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Fact, fiction and the Nunes memo: Beyond Belief (opinion video)

February 1, 2018 GMT

Fact, fiction and the Nunes memo: Beyond Belief (opinion video)

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Philosopher Robert Audi says that knowledge is always about truth or reality, while belief is not necessarily about those things at all.

That means we might believe stuff that’s not real or true yet mistakenly accept and promote those beliefs as if they were knowledge.

This was made abundantly clear this week as the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release a controversial, classified memo that is said to detail FBI surveillance abuses. Another memo that’s said to disprove the first one will not be released, setting us up for the classic fact-or-fiction friction that’s polarizing our country.

Knowing that we’re predisposed to confuse knowledge and belief, what should we do?

Perhaps the best and most simple way is to resort to some sayings we’ve all heard but don’t use very much. “To the best of my knowledge so far.” Or, “I don’t know for sure, but I believe ...” Or, “I’m not positive, but here’s what I think.”

These expressions show that you’ve tracked your judgments back to where they were born — in your head. It shows you’re still thinking about things; you’re not arrogant, not dogmatic, not convinced.

Since we all get a lot of self-esteem from showing that we know “the truth of the matter,” we’re loathe to admit that we’re still thinking. Or maybe we don’t say things like, “To the best of my knowledge so far,” because we just don’t know any better.

How do we wise up? Easy!

Just take a minute to think of all the wildly divergent things that people believe, and you’ll see that one person’s treasured thoughts are another person’s trash ideas.Then it becomes obvious that the confusion between knowledge and belief is a human epidemic raging since the dawn of time — and that no human being is immune. Not you. Not me. Not the pope. Not the president. And obviously not the House Intelligence Committee.

Need another example of absolute — and absolutely questionable — beliefs that were once passed off as facts?

An entire group of amazingly smart and accomplished people knew “for sure” that the gods of Mount Olympus really existed and held sway over mere mortals while at the same time the Zoroastrians knew “for sure” their religion was correct, while Native Americans — and other tribal people all over the globe — knew “for sure” their deities were in control ... on and on down to the present day with new belief systems popping up all the time, like Scientology for instance.

Leo Tolstoy wrote that some people live “without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs.” And he added: “This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking.”

I think Robert Audi would agree. Do you?

As chairman of your own private intelligence committee, maybe it’s time to figure it out.