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A friend asked, “What’s the harm in believing something that’s not true? It’s fun to believe in [particular belief snipped to avoid flames in comments].”
I certainly wouldn’t begrudge a terminally ill patient his belief in heaven. And if a friend needed to believe in The Secret to get through his job interviews, I won’t be the one to correct him.
But here’s the problem: We can’t know what the harm is. False beliefs make it harder to find true beliefs, and we can’t know the value of a true belief until we find it, live with it, and use it to solve real problems.
Imagine you’re living in the 1700s. Everyone knows illness is caused by demons, and treated with bloodletting. Someone from 2013 goes back in time, tells you that belief is false, and asks you, “What is the cost of that false belief?” Would you even be able to answer?
Sure, living today, we can immediately see the cost of that false belief: No research into vaccines or antibiotics, or efforts to prevent disease with hygiene and sanitation. But we only know that because we already know the answer, and we’ve already used the answer to solve the problems. The smartest people born in the 1700s didn’t know that, and if you or I were born in the 1700s, we wouldn’t know it either.
There’s no way of knowing the cost of adopting a false belief today. The only thing we can do is discard false beliefs, then see what we discover a year or a decade or a generation down the road.If you liked this post, consider visiting my current blog at mikesententia.com.