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AmericanDreaming's avatar

Bertrand Russell on Delusion

I know many people, and perhaps you do as well, who, although they may take offense to being told they don't seem to care about the truth, will persist in unrealistic beliefs held for irrational reasons simply because they cannot, or feel that they cannot handle the truth. This quote so eloquently sums up my thoughts on the matter.

See more in my Bertrand Russell folder.
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Coelophysis's avatar

I wonder if Russell is describing himself here, unknowingly. Is this particular view of myths and rationality his own myth?

AmericanDreaming's avatar

Points for contrarianism.

LensandPencil's avatar

Have we really been thinking about myths the right way? I'm not convinced we have. If you have stories that, in an entertaining way, represent reality and at the same time help gain wisdom and teach a lesson, is there really no value in that? Why should that be considered delusional?

AmericanDreaming's avatar

Russell is referring to "myths" as in unevidenced truth claims taken on faith and believed for emotionally comforting reasons (i.e. there being an afterlife), not as in mythology as a literary genre (e.g. "The Iliad."). Russell wrote in the early 20th century, so the language is slightly dated.

LensandPencil's avatar

I see, now. Our use of the word "myth" really has changed, hasn't it? Yet, without something comforting, couldn't that make your mental health more fragile?

AmericanDreaming's avatar

We all need hope, and people often sort of conflate hope with faith, but they aren't quite the same. To use an imperfect analogy: If you lost your hand, you might have hope that you will master the skills/tasks you used to use your other hand for, or that you'll adapt and live a normal, high-functioning life. There's no guarantee, and in some cases it may be unlikely, but it's possible, and having a hopeful, positive attitude is healthy. Faith is like believing your hand will regrow itself.

LensandPencil's avatar

It's that we need something to keep us optimistic even if things aren't going the way we wanted. Right? If faith is what gives someone that kind of optimism/hope, I wouldn't want to take that away from them.

Dracoan's avatar
I don't know about that. I'm religious, and whenever I see people say that God doesn't exist I don't really care.
PathtoEnlighten's avatar
I think he is generalizing a bit here.

The issue with myths is: (1) What is their intention? What are they promoting?. (2) Does the myth provide a rational lesson valuable to helping to understand the human condition.

For instance, let's say there is a children's book that shows an English-speaking blue dog learning to look both ways to make sure he is safe crossing the roat. He sees a car and waits, the car turns its eyes and smiles at the dog as it goes past. This is in a sense a myth, there is no such thing as a blue dog that can speak English, and there is no car that has such facial features. The issue is not factuality but the truths or lessons conveyed by it.

There are many myths that take us out of our own lives and place us imagining a situation outside of our experience where we learn something important to ourselves and our societies. A modern example for instance is Star Trek that has created fictional species of aliens to interact with humans and each other to teach us lessons about conflict and conflict resolution between groups of people as well as teaching us the consequences of decisions that can affect many people.

When you may not learn a lesson from a real-life example to which you have vested interests or prejudices about, a myth takes you into a situation to which you do not have such attachment to. In doing so the myth can make you realize errors in your way of living or way of thinking that otherwise you may not do.
AmericanDreaming's avatar
The sorts of myths Russell is referring to here are more in the vein of unevidenced truth claims which may be believed in large part because they are comforting. Some myths contain parables, allegories, or moral lessons, and there's nothing wrong with learning from that, but it's another story entirely if you believe the stories are real, for example, or drawing baseless conclusions about the nature of reality on the basis of them.
Aeter-Link's avatar
You tell 'em, Bertrand.
OldieButGoodie's avatar
HELLO! ... NICELY 'done' and "SAID" above! ....

As one who has OFTEN been TOLD by MANY that HE IS 'delusional',
I'm reminded of the MOVIE, "A FEW GOOD MEN",
where Tom Cruise's/character is 'questioning' JACK NICHOLSON'S
'character' in said film ....

Finally, NICHOLSON SCREAMS at him:

"You WANT the TRUTH? .... YOU CAN'T HANDLE the TRUTH!" ....


OR, as I OFTEN 'view' MANY folks ACT about 'issues' THEY 'believe' when they are being 'GRILLED' repeatedly, reply to said GRILLER:

"Don't CONFUSE me with the FACTS - My MIND'S made UP!" ....

SIGHS ....

AmericanDreaming's avatar
I thought of that while writing that description as well, hard not to. For some reason Hollywood's decided courtroom dramas (or comedies) are no longer "in," they've made so few in the past 15 years it seems.
OldieButGoodie's avatar
HELLO! .... They, along with MOST others in the 'medium' biz',
(movies and television, etc.) have MOVED to "REALITY" programs ....


and SHOW a HOMELESS "VET" on the 'streets' ....

*** KEEP showing said VETS UNTIL the day comes that they
can NOT FIND ONE more 'vet'! ***

However, OUR "VETS" will NOT be able to COMPETE in RATINGS
and with MOST of OUR 'citizens' who LIKE such 'fare', with the BIG,


My BEST ... brian.
AmericanDreaming's avatar
Ass backwards priorities as always.
Linkzilla's avatar
I like to think that my father - deep down - is the man in this quote. Here's my perspective; my father lost his job of 22 years a few years ago, which caused us to loose our house, and his wife - my mother - died as a direct cause of it. My father was a "Christian" man - but only on Christmas and Easter. Suddenly after he lost his job, he starts going to church. Then when my mom died, he kept repeating the phrase that, "She's in a Better place," and it gave him peace.
The simple fact is; I know my father is a rational man, understands morality, and is an advocate of the difference of right and wrong. So deep down, I have faith that he understands that Christianity is just a myth. But he cannot face it because it gives him comfort.
Maybe he's not this man, but it is my hope that he can one day BE this man. I know that him believing in the higher power comforts him, but I hope that - like me - he can realize one day that he no longer needs it.

Also - this quote was given during my absolute Favorite year of the 20th Century. XD
AmericanDreaming's avatar
I hope everything works out for your family. Religious faith can have a therapeutic effect, even if it is ultimately a placebo. That's why it's lasted all these years.
Aristodes's avatar
There is nothing "comfortable" about most religions. That is where he goes wrong. If sophists like Russell understood religion, they would not say such things.
AmericanDreaming's avatar
- A supreme being created the whole universe just for you, and created you in his image.

- He loves you, and watches over you, looking out for you.

- All of your loved ones will live on forever in paradise, and you will meet them someday and you'll all be happy for ever after.

- Everything happens for a reason, and there's a super-secret awesome plan that will conveniently negate all the terrible suffering humans endure in life.

Billions of humans have taken immeasurable comfort and solace in these notions for thousands of years. It is you who misunderstands religion.
Aristodes's avatar
- Not just for me, for humanity, or for all life on Earth. His motives were never laid out.

- Yes, he loves us, but he also lets us have free will. He's not our slave, always rushing to put out every fire, especially the ones we make.

- There is also the chance that some of our loved ones will reject God and we won't ever see them again. Ever.

- Things happen for a reason. Not a lot of comfort for someone who lost a loved one in, say, a drive-by shooting.

You really don't get Christianity at all. It would be a lot more comfortable if the central image of Christianity wasn't Jesus dying on a cross, for starters. It's not supposed to be all flowers and puffy white clouds on clear summer days.
AmericanDreaming's avatar
Christianity is the most comforting of all religions. Why? Because it promises you the most (eternal paradise), while asking of you the least (being a generally decent person, which most of us are anyway, and simply believing that Christianity is true). Doubt that's true? Convert to any other religion and then get back to me on that.

The most devoutly religious Christians I know spend fewer hours per week engaged in explicitly religious activity than any moderately religious Jew or Muslim I know spends in a day. The fact that your god was killed has literally no impact on the fact that according to your religion, you barely need to do anything to reap the (imaginary) benefits and (false) comforts.
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