Mind and Belief

This is in response to a discussion in another forum on the nature of belief.

The best way to understand the mind is that when we repeat certain actions or patterns of thought, we program the sub-conscious habit mind. This is how we learn to walk, talk, ride a bike and drive a car.

On a higher level, the same is true for the cognitive mind. We learn concepts in school through repetition, then apply current experiences and new ideas to those existing assumptions. If they match or build on what we “know” they are accepted and may be integrated. If not they are typically rejected or ignored.

The primary drivers for learning are the avoidance of pain or the desire for pleasure. Fear of pain, love of pleasure, so yes, fear is a motivator for constructs. Other motivations may be layered on top of that. A lot of it is thus quite black and white with almost no gray area. Everything is judged either/or, good/bad, etc.

This is how we process massive amounts of information every day. Habit mind runs much faster than conscious mind. It allows us to make snap judgments without consideration. Very efficient.

The problem arises when some of those conceptual assumptions are false or are generalized beyond their validity. “Man X caused pain so all men are dangerous.” Because we build on prior assumptions, falsehoods can grow into outright illusion. This is how such things as racism, sexism and various other models arise.

Coming back to your comments, another name for cognitive assumptions is belief. If you think about it, a large amount of your “knowledge” or assumptions are second hand. Someone told you the earth is round. You’ve seen pictures and models but how do you know? Have you ever tried to verify this for yourself? You may say it’s obvious, but it was equally obvious once that the earth was flat. And in fact it’s not actually round either. I’ve seen some debate over it bulging in the middle or being pear-shaped. Thus the assumption that the world is round is a belief, not a fact, at least for us as a person.

There are many such group-think, paradigm or zeitgeists that go through periodic changes. Indeed, if you have not had a paradigm shift recently, you’re probably stagnating. We go through many of them as we grow into adults. Why should it stop?

Faith is often used as a word to denote strong belief, especially of something that cannot be proven. But curiously, what many people consider points of faith, like spirit, are things that are experiencable.

This complicates such word meanings because someone who has not experienced the shape of the earth may have had a direct experience of God in some way. Which then is faith? If you ask such a person if they “Believe in God” they may say no because when it’s a direct experience, there is no need for belief. This is why many call spiritual experience paradigm changers.

In the west, we tend to think of ourselves as believers or non-believers, forgetting that “non-belief” is a form of belief as it is still a construct. As long as we have a position, we have a belief. In the same way, science is a belief system, however valid it may be at discovering the world. As long as we fail to recognize this, we can be trapped by it.

The way out is observation. Watching how we respond. When we watch rather than being caught up, we have choice. We can react from habit or choose another response. When the habits are seen, they can be dumped. We may call this having an “open mind” but don’t confuse a concept of having an open mind with having an open mind. Believing is not the same as being.

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One Response to Mind and Belief

  1. Pingback: Within Habit « In 2 Deep

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