Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Belief is a matter of choice."

Someone said that. I will give that person the benefit of a doubt. I will suspect it was said in a moment of off-handed, lax thinking. A thing mumbled out with little attention to what was being uttered.

A belief can't be chosen, selected. A belief only happens. It's something that emerges from the Hippocratic humors of the body and as dismal effusions from the unconscious. Perception and temperament are intertwined. You believe something because you believe it. It might be occasionally influenced by logic, evidence, and persuasion, but it's not a thing subject to conscious decision.

Ha! As if someone could flop out of bed onto the floor one morning and declare: "Yesterday I believed that. But today I choose to believe this instead."


  1. I can't comment on this at present as my six year old is shouting in my ear and pulling at my aaaaarrrrmm making in longer... but can only give you a link. See what he says at about the six minute mark:


  2. That's an interesting video. Thanks, Matt.

    Around the six-minute mark he seems to be agreeing with me about belief -- that you can't choose what to believe. I think he's placing a different stress on it, though.

    For him, it's that a belief will be subtly modified by incremental new data influencing perception or perspective. But I'm not sure he would agree with me that such a thing is happening in the unconscious. I "believe" in the human unconscious. I suspect that is becoming a quaint and outmoded idea among many philosophers.

    I suspect he thinks the process of modification is happening, rather, in some kind of abstract Darwinian meme-space of pure idea. I'm a definite hold-out for the human unconscious, though. In fact, I think it is where we are closest to the Great Universal Macabre. :)

  3. I think if you study math, you gain a huge appreciation for how the content of a theory extends outside of oneself. That is, there are all these things that are implied via the theory, yet you know none of this. But if you apply the theory, you are taking all that into account, even though you *know* none of it.

    For example, traditional Euclidean geometry starts with a limited number of postulates. So if we take that as our knowledge, despite knowing in a sense all the assumptions, we have no idea about all the various theorems that are implied, but they are *there* all the same. There's very little to doubt in this regards, I guess, as it's fairly straight forward. So if you take those postulates as the truth, they will lead you inexorably in a certain direction – even if you have no awareness for what that direction is.

    Of course, Einstein actually showed Euclid's system to merely be one out of many various metaphysical systems we can choose – even as far as physics is concerned. But it's fascinating to me that our ideas could be impacting us in such a inexorable, but unknown manner.

    In this sense, the unconscious exists external to us via the content of our ideas – not in our minds. Of course, I don't mean anything specifically mystical such as a Platonic realm or anything … I just mean this in the ordinary sense that ideas have an independence from any single individual.

    I guess.

    I also agree we don't really choose our beliefs, but I like what's said in that video because he doesn't use this as a reason to argue that we can just believe whatever we want. ;)