Posts Tagged ‘Belief’

Resistance, Belief, and Honesty

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

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So often, there’s a gap between our conscious beliefs and our true beliefs. Resistance oozes from this gap.

Conscious beliefs are what we say we believe, to ourselves and others. True beliefs are our true model of the world, what we unconsciously expect to see.

A fun example: I often tell energy workers about Energy Geek Games, using this example, “Blindfold your partner and send energy to one of their hands. Don’t tell them which one, and don’t touch them. Using only your energy, try to get them to feel it.” The people I’m talking to are trained in energy, and they’ll tell you that energy is real, they feel it, it’s obvious. But when I tell them people are getting up to 90% accuracy, they’re surprised.

Why? If energy is obvious, shouldn’t 90% accuracy be easy? Yes, it should, but “energy is obvious” is only their conscious belief. They’re surprised because their true belief — their true expectation of how the world behaves — says that energy is only felt when the person knows what to feel, that maybe isn’t real in the same way that gravity and magnetism are. I never make a big deal of it, but it’s fun to see people bumping into their true beliefs.

That’s a fun example, but it’s not always painless. Resistance — that fatigue and distraction when we try to do something physically easy but emotionally difficult — comes from those doubts, from that space between our conscious beliefs and our true beliefs. From not wanting to do the test that, deep down, we expect might show us that our conscious beliefs are wrong.

This was the source of all my resistance around testing my techniques: That I told myself these techniques would definitely work, but truly I had the same doubts as those surprised energy workers.

But as I’ve tested techniques, some successfully, some not, I’ve brought my conscious beliefs more in line with my true expectations, and brought my true expectations more in line with the world. And I’ve learned how freeing it is to do the work that I’m resisting.

This week, when a healing technique didn’t work for a client, I encountered more doubt and resistance. But it was smaller than before. I acknowledged my doubts, listened to that part of myself, and moved through it. By making my true doubts conscious, I was more able to release them.

We have two paths. We can protect our conscious beliefs, or we can explore our true beliefs. Here’s what I’ve learned: That exploration is hard at first, but it gets easier every day we do it, and it leads to a peace I never experienced while hiding from doubts.

The true beliefs don’t have to be about energy. They can be about a business succeeding, about people liking us, or pretty much anything.

What are you resisting?

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When to Listen to Doubt

Sunday, June 14th, 2015

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A reader having a crisis of faith writes:

How come a renowned Hermetic adept [Franz Bardon] couldn’t manage a willful escape from the prison to save his holy physical self? What went wrong…

And what about the death of Donald Michael Kraig, who wrote a classic on Modern Magick, how could he tolerated those pancreatic cancer cells inhabiting his own body which ultimately led to his death? Why not just blast them off with beaming photons of divine light?

They were just two cases in the history of the occult not to mention the not-so-popular ones. Please, please, please I really need some down-to-earth explanation(s) on this matter. Thank you very much!

There’s a difference between saying magick isn’t real vs magick doesn’t work the way you think it does.

Is biofield healing real? Yes — just look at my case studies, or search for journal articles on it.

Is manifesting real? Yes — See my work on psychic intuitions or Ananael’s case studies with lottery results.

Magick is real. But, dear reader who posed those questions, magick doesn’t work the way you think it does.

Magick creates luck, not impossibilities. It might help you stay out of jail, but once you’re locked up, it won’t teleport you to freedom.

And I now know a great deal about healing techniques for cancer. It’s deeply complex. Could we someday develop healing techniques that, combined with Western medicine, produce good results? I think we can. But we’ll have to figure out those techniques — my unconscious mind doesn’t know them already, and I doubt anyone else’s does either. Until then, when you visualize divine light, your unconscious will say, “I see that you want me to heal this, but I don’t know how to do that. Sorry.”

So, dear reader, you’re actually doing well. You’re noticing events that refute your understanding of the world, which is harder than we realize.

The next step is to give that refutation the correct scope: Magick is real. But it doesn’t work the way you thought. It doesn’t give form to everything we visualize.

And after that, you can start exploring how magick actually operates, which will let you build new techniques that just might, one day, let us do the things you dream of.

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Spirituality for an Athiest Rationalist (My Work January 1-9)

Sunday, January 11th, 2015

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Two friends were praising flexible beliefs. Seeing a storm or a bird as a sign. Believing in karma, since there’s no way to know it’s false. Drawing a tarot card, and believing it was meant specifically for you.

If you’ve been here long, you know I’m not spiritual. Science and rationality, Bayesian atheism with a belief in spirits-as-artificial-intelligences, that’s where I live. My friends and I had, well, not an argument, but a discussion more focused on winning than on connecting.

Growing up, my father would denigrate spiritualists and psychics and healers. I’ve tried to shed that, but our conversation showed me a place where I still have that disdain, and how it will prevent me from connecting and collaborating with some really awesome people. So this week, I explored spirituality and how it relates to science and rationality.

This isn’t a definitive answer. This is me thinking through my own prejudices and ideas. I’m hesitant to expose this work-in-progress to the internet, but I also want to share my work. I hope you enjoy it.

Debunked by a 9-Year-Old

Here’s where I started:

Scientific belief is about accuracy. Evolution is true, creationism is false, that sort of thing.

I went to a Therapeutic Touch class a few years ago. This is the NIH-approved energy healing, used in hospitals, taught by nurses for medical professionals. If anyone should be scientific about energy healing, it’s these guys.

Explaining energy, the teacher said, “If you bring your finger so it’s almost touching your other hand, you’ll feel tingles. That’s energy.” And indeed, we did feel it.

But it took me less than a minute to debunk her claim: I closed my eyes and had a friend choose when to almost-touch my hand. I didn’t feel anything. Which means the sensation is proprioception, not energy.

You know who else debunked their claim? A 9-year-old girl. When your claims are debunked by fourth graders, you can’t gain credibility for the work that really is worth studying.

(Could a skilled mage create sensations with energy? You betcha. But that’s not what the teacher claimed.)

Accuracy and Meaning

Here’s my quick definition of science vs spirituality:

  • Science starts with, “Is this accurate?” Then it tries to find meaning within the accurate. This is where I live. For me, meaning is in helping my fellow man (through energy healing and exploring magick, mostly).
  • Spirituality starts with, “How can I find meaning here?” Then it discards overly-inaccurate beliefs that would interfere with daily living. Spirituality also seems to accept special cases, like “this storm means something, but storms in general do not.”

The Secret and Cancer

You remember The Secret, right? Choose what you want, act like it’s already true, and it will happen. Great advice for people trying to start a business or find a job: Dress and act the part, and you’ll probably find success.

But some reader said, “I have cancer. But if I didn’t have cancer, I wouldn’t go to the doctor, I wouldn’t get treatment. So I’m going to act like I don’t have cancer, and by the Law of Attraction, my cancer will disappear.” Details here.

In other words, that reader took what should have been a domain-limited temporary belief, and applied it like a scientifically-accurate belief.

We all do this. It’s pleasant to believe I listen well, so until recently I didn’t put in the work to become a better listener. And I decided that fashion doesn’t matter, because that was easier than learning about it.

We all let pleasant beliefs trump reality sometimes. The only defense I have is to reflexively reject a belief as soon as I notice it’s untrue. I’ve trained myself to do that, not always, but often. I think that’s a virtue.

But if someone doesn’t reflexively discard false beliefs, I don’t want to consider that a vice.

God Doesn’t Cause Breakups

On the subway, the woman next to me is reading a facebook post: “When a relationship ends, maybe it was God deciding it was time for it to end, that this was best for your growth.”

No one thinks God causes breakups. But that’s not the point. The point was, this woman was in pain, and finding this meaning in her suffering helped her get through her day, get to work, make money to feed her kids. (I read Viktor Frankl in college, it’s stayed with me.)

Finding meaning only in accurate beliefs is good. But who am I to deny that woman her comfort?

I’m lucky enough to have the right sort of intelligence and background that lets me find meaning in a scientifically-accurate world, but someone born without that type of intelligence would have to choose. How can I fault them for choosing meaning?

I think intelligence is a blessing, but I don’t think that people born with less intelligence are somehow morally inferior. And seeing this, I felt my science-as-a-virtue moral superiority start to fade.


You know a strawman, right? That’s where you present a weak form of your opponent’s argument so you can demolish it.

Steelman is the opposite. It’s a technique among rationalists, where we make the strongest possible argument, even if our opponents aren’t actually making it.

Here’s my spirituality steelman:

Meaning creates happiness, confidence, and health. It lowers stress and improves the drive to create. It is a goodness.

Accuracy is also a goodness. Accuracy gives us vaccines, airplanes, science and technology.

Meaning provides short-term value, accuracy provides long-term value. We need both.

A placebo works even if you know it’s a placebo. So shouldn’t we allow ourselves to find false-but-non-harmful meaning, while still knowing deep down that it’s false? Can’t we adopt a belief but flag it as “not-true,” and still get the meaning-centric benefits?

Reflexes and False Beliefs

That argument resonated with me. If you do a steelman right, it usually will.

I still don’t trust false beliefs. We can’t know the true cost of a false belief. And it’s so easy to believe pleasant fictions. I don’t want to train my brain toward accepting fictions.

(That reflex, to turn toward painful-but-accurate beliefs, is what drove me to explore spirituality, after all. It would have been easier to just look down on my friends than to examine a value I learned as a child.)

And yet, I can see how an intelligent person could choose differently, not through logical errors or flawed thinking, but through having different goals. And I can respect that.

Gandhi’s Not Lazy

The next morning, I woke with a sentence in my mind:

Spirituality is the lazy man’s philosophy.

But that’s not fair. Sure, spirituality can be a lazy man’s philosophy, but that’s true of anything. You’re supposed to use rationality to update beliefs and change behaviors, but plenty of people use it to justify the stupid things they were already doing. And you can use scientific terms without understanding the actual science. (New rule: Anyone proposing Quantum anything must be able to calculate Schrodinger’s equation.)

There’s a lazy form to everything. That’s not unique to spirituality.

But Gandhi’s not lazy. He did spirituality right, used it to motivate hard action and real change.

And I find myself wondering, is there a set of spiritual practices, focused on finding meaning, that also support a scientifically-accurate worldview?

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Why I’m Happy No One Believes in Magic

Friday, January 17th, 2014

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There’s a meme in movies and tv that people used to believe in magic, and that magic used to be stronger because of it. That our current lack of belief has somehow stripped the world of magic.

We can talk about belief and its proper role in real magick. But I just want to point out one thing:

People didn’t believe in magic. They believed in psychology, hypnosis, placebo, and a dozen other things, erroneously calling those things magic as a shorthand for “we don’t know how they work.” And we’ve since gotten a handle on them, separated out the various mechanisms, and properly moved them to the realm of science.

Magic, meaning “we don’t know how it works,” is the opposite of science. Magick, meaning “phenomena based on ethereal energy, connections, and so on,” will (hopefully) become a science. But magick can only rise as its own field once placebo, hypnosis, and those other easier-to-produce phenomena are separated out, no longer confusing our testing and exploration.

It’s not a tragedy that people no longer believe in magic. It’s a triumph — it means we can truly get to work.

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If Energy Reduces Pain… (Implications of Beliefs)

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

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If energy reduces pain, it can affect nerve signaling.

If energy affects nerve signaling, it should be able to help with epilepsy (caused by over-activity in the brain, affecting 3% of the world’s population).

If energy affects nerve signaling, it should be able to alter moods.

If energy can alter moods, it should be able to help with depression (affecting 4.3% of adults worldwide).

If energy affects nerve signaling, it should also be able to transmit thoughts (telepathy).

Much of science happens by simply noticing the implications of a belief. If energy can reduce pain, it can also do all of these other things. The only options are (1) don’t believe energy can reduce pain, or (2) ask what’s missing, that keeps us from helping that 7% of the world’s population (more, once we add in a few more illnesses), and then research those missing pieces.

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The True Cost of False Beliefs

Friday, November 8th, 2013

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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.

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Belief and Basketball

Monday, October 21st, 2013

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If you genuinely believe your arms can’t move — if you’re hypnotized, say — you won’t be able to shoot a basket.

But being able to move your arms doesn’t mean you can sink a basket. That belief is necessary but insufficient.

What about believing you can sink a basket? It might help a little, might let you relax and focus and not tense up, but it’s no substitute for practice and skill and coaching. Belief is one ingredient, but it’s far from the only one.

And, once the basketball leaves your hands, it doesn’t matter what you believe. Physics takes over, and the ball goes where it goes.

Same with magick: If you really don’t believe you can move your ethereal muscles, you probably can’t. That much belief seems necessary.

But once you can move your muscles, knowing what to do with them is more than belief. It’s a matter of practicing until those muscles figure out what to do. And sometimes, you need a coach to tell you to loosen your wrist or angle your elbow or move your feet. And with magick, sometimes you need to consciously figure out what your ethereal muscles should do, then consciously guide them to do it.

And, once you’re consciously guiding your ethereal muscles through particular steps, something new becomes apparent: It doesn’t matter what you think those steps will do. The muscles do the steps, and then physics takes over. And when the happens, when physics takes over and does something different than I expected, that’s when my magick genuinely surprises me.

(Not sure how to tell a surprise that’s a failed technique apart from a surprise that’s from the physics doing something unexpected? Try it again. The physics will work the same way a second time, but failed magick will just produce random results.)

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The Dangers of Eliminating Doubt

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

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Mages are really down on doubt. Taylor of Magical Experiments wrote recently:

Doubt is a sabotager…its that little voice that says, “You don’t deserve this.” […] those emotions will present themselves in your working and undermine your results.

I think that sums up the standard view pretty well, and I mostly agree with him.

But with all this hating on doubt, it’s easy to forget that doubt is natural. Healthy. Sane, even. If you train your mind to never doubt, you’ll wind up believing everything: That magick can solve every problem, that what you visualize actually happens, or that vampires and werewolves are real.

We need to explore doubt a bit: The different types of doubt, different ways of dealing with it, and the tradeoffs involved. That’s what I’d like to do today.

Edit: Holy cow, 1500+ words. I had no idea I had so much to say on doubt. If you just want the punchline, skip to the last two sections, “Focus” and “Believing in Magick.”

2 Kinds of Doubt

We need to distinguish “Do I want this” from “Will this work?” Here’s an example of each:

Do I want this: You’re considering  moving to a bigger city for better career prospects, but you keep putting it off. You miss your friends, and who knows if you’ll be happy in the big city. You know you could physically move, but you’re not sure about it, so you keep putting off.

Will this work: You’re using manifesting to find a new job. But you’re new to magick, have never seen a successful manifesting yourself, and none of your family believes in it. You’re going to have a hard time putting your full focus into it.

Another “Will this work” situation that comes up a lot for me: You’re trying a new energy healing, using a new technique. Will it relieve the symptoms? For how long? Based on personal experience, I can tell you that the first technique I try is often less effective than I’d like. In general, I doubt that the healing technique will work until after I’ve used it about a dozen times.

Think about one of your doubts, and try to figure out which type it is. Remember, at this point, we’re just naming different types of doubt. Don’t worry about whether it’s helpful or unhelpful, healthy or unhealthy. Just try to recognize the category.

3 Responses to Doubt

I see mages handle doubt in three broad ways: Introspection, doublethink and focus.


Taylor (and many others) advocate exploring your reasons for doubt. “Why am I unsure I want that new job?” It’s hard to argue with the idea of exploring your inner conflicts.

For me, introspection works well for “do I want this” doubt, because at the end of the exploration, I’ll have figured out what I actually want, even if it’s not what I thought I wanted at first.

But it doesn’t work for “will this work” doubt. My doubts about energy healing, for example, are a logical conclusion drawn from past experience. Introspection will confirm that the doubts are, indeed, the logical conclusion to draw from those experiences. It will confirm the doubt, not eliminate it. And honestly, most peoples’ doubts about magick are also rational, and probably won’t wither from introspection.

In other words, when the doubt is an internal conflict, introspection is great. When the doubt is a rational response to past experience or insufficient evidence, introspection isn’t the right tool. But don’t worry, there are two others.

I’ve also used introspection to have a crisis of faith: I’d gathered enough data to have a firm belief in magick, but was having trouble eliminating doubts caused by my childhood and our culture. I’ll write about it at some point. But for today, the point is, introspection won’t work for rational doubts.


I’m not a fan of doublethink, but I see it used a lot, so I want to name it and discuss it.

Doublethink is where you simply ignore your doubts, and act as if you don’t have any. You train your mind to look somewhere else every time a doubt comes up, and willfully pretend to believe until your magick works. It’s useful for getting yourself to do things, but it’s also dangerous: As you practice believing things you know aren’t true, you’re training your mind to ignore that sense that things don’t quite add up. If you get really good, you won’t be able to tell the difference between real belief and forced belief. That’s scary. One of your greatest strengths in understanding the world is that sense that something doesn’t add up, and training yourself to ignore that sense can’t be a good idea.

So, if I can’t use introspection (because the doubt is rational), and I won’t pretend to believe, what do I do?


This is the main one I use. Instead of focusing on the end result (recovering from the injury, for example), I just focus on each step of the healing technique: Altering the signatures of the various energies, connecting them to the right pathways, and so on. Kind of like how an Olympic swimmer might just focus on his swimming technique, and not think about whether he’ll win or lose the race. Just focus on the steps, and trust that, if you get the steps right, the end result will take care of itself.

It works because I know I can change the signature of their energy, and I know I can alter the pathways that energy flows through, and all those other steps, because I’ve done them dozens of times before. So doubt isn’t a problem there, because my experience shows me that I can do all of those individual steps.

If you drive magick with belief, you’re probably wondering, “What about overall expectations?” Here’s where we need to separate internal ideas from external magickal structures. Ideas are in your head. In your ideas, what you expect to happen, will happen. It’s all in your own mind.

In contrast, magickal structures exist outside your mind, independently of your ideas. Energies, pathways, mental muscles, ethereal software, and most of the other things I talk about are magickal structures, rather than ideas. The continue existing and working even if you ignore them, and even if you expect them to stop. (Magickal structures are non-physical, though, so it’s easy to get them confused with ideas.)

For anyone wondering how thought directs magick: Your mental muscles connect to your mind and brain. They respond to your thoughts. Ethereal software does, too, sometimes. But that’s because those things go to the trouble of reading and responding to your thoughts — other magickal structures that don’t go to that trouble won’t respond to respond thoughts. OK, back to focusing.

So, magickal structures exist outside your thoughts, just like physical objects like computers and baseballs. And just like it doesn’t matter what you expect a baseball to do when it’s thrown (it will always follow the laws of physics), it doesn’t matter how you expect a particular energy signature to interact with a person’s cells, once that energy signature is set. It will just follow the laws of… whatever this art is we’re developing together, and either they’ll recover or they won’t, regardless of what you expect to happen. You just have to stay focused on setting the right signature and not get distracted by doubts in the big picture, the same as an Olympic swimmer needs to stay focused on his technique and not psych himself out by thinking about the other racers and where he’ll place.

If you read the series on how doubt affects manifesting, you know it’s a bit more complex than just not psyching yourself out. But not that much more complex.

So, that’s my general response to doubt: Focus on the steps, not the outcome. It works both for doubts that a particular technique will work, and for doubts about whether you want to do something. (Though it is a good idea to explore “do I want this” doubts, in case you don’t actually want it.)

Believing in Magick

What if you can’t quite find a belief in magick in general? Well, you don’t have to do it all at once. Just work through the first exercise, which is usually an energy meditation. Maybe will yourself to believe just that much of magick — that energy is real, that visualizing it will create it, and that it will make you feel something. Then do the exercise, and see what happens. The reslts will probably confirm that belief you willed yourself into, and you’ll develop a genuine belief in energy, and the tingly feeling it gives you. (Don’t worry about other properties of energy you haven’t experienced yet, you shouldn’t believe in those until you see them for yourself.)

What if you don’t feel tingly after a bunch of tries? Then you should adjust that belief, and stop believing in magickal energy. But I have a bunch of comments from folks it did work for, and I’m pretty confident it will work for you.

Now, use that belief (in tingly energy) for the second exercise, possibly willing yourself to believe in just one more piece of magick. Keep focusing on the one thing you’re trying to do, rather than trying to believe in all of magick all at once. Just build up one belief at a time, naturally, as you experience more magick. That way, you can develop a healthy belief in magick, know why you believe each thing you believe, and still keep your rational doubts around to protect you. That, I think, is the best approach.

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Could Doubt be an Excuse?

Friday, March 30th, 2012

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Wednesday, I discussed how doubt affects your manifesting. But, to be honest, that’s all speculation. I don’t have experience with doubt affecting my manifesting, because I always use that other technique that’s unaffected by doubt. Is it possible the conventional wisdom is wrong, and doubt really doesn’t affect manifesting?

I don’t think so. In particular, Ananael says he’s collected data, and I believe him. But part of exploring magick is learning to be honest with yourself about what you know vs what you simply believe, and part of that is learning to generate alternative hypotheses.

So, today: What if doubt doesn’t affect manifesting? How would we get so many practitioners warning you to eliminate doubt, anger, and other thoughts from your mind?

To answer that, let me talk about an interesting post on Ananael’s blog, discussing the idea that magick can backfire:

I’m not a big believer in the idea that if you do a spell wrong, the result is some sort of “backfire” or “slingshot effect” or whatever it is folks feel like calling it on any particular day. In my experience the reality is that magick either works or it doesn’t, and when you make a mistake the most likely outcome is that nothing at all happens.

Here’s my take on it: By counting “I got the opposite of what I wanted” as evidence that magick is real, you can count up a lot more evidence that magick is real. Which is pleasant, particularly for beginners wanting reassurance that the art they’re learning actually, you know, exists.  I can see how that idea would catch on.

Similarly, blaming doubt might have started as a polite way of excusing failures: “It’s not that you haven’t learned to do manifesting effectively, it’s just that your doubt fouled up your otherwise-perfectly-good magick.” Then the idea catches on and becomes part of the collective wisdom we all repeat.

Personally, I think it’s more likely that doubt really does affect manifesting, particularly given Ananael’s testing. But not 100% certain. And I want to be honest with you, dear reader, about what I know vs what I simply believe, and to show you alternative hypotheses, so you can make up your own mind. Ultimately, I hope you learn to generate your own alternative hypotheses whenever a teacher makes a claim, so you’re always making up your own mind, even when you’re not being led to do it.

Tomorrow: Back to the main thread of this series, with an introduction to the technique I use that I know (though experience) works regardless of doubt.

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Untested Beliefs, Strongly Held

Monday, March 12th, 2012

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A great but subtle danger to insight: Untested beliefs, strongly held.

In order to operate in the world, we need to have beliefs. Humans simply can’t reason in total uncertainty.

The key, I think, is to separate out “I this X is likely” from “X is true.” To remember that, even as you are working as though X were true, you’re not sure it is.

Beliefs earn confidence by predicting useful results, or helping you create useful techniques. Or by being part of many experiences — though if they only explain data after the fact, it’s possible they’re not really explaining the data, but not just telling a story about it.

Reserving confidence for beliefs that have earned it changes the way we talk. By couching your explanations in your experiences, you earn other peoples’ confidence.

On the other side: Ever talked to someone with a cool idea who was entirely too sure it was true? You stop focusing on the idea and start doubting everything the person says, because we (rightly) don’t trust the judgement of anyone who’s more certain about their beliefs than the evidence warrants.

Incorrect beliefs are part of life. You won’t get anywhere if you only work in 100% certainty. The key is to hold unproven beliefs lightly, speak about them fairly, and reduce your confidence in them when the evidence first suggests they might be wrong.

And this doesn’t just apply to a belief that something is true. It also applies to any strong belief that something is false.

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