Friday, December 09, 2005

What I believe but cannot prove

"What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

The question and the responses it generated were reported on in January, and I referred to it a couple times then.

Today Maud Newton raises the question again and points out Ian McEwan's answer. It would seem that more responses have trickled in over the course of the year, and so I perused them over morning coffee.

Timothy Taylor:
"All your life you live so close to the truth, it becomes a permanent blur in the corner of your eye, and when something nudges it into outline it is like being ambushed by a grotesque" wrote Tom Stoppard in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Something I believe is true even though I cannot prove it, is that both cannibalism and slavery were prevalent in human prehistory.

Jesse Bering:
The epistemological problem of knowing what it is "like" to be dead can never be resolved.

It seems that the default cognitive stance is reasoning that human minds are immortal; the steady accretion of scientific facts may throw off this stance a bit, but, as Unamuno found out, even science cannot answer the "big" question. Don't get me wrong. Like Unamuno, I don't believe in the afterlife. Recent findings have led me to believe that it's all a cognitive illusion churned up by a psychological system specially designed to think about unobservable minds. The soul is distinctly human all right. Without our evolved capacity to reason about minds, the soul would never have been. But in this case, the proof isn't in the empirical pudding. It can't be. It's death we're talking about, after all.

Tom Stoppard:
Rosencrantz: Do you ever think of youself actually dead, lying in a box with a lid on it?
Guildenstern: No.
Ros: Nor do I, really . . . It's silly to be depressed by it. I mean one thinks of it like being alive in a box, one keeps forgetting to take into account the fact that one is dead . . . which should make a difference . . . shouldn't it? I mean, you'd never know you were in a box, would you? It would be just like being asleep in a box. Not that I'd like to sleep in a box, mind you, not without any air — you'd wake up dead, for a start and then where would you be? Apart from inside a box. That's the bit I don't like, frankly That's why I don't think of it . . .
(Guil stirs restlessly, pulling his cloak round him.)
Because you'd be helpless, wouldn't you? Stuffed in a box like that, I mean you'd be in there for ever. Even taking into account the fact that you're dead, really . . . ask yourself, if I asked you straight off — I'm going to stuff you in this box now, would rather be alive or dead?
Naturally, you'd prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all. I expect. You'd have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking — well, at least I'm not dead!

Leonard Susskind:
If I were to flip a coin a million times I'd be damn sure I wasn't going to get all heads. I'm not a betting man but I'd be so sure that I'd bet my life or my soul. I'd even go the whole way and bet a year's salary. I'm absolutely certain the laws of large numbers—probability theory—will work and protect me. All of science is based on it. But, I can't prove it and I don't really know why it works. That may be the reason why Einstein said, "God doesn't play dice." It probably is.

Tom Stoppard:
Guildenstern: It must be indicative of something, besides the redistribution of wealth. (He muses.) List of possible explanations.
. . .
Four. A spectacular vindication of the principle that each individual coin spun individually (He spins one) is as likely to come down heads as tails and therefore should cause no surprise each individual time it does. (It does.)

What I believe to be true but cannot prove is that each of the respondents' beliefs (as generated by World Question 2005) was anticipated by and explored within Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

A few more beliefs:
Rudy Rucker: "Reality is a novel."
Carlo Rovelli: "Time does not exist."


martha said...

What I believe but cannot prove is that living creatures have a field of influence that extends beyond the confines of their physical bodies. I don't know what it is, but I think it can work for good or ill.

Gaelicgrl said...

What I suspect but could never prove is that plants are sentient.

Er, that probably falls under your "weirdnesses" question in a previous post.

patricia said...

What I believe to be true but cannot prove is that even if I don't eat anything fattening this Christmas season, I will still gain 10 pounds.

cipriano said...

What I believe to be true but cannot prove is that the moment a person dies they will be more alive than they have ever been while housed in their physical bodies. I mean, consciously alive.
[See Robertson Davies' novel Murther and Walking Spirits, or Shakespeare's Hamlet].
The thing I fear is being dead but not really being dead. This is why (a la one of Tom Stoppard's comments there) I want to be buried with a fully charged cellphone in my lapel pocket. One with illuminated keypad.