2 Ways to be Rational to Better Understand the World (#137)

In the previous post we discussed problems faced because of the dual nature of the mind: The tendency for the conscious self to surf over to the irrational (or Fear) condition. This post continues with showing 2 ways to stay more on the rational side in making important decisions and keeping useful beliefs.


Without further ado, here are the 2 effective methods:

#1 Break away from the belief

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

(Often credited to) John Maynard Keynes

Do you know why we hold on to beliefs even when facts oppose them? It’s because our beliefs overtime become linked to our identities. And when some fact hurts the belief (proving it incorrect), it indirectly hurts us. Humans don’t like being hurt and to be proved that their reality is a lie. So, we disregard facts opposing our theories of life or we fight back showing “evidence” against facts. Anything to not get hurt.

But there’s no going around facts. And it’s better to understand the world as it really is than not getting hurt for a day or two and living a lie for the rest of your life.

So this first way to be more rational is to break away from all your beliefs. Realize that this does not mean to not keep any beliefs whatsoever. It merely means looking at beliefs as a separate entity from yourself. Picture the belief, if you like, as something away and distinct from your body. Don’t let it be related to you at all. Let it be related to the truth of the matter and that only.

Next time some fact comes along your way which is a potential threat to a belief of yours, look at the fact and the belief carefully and take necessary thought and action to alter the belief. This way you understand that keeping a wrong belief doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It’s okay to have wrong beliefs till the time you are consciously making them right. If someone is telling you a fact opposing your theory, the conventional way would be to either dismiss that comment or fight back to save your belief. But when you look at the belief from a different view, as something outside yourself and not related; then you would actually be grateful for the person to correct your belief with the necessary facts.

Let the belief be a separate entity. Let it be so that if it's proved wrong, you aren't proved wrong, merely a belief you held is proved wrong.  

This takes practice, it’s not easy to feel that our beliefs are a different part of us when we make every decision from them. Years of habit have made us vulnerable to fight or flee when something is a threat to our views. But realizing that rationality lies in keeping the correct worldview and not a made-up one to feel good about ourselves can help. And imagining; literally imagining the belief as a distinct entity away from our body: this helps too. Try doing this when the next opportunity arrives without getting too caught up in saving your own belief.

#2 Keep the goal in mind

The goal: Wisdom.
The path: Truth.

We keep beliefs for two advantageous reasons (if you don’t know about this already you’re probably not going to like the second one):

  1. To understand the world:
    Our beliefs help guide us in the objective world. If we believe in Earth’s gravity we’ll run for our lives when we see a loose tree which may fall down upon us at any moment. These beliefs support us in navigating the world with a helpful framework of how things work. We get rewarded in this sense because we understand the world, and that’s why we keep a belief. If it’s not rewarding, we generally don’t keep it.
  2. To be accepted to keep a particular belief:
    These kinds of beliefs are not kept for their advantage in the comprehension of the world. Rather they are kept to make the right impressions on others and to be accepted in a tribe. These impose a rewarding factor because we get social approval for keeping these beliefs. They are as powerful as the ones helping us navigate the world with a framework that works. These beliefs are not necessarily wrong. They are simply rewarded to keep by society. That doesn’t make them incorrect. Religion could be an example of this.

If a brain anticipates that it will be rewarded for adopting a particular belief, it’s perfectly happy to do so, and doesn’t much care where the reward comes from — whether it’s pragmatic (better outcomes resulting from better decisions), social (better treatment from one’s peers), or some mix of the two.

Kevin Simler (Crony Beliefs)

Now, back to our goal.

It’s obvious that only because a belief is kept by many people does not in any sense give us evidence that the belief is a true one. But we keep many social frameworks, as it were, to be accepted in the tribe. This can sometimes be a very foolish tradeoff we make. Only to look good in the eyes of others, we can unknowingly make our vision perceive the world through a wrong worldview.

Our goal was wisdom. And the path was truth. Social approval is nowhere in the picture.

We need to always remember the goal. And not self-serve our beliefs (as we did by adding a distinction between the belief and ourselves through method #1); nor must we keep beliefs for social approval. Keeping a belief that aligns with social approval is fine provided that that belief is evidently true. But keeping a wrong belief for tribal acceptance is not a place we want to be in and highly off our Path.

When facts show that your belief isn’t correct, accept the facts and change your mind. Our goal is wisdom. And the ego shouldn’t be considered in this moment. The goal is higher than the ego and will require conscious effort to stay on the path. Living with false beliefs is like the frog who can’t feel it’s sitting on a slowly burning pot of water so it never moves and is boiled to death.


Footnotes

This post was helped by the following incredible sources:

  • Kevin Simler, Crony Beliefs (essay)
  • Julia Galef, How to want to change your mind (video)

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