Sunday, December 23, 2012

Belief

A couple posts ago, I talked about belief and William James and some other things, pointing out our inability to choose to believe or disbelieve. The next part of the question is, "What does it take to get one to buy into a concept?" I don't know that I've ever asked the question, "What would it take for me to give up my belief in notion X?" Perhaps this is a gedanken experiment that is a complete waste of time. There may be some beliefs that are held so deeply that there are no facts or truths that could change one's mind. Despite what some atheists have pointed out about science or human psychology that has them completely convinced that God does not exist, their examples seem to fit fine into my belief in a higher power. Or at least that they don't refute it. But what about those that aren't absolute truths? In reality, most people stick with what they know. I've seen people switch political affiliations, sports teams, religious denominations, dietary habits, sexual orientation, beliefs about other people's sexual orientations, you name it. At one time, or another, they switched their belief in what was right or true or appropriate.

Now the big question is, do we go out and seek it? Do we try and bolster our belief, or go out in search of what might negate our belief? I had an interesting conversation with someone recently that had many questions about the Catholic faith (which happens to be the faith that I profess to believe). The big question was the good ol' protestant objection that Catholics pray to saints. The truth is that Catholics don't pray to saints, they ask saints to intercede for them, just like if you asked me to pray that you'll recover from an illness. You are asking me to pray for you. Think of the word 'for' as in, "Can you finish addressing these envelopes for me?" See the distinction? Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked with my example. The point is, that was a belief that she held due to misinformation or a misunderstanding. It got me to thinking, how many of these do I hold? How many things do I believe because I've never considered the alternative, or that I haven't bothered to fully grasp the situation? Or even more poignant, How many times have I read or heard something that did in fact change my perception, but I quickly shook the idea out of my head as preposterous?

I don't think we live in a world where we can constantly be revisiting and second guessing everything we believe. There are things that I believe just based on routine alone. I don't even think about them. I believe that gravity will be working just fine and that all the laws of physics apply when I put my feet on the floor and get out of bed in the morning. I believe my cheerios will have the taste of honey nut. I believe that the red light will eventually change to green. In fact, if these things didn't happen, I would be generally surprised and most likely begin searching for a reason why it behaved differently. My cheerios taste like apple jacks! It must be because my wife switched our brand of cereal.The light is not changing. There must be a malfunction, or maybe there is a police officer controlling it because of an emergency. We find it hard to believe that honey nut cheerios would just suddenly stop tasting like honey nut cheerios for no reason. All of these truths, though, are a posteriori. There is nothing inherent in the object itself that makes them have to be that way. We would have a hard time imagining a square circle, as roundness is part of what a circle is, but we can easily conjure up an image of fire that is cold to the touch. It would be fascinating and novel, but completely conceivable. So try a gedanken experiment if you have some free time. Pick something trivial that you believe in and try to think of all the ways it could be proven false.