Re: Open Letter to Lee Crocker
22 Jul 1999 18:11:22 -0700

On Thu, 22 July 1999, "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:

> Paul Hughes, I strongly suspect that you and Crocker are using entirely
> different definitions of the word "belief". You're defining it as an
> assertion that is believed with 100% probability and is probably
> emotionally supported. Crocker is defining it as a probabilistic
> assertion, which probability is *not* necessarily 50% or greater, but
> which *is* more likely (to within, say, an order of magnitude) than any
> alternate assertions.

You might be right. The definition I'm using is equivalent to Webster's:

believe \Be*lieve"\, v. i. 1. To have a firm persuasion, esp. of the truths

                        of religion; to have a persuasion approaching to certainty; to exercise
                        belief or faith.

When both Crocker and yourself asserted that the 'Face on Mars' *is* a load of crap and insist that it *is* just a pile of rocks -sounds like near 100% certainty to me. In this case, I may have mistakenly assumed that you were operating within the dogmatic and emotionally based rigidity of those you mentioned - namely James Randi and CSICOP. My apologies if this was not the case.

> Do you believe that you can't believe in anything? This strikes me as
> being inconsistent.

Not necessarily, and as a mutual fan of Hofstadter you might appreciate this. Yes, Language can become completely self-referential and inconsistent.

ex: This statement is False.

Godel's Incompleteness Theorem only bolsters this dilemma. Can mathematics ever be complete, if it relies on itself for definition? Godel doesn't seem to think so. So why not play the self-referential game to our own advantage? I see no reason why we can't have beliefs about beliefs themselves (metabeliefs, meta-meta-beliefs, etc.) On the one hand, I do take on beliefs for their _operational_ efficacy. The materialist paradigm has worked quite well so far. I see reason to reject it, just on its practical grounds alone. Now, arguing wether it *is* the true nature of reality is another matter altogether. Science is a methodology of rational inquiry and has resulted in our knowledge of Universe being subjected to a constant state of revision. To reject something out-of-hand because it does not fit, is the opposite of science and might as well be materialist superstition. Therefore...

Over the years, I have tried to use language loose enough to take into account my limited ability to asses the true nature of reality. Lets face it, to be certain of anything we'd have to run an infinite series of experiments under an infinite set of conditions. So if someone came up to me and asked me point blank "Is the 'Face on Mars of ET origin?'. My answer would be phrased something like this:

"Based on the latest photographs, the evidence supporting the ET hypothesis has lessened considerably since the original Viking photo's. I admit the coincidence of the 'Mars face' and the several 'pyramidal structures' is unusual enough no to dismiss it out of hand, but until more compelling evidence comes along, I remain skeptical of any ET connection."


Paul Hughes