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Some Methodological Questions

Posted by Raym on 30 Jun 2010 at 23:45 GMT

After reading on the experimental design it is suggested that after reading a statement and evaluating its content as “true”, this was classified as a belief. If the content was judged “false”, then this was regarded as disbelief. In addition you attempted to balance the stimuli with respect to semantic structure and content. So a nonbeliever (if we can really call it that) would presumably judge the statement “The Biblical God is a myth” as true (thus it qualifies as a belief), yet judge statements “The Biblical God really exists” is false (thus it qualifies as a disbelief). It seems important to know whether judging these two statements as true or false differ significantly at the level of the brain, or do they illicit the same response at the brain level. Why do I ask? Well, a previous article by Harris, Seth and Cohen, suggests the states of belief and disbelief differentially activate “distinct regions of the prefrontal and parietal cortices, as well as the basal ganglia”, which suggests that accepting a statement as true, or accepting a statement as false differ on the brain level. If the article is true, then one would expect that judging “The Biblical God is a myth” as true differs at the brain level from judging “The Biblical God really exists” as false. But this allows for some complex and odd consequences, for example one can out of sheer principle have both a belief that “The Biblical God is a myth” and then an entirely different disbelief that “The Biblical God really exists” since of course belief and disbelief differ significantly at the brain level.

Or one can take the simplest explanation and say that the two don’t differ significantly judging the Biblical God as a myth (if a myth is associated with falsity) is the same (right down to the brain level) as judging that it is false that the Biblical God really exists. The problem I have is that judging a proposition P false (disbelief) intuitively seems the same as judging the negation of a proposition ~P as true (belief). And judging a proposition A true (belief) intuitively seems the same as judging the negation of the same proposition ~A as false (disbelief). This seems important since you define belief and disbelief in terms of judging as some statment true or false. And contrast the two as if they were entirely different and unrelated on the brain level.

In addition it seems very possible to judge “The Biblical God is a myth” as true and also judge “The Biblical God really exists” is true if one interprets “myth” a particular way. For example some might understand myth as an ancient story that is passed down from generation to generation, a large community accepts this narrative as true, and one can draw analogies between different myths and the Biblical God and therefore The Biblical God is a type of myth. Others would simply interpret “myth” as associated with falsity. The point is that in many of the statements there allows an amount of linguistic ambiguity that may skew the results. Why not just say “it is not the case that the Biblical God really exists”? This eliminates the semantic problems, or is there a reason for allowing such ambiguity? Intuitively, it seems to me that allowing such ambiguity would of course allow for a reading where a belief and disbelief differ; but if you REALLY want to contrast belief and disbelief you would want to eliminate as much linguistic ambiguities as possible. So if one judges some proposition as true, and then judge the CLEAR negation of the same proposition as false and get different neural results then I think that it would support your idea that belief and disbelief differ much better. Wouldn’t it?

I wonder if you could clear up these methodological problems for me.

No competing interests declared.