It has often struck me odd that intelligent people can dismiss obvious refutations to their belief systems. (Good examples include people that join cults or invest in shady propositions.) Why can’t they see the flaws when they also display multiple degrees from good schools? I could ask the same question about intelligent people that insist that we all must die. Tell me the reasons again. They don’t make any sense.
The book “Born to Believe” by Andrew Newberg M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman has some answers. Here is one poignant example:
“Our consciousness does something remarkable: it takes a few perceptions that we hold, ignores the discrepancies, and turns them into sophisticated visions and inventions, something no other organism can do. The visions eventually become part of the reality of the brain and the inventions become part of the world.”
This remarkable ability of consciousness is a double-edged sword. On the one side, we can take some perceptions, and despite discrepancies, turn them into sophisticated visions (like democracy, freedom and equality) that move societies into greater efficiencies for life. But the same process can take perceptions and ignore discrepancies such as what we hear from preachers, pitchmen and politicians, then turn those into sophisticated visions and mental inventions from which we cannot extricate ourselves.
For example, thousands of historians, psychologists and sociologists have struggled with the advent of nationalized prejudice within a “sophisticated” civilization called Nazi Germany. They ask, “How could intelligent and cultured people ignore such moral bankruptcy?” I find the answer in the above quote from “Born to Believe.” It’s just how the brain develops belief systems. But the worst part is that the fall of Nazi Germany was not the end of the brain fart called racial prejudice.
Today, we have the same brain farts, the second side of the double-edged sword of belief systems. We don’t want to look at the discrepancies in our beliefs. For instance, we still trust priests that ruin the innocence of our children; we still believe the war cries of politicians and instead of protecting our future, we send the kids off to war where they will be faced with the trauma of “kill or be killed;” we consume products ad nauseum that are bad for the planet, our communities, our families and our bodies, etc., etc., etc. This is what the brain does in pursuit of a sophisticated vision.
This ability of the brain to overlook discrepancies is a powerful tool. It can be used intelligently or to spread ignorance. When I suggest that people try to consider what it would be like to live forever on this planet, it requires looking at their belief systems.
At the death of my father, I had to look at my belief systems. I found out that they were based on some examined and many unexamined assumptions about what time on earth means, what heaven and hell mean, and what dying means. I found that the perceptions didn’t add together. And I could not find a convincing, balanced and positive reason for death. Every reason justifying death was circular or unsubstantiated; every feeling was negative; every defiance of death was ego-centric; every platitude was delusional.
I dare you to look at your beliefs about death. Look at the perceptions and the discrepancies. See the sophisticated visions that further ensnare your thinking. It might just “scare” you into life forever now.