Question 2: “What I tell you three times is true. ” (Lewis Carroll) Might this formula- or a more sophisticated version of it- actually determine what we believe to be true? First of all, let me rephrase the question to make matters easier: do we believe in things because we are told many times that they are true or because we ourselves have been able to prove ourselves that they are true? I believe that the best manner to establish whether this formula actually determines what we believe to be true is to test it in different situations.
In other words, as the “knower,” I will investigate whether Lewis Carroll’s formula works in various areas of knowledge and life experiences. We see that in some situations, this formula does determine what we believe to be true due to our intellectual or physical limitations, convention, emotions or language. Yet in others, what we believe to be true is shaped through experimentation and reasoning skills and thus, repetition is not necessary to form our beliefs. Let’s use the natural sciences, physics in particular, as the first area of knowledge.
I will make use of the “law of conservation of momentum” as an example to test this formula. The question that we must ask ourselves is: do we believe in this law because we were told that it is valid or because we saw/tested this theory? In other words, do we take what the teacher told us for granted? It seems as though when we take upon the role of a scientist, we need physical and empirical proof in order to accept something as the truth. The physics course, which I attended, for example, was based on experiments. In class, we tested and retested theories and laws through them.
They gave us proof that they were correct. Further, experience from outside the classroom observations of the world also gave me proof. Therefore, I can say that my knowledge of the laws is not based on what someone convinced me to believe. It was formed through experimentation and reasoning as a way knowing. Yet what happens when we encounter theories or beliefs in the natural sciences that cannot be tested at our level? For example, Newton’s First Law of Motion, which states that in the absence of an unbalance force, a body in motion will remain in motion.
We can’t test this theory since we don’t have the physical capabilities. As we encounter things that we cannot test, we use logic and trust. If the theory seems logical and it was told to us by a teacher we hold the theory to be true, even if it has not been proven. We trust the teacher due to his/her studies and knowledge. It is very important who the person “telling us something three times” is. Thus, the formula holds in situations when we cannot physically test the theory, yet it is logical and told to us by a trustworthy source. If it is not, then the repetition itself may possibly convince us.
Let us look at history, which is a social science in which theories cannot be tested scientifically in (Abel 174). Historical events have a certain time and place. You cannot duplicate, repeat, and test them, as in science (Abel 111). What we call historical knowledge is based on different interpretations or opinions of what happened in the past. Various historians have different views on one event, which they support with accepted evidence and facts. Yet there is no proof for them. Therefore, how do we, as the “knowers,” decide which interpretation to believe is the truth?
Do we believe a view is “true” because we heard it so many times? In order to test the formula, let’s move directly into the history classroom. The teacher says, “The USSR is responsible for starting the Cold War” and gives reasons for it. I often notice that two types of students emerge within the classroom when interpretations, such as the one above, are presented by historians. As it is repeated many times, the first group takes such information for granted and believes that it is true. Therefore, the formula proves to work.
Yet the second group (many times it is just an individual) confronts them by asking questions, manifesting the bias, scrutinizing the evidence, and examining and evaluating the arguments by gathering information from different sources (Abel 168). We see that these students use reason as a way of knowing, unlike the first group. In trying to assess whether Carroll’s formula is valid in all situations, it is important to ask ourselves the question, “what causes some students to take information for granted and others to reason and not just absorb repetitive information?
” I believe that five basic factors play a role here: culture and its conventions, emotions, personality, intelligence, and background knowledge. Firstly, the culture that we live in and the conventions and social environment in it is very significant. If we are repeatedly told that, for example, the Soviets were evil, we will be more likely to believe the above historical interpretation. Also, in every culture, the student-teacher relations are very different. In the United States, it seems as though students are encouraged to ask questions and maybe even to be skeptical.