When is the last time you changed your mind about something important?
What a challenging question, right?
I think so.
I wrestle with this question frequently.
First, because I reckon if my beliefs aren’t evolving over time, then I’m probably not learning enough. Which means I’m destined to remain in my ignorance.
Second, because it’s useful to encounter new information that challenges our present beliefs. Even if new information doesn’t change our minds, it can shore up gaps in our thinking – and that’s worth its weight it gold.
In other words, our beliefs shouldn’t go left unchecked for too long. Sometimes it’s not new information we need, though.
Often, we need a literal crucible to test our beliefs – or shatter them altogether.
Feedback Loops for Your Beliefs
When you believe something to be true, and allow that belief to govern your behavior, if you are attentive, you’ll collect market feedback about your beliefs as they’re acted out.
That feedback does not always come in perfectly translated form, though. Occasionally it can take shape in dastardly consequences – or even delightful surprises.
But this market feedback component is useful, because it allows us to become more aware of reality.
Absent this feedback loop, our beliefs really don’t matter much. At least, to the extent that accurate beliefs enable us to better cope with reality.
The Foundation of Beliefs
The purpose of beliefs, in my opinion, rests on a fantasy that a “better state” exists. That state exists in the future, and access to that better state depends on my conduct.
If I conduct myself properly, eventually, I can access and enjoy this better state.
But if I do not conduct myself properly, then I will forfeit my eligibility to ever experience that better state.
Just because this better state only exists as fantasy in the present, does not make it untrue. It simply means that until I can access it, that it does not, in reality, exist for me (yet).
Hence, the importance of developing beliefs that serve as a roadmap to the better state.
Proper conduct moves me closer. Improper conduct moves me farther away.
My beliefs govern my conduct. My ever-changing proximity to the perceived better state signals the appropriateness of my conduct.
As I act out my beliefs, the resulting change in proximity to my desired better state alerts me to the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of my beliefs – as a roadmap toward my idealized better state.
This feedback loop provides useful information.
First, about the appropriateness of my beliefs as a set of directions for achieving my desired aim. If the directions are incorrect, I’ll end up in a different destination than intended.
Second, with enough effort, I may discover errors about my idealized better state. Perhaps it’s not all that I once chalked it up to be. In this case, maybe I don’t need to alter my beliefs, but adapt the fantasy to something more appropriate.
Adapting Our Own Hierarchies
This ebb and flow between our beliefs and the reality we create as a result of acting them out is part of the beauty of the great human drama.
We rarely – if ever – have complete information. The best we can do is respond to the incentive structures we encounter.
Sure, we can create new fantasies. But behind every fantasy, there is some truth – if not, at the very least, the hope of some higher truth we can’t yet articulate or prove.
Sometimes our beliefs are directed toward undetectable aims to those around us. This does not validate negative market feedback, nor does it invalidate our beliefs.
Then again, sometimes our beliefs are not only ineffective, they’re downright inaccurate portrayals of reality (physically manifested or fantasized).
We don’t have perfect information. So the idea of holding permanent, never-changing beliefs has always seemed a bit like psychosis to me.
But what does seem like a more appropriate, useful line of thinking, is the idea our beliefs evolve over time –both expanding and contracting as we identify gaps and cull impurities in our understanding.