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February 2nd, 2021
Imagine if beliefs had expiration dates. Imagine if it was a little difficult, maybe even painful to renew a belief after it had expired. Say completely novel beliefs were painless to try on for a while. How would this system work out in the long run?
At first it’s likely that renewing a belief is just too costly, and simply adopting new beliefs is easier, since renewing is painful or difficult. Just move on, right? However, after some time to try out a bunch of beliefs and shed them, it’s likely we realize life in general was much easier or fruitful with certain beliefs and because of this it’s worth renewing. The difficulty of living without that beneficial belief is greater than the difficulty of renewing it.
This sort of system would create a constantly evolving set of beliefs. There’s enough pain in the system to stress it and keep it healthy, and by default it is susceptible to change. One way to think about it is to swap out beliefs for food. It’s certainly more difficult to go without food for very long than it is to pony up some cash and head to the grocery store. And we can easily imagine what would happen if all food had absolutely no taste. If we could only register the effect of food by the way it effects the body, then all our diets would very quickly iterate to an extremely healthy make up. But because that little demon of taste sits right on top of the experience of renewing the food in our experience, a huge disconnect is created between the lasting effects of food on the body and the cost of renewing it.
With beliefs, our masochism seems to run even deeper, and perhaps for even dummer reasons. Either we have to locate the pleasure principle around a belief, or we have to throw up our hands at the stupidity of the human race. Instead of sugary goodness, the pleasure of a belief is often social: it’s the feeling of comfort that comes when you know people you respect believe the same things you do. Or it’s that feeling of certainty and perhaps superiority that comes with the feeling of being right. Each bad belief must have a pleasure principle attached to it in some way, otherwise the difficulty of living with a bad belief just doesn’t make sense. That pleasure principle could also just be habit. Since beliefs don’t automatically expire, it simple seems as though it’s less trouble to hold on to what’s already made an insidious home in the head.
With bad beliefs, we have the worst of both worlds, with only laziness or a bit of social pleasure to show for it. Worse still, many beliefs exclude new ones that they conflict with. This happens even simply by association. Beliefs are often shared and held in groups, even if the beliefs aren’t explicitly or logically related. The beliefs define a group or people, and in order to enjoy a sense of belonging with that group we are goaded to accept and defend the beliefs of the group en masse. The social pleasure principle comes with a high cost because these beliefs don’t just live rent free in the mind, they often preclude better beliefs from setting up shop and helping to improve our lives.
The death of a belief is an unnatural thing. Beliefs are extremely durable. They simply don’t die. They don’t have a ‘natural’ lifespan like we do. No, they persist until WE die. Beliefs only die in one way, and that’s murder. Self-improvement, or really any sort of progress in one’s life is generally a painful one because it requires killing off beliefs that don’t serve a new way of life which is better. As strange as it may sound, we are better served to be suspicious of our own minds, and look for opportunities to root out beliefs that aren’t improving life and the lives of those around us. Now notice this. If you were to adopt that belief - the belief that we should actively try to kill off our own beliefs to generate an evolving mind, then we are now operating on that belief. In some sense it’s an anti-belief. It enters a mind and kills off other beliefs. The point is, it can be hard to even locate the root of a belief because we are often operating on them, and they operate through us. The connection is so subtle that we can even swing at a belief and end up hitting our own self. What this points at is that identity is a fairly dangerous concept if we take it too seriously, because once identity is upheld as the be-all of personhood, it becomes impossible to update beliefs because that’s exactly what an identity is made of.