Friday, January 06, 2006

Belief

This is probably going to be much less lengthy than it should be to convey my thoughts clearly. However, I find that I don't actually start to think about what I want to blog until I'm in bed TRYING to fall asleep at 2:00 am. Yep. School's about to start and so, naturally, I am losing sleep.

Right now (in my life) I am interested in the idea of BELIEF. Specifically, I am fascinated by the dynamic underlying belief formation, maintenance, and change. Truthfully, I am mostly interested in the "change" part, but the other two interest me as well. Actually I have a hunch that belief maintenance and belief change are the most closely related of the three possible pairings.

Let me quickly add that I'm not picky about what type of "belief" exactly, although I can appreciate the religious baggage (strong association) that seems to come with that word.
Almost everything that we are and that we deal with is essentially belief-based. So unfortunately, the term "belief" is too broad to be studied to everyone's satisfaction. For this entry, though, rather than elaborate on my definition/specific interests, I wanted to jot down my insomniac thoughts from last night (this morning).

First, the basic concept of "belief" cannot be what differentiates humans from other creatures. Clearly all creatures that interact with (respond to, etc.) their environments must maintain or form beliefs. That is, concrete beliefs: "That thing hurts/causes pleasure/etc." And, "That animal is a threat" and "That animal is somehow depriving me, or threatening to deprive me of something valuable like food, etc." (not that I think my dogs are articulating their beliefs... I'm just using words to convey the basic sense of what I mean by "concrete beliefs").

It occurred to me last night, though, that humans are likely to be the only critters that form abstract beliefs and act on them as fiercely as if they were concrete. That is, I can imagine a wild animal defending its turf/food/mate/etc. -all concrete things- when it believes that turf (etc.) may be taken by some competitor (another wild animal). We, on the other hand, are capable of just making up some shit in our heads that has NO CONCRETE SUBSTANTIVE MANIFESTATION (like belief in a particular god) and defending that belief aggressively if we perceive a threat to it.

By the way, I'm NOT trying to make a particular religious statement. The same kind of reaction happens when we make up our minds about a loved one, or an adored celebrity, etc. If another person mocks our belief (e.g., one my wife hates is when I refer to Barry Manilow with the same term I might use to describe something the dog did in the yard: BM), or disagrees with it, etc. we take offense, get angry, punch, kick, scream, make fun of one of their beliefs. For some reason the threat against an abstract belief is treated the same (nearly? sometimes more so?) as a threat against a concrete belief.

Take away my food and I die. Take away (change) my belief and what...? NOT die... technically, I've just been "educated." But look at how people react! We kill others who don't go along with our views (ok, another shot at religion... but it's true of other beliefs as well).

How do we justify this strange approach? We tie the abstract beliefs to concrete ones. If I believe that being gay is wrong, what's the big deal if someone tries to change my mind?

Well, if I want to get people to really defend (maintain) such a belief, I need to tie it to something that results in a concrete threat: So, obviously, if we let gays marry, then that pure fresh clean strong moral fabric of society will be torn and people will start raping each other and taking away their kids to force them to become sex-slaves and then I'll lose my job, be unable to pay bills, become homeless and have to buy a gun to rob people so I won't starve.

OK, clearly I'm too tired to make my points clear. Sorry. I'll stop. Good night.

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