Persistent Erroneous Beliefs about Beliefs

  • 1. Belief is not an on/off switch. It is not binary. Belief can come in degrees. And it must come in degrees to the rational mind that maps the degree of evidence to the degree of the balance of evidence. Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the relevant perceived evidence. Any ideology that suggests you must either believe or not believe can be dismissed as nonsensical. Doubt is not only natural in the context of less-than-absolute evidence, but is rational and noble. 
  • 2. The feeling of confidence accompanying a belief is not evidence of truth behind that belief. Humans can conjure up the emotion of certainty. We can force ourselves to believe things we know are not supported by evidence if the pleasure from believing or the pain from not believing are strong enough. Religions play on this psychological weakness and embellish contexts of possible belief with beautiful music and social encouragement, plus threats of pain or loss, that draw attention away from a focus on the actual evidence.
  • 3. There is nothing noble about holding firmly to a belief in the face of contrary evidence. The rational mind will adjust its degree of belief/doubt as new confirming/disconfirming evidence arrives. The rational mind will seek out new evidence that can be added to the balance of evidence so it can appropriately adjust its degree of belief/doubt. A belief that does not change to an appropriate degree in the face of new evidence is not rational, and this irrationality is not noble. 

Don’t be fooled by false notions of belief. Rational belief is commensurate to the relevant perceived evidence. The human drive for certainty must be suppressed, and a more honest focus on the influx of evidence must be maintained. The result will be more successful assessments and decisions as we align beliefs to the evidence. And that increased success makes for a happier existence.

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