A&O premise:

at all levels of cognitive function, we endeavor to



The relationship between TRUTH and REALITY is fraught … consider the premises and provocations below:


To say “THIS IS TRUE” is different from “THIS I BELIEVE” (perhaps in the same way as we see some things (such as a few pennies on the table) and know the number we see to be true (subatizing) while if the numbers of pennies were increased just a little, we would have to count them to be sure.)

I try to step carefully through the fog of philosophy–it is easy to get lost.  As a biologist emphasizing the importance of meeting biological needs I can side-step concerns about precision and accuracy in language and reason because success as an organism does not require being ideal, although aspiring to ideal tends to keep one on the correct path for maximizing biological fitness.


An Euler diagram representing the traditional definition of knowledge as justified true belief. The Gettier problem gives us reason to think that not all justified true beliefs constitute knowledge. (from Wikipedia on epitemology)





  • BELIEFS and TRUTH: (“And so you see I have come to doubt / All that I once held as true / I stand alone without beliefs / The only truth I know is you” Paul Simon (1966) “Kathy’s Song”)


  • BELIEFS and HABITS:  Beliefs are related to habit of thinking that while comforting can impede growth.  Coleridge (1817) wrote, “… we must overcome habit, “awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom”[i]


  • We must believe something (“Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.”–Bertrand Russell “Outline of Intellectual Rubbish” in Unpopular Essays 1950)


  • Nature/Nurture?  Many of our beliefs are established at an early age and persevere even when confronted with profound challenges (“We are all tattooed in our cradles with the beliefs of our tribe; the record may seem superficial, but it is indelible.”–Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.  The Poet at the Breakfast Table, 1872).


    • Compare: Anselm of Canterbury: “Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand”.
    •  (David Barash wrote “Believing is Seeing” in The Chronicle Review 49(42):B10)


“…sounds normal as hell to me.  Nobody thinks clearly, no matter what they pretend.  Thinking’s a dizzy business, a matter of catching as many of those foggy glimpses as you can and fitting them together the best you can.  That’s why people hang on so tight to their beliefs and opinions; because, compared to the haphazard way in which they’re arrived at, even the goofiest opinion seems wonderfully clear, sane, and self-evident.  And if you let it get away from you, than you’ve got to dive back into that foggy muddle to wangle yourself out another to take its place.”                                                              (Dashiell Hammett, The Dain Curse)





From the idealists’ perspective, reality is something like a collection of beliefs. Consequently, a belief cannot be true because it corresponds to something which is not a belief. Instead, the truth of a belief can only consist in its coherence with other beliefs. A coherence theory of truth which results from idealism usually leads to the view that truth comes in degrees.   A belief is true to the degree that it coheres with other beliefs.”  (James O. Young in http://plato.stanford.edu/)  

https://neilgreenberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/pp-1592962414-3466.jpgThere is an important sense in which we are “prepared” to behave a certain way or believe a certain thing:  it coheres, a new belief is found to be so consilient or consonant with what we have already learned that it supports or strengthens or fully realizes that constellation of ideas.

“What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires—desires of which he himself is often unconscious.

 If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence.  The origin of myths is explained in this way.”

(Bertrand Russell, from his “Roads to Freedom”) 



Is the internal representation of an external phenomenon valid: how well does it match (Nothing IN the mind is the thing represented the is OUTSIDE the mind … it is an abstraction and translation.  In seeking to increase CONFIDENCE in the accuracy of the representation (at least with respect to those aspects of adaptive significance–if we know what they are) we also seek CORROBORATION.

…   (Wikipedia on the Correspondence Theory of Truth)


PPT - Does truth matter? PowerPoint Presentation, free download ...


EVEN profoundly distorted BELIEFS contain a grain of truth: “Yet there must have been something. . . . Though the distorted or magnified image transmitted to us through the refracting medium of rumor is utterly unlike the reality, yet in the absence of the reality there would have been no distorted or magnified image.  And thus it is with human beliefs in general.  Entirely wrong as they may appear, the implication is that they germinated out of actual experiences — originally contained, and perhaps still contain, some small amount of verity.”  (Herbert Spencer.  1880. First Principles, Fifth London Edition, Part I. The Unknowable.  Chapter I, “Religion and Science.”) [to find these grains, we may have to REVERSE ENGINEER the obvious errors of the world . . . ]


KNOWING & BELIEVING.  The world outside our minds:   I’ve always thought of subitizing to represent this, but still too many uncertainties.  But this is interesting: “The problem of how we can know the existence and nature of the world external to our mind is one of the oldest and most difficult in philosophy.” (https://iep.utm.edu/locke-kn/) : “Knowledge of the external world is known ‘sensitively’—rather than ‘intuitively’ or ‘demonstratively.’ Locke calls these three ways of coming to knowledge the three degrees of knowledge. [sensitive] knowledge of the external world is different than what he calls intuitive knowledge. Intuitive knowledge is knowledge that we grasp immediately and without any need for proof or explanation.”   

  • Interestingly, “… different cognitive [and neurological] processes [appear to] operate for the enumeration of elements inside and outside the subitizing range, and as such raises the possibility that subitizing and counting involve different brain circuits. However, functional imaging research has been interpreted both to support different (Corbetta et al 1995) [18] and shared processes.” (Piazza et al 2002)[19]




[i] “In this idea, originated the plan of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth on the other hand was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1817) Biographia Literaria Chapter XIV.  (http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/biographia.html )