Friday, November 20, 2009

Can we choose our beliefs?

It's been quite a while since I've posted -- I haven't been having many philosophical conversions with my Dad over the past few months due to some "life issues", however I plan to pick up the conversation with him again fairly soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to jot down my ideas about whether or not we are able to choose what we believe. I had a discussion with my Mom recently, where I asked if she believed that a loving god would send me, a relatively nice guy, to eternal suffering. She responded by saying that if I chose to not believe in him, then yes, he would do just that.

Can we really choose to believe something? I don't want to get too deep into the philosophy behind free will (I'll save that for another post), but let's assume at this point that we do have free will and the ability to make a decision. What are some things that can I choose? Here are some examples:

  • I can choose to have toast for breakfast instead of cereal.
  • I can choose to stop at a red light instead of running it.
  • I can choose a lower paying job that I enjoy over a high paying job that will make me miserable.
How do I go about making these choices? In the case of what to have for breakfast, it's simple: I had cereal yesterday, and I believe some warm toast and red plum jam will put me in a slightly better mood than if I had cereal. In the case of stopping at a red light, I have lots of evidence that leads me to believe that stopping at a red light is better than running it; for example, I could seriously injure or kill someone else or myself, or I could get an expensive ticket. In the case of taking the lower paying job that I enjoy, I believe that the quality of my life will be better if I enjoy what I'm doing 8 hours a day.

See the pattern there? My choices are based on my beliefs -- it's as simple as that. Consider the following questions:
  • Can you choose to believe you can fly by just flapping your arms?
  • If someone offers you one million dollars to jump off of a hundred-foot cliff and fly back up only by flapping your arms, would you choose to do it?
If I could choose to believe I could fly just by flapping my arms, then of course I would do it. But you can see how absurd that is -- you would never choose to believe what you already don't believe. If I were delusional and truly believed I could fly, then I would likely choose to jump off the cliff as a result of that belief.

In summary, I believe that our core philosophy dictates our beliefs, that those beliefs dictate other beliefs, and that our beliefs dictate our choices. If you accept this idea, then you can easily see how it just isn't possible to choose what you believe.

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