Reconciling Rationality and Religion, part III

The essential point which we have reached regards the role of feeling/intuition in seeking the truth.

I regard feeling/intutiion as a great and vast resource of the mind, which has the potential to shed light on truths far more profound than those of the rational mind. So it is only natural that the seeker of the truth should use their feeling/intuition.

Yet, we also know that feeling/intuition is unreliable. It often produces the wrong answers. We are ready to notice when others’ intuitions may have gone astray. We are much less ready to notice or acknowledge that our own intuitions have led us astray.

It is for this reason that we need doubt. Doubt is taking one’s belief and asking oneself, “is this true?” This involves examining the evidence, and also involves checking for biases in one’s thinking. Eliezer Yudkowsky treats the process in detail in How to Actually Change Your Mind.

In some cases we will find that our belief is held up by the evidence, in which case we should be ready to defend it. In some cases we will find that our belief is not held up by the evidence, in which case we should be ready to abandon it.

To doubt is to use your rational thinking to check the work of your feeling/intuition. Sometimes this work will check out right, and sometimes it will check out wrong. In the first case you gain greater certainty about your belief; in the second case you gain the benefit of shedding your irrational belief.

The good news is that most of our feelings/intuitions are not true or false. Most of our intuitions are simply feelings with no epistemic component.

In some cases one can separate the feeling that led to a particular belief, from the belief itself. For instance, I read the L/L Research transcripts and believed that they contained the truth. The feelings that led to this conclusion were that the claims they made were beautiful and implied a hyper-optimistic worldview to which I was most attracted. Optimism is a feeling, not an assertion, and this feeling I can preserve without holding any particular beliefs about the world.

For other feelings/intuitions, the problems arise from semantic confusions over the meanings of the words used to express the feeling/intuition. For instance, consider the statement “all is one.” This statement is an inadequate way of expressing a particular type of feeling/intuition: namely, the religious experience. If we attempt to interpret the statement on any other level, if we interpret it as having a logical meaning, then we only set ourselves up for semantic confusions.

To reject the belief that “all is one” is not to reject the feeling/intuition which lies behind it. Rather, it is to reject the word games and absurdities which proceed from any attempt to do anything with the sentence “all is one” other than bask in the feelings it evokes.

Similar comments can apply to the belief that “the only reality is God.” In this usage neither the word “reality” nor the word “God” has any logical meaning. There are no anticipated experiences implied by the belief that “the only reality is God.” The belief that “the only reality is material” is equally empty of implications, and thus both beliefs are merely playing with words. Disagreements over materialism and non-materialism, in many cases, are merely disagreements about what word games we ought to play.

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