rkm: some thoughts re/ ‘Beliefs and Learning’


Richard Moore


Our dialog on climate change, which has gone on long enough, has I 
think been worthwhile. I don't know if anyone else has shifted their 
position, but at least people were expressing themselves more fully 
than usual. My own views shifted considerably.

The dialog led me to think about the learning process, and how 
beliefs both help and impede learning. So I'd like to share some 
thoughts with you, of a more or less philosophical nature...

Learning can be stifled by beliefs in two ways: by believing too 
much, and by believing too little.


'Believing too much', ie. being too invested in ones beliefs, is the 
more obvious impediment. Here we find the fundamentalists of all 
religions, the single-minded ideologues, and all cults. Beliefs here 
become part of ones identity, and a comforting support in the face of 
a confusing world. Learning becomes essentially impossible as regards 
anything contrary to the basic belief system.

There seems to be no hope reaching such people with informational 
material. That approach would require some kind of deprogramming 
technology, which would be a violation of their human rights and 
dignity. In order to productively approach such people, one needs to 
begin with humility -- giving up righteousness about ones own beliefs 
-- and then to proceed with human-to-human dialog, about what we all 
have in common. That's really the point of what I call 'enlightened 
dialog', which is the central thesis of Escaping the Matrix.

I've been mentioning the extreme cases, but all of us have some 
beliefs that we are too attached to -- more attached than logic and 
experience justify, and which therefore interfere with learning. One 
sign that indicates such attachment is defensiveness on our part when 
a belief is challenged. If our belief is well-grounded in our 
understanding of the world, then we can be patient and calm in 
attempting to explain / debate our position. But if our belief is  a 
bit shaky, or grounded in faith in some authority, then we're more 
likely to feel threatened and get angry when challenged. When such 
signs appear -- if we want to further our own understanding -- a bit 
of reflection is to be recommended.  Why are we so attached to this 
belief? What is it based on? Why do we feel threatened? It is also a 
time when exploratory questions to 'the other' might be more 
productive than a restatement of our position.


'Believing too little', or suspending judgement, also impedes 
learning, but this is a much more subtle case to understand.

At one level, suspending judgement is a very wise thing, and is 
recommended by enlightened spiritual paths. This is in line with 
avoiding the kind of excessive attachment discussed above, and with 
remaining always open to what the world has to teach us. It is 
important to keep in mind that we never know the 'whole truth' and we 
can turn out to be wrong about almost anything.

But every principle can be taken too far. 'Moderation in all things' 
may be the wisest thing we've gotten from the Greeks. Making 
judgements and  adopting beliefs, if done in the right way, can be 
very helpful in increasing ones understanding. If we suspend 
judgement too much we can find ourselves watching data go by, 
noticing always that there are 'two sides' to every issue, and 
remaining in a state of confusion about essential matters. I'll share 
with you my own strategy for using beliefs as a learning tool...

When I say "I believe X", what I really mean is that X is currently 
my 'most likely model' for whatever. There's always a bit of 
detachment, like the belief is 'out there' on the lab table. At the 
same time, I try to 'own' the belief, express it like I really mean 
it, and see where that leads. It's an experimental approach to 
learning. This is a process that's been happening here on the list 
since the beginning, and you folks have mainly been the teachers. 
There's a reason behind the name cyber 'journal'.

We all need to have models. Most of our models we build out of our 
own experience. That is our own understanding of our day-to-day 
world. Sometimes, with more difficult issues, we feel overwhelmed, 
and can't really build a model out of our own experience and 
knowledge. When this happens we sometimes adopt the strategy of 
selecting an authority to go along with on a given issue.

In my case I could never stand the uncertainty, the sense of being 
lost, of not having a model that made some kind of personal sense, 
for whatever X. Even if I accepted the evidence for fact X, and 
trusted the authority, I had to have an explanatory model before I 
could make any sense of X, or do anything useful with it. Given that 
schools emphasize rote learning, I had to make up my own primitive 
'explanations' for lots of things as we went along.

If one attempts this kind of thing from an early age, then one 
clearly encounters frequent rude awakenings as life opens up, and 
models crumble. One grows accustomed to shifting models, is forced to 
forego attachment, if one is to keep up and maintain coherence. In 
this way I've come to see all models, and systems of models, as being 
dynamic and evolving. They all trace back to lowest-level assumptions 
-- the DNA of the belief organism -- and those assumptions evolve 
just like DNA does. From Newton to Einstein to Bohr -- whole new 
worlds appear. A small shift in DNA can lead to a big shift 
throughout the organism.

During this process of 'getting serious' about learning, these years 
on the net, I've been forced to reconsider basic assumptions time and 
time again...about politics, about people, about history, and about 
science (ie, the world) generally. When I look 'out there' at 
consensus models, alternative models, upstart models, etc, I see 
everywhere assumptions in a state of flux, DNA unstable. Physics may 
be the poster child of models in disarray, but I think its the same 
everywhere, eg, geopolitics. Are we going into a multi-polar era, a 
one world  government, or a civilizational collapse? It's all wide 
open, the DNA is being scrambled as we speak, unpredictable forces 
are afoot.

Nonetheless I want things to make sense, somehow, despite all the 
flux at the bottom -- but not by denying any of that flux (ie, 
uncertainty). The first thing I find useful here is to try to get 
clear about what the fundamental assumptions are in a domain, how 
stable they are, and what range of models are on offer. What I'm 
looking for here  are two things about the domain: a survey of the 
field, and a stability quotient.

The next step in this process is where I tend to lose people (or 
where I might lose touch with reality). What I want to do next, in a 
given domain, is to choose a model and work with it. So far so good. 
My selection criteria, however, are a bit radical for many folks. 
What I look for is the model that best brings coherence to the 
domain, and for which I haven't yet seen a sound rebuttal. In picking 
a model, I give very little weight to whatever the 'scientific 
consensus' might be. Some would say I should research such radical 
models for a while first, but it turns out my method of research is 
precisely to 'believe' a model, and see where it leads!

This got me into a lot of trouble when I was ready to tag along with 
the "Warming Swindle" model, as it did seem to explain a lot of 
things. But then rebuttals came along, so we move on to more nuanced 
views. The temporary foray was productive, and led to new questions 
and insights.


Here's where I am right now, FYI, on the climate change things, in 
the context of this current discussion.

  (1) I tend toward the view that solar activity is
         probably much more determinative of climate than
         anything terrestrial. The warming of the other
         planets, in particular, is rather persuasive.

  (2) I see unsustainability as being a clear and
         present danger, an immediate global crisis, the
         dysfunctional father of all the more visible crises.
         From this perspective, all the attention being
         directed toward climate change, in the world and on
         our list, encourages us to see the tree and miss the
         forest. We get the idea that watering that one tree
         -- requiring a major a society-wide effort -- will
         be a step toward saving the forest. That would make
         some sense -- assuming the tree will be helped by
         water -- if we had all the time in the world to play

  (3) Clearly elites have grabbed onto the issue and
         are running with it. They're framing the debate in
         terms that will justify the next steps in their own
         agendas (eg, NWO), and their media is very effective
         at projecting those framings into our minds. Instead
         of debates about HOW we should proceed, we'll see
         YEAH vs. NAY debates, and we'll be tempted to
         cheer ("BAAH! BAAH!") for whatever 'steps' are on

In terms of 'where I go next', working with this model, item (1) 
plays very little role. The action imperatives are dictated by items 
2 and 3. Item 1 -- ie. the 'truth about global warming' -- is for the 
time being a matter of idle curiosity, just one more consideration 
within item 2.


How much credence I give to a model depends primarily on how long 
it's remained  stable -- how many times it has survived a foray into 
a new domain. So, following our foray into the global warming domain, 
I want to take stock of other models that are related, and see how 
they have fared.

The following beliefs / models have been further substantiated by our foray:

  (1) Global society is in need of a thoroughgoing
         transformation, from top to bottom.

  (2) Reform efforts (and efforts within the political system
         generally) are not only a waste of time, in the Western
         context, but they tend to make things worse rather than

  (3) The 'left' and 'right' are equally susceptible to herding
         by elite propaganda, though each in a different way.

I also have a model about learning, and that's what this posting is 
about. This is the model that was most 'activated' by our dialog. I 
was struck by the number of people who were entrenched in one 
position or another, by the degree of defensiveness exhibited, and by 
the dependence on authorities and ad hominem arguments. For those 
people, it seems little if any learning emerged from our dialog. 
Contrary ideas were seen as something to be defeated, rather than as 
something to be considered.

This turns out to be related, I suspect, to another of my models:

  (4) The belief that we live in a democracy is perhaps
         the most disempowering myth of our era.

It seems to be this belief that causes us to want everyone to 
subscribe to what is 'politically correct'. That is to say, a belief 
in democracy-achieved makes us think that public opinion matters, 
that it influences government policy. So we argue with people in the 
hopes of  building a 'united front' that elites will be forced to 
listen to. The defensiveness around global warming arises from the 
fact that we feel we are close to achieving a united front on this 
particular issue.

In this regard, permit me to suggest that when elites are on your 
side, it's time to reexamine your model. Elites never do anything 
unless it's for their own selfish benefit, or for PR reasons. .

If we give up  our faith in democracy-achieved, and the imperative to 
create a united front, then we can approach something like global 
warming with curiosity, with an eye toward learning from the debate.


Let's return to the topic of 'believing too little', suspending 
judgement too much, as an impediment to learning.

The point here, in my view, is that it is important to try to 
understand everything for yourself, without referring to experts or 
authorities. That is, it's important to have your own models, that 
you defend with your own arguments, rather than by pointing to what 
experts have said. I'm not saying not to cite authorities as an aid 
to argument, but I don't respond well to people who say: "I don't 
know much about that, but you must be wrong because X says so."

Of course by this approach one will often be proved wrong, and one 
must pay the price in embarrassment. But the payoff is that you are 
more likely to be able to learn from new information. If you have a 
model that is anchored in your own experience and reasoning, then new 
information is not just a 'sea of data', but rather it impinges 
directly on your current understanding. It either confirms or 
challenges your beliefs. You have a tool with which to make use of 
new information. You have a framework with which new information 
either resonates or clashes. The resonations and clashes act as 
'goads to learning'.


Escaping the Matrix website:            http://escapingthematrix.org/
cyberjournal website:                       http://cyberjournal.org
Community Democracy Framework: http://cyberjournal.org/DemocracyFramework.html
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