Thursday, November 19, 2015

It's a Good Life...of belief in objects by "choice"

A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind, he took away the automobiles, the electricity, the machines - because they displeased him - and he moved an entire community back into the dark ages - just by using his mind. [...] Oh yes, I did forget something, didn't I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He's six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you'd better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge.  --"It's a Good Life", The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone had a memorable episode in which a character could remake everything around him with a thought. Unfortunately, as indicated by the quote above, this character was six. The results were...disturbing. This staggering ability has appeared in a large number of stories across media; TV Tropes maintains a long list of comparable examples under the description "Reality Warper".

Looking back now, I've noticed that it has a subtle application to the religious views that I eventually discarded. It was connected to a pair of precepts. The first was repeated often and dramatically: choice of belief had severe moral stakes. Choosing to believe the correct ideas was an essential duty. Guiding everyone to do the same was an official mission of mercy, because the afterlife of all who had chosen beliefs well would be infinitely preferable to the afterlife of those who chose poorly. For belief to warrant that degree of judgment, it had to consist of self-aware, willful choices.

The pair's second precept was that the objects described by the beliefs were categorically genuine. The beliefs weren't solely metaphorical. Unlike a daydream or a fondness for cake, the beliefs weren't all about the believer, i.e. the subject. The topics of the beliefs were objective and external. Accordingly, the beliefs' objects certainly weren't hallucinations encased in the subject's thoughts. Nor would the objects' features vary by the subject's individual perspective.  

Separately applied, these two precepts are commonplace. It's not peculiar to in effect punish someone for the despicable beliefs they've chosen to adopt—but never until after they've translated the beliefs into harmful deeds. Similarly, it's not peculiar for the content of beliefs to be about objects beyond than the believer. But in combination, the pair formed the frankly bizarre prescription of assigning moral blame based on beliefs about objects which the subject didn't control. The subtext was that regardless of the objects' independent existence and effects, believing in the objects was somehow a grave, voluntary decision which was the responsibility of the subject.

Normally, from an evenhanded subject's viewpoint, statements about physical objects have unequal "believability". That authentic believability is built on the successes or failures of ordinary methods: observations, deductions, tight inferences, calculations. But to fairly hold their pure willpower accountable for those objects' believability presupposes that their willpower itself must be capable of increasing object believability. When someone is in a forthright state of unbelief about the objects, faulting them for flaws in their related logical reasoning is more pertinent than just faulting them for not thinking or acting more as if the objects are believable. If, on its own, the subject's striving to envision and feel with greater intensity is honestly expected to significantly boost the objects' believability, then the subject possesses amazing psychokinetic powers. Essentially, if it's appropriate to chastise them for not trying hard enough to metaphysically readjust the level of detection, then their mistake must be that they aren't properly industrious Reality Warpers.

Despite how strange this sentiment sounds, a disguised form of it slowed my progress out of my former views. It wasn't verbalized, but it was present. For approximately a four year period, I would've contended that my ominous doubts about the plausibility of some of the core parts of my religious view didn't weaken my preexisting choice to keep believing in other core parts. I was in the group of split-minded followers that's frequently overlooked. I was perpetually restless, because I was full of chronic doubts and clinging to the original commitment anyway. I'd been taught the virtuousness of deliberately insisting on the accuracy of a set of supernatural "objective facts" come what may. In the midst of that courageous endeavor, missing or highly questionable proofs weren't excuses but rewarding challenges: it was more admirable to adhere to these mysterious facts without whining for corroboration. If their advice were paraphrased to be less self-flattering then it would declare, "It doesn't matter if the expected indications of these facts don't show up in experience. What matters is if you nonetheless sternly command these notions to be really most sincerely factual."

I confess that this characterization is sarcastic. I'm expressing my current amusement when I hear the glib recommendation to respond to lackluster substantiation by doggedly "believing more" in an object's realism. At the time I didn't picture myself psychically fortifying the objective believability of supernatural pronouncements. Rather I embodied it in the structure of my past viewpoint. There were sorted and sealed layers, each one more prone to shifting and unreliability than the one below it. The consciously chosen remaining core parts of my religious beliefs were in the bottom layer. My thoughts, steady but changeable, were in the next layer up. On top was the layer of the ordinary methods listed earlier.

I was ordered to align my middle layer of thoughts with the bedrock layer of supernatural deep Truth, not with the deceptive, shallow, surface layer of material events. If my thoughts were feeling shaky, then my obligation was to forcibly re-anchor my thoughts in immovable doctrines. I was squashing my wavering estimations against beliefs that I treated as more "objective" than fallible objects. I felt that I was diligently reemphasizing, not wholly generating, the shadowy supernatural objects.

Before information could possibly topple this stack, I needed a philosophical refinement of my inconsistent definitions of belief. I needed to quit settling for a stubborn belief by choice. A handful of piercing questions triggered the avalanche. Why did the supernatural domain deserve permanent residence in an unshakable bottom layer? More to the point, why were there distracting layers of protection? Why inject exceptional complexity into assessing the accuracy of candidate supernatural objects? Why was belief in those objects recast as a grueling, praiseworthy, premeditated selection...instead of the spontaneous and undeniable aftereffect of showing/explaining persuasive objective support? Why were us followers instructed to begin with belief and only later scrunch information into the belief's shape as needed, which was the exact reverse of the conventional procedure? Why didn't everyone who investigated my views end up in total agreement when they started from scratch?

Imagine if you will an absurd analogy from one of the many domains besides than the supernatural. Generally, if someone wants to convince a companion that snow is falling outdoors, they urge looking through a window, opening the door a crack to peek out, checking which month it is, etc. They don't say, in an echo of the paraphrase from earlier, "Forget using your eyes or reasoning to evaluate whether the snow falling outdoors happens to be believable to you. No, your mandate is to concentrate intently about a sudden snowfall. Believe me, that shall suffice."

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