Skip to main content

This is going to be fairly long. Worse, it's just one person's perspective (mine). Even worse, I'm starting with the least agreed-upon part of the spectrum - feelings.

H/T to UnaSpenser, whose fine diary was swarmed by people who wanted to meta-debate definitions rather than deal with any part of the problem.

Let's see if I can make the first distinction without running into too many reflex reactions.


is used as a catchall word - it includes everything from describing a considered opinion about something where full knowledge is lacking - "I feel that you may not have considered this fully, because of x, y, and z.",
 - to a description of thought processes which don't fall into a quantifiable set, such as levels of confusion or dissonance,
 - to descriptions of a specific emotion that someone has internally identified in conjunction with a situation or entity - "I feel sad when I think about x",
 - to an external assignment of an emotion to a particular comment, or phrasing, or word choice, - "you must be really angry to have said x",
 - to a term which can be used - falsely - to dismiss an argument which is uncomfortable for the responder - "it's just your feelings getting the best of you",
 - to a grossly pejorative comeback to a reply to (usually) baiting comments - "Did I hurt your wittle fee-fees?" (Note: it is possible to hurt a person. Feelings, on the other hand, do not themselves have feelings. A quick translation of the previous statement goes something like "Oh, goodie, I've managed to deliberately upset you and I'm probably going to get away with it".)

It's no wonder that, when we undertake any discussion of feelings, it tends to get turned into a fresh can of worms by those who are uncomfortable with the problems being addressed.

With that in mind, let's look at the other terms, which are slightly less prone to garble.

Knowledge and Belief

Leaving theology out of the mix, at least for the moment, knowledge can apply only to events which have already happened. To make the clearest possible case - I do not know that the sun will rise tomorrow. I know that it rose yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. Or at least that the sky brightened through cloud cover at approximately the correct time on that day, and that when the clouds broke, the sun was in the expected position. I can reasonably presume that it will rise tomorrow, but I can't know it, even though I know the odds of it going nova between now and then are slim. I do not "believe" that the sun will rise tomorrow - I don't need to, because I have sufficient evidence of probability that I see no reason to postulate an unknowable factor as a significant part of the causal pattern that I've defined.

On the other side of the line, non-theological belief applies solely to future conditions - to events which are essentially unpredictable in the present. It is one of our great gifts as humans to be able to envision a specific future and work to build it - and a belief in that vision can make the difference between having it come to pass and it simply remaining a pretty dream. It's also one of our greatest problems, because conflicting visions of the future can lead to prolonged conflict, especially when resources are limited. If one accepts this definition, then simple statements like "I believe in science" or "I believe that such and such happened" become impossible to make, because the process and/or events are past or current, and thus subject to proof.

Unfortunately, "belief" is often used as shorthand for high levels of confidence, and then taken as a statement of theology or the existence of the supernatural by those who have learned to be more careful in their usage of the term. (Or, sometimes, by those looking for a good excuse for a fight. And sometimes it's hard to tell.)

Thinking vs. Opinion

When I say "I think x" I am stating my opinion. It is, or should be, subject to change as new data comes along, and no versus appears. In this, I am out of the mainstream. The Google definition is as follows:
Opinion: a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge
Since this is the generally accepted definition, anyone claiming an opinion may immediately become suspect, especially if the responder is looking for a good derail for the current topic.

To avoid this, it's possible to distinguish between
1.) what you know (data),
2.) how you and others have patterned that knowledge (thinking),
3.) what the pattern means or suggests to you (opinion), and
4.) what you a) think can (policy recommendations) or b) opine should (moral imperatives) be done about it .

Note that it's possible to share the same facts that others are working from and come up with widely (and wildly) varying opinions.


This is the nitty gritty of the disagreements. Many people are totally uncomfortable with arguments which engage the emotions, particularly when their previous experience with strong emotion has been overwhelming, or has led to shaming, or shunning, or been connected with terminal confusion about the validity of emotions.

From a comment in an earlier diary:

The discussions on feminism over the last few months annoyed the hell out of me, not because I'm not a supporter of feminism, but because it was personal, not policy, that was the focus of discussion.
Just as all politics is local, so it can be said that all workable policy must first be personal. We don't make laws about things that don't matter to people, and to matter they must first engage people's emotions. It may be comfortable to speculate about disinterested altruism, but it's people caring about things that drives their acceptance or rejection over time. Positive emotional involvement is the sine qua non of positive change, no matter what the factual drivers may be. In an emergency, fear is a legitimate substitute, but fear burns out unless the emergency is artificially propped up.

We've fallen, I think, into the trap of assuming that negative emotions are stronger influences than positive ones, primarily because negative emotions tend to be expressed more forcefully. And, in a strange correlation, that if you begin to feel a strong emotion about something, it must be negative and should be avoided.

A note should be made about the difference between someone being able to experience a wide variety of emotions and someone "being emotional". The latter is almost always a pejorative, and there is a tendency to conflate that state with the former, which is simply the general human condition.

My twenty two cents, for what it's worth. Your turn.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Data v belief (3+ / 0-)

    and that gets me emotional


    "I decided it is better to scream. Silence is the real crime against humanity." Nadezhda Mandelstam

    by LaFeminista on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 06:05:23 AM PDT

  •  Reality vs opinion (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    serendipityisabitch, AJayne

    A long time ago, I wrote a diary on a different weblog regarding the difference between science and opinion. It was primarily aimed at conservative politicians and punditry and their complicit media. All of whom seem to believe that opinions, but only their opinions, should be given the same respect or even more than carefully arrived at scientific data but I think the basic premise applies here. The reality is that a fact, no matter how insignificant or contrary to one's ideology, is orders of magnitude more important when discussing the real world, than the most cherished and closely held opinion. Period, full stop. These things are not interchangeable and they are not negotiable. Because some evangelical with national reputation says that the planet turned 6,017 last October 23rd is of far less relevance to what the reality is than when a nobody like me says that it's over four and a half billion years old. What do we call it when a national figure with access to cameras lies? We call it a "lie". He or she shouldn't get to reclassify a lie as "truth" simply because he or she has name recognition.

      In the microcosm of this website, this principle is applicable in the fact that there is far too much doubling down. How often have you seen someone surrender every ounce of credibility because they have been shown to be empirically mistaken but something stops them accepting the correction? Instead they continue to insist they are correct and as they increasingly flail about they look sillier and angrier.

    Come on, folks! It's not that big a deal. Everybody is mistaken from time to time and it's not the end of the world. Don't get mad and go away in a huff, Just admit when you're wrong and move on. I know it's hard to swallow that crow sometimes but I have a lot more respect for such an admission than I do for a doubling down or just slinking away. If your ideology is too strong or too entrenched to allow you to hold a rational discussion, avoid the topic. You know best what's going to set you off and even if your ideology won't allow you to admit you're wrong, intellectually you're aware of it. If people don't start shit, there doesn't have to be any.

    Just my .02

    "Given the choice between a Republican and someone who acts like a Republican, people will vote for a real Republican every time." Harry Truman

    by MargaretPOA on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 06:10:04 AM PDT

    •  But Margaret, strong ideology will almost (0+ / 0-)

      always lead to posting in just those areas where the commenter is least likely to be able to hold to a rational argument. We really can't ask for such a simple solution. Moderate ideology, otoh, may be amenable to the introduction of new information - that's all I'm hoping for.

      mouseover the bar (I'm practicing for DK5)

      by serendipityisabitch on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 06:24:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Breaking 17th Century: They're Not Playing the (2+ / 0-)

    same game we are.

    There is no agreeable definition for "home plate" in football nor of "2nd down" in baseball.

    There's no scientific and rational definition for "belief" and there's no faith based definition possible for "hypothesis."

    You can fall to these people, devise a truce or defeat them.

    Save your brain for figuring out which is achievable and how to do it.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 06:55:12 AM PDT

  •  thanks, serendipityisabitch, for this diary, (3+ / 0-)

    for the one in which you discussed sig lines, and for the following graphic image, which I am testing.

    3 thanks

  •  what you say about non-theological belief, (4+ / 0-)

    I'm not sure I've seen put quite that way before. I've always assumed that belief includes what you describe as having a high degree of confidence, in addition to other meanings. That ambiguity helps explain some misunderstandings.

    Gondwana has always been at war with Laurasia.

    by AaronInSanDiego on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 08:01:11 AM PDT

    •  "Knowing," too (2+ / 0-)

      I know that if I do X, Y will happen. We can know about events in the future, by having knowledge of how the world works.

      And "belief" and "knowledge" can sometimes mean pretty much exactly the same thing, and sometimes something different.

      •  I would be careful about using those terms (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Joy of Fishes, AJayne

        in that way, unless only for your own internal dialogue, since they are not likely to be generally accepted.

        In general, you can say that the probability of y happening if you do x is high, but outside of standard machine parts interaction, there are very few real world events that cannot be utterly changed between one day and the next, whether by events you are unaware of, or simply by random chance. It can be easy to confuse high probability and perceived certainty, but the future is unlikely to be set in stone.

        If you use belief and knowledge as interchangeably as you seem to think they can be used, I will guarantee you that what you write about them will confuse some large part of your audience, at any given time. Not a great basis for precise communication.

        mouseover the bar (I'm practicing for DK5)

        by serendipityisabitch on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 10:37:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I just watched Columbo, (0+ / 0-)

          where Johnny Cash had done it.

          After Johnny Cash snuck out of the forest with the evidence, and Columbo caught him, "You knew I would be up here, didn't you?" Johnny Cash asked.

          "I knew. Then I didn't know. Then I knew." Columbo said.

          It's all pretty good evidence about what "know" means, I think.

          That we can talk about knowing about things in the future. Or at least, Columbo and Johnny Cash can.

          And, to be honest, I knew that Columbo would catch Johnny Cash, in the end. I certainly did not merely believe such a thing. It was set in stone, that it would happen.

  •  Emotion. (2+ / 0-)

    I've always had a problem with Lt. Commander Data. He's a self-aware android with full personal autonomy and no emotions (through most of the series). Yet without emotions, wouldn't he pretty much just sit there? Our most basic drives are to secure the necessities of survival; food, shelter and the like. Data doesn't even need air. He's perfectly content standing on the bottom of a lake tickling fishies. (I know this seems wildly off-topic, but it ties in.) What could possibly motivate such an entity?

    Well, look what he does when he's not performing his Star Fleet duties (which he chose to assume). He strives to become more human. Why? Because he wants to. He desires it.

    I think the writers unconsciously gave Data one of the most basic emotions that all of us social mammals share: the need to fit in. To connect with others and be part of a group. Until recently that was an imperative for survival (and it's still damn helpful). It's a strong need, and it's probably the ultimate reason why any of us are hanging out here at the Orange Satan. Poor Data shares that need, but lacks the emotional navigation aids that would help him fulfill it. Kind of a dick move by the writers.

    Anyway, yeah, emotions are important.

    One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain -Bob Marley

    by Darwinian Detritus on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 10:12:31 AM PDT

    •  Oh, the temptation to spend four or five (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Darwinian Detritus, AJayne

      paragraphs discussing the possibilities from that scenario!

      Rather than that, I will pose a simple question - what do you think of the possibility that curiosity itself might be defined as an emotion? Since no dataset is ever truly complete, datatropism could be translated as an unending curiosity, which could be behind all his other seeming desires. Emotion seems to be a real thing, and a key factor in many decisions. If the only way to get data on it is to experience it, then...

      If I don't stop here, I never will. And yeah, emotions are important. ;)

      mouseover the bar (I'm practicing for DK5)

      by serendipityisabitch on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 10:46:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Heh. I actually have... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        considered whether curiosity could be considered an emotion in the context of "why does Data bother?" I just find that character... fascinating. {raises a single eyebrow}

        Curiosity, datatropism, (nice) actually works, and is more in keeping with the nature of an android. But in considering that possibility, I found that I was redefining "emotion" as "motivator". Similar, but distinct concepts.

        The writers have Data focused on human behavior, probably in order to hold up a sort of funhouse mirror to ourselves. But in so doing they make silly geeks like me try to justify it in-universe. Either explanation works, curiosity or an underlying need for connection. (Dr. Soong had intended to give Data an emotion chip all along. Maybe the underlying circuitry was already in place?) I went with the latter because, of all the data to investigate, Data kind of fixates on people.

        This was fun!  :)

        One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain -Bob Marley

        by Darwinian Detritus on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 11:34:45 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I appreciate this effort (2+ / 0-)

    I wish I had more time now to explore this adequately.

    I've tried to explore similar territory over the years. Just for reference, here a couple of entry point comments, here at DK. I essayed a bit about related topics at personal web sites, but I won't distract with that. It's a topic I find both interesting and relevant, though, and I'm glad to see you explore it today.

    A comment from 2013 ...

    and 2009

    Thanks again. Cheers

    •  Dangerous territory, this. Thanks for the links, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      Consider - if belief is actually the process we primarily use to shape the future, we spend far too little time trying to figure it out, and far too much trying to get people to do more of it, more or less at random. I call that downright scary.

      mouseover the bar (I'm practicing for DK5)

      by serendipityisabitch on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 03:24:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're welcome. The more I learn, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ... the less I "know".  Or something.

        By the way, I also liked your ditching woo diary a while back. I jotted down some notes, but wasn't able to post them in time.

        By way of overlap, though, I might note that as a part-time observer-participant in the culture of science, it seems to me that one of the most cherished beliefs underlying the culture of science is the belief that science has no cherished beliefs.

        That has ... interesting ... effects when participants confront some kinds of epistemological challenges.

        Thanks again. Cheers

        •  I just had a lovely, low key laugh on that. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I love the process of science. The process, afaik, has no cherished beliefs. That scientists don't - that's a horse of another color entirely. With polka dots, and occasionally stripes or tie-dye patterns. Especially if they're posting on a political site.

          If I had my druthers, I'd only allow someone to call themselves a scientist if they could demonstrate some minimum amount of extreme curiosity and a determination to see what the data could show. But it's okay anyway, because I'm getting rafts and shoals of data from it...

          Do drop by more often. This is good stuff.

          mouseover the bar (I'm practicing for DK5)

          by serendipityisabitch on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 10:36:16 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  As always, words matter. Thanks for this! (3+ / 0-)

    The real furballs take place when we fail to realize that knowledge of one environment/event becomes belief or opinion when we apply it to environments/events beyond our local area.

    I've had folks from the Pacific Northwest tell me that they "know" how Florida cops operate (when neither of us had firsthand experience on the question), and I've had a Kossack "try to educate" me on race relations in Appalachia when that person had never even visited the region (I spent my adolescense in an Appalachian county, and still live within an hour's drive of Appalachia). We see something similar when people try to talk about "all schools", "all cops", "all businesses", et cetera; they're trying to scale their localized knowledge across an entire nation--and, often, ignoring rural/urban, income-level, and other divides in the process--and that doesn't usually work well.

    We ALL need to remember that our individual experiences and knowledge do NOT necessarily apply in every instance in every part of our nation (or the world). My knowledge of my local environment does not translate to knowledge of yours, and vice versa. When we apply our local knowledge to remote events, we're shifting from knowledge to belief or opinion...and we need to keep that in mind as we write.

    (If you're read my comments in the past, you now know why I often try to offer "hard data", whether I'm supporting my own statements or questioning those of others. It's my way of staying "reality-based" and avoiding this trap.)

    The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

    by wesmorgan1 on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 11:39:30 AM PDT

    •  I have no quarrel with the point I think (0+ / 0-)

      you're making, but I winced a bit (a lot, actually) as you shifted definitions on me in midstream, so to speak. Even local "knowledge" can be mixed data, belief, and opinion within the context of the original locality, particularly when you're talking about conclusions you've drawn about individuals and sociological patterns.

      Having "hard data" is not, unfortunately, any guarantee that the conclusions you draw from it will be accurate - the most you can generally do is make someone else aware of your sources and see what conclusions they draw, and then try to figure out how two such very different sets of conclusions could have been arrived at using the same data.

      If this is done carefully, and dispassionately, it can tell you a lot about what types of additional data are needed in order to support the case you wish to prove across a broad range of auditors.

      mouseover the bar (I'm practicing for DK5)

      by serendipityisabitch on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 04:01:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm in complete agreement with you. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        You're right - I didn't express myself very well. **laugh**

        You captured my thought process fairly well with this:

        Having "hard data" is not, unfortunately, any guarantee that the conclusions you draw from it will be accurate - the most you can generally do is make someone else aware of your sources and see what conclusions they draw, and then try to figure out how two such very different sets of conclusions could have been arrived at using the same data.
        If someone answers my offering of raw data with different conclusions, I usually find myself in a rather interesting (and fairly calm) discussion of the sort you describe, as we each dive into the priorities and/or importance we assign to the common data. Conversations such as those are among the very best of what I've experienced here at Daily Kos.

        Unfortunately, the more frequent response is either snark or silence - both of which tend to indicate that the other person isn't really interested in reconciling their statements/opinions/beliefs with what seems to be conflicting data.

        The word "parent" is supposed to be a VERB, people...

        by wesmorgan1 on Sun Aug 31, 2014 at 08:13:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site