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Ch. 5 - Religion, the Early Days

#29: July - Sept. 2006 (Non-Fiction)
MadArchitect

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Re: Ch. 5 - Religion, the Early Days

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Anyway, I think I'll back off on this topic until a new point of view is presented. I've made my case, and I've attempted to explain the reasons behind it. Beyond that, I can't do much more.
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Re: Ch. 5 - Religion, the Early Days

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Saint Gasoline: Because they are not concerned with testing it.Why would you assume that they're not concerned with testing it? Again, this isn't a case like that of prayer, where the religious believer's investment is minimal, and the potential return unlimited. The Native Americans are investing resources sufficient to bury them if they don't get sufficient return, so it would seem to me that it would be in their best interests to have some concern with whether or not their ritual actual does what it says it does. Even if there always is a return, if that return is guaranteed, then it's in their best interests to test the correlation simply because freeing up those resources will subject them to fewer problems.Just as the rain dance began to develop a self-fulfilling structure to protect its claims from refutation...Account for that process. How would a ritual of this sort develop a self-fulfilling structure? Presumably, during the stages prior to the development of that structure, the ritual would fail quite regularly. So with so much disconfirmation in the early stages, how would the ritual survive long enough to develop a structure that protects against disconfirmation? Or, to put a finer point on it, if the culture could maintain the ritual through the early stages, when so much went towards disconfirming it, why would it concern itself with shielding it from such disconfirmation?(Little hint here: if the purpose of the ritual were not really to produce rain, then we'd no longer have to account for that stage when disconfirmation were a recurring problem.)The fact that ekstasis is produced doesn't mean that this is the reason they perform the dance--rather, this is yet another "structure" that allowed the rain dance to persist as a method for producing rain. The self-fulfilling structure prevented it from being discarded by disconfirmation, and the ekstasis prevented it from being discarded by boredom or overwork.I still don't think you understand the basic form of ekstasis. You don't go through ekstasis and then go back to whatever you were doing. Ekstasis is a form of total mental collapse and loss of personal identity from exhaustive fatigue. It's typically followed by a period of unconsciousness, and usually requires a period of recouperation. So it's entirely unlikely that ekstasis "prevented boredom or overwork" -- it is, itself, the product of overwork -- and there's almost no chance that the dancers went through ekstasis and then continued the dance afterwards. I don't see that ekstasis has any functional place in the dance save as its culmination and climax, and if we're to take seriously the contention that rain dances continue unabated until the actual advent of rain, then it follows that the two phenomenon occur more or less at the same time.it is easy for us to say that it is obvious that the dance does not produce rain, but it is not so obvious to someone who has not taken a science class or learned about evaporation and so on.The primitive society will not know the scientific models which explain rainfall, but that does not warrant the conclusion that they're ignorant as to the status of rain as a natural phenomenon. That's another mistake that was made frequently during the early period of antrhopology, and which was corrected as later anthropologists insisted on the application of a more rigorous scientific method to the field. As I pointed out in another thread, the primitive societies which build their religions around the symbols from their mode of life often have an extremely sophisticated understanding of the workings of the natural world -- they have to in order to survive. The mythological use of those symbols is usually a secondary layer that works in concert or in addition to their technical layer, not in place of. So it's just as likely that the Native Americans in question recognized rainfall as part of the cycle of seasons -- and why shouldn't they, since they recognized the role of seasons in other parts of their social mode?they don't notice that the structure makes it impossible to "test" the truth of their claim for the simple reason that the ritual is not SUPPOSED to provide a test.I think that they would notice. It doesn't take an industrialized mind to recognize that you can do any action until a desired result occurs, and nothing that we know about the pre-industrial mind would lead us to suspect that it would mistake that until as a cause. As of yet, I can see no way to explain how a self-fulfilling rain dance would develop and persist, save to assume that they cannot or simply don't want to question the ritual. Even if we assume that, we're faced with very serious and disconcerting questions as to why they cannot or don't want to. If they cannot, then we have to recognize them as developmentally different, and that raises all sorts of worrisome problems. If they simply don't want to, then why? What about that particular ritual makes them willing to expend so many material and personal resources without question.An obvious answer to that last question, given our present discussion, is that the ekstasis makes them want to preserve the ritual. And once you've assumed that, you no longer need to insist on their unwillingness to question. They can still question the correlation between rain and dancing so long as the questioning does not interrupt the production of ekstasis.So why would people waste their time praying when doing nothing would lead to the same outcomes? Because prayer also produces pleasant sensations...Not also produces pleasant sensations. As I've tried to explain before, true ekstasis is not simple an intense feeling of pleasure. It can just as often be a horrific experience, and that's part of the experience that is preserved in ekstatic religions.But I will agree that prayer as a ritual is reinforced by pleasant sensations. And those pleasant sensations are in direct relation to the underlying claim of prayer: that it allows the believer direct contact with God.But we're never really going to agree on prayer, because you continuously fall back on the view that prayer is a form of confirmation by comparison. I say it isn't that at root -- it's a form of contact with God. Christian prayers can just as often contain no requests at all, only praise and thanks. In which case, the prayer offers no grounds for confirmation and disconfirmation. Prayer, ultimately, isn't a terribly good analogy to the rain dance ritual because they differ in so many respects.This structure just makes it seem as if prayer works.And I say that prayer rarely ever functions on a self-fulfilling structure -- even given the instances where the person does receive some benefit they requested in the prayer, there are a disproportionate number of examples where the prayer offers no basis for confirmation or disconfirmation, as with non-request oriented prayer or delayed benefit requests ("Now I lay me down to sleep...") which cannot be confirmed in this life. And what's notable about these instances is that belief persists despite the lack of confirmation. Shermer would argue that the strength of confirmation bias outweighs the instances of disconfirmation or uncertainty, but I'd say that it's equally explicable by assuming that confirmation plays almost no role in the persistence of that particular ritual -- it's requires so little investment, and is so well intergrated into their whole religious belief, that they need not question it at all, unless someone else imposes a Test situation on them.I could argue that the fact that they will believe they have spoken to God regardless of the outcome after the prayer is evidence that they do not trust its efficacy and thus the prayer serves some other function, perhaps stress relief.It's all about the claims. Very few Christians provide a testable situation with prayer. The claims they make for prayer is not that it will result in something tangible, but that is allows them to communicate with God. The Native Americans, on the other hand, are claiming a causal relationship with tangible effects in the world. There is literally no test for the efficacy of prayer unless you change the traditional claim into something it is not. There's a pretty easy test for the rain dance, and it's one that's likely to occur even if the practictioners don't deliberately make a test of it.Clearly, such a thesis is silly when applied to prayer...It's silly because the examples are not analagous.
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Reaching understanding

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I think an important element regarding the Rain Dance is how it fits into the whole framework of dancer/dance/audience/nature/spirit. Is the primary audience the "great spirit" who directs the rains or the community from which the dancer arises? Is the primary purpose to conduce individual ekstasis within the dancer, or to bring dancer/community/nature/spirit into closer communion?I don't know how to answer these questions without spending a quality amount of time within these communities...again, I think the anthropologist needs to "go native" in these cases and immerse themselves into the framework in order to make sense of the different elements, as well as their purpose and meanings.Thus, discussion about "claims" requires an investment in personal experience: an immersion process. I think the same can be said for external observations regarding structures that either confirm or reject the purpose and meaning of a ritual.I'm not certain that the scientific method precludes this sort of immersion process...but I think it patently obvious that any attempt to understand what these Rain Dances or Prayers mean to those engaging them, requires walking a few miles in their moccassins.Now, Mad has made concerted efforts to show how the scientific method precludes the immersion method I propose. But if we want to understand just what it is we are talking about when we discuss Prayer and Raind Dances...aren't we forced to explore steps beyond the scientific method? Thus, understanding these issues requires something more.What is the something more?
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Re: Reaching understanding

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Dissident Heart: I don't know how to answer these questions without spending a quality amount of time within these communities...again, I think the anthropologist needs to "go native" in these cases and immerse themselves into the framework in order to make sense of the different elements, as well as their purpose and meanings.Actually, I think that probably is the best way to answer these particular questions, for the simple fact that the natives are likely to be more forthwright, intentionally or not, if they can feel that they are not acting before an audience of strangers.If that's all you've been suggesting all along, DH, it's a pretty uncontroversial point in the anthropological field, and I'd tend rather to agree with it. The best way to reduce distortions is to minimize the presence of abnormal factors, and a group of men in white lab coats with clipboards and calipers is normal to very few situations.What I've been rejecting all along is the idea -- which I may very well have wrongly inferred -- that explicitly religious experience could be integrated into scientific method as though it were a part of scientific method. For example, that the experience of ekstasis could be treated by scientific method as it is treated by the worshipper. I don't think that's possible, as the religious experience is necessarily qualitative (even if it only interprets quantity as quality), while scientific method depends on our ability to describe all qualities as quantities. It brings us back to the question of what it can possibly mean, in scientific terms, to say that a given object is sacred. To insist that such claims be translated in terms amenable to scientific assessment is, more often than not, to distort them.I'm not certain that the scientific method precludes this sort of immersion process...but I think it patently obvious that any attempt to understand what these Rain Dances or Prayers mean to those engaging them, requires walking a few miles in their moccassins.I think that probably is the best way to understand what is implied by the claims. To that end, I think such experience is admissable to scientific method, though probably only for the purposes of determining the questions to be asked. I think far less likely that such immersive experiences will lend much to any exclusively scientific attempt to answer those questions. I'm open to suggestions as how to mediate that disjunction, but I don't, as yet, see any forthcoming.What is the something more?That's a question we can both ask, since part of my contention all along is that science on its own is incapable of assessing some of the claims most central to religion.
Saint Gasoline

Re: Ch. 5 - Religion, the Early Days

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Mad, I have to disagree with you that the situation between modern prayer and rain dances is not analogous. If you think your critique of rain dancing applies, then it should also apply to most people's conception of prayer.Quote:The claims they make for prayer is not that it will result in something tangible, but that is allows them to communicate with God. The Native Americans, on the other hand, are claiming a causal relationship with tangible effects in the world.Now, let's do a little semantic cleansing first. You keep wanting to use your definition of prayer. That's all fine and dandy. But I'm not talking about that kind of prayer. When I speak of prayer, I am referring to the type of prayer that many modern people practice, wherein they ask God for a certain outcome, be it the curing of a disease or the end of a certain ill-effect. To deny tha people make prayers that claim a CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP with tangible effects in the world is just silly. People make prayers all the time concerned with producing causal changes in the world around them. You have to acknowledge that this type of prayer is indeed commonly practiced. With that in mind, then, let's just assume that I am addressing THIS type of prayer, and not the type that you are trying to bring up.So what are some features of this type of prayer? Well, for one, there appears to be no reason to suspect that it actually cures diseases or ends the problems that motivated it. There seems to be no connection between whispering sweet nothings and biological diseases, which are the results of bacteria, viruses, and so on. Not only that, but the prayer is not a "test" situaion. Should the disease wreak havok on someone, killing them, this is not taken to be disproof of prayer, because it can be rationalized in a number of ways, such as by saying it wasn't God's will, or that the person praying didn't "believe" it would really happen.Why, then, doesn't this lead you to doubt the avowals of people who practice this form of prayer? They say that they pray in order to heal the sick or end terrible problems, yet the prayer has a self-fulfilling structure and it seems obvious that there is no connection between the two. Why don't you argue that this should lead you to think the people who practice this form of prayer are only avowing this falsely?The reason you don't argue in this manner is because you know that these people are not falsely avowing that prayer works. They really believe it, even though there is no reason to believe it has any effects.This situation is exactly analogous to the rain dance--both claim that there is a causal connection between the act and the desired consequences. Both have self-fulfilling structures that protect them from refutation. Both seem to have little or nothing to do with the consequences when examined from an outside perspective. Both have elaborate mythologies that back-up the claims of their avowals. And so on. If you want to argue that the avowals of natives are false, then you have to be prepared to argue that the avowals of people who believe in this type of prayer is false, and I think you'll find that your inferences are largely flawed.Quote:The primitive society will not know the scientific models which explain rainfall, but that does not warrant the conclusion that they're ignorant as to the status of rain as a natural phenomenon.Of course this does not warrant that conclusion. What warrants that conclusion is the fact that they explicitly SAY that they believe that their rain dance can produce rain, and that they possess an elaborate mythology that says this as well. I am not saying these people are primitive and stupid--I see the same sort of flawed reasoning from modern cultures with an emphasis on causal prayer, so naturally this is not just a case of me labelling the primitive culture a inferior and silly.Again, your "evidence" is not nearly strong enough to make us doubt that these people really believe that the rain dance producs rain. I honestly don't see how you could maintain this.
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Re: Ch. 5 - Religion, the Early Days

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Saint Gasoline: Mad, I have to disagree with you that the situation between modern prayer and rain dances is not analogous.I'm going to need more than disagreement to change my mind. The analogy falls apart at several points which are germaine to our discussion:1) On the proportion of risk between the two. Prayer involves almost no risk, so it isn't terribly difficult to account for its survival. The rain dance involves an almost incommensurable amount of risk -- the entire society in which it is practiced could collapse as a result of the risk to which the rain dance exposes it. If the production of rain is the primary reason for the dance, the benefit of the dance itself is entirely to low to account for the persistence of such a risky ritual. Dennett's suggestion that disproportionate risk might be an selective adaptation seems dubious altogether dubious to my mind, but it's especially iffy here. We're talking about a ritual that exposes the culture to actual annihilation -- the dance is so exhausting, and the society so small, that they leave themselves open to attack and the inability to do work necessary to maintain their survival. The demands are so high that they're likely burning away any stores of food and potable water they may have in order to provoke rain. Even assuming that the rain will come, the ritual makes no guarantee as to how long it will take to produce it, so the avowed purpose of the ritual does nothing to assuage that risk. It would seem that genetic selection would displace memetic selection at this point -- those tribes that didn't involve themselves in the rain dance would be more likely to survive than those who did, so the meme's genetic fitness would be moot. It's easy to account for prayer's survival in those terms -- it created very little risk, though the potential rewards seem great by comparison -- while it's much harder to account for the rain dance's.2) On the nature of the claim. The basic, most fundamental claim of prayer is only that it provides for communication with God. And any religion that treats that God as a volitional being is more consistent if it posits prayer as a psychological rather than mechanical process -- that is, that God answers prayers not as a matter of course, but rather in accordance with God's own will. So while there may be some who make prayer a test of God, most believers make that, at most, a secondary concern. The normative prayer situation is that the person praying already believes in their God and prays only to make contact with that God. And for that claim, there is no clear confirmation. But the rain dancers are apparantly making an explicit, confirmable claim about natural phenomenon -- this dance produces rain. Even if there were a concerted effort to make that claim self-confirming, happenstance would likely create a situation which disconfirmed it.3) On the relation to the structure of each to the other. As I understand your comparison, these are really two different structures anyway -- the one claim is supposed to be self-confirming, the other either retreats from the need for confirmation or ignores disconfirmation. The rain dance neither retreats nor ignores, and prayer does not structure confirmation into the ritual itself.4) On the ease of accounting for the development of each. If we commit ourselves to the sincerity of the avowed claim, it's difficult to account for how the rain dance would develop the sort of structure you say it has. Meanwhile, given the the volitional character of the Christian God as inherited from the Judaic tradition, it's not at all difficult to account for a ritual structure that incidentally provides no means of confirmation.Of course, no analogy achieves total 1:1 correspondence, and it's unreasonable to demand so much. The problem is, that these are the terms where your analogy is supposed to be most operative. You could try to find some way to resolve those problems, but really, why insist on prayer at all? If this sort of structure is so common to religion, then surely you can find a closer analogy than prayer.When I speak of prayer, I am referring to the type of prayer that many modern people practice, wherein they ask God for a certain outcome, be it the curing of a disease or the end of a certain ill-effect. To deny tha people make prayers that claim a CAUSAL RELATIONSHIP with tangible effects in the world is just silly.But it isn't directly causal. Even when they're praying for something explicit, most people still hold that they're petitioning God, and that the ultimate result is entirely dependant on God's will. Not receiving what one has prayer for, then, is not disconfirmation of the claim. If the claim were that prayer always, or even reliably, resulted in having their request fulfilled, you'd could construe it as a self-confirming structure. But with this structure the way it is, the person could pray every day their whole life, never get what they ask for, and still believe in the efficacy of prayer. Why? Not because they take the successes as confirmation (there are no successes in this case) but because they require no confirmation to support their belief.As I've tried to point out before, there's so little investment in prayer that most people who pray don't really require confirmation. They have their religion confirmed to them in some other way (perhaps by the effect belief has on their own behavior, or by the perception that their co-religionists are more moral than people of other faiths), and take the efficacy of prayer as part of the package.That isn't really the case with the rain ritual. So much depends on the advent of rain, but that doesn't cancel out the advantage that the society would have if the people weren't running themselves ragged in the meantime.If we could so easily distinguish the two types of prayer -- let's use "contact prayer" for prayer which claims only to allow for direct communication with God, and "causal prayer" for prayer that seeks to achieve the fulfillment of a request -- then the analogy would be simplified. But none of the major traditions provide an easy way to distinguish between them. Causal prayer is almost always contact prayer. If a religious person did insist on causal prayer to the exclusion of contact prayer, they'd quickly find their claim the subject of disconfirmation -- unless, of course, it turned out they were right. But there aren't, to my knowledge, many, if any, people engaging in exclusively causal prayer; contact prayer is always the underlying structure of their prayer. There are examples of people who attempt to hem God into a corner, to demand confirmation through prayer, but those are usually people who are willing and ready to part with their faith.They say that they pray in order to heal the sick or end terrible problems, yet the prayer has a self-fulfilling structure and it seems obvious that there is no connection between the two.Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "self-fulfilling structure." You could argue that this sort of prayer has a structure which shields it from disconfimation, but that isn't the same as guaranteeing confirmation. We could call it self-fulfilling if they could somehow gerrymander prayer such that the requests made in prayer were always fulfilled -- maybe they only pray for things they know they'll get, or they pray continuously until they get what they want. That would make the situation "self-fulfilling" in the same sense as the rain dance. But the rain dance doesn't shield itself from disconfirmation by making its results uncertain or by positing an intermediate decision-making. If it is shielding itself from disconfirmation, it's doing so by claiming to produce something it is entirely within that culture's expertise to know comes as the result of seasonal change, by beginning the ritual at an approximate time, and prolonging it until the terms of the claim are met. These are two entirely different structures; if prayer and rain dances are shielding themselves from disconfirmation, they're doing it by radically different means, and that's a real problem for any attempt to learn about one by studying the other.Why don't you argue that this should lead you to think the people who practice this form of prayer are only avowing this falsely?Let's get back to the idea of false avowal. I've tried to explain that I don't mean that the rain dancers are making an avowal they know to be false, and there are ways of accounting for the claim that don't make liars of the participants. One particularly important thing to bear in mind is that, if their mythology does posit a rain deity, then the production of any ekstasis that brought them into contact with that deity might well be considered by them a kind of experience of rain. As such, the natural phenomenon of rain would be little more than a physical instantation of something eternal and supernatural. It is entirely possible that the ritual could end in ekstasis long before the first drop of rain fell, and the dancers might still consider themselves to have produced Rain. So a very important question is that of what, precisely, they mean by producing rain.That's one reason that I insisted on the term "misdirecting avowal." It is misdirecting in as much as it directs our attention to what we, as outsiders, understand as rain. It may also direct their attention to the physical phenomenon of rain, such that they don't consciously anticipate the onset of ekstasis. But that doesn't necessarily make the avowal false -- to them, in a very real sense, the physical rainfall may only be the vehicle which brings Rain into their midst. That by no means precludes their conceiving of rain as a natural, seasonal phenomenon. They could easily fail to achieve ekstasis, at which point the arrival of rainfall would signal to them that they had failed to "produce rain" -- that is, produce a direct experience of their rain god. But so long as they had experienced ecstasis in previous rain dances, this wouldn't matter as much as failure would if they really held the rainfall to be dependent on the success of their dance.Again, this is the sort of feature of ritual that shows up with a great deal of frequency in mantic religions, and it would, by no means, be out of place here.Both have elaborate mythologies that back-up the claims of their avowals.That mythology precedes ritual is still an argument that you've failed to elaborate and demonstrate. Demonstration, in this case, is particularly important, since the rigorous opinion of most anthropologists, sociologists and historians of religion is that ritual almost always precedes mythology, and that mythology typically arises as a way of explaining and reinforcing ritual.Me: The primitive society will not know the scientific models which explain rainfall, but that does not warrant the conclusion that they're ignorant as to the status of rain as a natural phenomenon.Gasoline: Of course this does not warrant that conclusion. What warrants that conclusion is the fact that they explicitly SAY that they believe that their rain dance can produce rain, and that they possess an elaborate mythology that says this as well.That does not warrant such a conclusion. Many anthropologists have shown -- and Paul Veyne has persuasively demonstrated the same of the Greeks and Romans -- that religious belief is often parenthetical -- that is, that believers hold it to be true in one context while acknowledging in other contexts a different set of technical principles. The Native Americans might fully acknowledge during most of the year that rain is seasonal, correlated with the presence of clouds, even that some natural phenomenon causes rainfall to evaporate and reside in the air again, but still maintain during the ritual itself that they can produce rain. A lot depends on how you understand their claims, but a culture that lives so close to the phenomenon, and depends so much upon the natural process, is almost sure to recognize it.
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Re: Ch. 5 - Religion, the Early Days

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While I'm waiting for you reply to my last message, I thought I'd throw in another support for the view I espoused, which is that it accounts for more of the features of the ritual than the defense you've made for the "self-fulfilling structure". In particular, I think your view makes it difficult to account for the development of the ritual, which isn't terribly difficult to account for it we posit that the Native Americans responsible for the ritual's final form were looking for a way to regularize sporatic instances of ekstasis; the self-fulfilling structure assumes an elaborate mythology without accounting for that mythology's development, whereas, if we take rain to be the catalyst for ekstasis, it's reasonable to expect the subject of ekstatic experience (some divinity) to take on the characteristics of the natural phenomenone, thus resulting in a rain god; the self-fulfilling structure doesn't account for the specific character of the ritual, specifically the dance itself, which in your scheme must be considered incidental or explained by some feature other than the avowed purpose of producing rain, whereas some sort of prolonged physical exertion is perfectly explicable in a ritual intended to provoke ekstasis; and if it is admitted that ekstasis probably is characteristic of rain dances, then we find that insisting on the production of rain as the primary purpose of the ritual allows for that characteristic but fails to integrate it into the purpose of the ritual -- it remains peripheral and extraneous in the context of the ritual's avowed purpose -- whereas assuming ekstasis as the primary purpose of the ritual does allow us to integrate the avowed purpose into the whole ritual.Taken all together, I'd say those considerations are a good holistic support for the ekstasis model. That it accounts for more as a theory is one of the arguments for the acceptance of Darwinian evolution over its competitors; my proposal is nowhere near the scale of Darwin's (and we until we know more about the actual rain dance itself, we can only maintain the analogy in regards to the elaboration we've supposed from a few third-hand details), but I do think it has the strength of including and explaining more features than its competitor.It looks to me as though you're sacrificing a lot of explanatory power, and complicating a lot of other explanations, in the interests of maintaining the primacy of an avowed causal relationship: something rather small in the scheme of the whole ritual. Dennett does the same thing, and I think his reason for doing so is that he wants to maintain that sort of causal, explanatory naivity as a feature of religious belief -- not because the evidence points to it, but because it justifies a conclusion he's already drawn, namely his skepticism of religious belief.I don't want to presume too much, but my advice is that you be careful to avoid falling into that trap.
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