- HENRI BERGSON, French Philosopher and Educator
Neither we nor our brains are perfect. We know this, but how often do we make allowance for our imperfections? For example, just beneath our level of consciousness, our brains interpret information to support our existing beliefs. This convenient (lazy) process is peculiar (illogical).
Yogi Berra once said, "In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are different." Once again, Yogi's simpleton persona belies his genius. In theory, our brains would process information objectively so that our existing beliefs would be validated or adjusted based on the receipt of new information. In practice, we dismiss information that challenges our beliefs, embrace information that supports our beliefs, and relax our critical thinking when new but uncertain information is received.
More plainly, we see what we want to see. As a result, our thoughts are not nearly as critical as we convince ourselves they are. If our thoughts are the product of bargain basement analysis, and our world is shaped by our thoughts, then there must be a substantial difference between our perception of the world and reality.
Our brain is wired to choose consistency over truth. Is that what you choose? If so, let your brain do its thing. If not, you must work to overcome this overwhelmingly powerful tendency.
I challenge you to spend an hour, a day, or a week challenging a belief of yours. This could be something simple and personal like, "My boss doesn't like me." Or it could be something complex and bigger than yourself, "Republicans will ruin the country." What's the best way to challenge a belief? Embrace the contrary position. For the sake of the exercise, reevaluate your facts and try to get them to match the beliefs that run counter to your own. Take notice of how your brain fights you during this experiment.
This exercise is not designed to prove that your boss really loves you or that your political beliefs are wrong. However, for maximum impact, you should approach this exercise as if it were. See if you can prove yourself wrong. You have an arsenal of facts, figures, and concepts; use them all to attempt to dismantle the belief. It is likely, but not certain, that your core beliefs will survive this exercise.
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle
For the truly brave, try this exercise with our Presidential candidates. Pick the candidate that you disdain and try to convince yourself that s/he is the best choice for the country. This experiment is not unlike the scientific process. A theory is considered proven when it can't be disproven. Instead of publishing your beliefs in a peer-reviewed journal, use your brain to attempt to disprove your belief. Imagine it is the scientific theory of your archenemy that you desperately want to thwart. Look at the information from every angle you can and try to find a weakness, a crack, an overlooked exception, or a logic flaw.