one can prove this. To be completely sure we’d have to wait until next year. But we do have faith in the orderly universe. Past experience tells us about its wonderful order we can rely on.

CMaz's avatar

Faith is wearing a diaper and hoping it don’t leak.

Shuttle128's avatar

@mattbrowne We have inductive evidence that the laws of the physical universe will remain the same so we are justified in believing this to be so. There are reasons of belief for all propositions. They may not be deductive or coherent, but these reasons do exist.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Shuttle128 – Yes, reasons do exist. This particular faith is very justified. But it’s still a faith.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Shuttle128 gave a really good explanation about what’s actually going on in the head of a believer.

Maybe the simplest way to say it is: “Faith” is a conclusion reached through inductive and often fallacious reasoning.

I agree with @mattbrowne, btw ^

@FireMadeFlesh, I think i see your viewpoint. You see faith as lazy but positive thinking. But this is what I’m cautious of:

Once they run out of evidence, reason and logic, they resort to accepting something “by faith.”

this is what I think many are misguided about: it is impossible to believe something without reason and logic. The moment you, as an atheist, accept that your opponent is anyhow believing something without any reason whatsoever, is the moment you’ve lost your ability to converse with them. If they can get you to believe this lie, then you lose. There’s always a reason for every belief and through reasoning Christians can become Atheist. Atheists can become Christian. Muslims can become Buddhists and so on and so on.

You have to be able to imagine how a believer has memories upon memories of stories and incidents in their past where their “faith” seemed to do all kinds of magical things. because they have so many unexplained ideas, “proofs” as far as they are concerned, in their heads, their sense of wonder can persist through.. say, a meager explanation of evolution, for example.

sufficient evidence will convince anyone. if someone is yet unconvinced by what you are telling them, you can trust that they simply do not have enough evidence to persuade them.. as yet.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ninjacolin I see faith as lazy, and excuse for misdirection, and certainly not positive. I realise that there is always a reason for belief, since no one would be so naive as to believe without knowing why they do, but I do not accept faith as a valid reason. Nor do I accept a vision, dream, warm feeling inside, personal conviction that ‘God’s will’ is being served, or having found the Virgin Mary in a packet of Cheerios. It all comes down to the scientific method, and forms of evidence that may be reliable.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ninjacolin – So what’s going on in the head of a nonbeliever?

ninjacolin's avatar

^ there’s no such thing as a nonbeliever. everyone’s a believer. everyone has inductively concluded conclusions about something everything.

@FireMadeFlesh said: “excuse for misdirection” – do you really think a faith-er is aware that he is misdirected and is trying to protect his misdirection intentionally? or do you think it’s more reasonable to believe that they are trying to protect themselves from being misdirected?

“I do not accept faith as a valid reason” – you’re still thinking that faith is something more than a conclusion reached through basic logical means. to say “i acted on faith” is no different than saying “I acted on my convictions at the time.”

Convictions can change based on new evidence. Hence, someone who is convinced to believe something that isn’t true cannot be expected to act any differently than what his false convictions require of him.

It’s like a well trained and studious doctor who happens to misdiagnose a patient one day. The treatment he prescribes is a result of his false conviction about the diagnosis. A week later, when he observes new evidence about the patient’s condition, he can then and only then act differently and make the right prescription based on what he has come to know after the fact.

People of whatever faith are exactly the same. They are making all their life decisions (whether to go to church, whether to pray at night, whether to buy a cross for aunt judy for christmas) based on their CURRENT convictions about what is and is not material in the universe.

These convictions (for example, that science is malarky or that Jesus is the Son of God or that demons posses people or that evil exists) may or may not change over time but they aren’t going to change on their own. Until these people learn and are convinced by new evidence, they will be unable to act in any other way than what their current convictions allow.

And now for some Empathy

Imagine, @FireMadeFlesh, if you are totally wrong about the universe. And there really is a hell and a heaven and a god. If that happens to be the actual truth in the universe right now, is there any way for you to believe it right this instant? Or would you require new evidence/explanations to prove it to you?

Same for a person of faith. You are equally incapable of believing one another’s opinion without new evidence. You’re equally innocent in your convictions. Regardless of how much one says that you are simply “choosing” not to believe/understand.

Shuttle128's avatar

@mattbrowne I don’t think there really needs to be a term “faith.” If faith is simply belief based on evidence then the word “belief” could be used just as well without being a loaded term.

@ninjacolin It isn’t always just induction that counts as evidence. Logical deduction is a very strong sort of evidence where the outcome necessarily follows from the premises. In this case the premises are the only things that can be criticized when arguing. Induction cannot be logically justified but most people accept it as a legitimate form of evidence.

ninjacolin's avatar

“faith is a loaded term” – awesome.

“logically justified” – that’s an interesting thing to say. hmm.. well, given the fact that you can’t prove that you aren’t a brain in a vat.. i guess i’m going to have to stand by my “everything is inductive reasoning” comment. even deductions. we just don’t have a way to know whether what we “know” is true. in fact, our conclusions about what is true in the universe is subjective and based on the wild theory that tomorrow won’t entirely disprove us.

Deductions are merely the safest things to assume are true and the only conclusions we can act on. but they aren’t necessarily true. we just hope they are.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ninjacolin Of course a believer is not aware of their misdirection, else they would seek to correct it. I am not aware of any measure as to whether or not I am misdirected, but I am sure of my stance and can argue my case without resorting to mystic, non-evidence based arguments. Faith is often a conclusion reached through logical means, but it is the result of deductive reasoning based on bad assumptions. For example:
– My priest is able to speak for God.
– My priest says God created the Earth in six days.
– Therefore God created the Earth.
This is a logical process, resulting in a belief based on faith, but it is still hopelessly wrong. This is why I do not accept faith as a valid reason to hold a belief, because it is a logical conclusion that is too often based on invalid religious assumptions. New evidence can change this belief, but that evidence may be just as valid or invalid as the original belief.

Of course I would require new evidence to believe in a god, heaven and hell, but there are only certain types of evidence I would accept. If, like most people that have tried to get me to return, the evidence I was presented with is unfalsifiable such as another person who managed to give up drugs when they converted, I would not be in the least inclined to believe. If the evidence was scientific proof that a person could physically move a mountain by praying, then I might be lead to seriously consider the option.

I believe that people are inherently good. I do not remember ever stating or insinuating that people deliberately choose not to believe the truth, only that faith stops them asking further questions and makes them far more prone to believe myths and fables. The same goes for science – I do not yet accept String Theory, because it is unproven. It is highly likely, but until there is solid evidence rather than mathematics showing it is one possible conclusion, it should not be a standard theory.

ninjacolin's avatar

Aha! This is interesting.. “Faith” isn’t what annoys you… or is it?

Consider your statements reworded:
“This is a logical process, resulting in a belief based on fallacy. This is why I do not accept faith as a valid reason to hold a belief, because it is a logical conclusion that is too often based on false or misleading premises.”

See what I mean? Your statements seem kind of redundant when put into proper perspective. Faith is just a rational conclusion regarding religion, nothing more. Now, that conclusion can be fallacious, but it’s still rational.

Soooo, I think “fallacies” are what really annoy you. Fallacies are like evil, they seem to try to mislead people from correct ways of thinking. I think it’s really interesting how people can be duped by fallacies. You would think that we could simply know what is and isn’t true but instead our poor rationality is capable of being overruled by these memetic bombshells.

The fallacious argument you gave as an example was:
– My priest is able to speak for God.
– My priest says God created the Earth in six days.
– Therefore God created the Earth.

Technically, this argument is neither valid nor sound because, it’s possible the priest was just joking when he said this. However, assuming that the priest wasn’t joking, the conclusion is necessitated and hence the argument is Valid.
Even if Valid, it is still not Sound however, because the first premise isn’t verifiably true… to me.

Where I think you may go wrong, @FireMadeFlesh is in your assumption that this person had “no reason” to believe the first premise is true. Faithers don’t just pick and choose what they will have faith in. This person would only believe the first premise is true because of some other proof/argument which you’re unaware of. For example:
– My mom is trustworthy
– My mom said the priest is able to speak for God
– Therefore, I can trust that my priest is able to speak for God.

See, this is the source of that person’s conviction in your argument. In conversation he would say: “I have faith that my priest speaks for God!” but in reality, he’s getting that “faith,” that conviction, from something really basic and simple and plainly logical to him.

Faith, in the way that annoys you, is probably best described as a Red Herring Fallacy meant to deceive it’s hearers into avoiding deeper conversation and exposing the weak support for the convictions. (see shuttle’s comment above)
sorry for rambling!

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

I’m really not sure where you are going with this. You said that “Faith is just a rational conclusion regarding religion, nothing more.” I do not disagree on any particular point. What I have been saying is that faith is not based on sound evidence, not that it is necessarily irrational.

It doesn’t matter why the person believes the priest in my example. If you are going to take every example of logical deduction to its basic roots then you will never focus on the argument itself. I never assumed the believer has no reason to trust the priest, just that they are wrong in doing so. You can have all the reasons in the world, backed up by deductive reasoning, but if inductive reasoning brings out inconsistencies with known facts then the whole argument collapses. The inductive process from my example would continue as:
– God created the world.
– If God created the world, it would be supported by evidence.
– Scientific evidence does not support the theory that God created the world.
This leads to an error in either the minor or major premise; i.e. a deistic god created the world but it doesn’t look like it, or no god created the world. This is exactly what you referred to before as reason leading a believer to alter their beliefs.

Faith is based on reason, but since it reliably leads to false conclusions it should not be accepted as an appropriate justification for any belief.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Shuttle128 – Stephen Hawking once asked: Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? And he admitted he had no answer. I don’t think anyone else does have an answer. If someone does, I’d be interested in hearing it.

ninjacolin's avatar

i can answer it! :)
(i think so anyway..)

ninjacolin's avatar

don’t worry, i was barely sure what i was getting at in the last post too! haha, really i think i’m mostly just trying to figure out the answer to the original question through discussion. :)

“Faith is based on reason, but since it reliably leads to false conclusions it should not be accepted as an appropriate justification for any belief.”

OKAY OKAY I think the point is this: “Faith” IS NOT a justification for any belief ever. And it’s not meant to be either!

The fallacy (error in logic) occurs when people (atheists and believers alike) falsely accept “faith” as a justification. It isn’t a justification and it’s not meant to be understood as one. However, because both parties are duped by the word, it tends to stop an indepth discussion prematurely. Really, “faith” is just a label for a broad set of conclusions which the believer assumes are true and which s/he does not recognize as needing further critical evaluation. Those conclusions aren’t necessarily true, but they may be. And, in any case, because they are assumed to be true, they succeed at validating the macro-arguments of the believer resulting in conclusions such as we discussed. Eg:
– I can trust that my priest is able to speak for God.
– God created the Earth.
– Science is all wrong

phew! i think we got it now, what do you think?

“Faith” is a label for a set of ambiguous conclusions assumed to be true which succeed at validating the premises of an argument in the mind of a believer.

is there a more concise way to say this?

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, there is.

Faith is a passionate intuition. – William Wordsworth

ninjacolin's avatar

hmm.. well, “intuition” suggests correctness and accuracy and truth.
faith doesn’t require these things. faith can be way wrong and often is.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@ninjacolin I like your definitions, I just wish they were the most widely used definitions. If everyone had a faith like that it would be far easier to discuss religious issues with the religious.

@mattbrowne I remember recently Fyrius gave you good reasons for why there doesn’t have to be a purpose for the universe existing. If you read that again it should answer your questions, and those of Stephen Hawking. The universe does not need a reason to exist.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ninjacolin – No, to me intuition means something else. Here are some definitions that might be helpful:

- the act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes
– an impression that something might be the case
– instinctive and unconscious knowing without deduction or reasoning
– provides us with beliefs that we cannot necessarily justify

Yes, intuition can be wrong. Faiths can turn out to be wrong.

mattbrowne's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh – I agree that the universe must not necessarily have a purpose. I think it does, but that’s just my belief. But no one can explain the existence of the universe as such. It does exist, but we don’t know why. Either it did it to itself and is self-explanatory or an entity beyond nature is responsible. These two options are called the atheistic and theistic interpretation of the universe. Neither can be proved or disproved. Fyrius does not have a proof. I don’t have a proof.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mattbrowne I was referring you what you said: “I don’t think anyone else does have an answer.” There are many answers, just no way to show which one, if any, is correct.

I guess it all comes back to what you want to believe. I do not see any force in nature above physics, so I see no reason to invoke one to create the physical laws in the first place – but if you want to create one then I can’t disagree except to say I do not know why you would want to. If you want to tailor a god to your own psychological needs to give an answer that is satisfactory for you, then fine. That is not the god I object to.

mattbrowne's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh – Point taken. What I meant is that I don’t think anyone else does have a conclusive answer based on empirical evidence.

However, I have to be very clear about this part: I don’t want to create a force, nor do I create a force to invoke physical laws. This force is just there according to my belief system. Labeling all believers as tailors of an imaginary god to meet their own psychological needs is downright condescending, even insulting. It’s the old Feuerbach argument. In the same way atheism projecting away god could be seen as a response of the human desire for moral autonomy. But that’s not how I perceive atheists. I respect their belief without insinuating anything. I expect the same from them.

ninjacolin's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh said: “here are many answers, just no way to show which one, if any, is correct.”
@mattbrowne said: “I don’t think anyone else does have a conclusive answer based on empirical evidence.”

well, the explanation that seems most evident to me is that “nothing” (the alleged opposite of everything) does exist. it’s not a question of why the universe/multiverse exists, but a question of why it couldn’t be any other way. the universe as we know it today is exactly what “nothing” looks like.

the “laws” of physics, including the ones that we haven’t figured out yet and the ones that are imperceptible to us, are laws in a true sense. they are reality-requirements. time, gravity, humanity, war, laughter.. these are the very basic, basic fulfillments of those laws. at the same time they are also their upper limits. Everything that is possible happens and everything impossible doesn’t.

The universe as we know it is all that was ever possible. If “nothing” existed, instead of anything.. it would look, feel, taste, sound, and smell just like this. So, technically.. it does.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mattbrowne I don’t think all believers are tailors of an imaginary god. Some are, and some believe in gods of other sources. I do not intend to be condescending or insult anyone. My point is that some people are uncomfortable with unanswered questions, and if they want to answer those questions with a god then that is their business.

“This force is just there according to my belief system.”
If your belief system does not come from your belief in this force, how did it develop?

mattbrowne's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh – What I meant was that God was already there before I was born, before I had a consciousness. God is what you call the force. The lawmaker. The lawsustainer. My first form of belief developed as a kid, but as a young adult I parted with my childish beliefs. My passion about science continued to grow the older I got. Cosmology, astrophysics, biochemistry, evolution and many other branches of science developed my new belief. But there’s also a political influence like Martin Luther King’s peaceful movement in the US, or the Protestant movement in East Germany which helped bring down the Berlin Wall.

I like to call my belief ‘enlightened Christianity’. I’ve said this before, I see it as a form of liberal Christianity with a strong focus on the Age of Enlightenment and interfaith dialog. In addition to deism, there’s the belief that the divine entity called God also sustains the physical laws and that our cosmos has a purpose and a deeper meaning. The orderly, biofriendly cosmos is the result of a deliberate act. God is beyond nature and should not be viewed as a god of the gaps. Science cannot explain the world, only phenomena which are observed within our cosmos. There is no magic, which means the supernatural doesn’t exist in our world. Natural sciences are consistent with both atheism and religious belief. Rationalism, critical thinking and spiritual progressiveness are core values of enlightened Christians. Rationality needs to be tied to moral decency. Skepticism is the agent of reason against organized irrationalism. Holding on to superstitions is therefore wrong. Liberal Christianity in a more general sense uses a method of biblical hermeneutics, which is an individualistic method of understanding God through the use of scripture by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings.

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mattbrowne Very interesting, thank you. I do not personally believe that everything can be explained by science – the reason for the universe just isn’t the best example in my opinion. Between science and philosophy, particularly the philosophy of science, I believe everything may be explained. Science shows us that experimental results are altered by the observer, and philosophy tells us about the observational position.

“Natural sciences are consistent with both atheism and religious belief.”
A religious belief that is consistent with the natural sciences, and does not lead to the warped sense of morality many other religions do, is not a problem in my mind.

mattbrowne's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh – How did your belief system develop?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

@mattbrowne I was brought up as a Christian, and since my parents approach their religion intelligently I took the same approach and the same beliefs.

I think I started to develop views independently when I was 13, when I realised that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually exclusive. I tried for a long time to find and answer, from parents and teachers, but none of them really satisfied me. This, like many of my subsequent problems, I pushed to the back of my mind and ignored.

At the age of 16, when I finished school, an atheist friend of mine who I had been talking to about religion asked me to explain why I thought it was likely that a god exists. I tried for a long time to write it down, until I realised that every point I had was able to be discounted without too much imagination. From then, I did not profess a belief, but continued going to church in the hope of answers.

The final straw was when I looked into morality. I came to a pseudo-Marxist view of Christianity – God dictates morality because he is powerful, but has no right to do so. Therefore, as Marcus Aurelias so aptly put it “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones. I am not afraid.” I took this one step further, to say that no omnipotent god would create a population, tell them their purpose was to worship him, but create the laws of life so that he himself is irrelevant. After that I soon found amazing evidence for evolution, and my creationism too evaporated.

The most amazing thing to me is that I suddenly felt so free, and so much more able to live my life as a good person in my own right. These are traits I was always told happened when you accepted Jesus – but in rejecting religion I found a peace with myself that previously did not exist, and has an entirely naturalistic explanation.

mattbrowne's avatar

@FireMadeFlesh – Thanks for sharing this. I’m really glad that this works for you!

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Faith is belief without evidence.

ninjacolin's avatar

^ No, it isn’t. Belief without evidence is humanly impossible.

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