Belief

I’ve had this thought stuck in my head for a few months about Beliefs I thought might be useful to share. The thought goes something like this:

A belief about something is scaffolding we should use until we’ve learned more truths about that something.

First, I should point out I don’t think this statement is necessarily entirely true (though it could be), but I do think it’s a useful starting point for a discussion. Second, I also don’t think this view on belief is widely practiced, but I do think it would make for more productive use of beliefs themselves.

We humans tend to be a very belief-based bunch. There are the obvious beliefs like religion and other similar deifications (“What would our forefathers think?”) but we hold strong beliefs all the time without even realizing it.

The public education systems in North America (as I experienced firsthand in Canada and as I’ve read about in America) are based on students believing and internalizing a finite set of “truths” (this is known as a curriculum) and taking precisely those beliefs as granted.

Science presents perhaps the best evidence we’re largely a belief-based species as science exists to seek truths our beliefs are not adapted to explaining. Before the invention of science, we relied on our beliefs to make sense of the world as best we could, but beliefs painted a blurry, monochromatic picture at best. Science is hard because it has to be hard—its job is to adapt parts of the universe which we can’t intuit into something we can place in our concept of reality—but it does a much superior job at explaining reality than our beliefs do.

A friend of mine recently told me “I have beliefs about the world just like everybody else…I just don’t trust them, is all” I think that’s a productive way to think about beliefs. It would probably be impossible to rid the world of belief, but I think a better approach is to acknowledge and understand belief as a useful, temporary tool. We should teach people to think about belief as a useful means to an end, as a support system, until more is learned about something. Most importantly, we should teach that beliefs should have a shelf-life, and not be permanently trusted.

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