Beliefs arise from uncertainty:
“We don’t say ‘I believe in potatoes’...we don’t have to, because there’s a potato…it exists.” ― Derek Sivers, in interview with Tim Ferriss.
We don’t say we believe in the sky, or in our hands. Or as comedian George Carlin puts it; “...tell someone the paint is wet and they have to touch it to be sure.”
We form beliefs about things for which we lack concrete evidence.
“When we say ‘I believe,’ it’s an indicator that what we’re about to say next is not true…not evidence based…” ―Derek Sivers
In the presence of ambiguity, beliefs act as a cognitive shortcut to fill knowledge gaps and provide a sense of coherence. It follows that the more uncertain things are, the stronger our beliefs.
No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow…When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.” ― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
These properties of beliefs are helpful in 2 ways:
- In the short term, we can choose whatever beliefs that help us be the person we want to be, then discard them when we’re done with them.
- In the long term, beliefs that we update in line with new evidence will correspond best to reality.
“Beliefs that are roughly in line with the evidence are beliefs that correspond best to the world as it is. They are the beliefs that are most likely to be true.“ - Jonathan Baron, Thinking and Deciding