Regarding belief

Since there is a new movie coming out soon on the cold fusion scene called ‘the Believers,’ I thought I would talk a little about belief.  This exposition does not necessarily have much to do with the movie, since I have neither seen nor heard anything about it.  It does, however, have something to do with how one might look at the movie, giving tools for how one might look at belief.

I see there as being two different ways of looking at belief. “Belief that,” and “belief in“. These two different ways are not actually quite separate from each other, but we will start off with this distinction.

“Belief that” is propositional knowledge.  One has (1) a believer, (2) a belief stated in the form of a proposition, and implied is (3) a warrant (or reason) for that belief. It is necessary that the belief is in the form of a proposition so that it might be expressed in the form of a claim or statement of fact.  That proposition is either true or false, and hence the belief in its content is true or false.  If that belief is false then the reason behind it must not be valid or, in other words, applicable.  The belief is true in this limited sense of being a true proposition if it is an adequate idea, in other words, an idea that is “equal to” the thing that it is meant to match.

For example, I believe that 2+2=4, I have a reason for believing this because of the rules of mathematics.  Any ordinary elementary school student could tell us that 2+2=4.  It seems like a “no brainer.”

However, I could be wrong and 2+2 could equal 11, if we are dealing with a base 3 number system.  Implicit in my initial judgement is the fact that we usually only deal with base 10 arithmetic.  It is not wrong that 2+2=11 and it is not wrong that in a base 10 system, 2+2=4, it is just that model of a base 10 system which is implicit in our everyday calculations is not valid or applicable for the base 3 calculation of 2+2=11.  Normally, however, most of our reasons for believing a propositional belief go unexplored, and normally that matches up quite well to the way the world works.  If it looks like a duck, chances are, it is a duck.

“Belief in” is not about the truth or falsity of a propositional claim.  The biggie of this kind of belief is the belief in God.  Belief in God is not a propositional belief that God exists.  One believes in God not because of the sum of the evidence, but because one reads the evidence in a certain particular way, from a certain perspective.  It is a way of structuring everything else, or rather, everything else in a certain ‘realm.’  That particular perspective reinforces itself, whether it is belief in religion or in science, or belief in little Joey.  A lot of “belief in” claims are vaguely defined and for good reason too.  ‘So you believe in science?’  Which type of science?  The basis for looking at the world from a perspective of Physics is quite different than the basis for looking at the world from a perspective of Chemistry or Biology.  How much or how little does your belief in science rely on mathematics?  The answer that one ‘believes in’ God or science, or little Joey is not the end of the questions, but rather often the beginning.

Philip K. Dick said that, “reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”  I am not a scientist, but to me there is enough evidence and testimony from various scientists to convince me that there is something persistent about cold fusion, something that “doesn’t go away” regardless of sceptics.  This not due to societal delusion, the inquiry into cold fusion has been a sincere interest of too many scientists from different parts of the world, for too long of a time.  It is not that there is cold fusion because people believe, but rather that we believe (or disbelief, it matters not the phenomenon) because there is a nascent phenomenon that, in our search to understand it, we call cold fusion.

I have suggested earlier that maybe cold fusion is a gift and maybe it is so.  Maybe there is no “downside” to cold fusion once it is developed.  A golden age is an attractive option, but I am more of the opinion that regardless of how good of a thing cold fusion will be, it cannot cure human nature.  We cannot see the problems, but that doesn’t mean that they are not there (careful: double negative).  Human nature will be that we will push things as far as they can go, and then a little further until they break.  No matter how great cold fusion will be, I have quite a bit of confidence that mankind will find a way to muck it all up.  That is not a reason to reject cold fusion (or anything else for that matter), mankind has that capacity with everything else as well.

btw ‘the gift’ is a topic of postmodernists like Derrida and Marion.

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22 Replies to “Regarding belief”

  1. Belief: a habit of mind in which confidence is placed.

    I was always fascinated by the story that the American Indians could not perceive the European ships in their harbor. Belief is a necessary precondition to perception, but unfortunately, perception can often times be a barrier to belief.

    Cynical: contemptuously distrustful.

    How can we believe when we can’t perceive it? How can we believe tomorrow will be better than today, when we don’t perceive things slowly improving? Frankly, how can any new technology emerge when so many minds are so cynical and conditioned toward disbelief?

    Perhaps, human society has never changed much except through generational transition. The young aren’t so habituated to cynicism and so can be more flexible in what they perceive. If so, we are in deep trouble, because technological change is occurring very rapidly, while generational transition occurs slowly, thus we have a very dangerous schism.

    1. Well, your post is sure giving me thoughts to ponder about, especially the generational transition part… Thanks!

  2. Whatever man believes in man can do. If we believe that traveling at the speed of light is possible, then we shall find a way to do it. If we believe that cold fusion is possible and will be a cheap form of energy, then it will be. If we did not believe, then we wouldn’t have invented the wheel, the plane, the spaceship.

    Great post!

    1. Sorry, but I believe in reality, not solipsism. Belief maybe a necessary prerequisite to creation, but it is by no means the only barrier. There are many things that are simply against the laws of physics (like traveling faster than the speed of light), so belief is irrelevant. Sure sounds romantic (“Whatever man believes in man can do”).

      1. On the other hand, being blessed with imagination, what the laws of physics, both discovered and not, stop us from doing, we can write a good yarn based on it. And I am talking about Sci-Fi, not blogs 😉

  3. I’m looking forward to the film. I love watching the trailer when the interviewer asks Fleischmann if he’s still friends (with Pons). Fleischmann’s face clouds up and he replies, “No.” It’s a painful thing to see. The two researchers handed science the greatest discovery since fire and the hellstorm they had to endure is disgraceful to say the least. Even researchers that say they are near to bringing a product to market distance themselves from Fleischmann and Pons because they don’t want to pay them or the University of Utah any royalties.

    1. I certainly would not want to pay the UU anything, if they want $$$ they can go and ask their lawyers, those who mucked everything up!

  4. Good insights. Thanks.
    It has worried me that there are many methods of doing science. I have often said that science makes progress by disproving hypothesis. This is only partly true, and it is an idea that has elevated scepticism to it’s pathological condition.

    Science is about the pursuit of Reality. There are many methods in the scientific toolbox. For instance it would be absurd for an anatomist to hold provisional that the elbow is not attached to the foot until disproved. Yet we count anatomy a science because it is the pursuit of Reality.

    So why do I, a layman, interest myself in CANR? If Captain Cook saw a black swan, but I had never seen one, then I am amazed but not sceptical, unless I happen to believe Captain Cook to be a joker. If many people report black swans my position would be absurd to deny the possibility of their existence.

    But what if I had a Theory that was very dear to me that showed that Black Swans were impossible? Then my self-referential Left Brain would yield it’s reality reluctantly. My models of Reality are dear to me, This is the nature of being Human.

    Do you believe in the Islands in the Pacific? Have you been there? I say that Captain Cook was right and the Islands exist until proven otherwise.

    The weight of evidence for Chemically Aided Nuclear Reactions is in the affirmative. It is up to the sceptics to disprove the findings. I suggest that they start at the top of the list and work their way down. A casual dismissal will not suffice. And if they cannot disprove even one experiment then the phenomenon exists. Good luck.

  5. Regarding belief: Isn’t the pathological skeptic actually a true believer? His unequivocal belief in ‘the scientists’ and the ‘Third Law of Thermodynamics’ blinds him to whats outside the box. His religious prophets are ‘the scientists’. Claims of cold fusion have to be fraud! You cannot have fusion at room temperature! Then he applies all the tools of the scoundrel, not a part of science, to ‘debunk’ the person who is making a claim. Or is the pathological skeptic a ‘disbeliever’ and a mirror image of the true believer?
    jdh

    1. I like pathological disbelievers when I want to protect my money, and I like pathological believers when I want to make more money.

      1. The term “pathological science” is used by the Hot Fusion physicists and the card carrying Skeptics to slam-dunk anyone who would dare to claim cold fusion is real. The term “pathological skepticism” is used by the proponents of cold fusion to label the extremists who cannot or will not look at the data and use rational judgment to judge this new phenomena.
        The fact is, there is enough data to take cold fusion seriously with large amounts of heat generated and some evidence of fusion products also. So, “pathological skepticism” will not make cold fusion go away!

  6. I’m a layman that has followed this whole saga for 2 or 3 months. I’m currently in the skeptic camp. So much sounds promising, yet it is very troubling that Rossi hides the internals of his ecat, that the power output may have been grossly overstated, that Defkalion and Rossi are squabbling just before the theoretical 1MW demo plant is to be operational etc.
    As we all know, our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren depend heavily on a cheap source of energy to complement and eventually replace our dwindling fossil fuels endowment. I wish LENR was the ticket – eagerly waiting further developments..

    1. It is good that you are skeptical, not because you are right, neither are you wrong to be so. Rather because a little skepticism shows that you are using your God given intelligence to formulate a reasoned opinion on the topic. Plato talks about knowledge vs. right opinion vs. wrong opinion. Us laymen are not going to knowledge concerning cold fusion or any other scientific process (for that matter Plato’s standards of knowledge are so high that it not clear that humans _ever_ have knowledge, for knowledge means not being able to make a mistake), but we should get as close to it as we can, and that is what you are doing.

      Right opinion for Plato means getting the judgment right but not having a firm basis for it. I could assert that right now (3:49PM) there are three people on top of Mt. Shasta, but if I was right, it would be a lucky guess and at best I would have right opinion. Wrong opinion is where the facts are wrong (for propositional knowledge) or in the case of knowledge _how_ to do something, the technique is wrong.

      The whole Rossi thing is a little discouraging, but there are other processes in the works (Water with a Palladium matrix I believe). Also, if a process becomes commercially viable then it is clear that it works, but if it is not commercially viable, then the question is whether there is enough evidence to judge that in some cases there is a nascent phenomenon (energy released) on the nuclear level which is colloquially called cold fusion. My own opinion is that yes there is. A judgment of yes also means that I think most of the scientists reporting stuff (nice, technical word, “stuff”) are honest, sincere and not deluded. But they haven’t shown yet that they can cause a reaction reliably, unless Rossi or others have, indeed, worked something out. We will see soon enough, and if doesn’t pan out, then really we will just in the same boat we’ve been in all along. I believe that there is something to cold fusion and that research for it should be supported. And I am supporting it in my own little way by blogging on philosophical issues related to it. But science funding is limited and competing with other types of funding as well. I can say abstractly that money should go to cold fusion research, but on the concrete level that means that less money will probably have to go to other endeavors. By the standards of science, (I believe that) cold fusion has not yet proved itself. Of course part of that is a catch 22 situation, if it doesn’t prove itself, it can’t get money, if it can’t get money it can’t (do the research) to prove itself. Research however, _is_ going on, and if not now, then I feel sometime (hopefully soon) we will be able to lift ourselves up by the bootstraps, and achieve “critical mass” (in the scientific community). But you owe it to yourself to be intellectually honest with yourself and not agree until you have reasons that are good enough for you to agree. You are weighing the evidence, and I hope that some of my points may convince you. And also, make no mistake, there are multiple issues surrounding cold fusion. Is there something happening at the core of some of the experiment? Is there commercially viable processes? should I do something to support cold fusion? (you are doing something by considering it already), _how_ should I support cold fusion? Should governments be giving funding to cold fusion? It is not necessary to endorse all these views. The fact that your considering it all, already, says a lot. John Francisco

  7. IMPORTANT NOTICE
    In mid October there will be an announcement and demonstration of the Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi Energy Catalyzer (e-Cat), nickel-hydrogen reactor capable of producing thermal energy. The e-Cat is an advanced model of the ‘Cold Fusion’ reactor introduced by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann in 1989. At the e-Cat demonstration, input and output measurements will be made by top world class scientists to confirm that the Rossi Energy Catalyzer is producing substantial amounts of energy and that a new era of clean safe energy has begun.
    jdh

  8. BATTLE OF THE CENTURY
    Will Andrea Rossi’s e-Cat triumph in October, producing more energy than it consumes? Or will ‘the Hot Fusion and card carrying Skeptics destroy poor little Rossi – like they did to Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann in 1989? Place your bets on the table now, before the mid October deadline. This will surely be “The Battle of the Century”. Let us all hope and pray for little Rossi and his e-Cat; if he wins, we all win!
    jdh

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