As I mentioned before, the Scott Adams – Sam Harris podcast is a masterclass on belief change. So before we dig into it, some useful ideas about beliefs themselves.
Beliefs, concisely stated, are generalizations of our experiences that save us mental processing time. They also serve a behavioral purpose in addition to serving as a processing shortcut.
Beliefs can be considered feed-forward mechanisms. A feedback mechanism tells you what results you have received, usually so you can make adjustments. A feed-forward mechanism is you communicating what you want to happen so things can adjust to you. More on this in a moment.
Remember, BELIEFS ARE NOT REAL. They delete, distort, and generalize information we take in. They are essentially hallucinations created to approximate the lessons from prior experiences. Consider this: are your most strongly held beliefs the ones that you had the most rational support for, or the ones that had the strongest emotions tied into them?
Also, BELIEFS DO EXIST. Beliefs filter out that which contradicts our beliefs so effectively that they define the realities that we experience. When faced with evidence that contradicts our beliefs, the mind tends to reject the new information rather than update the beliefs. This can be unsettling until we learn to use it to our advantage.
So how can one evaluate beliefs? Most of the world thinks beliefs are true or false. They engage in endless debates talking past each other, occasionally stumbling into a shared reality. Beliefs are NOT true or false; that dimension doesn’t apply to beliefs. Some say beliefs are accurate or inaccurate, but that’s not quite right either. A very good way to evaluate beliefs is if they are USEFUL or not.
So how can we use what we now know about beliefs to our advantage? As we can discover, when you set up your beliefs in ways that support you, not only will your experience change, but your reality will change as well. This means removing limiting or destructive beliefs and adopting helpful and empowering ones. For example, does a belief make you more resourceful, resilient, etc. or the opposite?
Be somewhat careful when adjusting beliefs. Only remove limiting beliefs, not supportive, expansive ones, until you know what you are doing, because removing beliefs without providing proper support can cause unpredictable effects. Confusion and anger are common.
In general, if you aren’t highly trained or experienced enough:
- leave other people’s religious and sexuality-related beliefs alone. Feel free to alter your own.
- Don’t alter other people’s identity beliefs, but you can do a lot of good addressing beliefs of capability
- Political beliefs are generally fair game.
- Ethics and morality are fair game.
Finally for now: if beliefs determine one’s reality, and all beliefs are in effect hallucinations, how can one find accuracy and avoid being in a bubble built by a set of beliefs that filter out opposing experiences? Great question! When you can try on different belief sets temporarily to evaluate a situation, and take them off at will, you can develop a powerful set of perspectives that you can use to “triangulate” a pretty good idea of what’s really going on. I counted one time and I have at least 17 different “filters” I can evaluate things from. One way to do this is in my FAQ post.
Next up: the first 20 minutes of the Scott Adams – San Harris debate, with my notes of the “level 1” techniques employed.