Looking at: Beliefs

We each hold a lot of beliefs close to heart, and we are usually ready to defend our beliefs in a heartbeat. Examples of this are seen all over the world. Republicans defending their beliefs and values in politics, and religious followers defending their divine beliefs. Albeit it is not only reserved for those in the two categories above that hold strong to their beliefs, as mentioned we all hold to our beliefs like Hitchhikers (agrimony seeds) stick to our clothing.

You were raised to believe certain concepts, certain values, etc… These beliefs shape the way you perceive the world, they affect the way you behave in the world, and they also are in a constant state of development, and possibly change. The beliefs that you hold are your own, in the sense that they do not belong to anyone else  (or so I hope), and in line with that you are solely responsible for your own beliefs. Now this does not mean that it is impossible to be deceived into believing something false by someone else, or that you may be persuaded to have a belief that might not necessarily be something that you can commit yourself to. But at the base of your beliefs, lies a choice to actually go ahead and acknowledge, and accept your belief. To exemplify this let us consider the following:

You have the belief (P), and let (P) be the belief that grass is green.

Steve, your long time and usually reliable friend comes to your house in a panic to tell you that grass is not green, rather it is blue, and throughout your whole life you have been believing a lie!

Some problems arise after thinking about this! One of those problems is that, you recall having an experience of grass in your memories, and each time you experienced grass it so happened to be the color green.

Despite Steve’s normal reliability you choose not to believe his crazy claim about the color of grass, so you got about your day.

Later on when you get home from wherever, you click on the T.V, and switch it to CNN. They are broadcasting about a university somewhere in the world that has discovered that grass contains nano-reflectors that warp the wavelengths of light differently to our retina, which is the cause of our seeing it green instead of blue.

Most would be convinced after having heard the news broadcast. It might take a little bit to sink in, but we tend to believe ‘reputable’ sources without the blink of an eye.

Let’s say now that the news broadcast was actually a spoof, like Onion News. In the example though you do not know this, you actually think this is happening because of the seemingly authentic news broadcast.

In shock and awe, you can not believe it. Or can you? Does a news broadcast (ignoring the falsity of it) qualify as sufficient evidence to change your beliefs? Can you commit yourself, now, to believing grass is actually the color blue? It seems a bit counter-intuitive to commit to that belief, considering every time you previously have looked at grass it was green. Also, even if you were to choose to believe in the new information, every time you will look at grass, it will still look green to you.

In this example there are a few connected beliefs that play into the system of beliefs that govern (P).

(G): Representation of the color green – This is supported by a human built concept of the color green

(GR): Representation of grass – This is also supported by a human built concept of grass

Can the system of belief for (P) be changed once having received new evidence? Well which of the two beliefs above would change once we get the new information. (GR) would have to change, because we now have a different representation of what grass is, but (G) would not change because the color green still remains the color green. Albeit, color is simply the perception of light wavelengths on our retina, but the color green would take on a new representation, as we now have blue which looks like green, and the same old green you already knew.

It seems that your beliefs would be in conflict with one another. Chaos. It would become increasingly difficult to differentiate between blue and green.

Let’s return to the news broadcast being a spoof. You did not realize that it was a spoof, so you fell for it. To bad they got you.

You might have been the kind of person to quickly jump to believing that grass was actually blue! You might have even called all of your friends and decided to pass on the exciting (ok fine, far from exciting) news about the color of grass. If your friends are at all rational people they would hopefully not believe your claim until further evidence is shown to them, so being a good person you send them a copy of the news broadcast. They too fall for the spoof, and now you have unraveled and destroyed the concept of grass for fifty people. Oh no.

The issue at hand is surely clear. As most people might be reading this saying “People do not fall for things like that so easily”, or “People are much more rational than that”. I beg to differ, although the example is a bit strange and silly, it still outlines that people might be open to changing their beliefs upon new evidence.

What needs to be made clear for these people, and anyone else who might choose to believe completely absurd notions and ideas, is that receiving new evidence ought not be enough to change our beliefs. This accounts to abstract claims from other people, institutions that claim certain values & beliefs, etc… Our beliefs are sacred to our very being, as I said above, our beliefs shape the way we perceive the world, and that is the most fundamental to our existence. Our perception of the world is what guides us through life, so why let abstract and unexamined claims change your beliefs? Instead our beliefs should be rigorously self-examined so that we the believer have our own reasons for believing what we believe.

Now I am not saying that we can choose to self-examine our beliefs and then say “I believe (X), because I believe it”, rather we require a rational thought process to back up our beliefs, and it is important that this rational thought process is our own, and not from someone else. Yes it is fine to collaborate your ideas with someone, but make sure that it is a collaboration, and not simply a copy of what another person believes. Otherwise, all you are is a copy of someone else.

We have the capacity to understand why we believe certain things, and why we do not believe other things. I find that, it is not common among people to have their own understanding of their beliefs! They rely on what other people tell them, and that is a waste of a mind! Does it not feel good to be able to explain yourself to someone rationally, to be able to defend your beliefs on your own account, and to be able to hold strong to your own beliefs? I think it does, and is a core part of being human. Unfortunately the lazier the human being gets, the more they rely on other people to guide their lives. And this applies to beliefs and values as well as to people who do not take responsibility for their own actions. The human experience is exactly what is says it is, an experience, one that should be examined, played with, poked at, manipulated, studied, and dreamed upon.

“The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates

To re-examine your beliefs, and then to re-discover your beliefs on your own account is an exhilarating journey. It is a project that needs to be taken up with dedication and persistence, otherwise it will not work, that is simple.

~ by Peter on January 31, 2010.

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