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A belief is only worthwhile if you could in theory be persuaded otherwise

Reading Time ⏱: 7 mins
Last Updated ⬆️: 22nd Feb 2021

Reality is entangled with itself. One true belief supports other true beliefs. They don't contradict with each other.

A single false belief will push back on other things in your life. Refusing to change your belief on religion isn't a harmless action. Your actions due to this belief effect many other things to yourself and others.

Belief in an afterlife reduces the amount of money and resources that go into life extension research. Which effects billions of people. Your own beliefs in an outdated moral code may make you compromise on doing things that feel wrong.

Your refusal to change beliefs does not make your points more valid. It shows that your judgement can't be trusted.

Refusing to update your beliefs on new evidence means other people can't use your beliefs as evidence for themselves.

  • How much we believe something does not change how likely it is to be true or false
  • When we make decisions based on false beliefs the consequences are less likely to match what you intend

Believing that a map leads to treasure doesn't mean it leads to treasure. If riches are your goals having this false belief will leave you disappointed. Wouldn't it have been better to find a map that has a higher chance of leading to treasure. Refusing to shift your position on a belief when confronted with enough reasonable evidence

If everlasting life/afterlife, world peace, kindness or happiness are your goals

A motivational belief e.g. I will be the fastest person in the world. Can be useful for motivation. But I'm not sure it's an actual belief. If it was a belief you wouldn't need to train, as you believe it will happen.

If the belief is "If I train hard enough I will be the fastest person in the world" that makes a bit more sense. As it gives you a reason to action positively towards that goal.

How could this belief be an inaccurate view of the world? Maybe your physical make up means there's some people you won't be able to beat. Is it still a good belief to have?

This is similar to "If I believe in God and live a good holy life then I'll go to heaven when I die". It gives clear actions and a goal.

If the runner never becomes the fastest person how does that affect their belief? If they never let it go then they'd end up being very old, close to death still believing they will be the fastest person contrary to all evidence.

If there's never a point where you drop the belief then you'll never look back and have regret over it. As you still believe. So to the individual does it matter?

Maybe it only matters when we start weaving in other goals and beliefs. As reality is entangled with itself, 1 false belief and goal may result in you taking actions that negatively effects other goals you have e.g. world peace. As you were so focussed on converting people to your own religion you allowed people to fight over religion in a war you were never going to win.

Or for the runner, their belief in being the fastest person if they kept on training led them to forego personal relationships, other experiences and as a result led a less happy life than they could have done if they recognised the limits of their running ability.

(NOTE: This whole draft is a bit dry. Need to spice things up and maybe have a single example running through the piece)

To achieve our goals we take actions that we believe will impact positively on our progress towards those goals. With a more accurate model of the world when you think an action will lead to a specific result it's more likely to than if you had a less accurate model.

So a more accurate model of the world leads to a stronger chance of you achieving your goals. Whether that be happiness, wealth, world peace and all that other lovely crap.

Just because you hold a belief, does not mean it is true. One persons conviction in an idea does not force reality to obey that belief. So if you are presented with an overwhelming amount of evidence that your belief is wrong yet you refuse to ever change your mind, then you will likely have an inaccurate model of the world. Resulting in the decisions you make being less likely to positive work towards your goals.

If nothing can make you change your mind and the world acts differently than how your belief makes you think. You're shooting yourself in the foot.

Always be willing and excited to change your beliefs, it means you can get closer to your goals.

If you have a belief that you refuse to change it doesn't mean it is true. And if you have a strong belief in something that is false you are likely to make incorrect predictions about what will happen in the world (to things relating to this belief). (Why does this matter?)

Whatever our goals may be, achieving them involves performing actions whose outcomes positively work towards those goals. So to maximise the likelihood of achieving those goals we'd want to pick actions that have a higher chance of positively working towards those goals. Otherwise we're working against ourselves or leaving the achievement of our goals down to things we can't control (as we can only control our own actions).

When you have false beliefs it means that some of the actions you take, will not have the outcome you think they will have. Therefore false beliefs leads to us working against our own goals or leaving the achievement of those goals outside of our control.

So, if a belief may not be true then not allowing it to change if evidence suggests it isn't true will result in you having less control on achieving your own goals. And less control means you're less likely to achieve those goals. (Too wordy, needs to be explained in simpler terms)

(What if your goal is to believe?)

Being wrong about what you anticipate happening often isn't great for you. It's hard to control your life, happiness, health if you are wrong about things. So having an accurate model of life is in your best interest. (What about hope, inspiration, beliefs that don't seem to have negative consequences if you believe them and they are wrong e.g. the pleasing thought of there being an afterlife. Although many of these things do have negative consequences if they are incorrect. You just may not have thought about them e.g. less money being spent on research into living longer. Less money for cryonics etc)

If a belief cannot be changed, you are essentially blind to reality. Unable to direct your life into a more pleasing direction for what you stand for.

What could be wrong about this statement?

  • Conviction and motivation to see things through. "I believe I will be the fastest sprinter in the world" = motivation to potentially make it happen. (But if you don't get there it could ruin your life?)
  • Makes you happier (religion is a pretty happy thing to believe in general)
  • Can convince yourself that what you want is tied to those beliefs and really mean it. So if humans do die because not enough research and money is going into life extension, but they all believed they were going to heaven. Is that so bad from their point of view? From an outsiders view it's bad, but not necessarily internally. Is freedom the right to die unnecessarily and happy? And is that okay?

Being practical about this?

  • Try and accept that everything you believe could be wrong
  • List some of your fundamental beliefs and running though scenarios where they are not true. How do you cope, what would the world seem like now. Is this a regular practice you should do.

  • It is not possible to be 100% certain anything is true or false (how comes?)
  • Everyone wants to be happy (do they?)
  • To be happier the only thing you can do to help, is pick actions that result in you being happier (why is this the only thing?)
  • So you want to be better at knowing if an action will result in you being happier (having an accurate model). (Any other ways? Why does this help?)
  • To do this you need to be better at knowing what will happen when you do actions (Why?)
  • Having false beliefs means you may be wrong about what happens when you do certain actions (Not always)
  • Which means you may take some actions that you think will make you happier, but they don't. Because what you thought would happen did not happen. (Can you believe hard enough that they will make you happier?)
  • Therefore having beliefs that cannot be changed will limit your ability to be happier (Does this conclusion actually follow from the logic?)

Author notes

Notes before starting on this article

The goal of this article is to explore the idea "A belief is only worthwhile if you could in theory be persuaded otherwise". I've come a cross it a few time on LessWrong and it feels like it makes sense, but I can't really describe why. So I want to look at the following questions:

  • Why could this statement be true?
  • Why could this statement be false?
  • Are there any caveats or exceptions if this is true or false?
  • How do I feel about it after exploring it further?
  • How could you try and make practical use of the statement if true or false?
  • How to best communicate my conclusions and reasoning around this statement?

Directing this post to people who haven't directly come across this phrase before and who currently seek our articles and reading on self development.