A Tale of Two Believers

One man derives his beliefs by taking an idea that seems valuable or desirable to him and enshrining it in multiple layers of stubborn refusal to believe anything contrary to it.  He guards it and even builds his own identity around it, congratulating himself for his faithfulness to his belief.  Criticisms of his belief merely cause him to dig in deeper in his commitment to it.  He pushes the critics away from his belief at all costs.

Meanwhile, another man derives his beliefs after a careful study of the evidence.  He sets his belief on the workbench where he can easily see it and reexamine it at will—and where it can be examined and even criticized by anyone who wishes.  When they criticize or question it, he researches the criticisms and questions, too, just as he has already examined the original idea.  If the new evidence proves that he has got it wrong in any way, he edits his belief accordingly—whether that means making small adjustments or tossing the whole thing out and replacing it with something completely new.  He is not afraid of the critics, and welcomes their interaction as a means to further test the validity of his belief.

The first man enshrines his beliefs forever.  The second man leaves his out on the workbench with every intent to use it until something better comes along.  And if something does come along, once he is convinced that it is more accurate, he wastes no time saying goodbye to the old belief.

The first man has chained himself to what may or may not be true and then shut down his faculty for discerning whether it is really true or not.  The second man remains free to learn better—provided that better exists and is discoverable.

These two men ought not live together.  They are as far from being alike as the east is from the west.  To one, honest and diligent reasoning is a threat, and to the other, it is a treasure and a way of life.  The one shuts it down while the other thrives on it.  The reasoner puzzles at why the defender doesn’t want evidence to back up his guarded belief, provided that belief turns out to be right, but he soon figures out the difference between the two:  The reasoner wants the truth, wherever it may lead, while the defender only wants the truth if it doesn’t require him to let go of his cherished belief.  He doesn’t need the facts because he believes on the basis of dogma, and not on that of evidence.  If the evidence happens to be in his favor, that might be nice, but the risk of finding out that it is not in his favor is far too great to be flirted with.

When these two men come in contact with each other, the defender is forced by the circumstances either to change his thinking, or to lie.  He may lie in exaggerating the soundness of his position, or in pretending that fault exists with the reasoner’s reasoning or with the evidence presented.  Either way, he already has what he wants, and he will not be deprived of it, even at the expense of compromising his own personal authenticity and freedom.

He is caught like the baboon in the video below, simply because he cannot figure out the value in letting go of that which turned out not to be a good deal.  He has the mental faculty for figuring this out, but he has turned it off.

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