A Tom and Dave Discussion—That Popular Blog Series.
“Hey Tom, I think “BELIEF” would be an important subject to discuss because I find it surprising that so little research has been done on it, since it exerts such a great influence over human life.”
“I agree, Dave, since we are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our reasoning, we need to find out what belief is all about.”
“Tom, do you remember the TV series The X Files?”
“Yes, I do, I even remember the catchphrases:
“Trust No One”, “I Want To Believe”, “The Truth Is Out There”, “Question Everything”. It was a good series.”
“That series was all about skeptics and believers in a struggle between reality and fantasy, fact and fiction and government secrets.
Do you believe the truth is out there?”
“Oh yes, Dave, I’m a skeptic BUT I want to believe and I want to know.
But how can we know the difference between what we would like to be true and what is actually true?”
“I guess Science is the answer. We live in The Age of Science where beliefs are supposed to be grounded in solid evidence and empirical (verifiable observation) data.”
“Why then, do 75% of people believe in religion and only 45% believe in science such as The Theory of Evolution? Doesn’t science mean anything to the 75%?”
“That’s disturbing, but it seems to me beliefs come first and reasons for them follow. Our brains find patterns in the world, and these patterns are formed from both meaningful and meaningless data and then we infuse them with meaning until they become beliefs. From then on, we find confirmatory evidence to support those beliefs.”
“Give me a simple answer to Why People Believe?”
“The nitty gritty is that our brains are Belief Engines!
Data flows in from the senses and the brain looks for patterns and then infuses them with meaning. It tries to explain why things happen and in doing so it shapes our understanding of reality.”
“Here’s another interesting point:
Reality exists independent of human minds, BUT our understanding of it depends upon our beliefs.”
“Tom, have you ever heard the statement:
Your Worldview is NOT the World!”
“Yes I have, Dave, everything we know about reality enters our brains via one or more of our five senses.”
“That’s right, Tom, a person living in a specific location on Earth will encounter No more than 1% of all the info and experiences that are available on the planet.
We won’t read all the books or visit all the places and we won’t meet all the people or see all the animals or insects.
The “world” each of us labels as “reality” is in fact a CONSTRUCT in our brain, built from the miniscule slivers of data we take in through our senses.”
Two questions, Dave:
Why does our world feel like the whole world to us?
Why do we believe anything BEYOND the concrete, present-moment data gathered by our senses?”
“Our world is what comes in from our senses. But to survive in the world we need our beliefs to give us confidence.
Since full awareness of reality is NOT an option, evolution has equipped us with a brain capable of generating an illusion (model) of reality in our small worlds.”
“Hey Dave, I’ve heard that “beliefs are absolutely necessary to life”, is this true?”
“That’s right, my friend, without beliefs we would have no context to understand ourselves and our lives.
We would be ineffective. Our brains generate beliefs because they are necessary for biological survival.
We actively pursue and trust as true, info we have not personally verified in order to experience our lives in a context we feel good about.”
“Tom, do you know how our brains convince us that we are RIGHT in our beliefs?”
“I guess it’s quite a process involving intuition and reasoning and cognitive biases (feel or show an inclination for prejudgment for or against someone or something).”
“Right again, Tom, I think we better examine this in detail.
The motto is: Intuition First, Reasoning Second. That’s how our minds handle things. Once we have beliefs we maintain and reinforce them through a number of powerful cognitive HEURISTICS that guarantee our beliefs are correct.”
“Yes Tom, a heuristic is a mental method of solving a problem through intuition or trial and error. These heuristics are sometimes called Rules of Thumb, better known as cognitive biases.”
“How does that method work?”
“Okay Tom, I’ll play the Budda. A joke to lighten your day!
No matter what belief system is in place—religious, philosophical, political or social—these cognitive biases shape how we interpret info that comes through our senses and molds it to fit the way we want the world to be but NOT necessarily how it really is.
This is called BELIEF CONFIRMATION.”
“Very interesting, Dave.”
“Lets look at four of these Biases:
Hindsight Bias—the tendency to reconstruct the PAST to fit with the PRESENT.
These are the “Monday Morning Quarterbacks”—after a weekend of games we all know what plays should have been called but weren’t!
We are critical of leaders after events have happened—thinking they should of seen these events coming.
Self-Justification Bias—is the tendency to RATIONALIZE decisions after the fact, to convince ourselves that what we did was the best thing to do.
Sunk-Cost Bias—the tendency to believe in something because of the COST sunk into that belief.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost billions with thousands of war dead and casualties, but the leaders said “we have to stay the course” and soldiers cannot die in vain.
Bias Blind Spot—the tendency to recognize the power of biases in other people but to be blind to their influences on our beliefs.”
“Wow! That’s quite a list.”
“Well Tom, The Truth Is Out There!
Science is so potent because it employs a well-defined method for getting answers to questions about the world. It uses empiricism, evidence and observational experiments.”
“All I can say, Dave, is Question Everything and Trust No One.”
“Right on, Tom.”
There was a moment of silence to soak up all the points of the discussion.
“The human species who weighs all the decisions with cold hard logic and rational analysis probably never existed.
Mr. Spock is fiction!
If you analyse everything you would stand frozen in indecision—Analysis Paralysis.”
“I guess Dave, a leap of faith beyond reason is often required just to get through the day, let alone make big life decisions.”
“That’s right, we are all trying to make sense of the world and nature has provided us with a double-edged sword that cuts FOR and AGAINST.
On one edge our brains are great info-processing machines capable of understanding many things.
On the other edge, we are also capable of self-deception and illusion, fooling ourselves even when we are trying to avoid being fooled.”
“Well Tom, in conclusion I will say:
I WANT TO KNOW—THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE AND SCIENCE IS THE BEST TOOL WE HAVE FOR UNCOVERING IT.”