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Do You Have Real Beliefs?

Beliefs are something we choose, though we don’t want to admit it. It’s inherent in the word itself: we say “beliefs”, not “facts”. We can pretend that we only say beliefs rather than facts to be polite, to show that we are aware that other people’s facts are not the same as ours; but what that really means is that we truly do not accept our beliefs as facts. This is a good thing in the sense that we must realize that beliefs are something we choose. This is a bad thing in the sense that beliefs are useless unless we truly, fully accept them consciously as facts, in the face of this uncertainty. That is, beliefs must be facts which can be revised.

That seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But it’s not, when we realize that we have underlying assumptions that we can know the world: the thing is, we can’t. We confuse perception and inference and ‘laws’ of nature for reality, and are so caught up in our (mostly right) mirages that we can’t even tell the difference between mirage and reality. Me, writing about it here, relatively self-aware, can’t do it either.

Most smart people conclude therefore that we can’t accept our beliefs as facts, but that is also wrong. Because there’s another underlying assumption here, more like arrogance really. It’s the arrogance that thinking just because we’re smart enough to realize the fallibility of our belief-facts, that somehow recognizing the distinction is all we need to do, somehow makes things all better. But really, seeing the difference is like becoming a teenager — you question some of your childhood beliefs, but it’s not adulthood. Adulthood is realizing that despite this uncertainty, to live out loud the life that as mortal creatures we must demand of ourselves, to be firmly ensconced in the vibe and flow of life rather than attempting, feebly, to watch from the sidelines, we must have real beliefs. And hardly anyone has real beliefs.

A real belief is a belief corresponding to action. If you believe a truck is about to hit you, you move out of the way; and in doing this, you are fully, truly, and really believing in the reality of the truck. You aren’t just saying you believe in the truck for some social benefit. Similarly, if you believe in God, if you fully, truly believe, you’ll devote your life to it. You will do what you can to find the one true religion, and you will devote all your life to converting others to your religion, or giving all that you can to the poor, or something else, something real.

Action comes with true beliefs; power comes with true beliefs. And almost nobody has real beliefs, and everybody ought to.

I end with thanks to Scott Adams (look up “God’s Debris”, a free ebook) for inspiration. Indeed, he mentions something similar in one of his chapters. It was also influenced by Ryan Holiday, whose blog I used to follow. (P.S. This post was written some time ago, but I don’t see why that matters.)

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