Chapter 27: I do not believe . . .

There comes a point where the events of life force one to consider what one believes. Many people seem to simply “inherit” their beliefs and value systems, giving no more thought to it than that their parents were that way, no more explanation than “that’s how I was taught”. Other people seem to pick a set of beliefs, almost randomly, according to what “feels right”. Still others seem to pick beliefs as if they were just a facet of their personalities, something to attract people. Finally, there are those who never really address the issue, who are standing right next to those who haven’t decided.Most people when questioned or challenged become rather fervent about their belief rather quickly if they weren’t already, sometimes wandering into blatant hypocrisy. Somehow, while people talk freely and civilly about politics, when the discussion wanders into what one believes about life in general, people clam up. They become unwilling to discuss their ideas beyond giving you a general sense of what they are. Having chosen a solution to the ultimate problem, to the meaning and point of life, they bear down. Very few are willing to see the whole thing as unsolved, and some are so fervent as to die ( or kill ) for their belief.

Beliefs are irrational. They undermine one of the most powerful of our abilities, our ability to reason. When the problem becomes too hard, and you can’t find a solution, you pick one that looks right, and you believe that it’s the right solution. It may not be, but if someone challenges you on it, you disagree. You never say “I don’t know.” Faith and natural belief are the remnants of people’s inability to answer the ultimate question. In most cases, the human drive to find meaning, nearly as fundamental as hunger to an intelligent species, is satisfied by this arbitrary choice.

I like to think that I am in the last category of people, and that I never intend to decide what I believe in. Deciding what you believe in substantially damages your ability to learn about the world. Science has already discarded several possible sets of beliefs held previous to its discoveries, like the idea that storms are god- wars and the idea of the earth-centered solar system. Science embodies the logical reversal: if we cannot directly understand what is true, let us eliminate what is not true. Perhaps all that I will ever accomplish is to eliminate a few more choices. Perhaps I will find the answer, and the answer will be that we are no more than automatons following a course laid out from the beginning of the universe by the laws of interactions of forces. As eventually anti-climactic as this may be, I cannot be satisfied with any other existence without having tried.

*** This piece was heavily inspired by something I read online, and might borrow more language than I had intended. I’d share the link, but it appears lost to the sands of time. ***

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