You Cannot Believe; You can Only Prove
November 4, 2017
Author: Bianca Yang
I believe I thought of this statement two days ago, when I was out eating with some friends. I’m not sure why this floated into my consciousness, but I remember feeling pretty shocked by the clarity of the statement. I’m not sure if this is true, so I’m going to go write my thoughts on its correctness below.
You can certainly believe in something but then attach to it a responsibility of proving its truth. For example, you may believe you are a great chess player. But you may think that no one else understands this or perhaps you just want to confirm your suspicions. So you go out and participate in a variety of competitions which will display your ranking and prove your skill objectively.
You could also believe in something which you have a non-rigorous proof because you haven’t ever seriously considered another point of view. This is probably true for a variety of people who have religious beliefs. Perhaps they grew up with this perspective and have considered it true enough to not be violated. Perhaps they like the ancillary benefits of belonging to a religious group and maintain the facade of faith for the sake of belonging. Perhaps they’re malicious and are using a religious group as an easy way to find unsuspecting victims.
Most of your beliefs are just ones that you believe in because they’re supported by common interactions. Until a black swan event happens, you have no reason to believe otherwise. Besides, thinking too much about extreme events would probably destabilize you and reduce your productivity. But some of these “common sense” beliefs can be harmful. A common belief I am working hard on eradicating is the idea that initial encounters should be approached with a wary heart. The basis of relationships and connections and touch (defined as in Finite and Infinite Games) is vulnerability. Trust should be an assumption that can be broken, not a hidden reward that is to be slowly earned. I believe each person is trying to be good. We all have similar desires to be loved, to feel wanted, to make a contribution, to feel like our lives are purposeful, and to feel happy. Let us all reach out to each other with hearts of love and see how we can heal and touch each other in this infinite game.
Beliefs of this non-rigorous but sufficiently true type aren’t ones that we really seek to prove. I don’t think they need proof for daily use, but I believe proving them can lead to fascinating insights. The process of proving them is also fun, because human nature is complex and changes with each insight. Once people know about something, they will change their behavior to acknowledge their learnings. They may not correct their behavior, but they will at least recognize various situations and comment on them according to some proof or research they read about.
I think this category of beliefs should be known as beliefs that don’t need proof but should be proven. It’s dangerous to live with the wrong beliefs, so it’s good to understand which side of the line you lie on.
Then there’s the last category of beliefs which you believe in arbitrarily. Someone told you something and somehow it seemed legitimate enough on first glance that you believe and repeat it to others. I think these ideas largely are sticky ideas, as defined in Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath. Most of these ideas are ridiculous, like the organ harvesting story Dan and Chip use to introduce their book with. But sometimes these unfounded beliefs really clog up mental machinery, like when people espouse their beliefs on global warming without understanding anything about the phenomenon. Or when people support racism and sexism and other nontolerant behaviors without questioning.
Beliefs of this last type are odd and dangerous enough that I’d say they demand the most rigorous type of proof. These are the beliefs that people cling to the tightest, not for any logical reason (but who said humans are logical), but for emotional reasons. These beliefs have attached to a person’s identity, and to remove or dispel them is like attacking the very core of a person. But proof is designed to be insightful and enlightening, so let’s suffer the pain together and step into a new world of enlightenment.
I think I would revise my statement to acknowledge that some beliefs do not need to be proven. But I would strongly encourage proof, not only because some beliefs are terribly wrong but because it’s fun and useful to prove things. You can believe, but you should also prove.
If you like my thoughts and want to chat with me more, contact me at ipacifics [at] gmail [dot] com.
幾天的日記就到此為止。如果想跟我聯絡，請給我送個電郵：ipacifics [at] gmail [dot] com 很期待大家的信息喔！
今天學了一些新詞： 哂笑 打躬作揖
這些詞大部分都從 白先勇 的 「台北人」學的。