Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Difference Between "Should" And "Want"

I ask in the header, "What should I believe?" as if it is a different question than "What do I want to believe?" Are the two different questions?

In order to think that one should believe something other than what one wants to believe, there must be a reason why "should" takes precedence over "want".  If you say that one "should" believe in gravity, and that you cannot fly unaided, regardless of whether or not you want to believe it, then you have agreed that some things should be believed whether or not one wants to believe it.

The above example refers to a concept that regardless of what you believe, there are ramifications to your actions whether you believe in it or not. If you jump off a cliff, it doesn't matter if you believe you can fly; you should believe that you cannot, because jumping off the cliff will likely result in death or serious injury.

The idea that some things are true whether we believe them or not, and that there are consequences to our actions whether we believe in those consequences or not, define the difference between beliefs one should believe, and whatever one wants to believe.   I can choose to believe things I should not believe, but if my experience tells me this is not a good idea - that there is a reliable negative consequence to such beliefs or disbeliefs - I should adjust my beliefs accordingly.

This means there are things I should believe, whether I want to or not, simply because they generate more reliable, positive outcomes. What one must be careful of, though, is thinking that they should believe certain things even if they have no reliable experience that believing such things generate any consistent positive benefit, or helps them to avoid negative consequences.  Beliefs should be examined and in many cases tested.

I've found that many beliefs are just programmed in and are habitual, and have no real value, and can even produce negative results.  I've also found that other beliefs that many say should be avoided can in fact be useful and generate no harm.  Many beliefs are held, or not held, out of nothing more than habit and cultural norms, and are never really tested by individuals.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


I love science. It's given us a lot of things that I'm really grateful for. I don't really know how I'd fare in a less scientific world.  The fact that I can work from my with a computer over the internet, enjoy an air conditioned living space in the heat of summer and warmth in the winter, and have all sorts of entertainment and educational options without even going anywhere is truly amazing.

Science, however is a tool, not a belief system in and of itself.  It fits into the framework of larger beliefs, called metaphysics, or fundamental views about who and what we are, what existence is, and what - if anything - we're doing here.  Science only describes the interactions of physical materials and energy: it doesn't tell you what to believe about the larger questions. That's our choice.

Some people confuse the personal metaphysical beliefs as expressed by many scientists, like materialism or atheism, with a conclusion of science itself.  As far as I know, there is no scientific evidence that there is no god, and there is no scientific evidence that there is no afterlife.  Therefore, these cannot be scientific conclusions, but are rather metaphysical beliefs.

When someone says that spiritual or religious people are "anti-science", they are making what is called a categorical error; it is not the physical descriptions of the interactions of matter and energy that the spiritual and religious generally disagree with, but rather the metaphysical interpretations and beliefs some scientists profess as if they are scientific conclusions.  We (the spiritual and/or religious) take issue with the metaphysics of scientists being presented as a part of science itself; we don't take issue (generally speaking) with the actual science.

The point of the above is to make the case that if some people feel compelled to believe what scientists tell them as if everything scientists say are incontrovertible facts, the important thing to remember is that there is a difference between describing a physical interaction, which is what science does, and making a metaphysical claim about what those descriptions mean. We are still free to believe whatever we wish about the meaning surrounding those descriptions, even if we accept the description itself as true.

Friday, May 24, 2013


Most people do not come to their beliefs by a deliberate process.  They are influenced into believing things by the happenstance of their lives - what part of the world they are born in, who their parents are, the teachers they interact with, what various figures of authority, friendship, love and respect tell them.  They are influenced by the course of events in their lives.

Mostly, they are guided in their beliefs by emotional attachments and through emotional events, and by  the structure of whatever local society exists around them.  That's not to say that they adopt the consensus beliefs around them, but rather that those local group structures serve as the grounding for however their particular belief structure assembles as time goes on, pro or con.  One might rebel against their local beliefs, but then those local beliefs are still the basis for their rebellion.

And, usually, this is not a deliberate process, but rather just a happenstance collection of views that are usually not very well thought out.  Which usually ends up with people committed to hypocritical, self-conflicting, unsupportable and/or even disabling views. Committed to them on a deep, emotional level where their beliefs become a large part of their sense of self.  Challenge their beliefs, and you've attacked them personally.

How many people, do you suppose, are willing to set aside all that they believe (even if possible), and start with a blank slate, and pose these questions:

1) What should I believe, and why?

2) What do I want to believe?