Foley’s Swampman (Fs) arises out of the swamp, produced by a lightning, fully decorated with a vast array of true beliefs. Foley think Fs knows a lot more than we do, but many, probably most, have remained unconvinced. Mike made the following really interesting remark about Fs:
Foley-swampman (Fs) is interesting. So Fs correctly believes that he is a swampman who happens to have only true beliefs. You ask Fs: “Gee, Fs, it seems really unlikely that you would have so many true beliefs and no erroneous beliefs, given that you were formed by a lightning strike. What do you think accounts for that?” Fs says: “Nothing. It’s just a huge coincidence.” Now it seems to me that there really is something irrational about Fs, even though by hypothesis his answer to your question is correct. As a first pass: Fs holds a set of beliefs about where his first-order beliefs came from, on which it is extremely improbable that his first-order beliefs are true (and he acknowledges that); yet he still holds on to those first-order beliefs. That’s a kind of incoherence. (I call this meta-incoherence, because it is the meta-beliefs that fail to cohere with the first-order beliefs.)
Fs is clearly not a hidden variables theorist about his beliefs!
My interest, though, is about mike’s meta-incoherence requirement. Here I want to introduce my cousin-in-law, Dan Kersten, who does vision research at the University of Minnesota. Dan’s work on vision involves what he terms a Bayesian model, and he is investigating the ways in which we construct, and the pitfalls involved in the construction of, a 3-dimensional experience of the world from the sensory input we receive. Last time I talked with Dan, he was reporting that the probability of truth for our 3D beliefs rises as high as .25!
According to his model, of course. I suggested, as any good Moorean would, that maybe the model was wrong. That conversation went nowhere. I’m not completely sure why, but it’s not because Dan is not astute. It reminded me more of reading Unger’s defense of skepticism: there are a number of assumptions that lead to Dan’s model, and they seem so obvious to those who reflect on them that it would be hard to give them up just because the probabilities that result are too low to be comforting. This is the same phenomenon that makes Unger’s defense of skepticism powerful and disturbing: it’s not an appeal to infallibility that drives the argument, but rather other weaker claims that students (and even epistemologists) find rather compelling. After all, it would be rather strange to say that you know where you live, but you have no right to be sure, no right to feel certain about where you live. (I’m not claiming the argument is sound, though…)
So, consider poor Dan’s epistemic condition. He’s in precisely the same situation as Fs. But no one is inclined to think that Dan doesn’t know a lot about his 3D environment. Is Dan irrational in some way? I’m inclined to think not, though I’m also inclined to agree with Mike that there is a kind of incoherence here that is a negative factor of some sort, epistemically speaking.
Here’s a strange thought experiment about Dan, however. Let’s imagine Dan to have no cognitive defects or lacks whatsoever beyond those that might involve his particular area of research. Then imagine that his theory is correct, which after all, might be the case. In such a case, is there something lacking epistemically about Dan? Is there some knowledge or understanding that we must suppose him to fail to possess? Is there some level of rationality or warrant or justification we must say he has not achieved? I’m not sure there is any such thing here. What we want, of course, is for our scientific investigation into cognition to generate well-confirmed theories on which our commonsense view of the world is highly likely to be true. But, as my mother-in-law loves to say, “Wish in one hand…”, and I’ll let you finish the saying on your own. So what if the truth of the matter is much less sanguine, epistemically speaking?
I find it hard to ascribe any epistemic fault or defect to Dan on these suppositions. The fault, if there be such, is in the world in which Dan finds himself: it is not an ideal world for cognitive beings such as we are. There is Mike’s meta-incoherence present, but it is precisely the kind of incoherence Dan ought to have (just as in lottery and preface cases, especially in the fallibility version of the preface, the appropriate response, cognitively speaking, is to be characterized by a kind of incoherence).
Maybe all we can say about such cases is that, in such a world, one will always have a reason for further inquiry to try to resolve incoherence. Perhaps that’s the consequence of failures to confirm, and even disconfirmations of, hidden variables theorems (which is just we I’m tempted to tell Dan: he’s failed to this point to uncover the real factors that separate our commonsense 3D picture of the world from other possible doxastic responses).