Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In Love with our Beliefs

(This post is actually the second part of the previous - A Thin Line. To put this in its proper perspecitve, you may wish to read that first.)

Intellectual Evolution

Humans have undergone an unprecedented intellectual evolution in a very short period of time, resulting in brains that are disproportionately big, about 250 percent bigger than that of our closest relative, the chimpanzee. Our intellectual interpretation of the world has diminished our experiential involvement with it. Instead of engaging in actual experience, we prefer to build and then rely on our beliefs about the world and its inhabitants. We read books to learn about dogs while the ones at our side lay prone waiting for interaction. We admire and respect our avatars of canine behavior and education when the most capable teachers are sitting right in front of us.

The ability to formulate beliefs is one of the most basic and vital features of the mind. A belief is a mental state in which we have an opinion, conclusion, take or conviction that a particular proposition or its future likelihood is true. Characterized as being a “propositional attitude,” a belief is a representation or model of fact. Our beliefs play a causal role in every aspect of our behavior. They are the filter through which we interpret and interact with the world. They influence not only our ability to learn but what we can and will learn. They define our limitations and our strengths and affect our likelihood of success or failure. They create our view of reality. What we believe influences what we are able to perceive.

The problem with beliefs is that they can originate in ideas and information that are inaccurate. They can be distorted through representative heuristics, biases, social pressures and fixations. They can sometimes originate through our acceptance of an “umbrella” concept or theory. Often, we won’t have any actual experience or accurate information with which to validate our beliefs. We may even accept and come to believe ideas that we suspect to be inaccurate. We will often accept broad concepts and theories for the sake of efficiency and conformity. In contexts to which they apply, we will behave as though the originating hypothesis was a literal truth.

The establishment and acceptance of a belief will thwart continued investigation and discovery. We will come to see the matter as settled and stop seeking to demonstrate truthfulness. We will forget the conceptual, biased, incomplete, rearward-looking and often false views of reality upon which our beliefs were built. We will look upon the astonishing eruption of unique living experience with eyes that are blinded by belief.

We Become Our Beliefs

We unconsciously become so fond of our beliefs that we are unwilling and unable to perceive anything to the contrary. We find it easier to accept any version of reality that agrees with our opinions, considering them to be more valid and more rational than versions that do not agree. This is “belief bias” and it predicts that we will demonstrate a tendency to distort logic in support of what we think we know.

“Belief perseverance” is another form of irrationality in which we will cling to our beliefs and justify them despite evidence or authentic experience that refutes or contradicts them. A belief in the need to correct, punish and dominate a dog overrides any ability to realize that issuing a forceful jerk upon his delicate neck structures while he is wearing a choke or pinch collar causes pain, fear and even physical damage.

We approach our living reality as our beliefs - we will identify with them as though they are our very selves. This separates and divides us from other beings. It disconnects us from the full and vital reality of living. Our mentally created self-concept will be bolstered by what we think we know. We will compare our beliefs with those of others, trying to convince them that ours are facts. We will appeal, reason, persuade, offer evidence and argue our points. When they aren’t accepted, conflict is the likely result. It is often our habit and more comfortable for us to make an enemy of the disagreer than it is to recognize our beliefs as the mere propositions and possible distortions that they are. When we superimpose our beliefs and knowledge upon an animal with whom we cannot reason, we will simply overpower and defeat him. He will have to squeeze the fullness of his thinking and feeling reality into the smallness of our beliefs. This is how we create The Conceptual Dog.

No comments: