Believe Me (repost)

in Deep Dives5 months ago

The very first "debate" I remember having was with my next door neighbor friend. We must have been seven or eight years old and we were debating one of humanities oldest questions; does God exist?

Image by geralt - source: Pixabay

My friend was raised as a Christian and I was raised without any religious belief; my dad had a poster of Che Guevara and that famous poster with the unforgettable text "WHY do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is BAD?" on the wall, no crucifix or bible in sight anywhere.

In my memories, being well aware of the fact that they're deformed and colored by time and brain, the discussion was long and I was doing my best to convince the boy next door that believing in a God sounded kind of ridiculous to me; kids can be brutally insensitive like that, due to a lack of life-experience. What I remember happened next, was that at some point my friend ran home crying and calling for his dad. The next day however, we were best friends again, and I don't remember either of us ever touching the subject again... Yes, kids are forgiving and flexible like that too.

It's not the God-debate I want to visit here again, rather the power that our ideas, ideologies and convictions have over us. And I mean any idea and everyone. The power of our own ideas and convictions are the root of the confirmation-bias that's being exploited by the algorithms of popular social media platforms.

image by Gerd Leonhard - source: Flickr

Back to that first debate. Now that I'm older (much, much older...), I understand, or think I understand better what happened back then; it is very hard, almost impossible to let go of ideas you've held to be true over a long period of time. This goes for any idea, but is especially true for ideas and opinions that are based on our strongest beliefs, the values we learned about when growing up, the ones that appeal to our ideas about what's right or wrong, just or unjust. It's no coincidence that online discussions on religion, politics and economics are among the most heated of them all.

Be aware of the smart ones!

What makes the matter even more precarious is the fact that the so called smart people are even more bound by their convictions, as they are also the ones that are best able to rationalize ideas that could be totally wrong. Wrong like not agreeing with reality. Yes, I said REALITY. The first thing we have to be able to agree on, in any discussion or debate (I prefer discussion), is that there is such a thing as reality, and that this reality doesn't care about either of our ideas, convictions or opinions.

Unfortunately, many discussions amount to almost nothing because most participants often default to the position that there is no other reality than our own personal reality. This is not an accusation by the way; I write this post to show how easy and naturally confirmation of our own bias comes to us, and how difficult it can be to really open up to opposing ideas. And smart people are best at protecting their own bias in these discussions and debates.

This complicates matters. Let's say a very smart and well-spoken and a not so gifted man have a debate, and the smart one has it all wrong. Who will win that debate? Will the smart guy come out of that feeling even more sure about his wrong convictions? And will the not so intellectually endowed fellow start to doubt his right convictions? Chances are both will happen. The so called "winners" of debates, public and private, are not always right.

Albert Einstein - source: Public Domain

To illustrate how even the smartest among us are steered in wrong directions by prior convictions, I'd like you all to consider Albert Einstein, perhaps one of the most flexible minds in history. When he formulated his equations for his theory on general relativity, something was not right. On one side of the equation a number was missing... At the beginning of the 20th century, when Einstein did his revolutionary work, the consensus was that we live in a static and eternal universe. Heck, we didn't even know there was anything outside our own galaxy, there was no Big Bang theory and no expanding universe.

Einsteins equation didn't align with a static, not expanding universe, so what did he do? He fudged the equation and just added the missing number to make the universe static! This number is called the Cosmological constant:

In cosmology, the cosmological constant (usually denoted by the Greek capital letter lambda: ?) is the value of the energy density of the vacuum of space. It was originally introduced by Albert Einstein in 1917[1] as an addition to his theory of general relativity to "hold back gravity" and achieve a static universe, which was the accepted view at the time.
source: Wikipedia

The difficult task for us all.

Only after Hubble's discovery that all galaxies move away from us in 1929, Einstein was forced to abandon this idea. If the mind that thought about mashing space and time together into a single four-dimensional continuum can be fooled by prior beliefs, then we must all admit that we're also very much capable of being misled by our own preconceptions. We must all recognize how powerful they can be, and that anyone is capable of holding "bad" ideas. However... Watch the below linked video to learn how Einstein called his "cosmological constant" his "biggest blunder," and how after his death new discoveries were made (about the acceleration of the expansion of the universe) that made that blunder relevant again. Even when he thought he was wrong he was right...

This is the first and easiest step towards a better understanding and more open and civil discourse. Just to realize that maybe, just maybe some of my own convictions are just wrong. To consciously be aware of the fact that our brains are exceptionally good at seeking out reasons to confirm our deepest beliefs and are even better at automatically rejecting any information that could threaten the validity of those beliefs. To understand that guarding against this natural cerebral tendency is a matter of always thinking twice, because you know that the second time is really just the first time. Our deepest convictions become part of our auto-piloting system, part of the 90 or so percent of our thoughts and actions that come without thinking.

There's this famous thought-experiment, a well known moral or ethical dilemma I'm sure you've all heard of, and it goes like this: there's a train coming and there are ten people stuck on the track. You can pull a switch that redirects the train to an alternative track with just one person standing on it. Now the question is: will you pull the switch to kill just one instead of ten people? Almost all people answer "yes", without hesitating. The funny thing is what happens when you ask the same question with a slight variation: this time you're walking on a bridge over the track, there's ten people stuck on the track. This time however there's no switch; this time there's a rather large man walking alongside you on the bridge, and you can save the ten people on the track by pushing the man off the bridge so that he lands on the track in front of the train, causing the train to collide and stop, saving the ten people again.

Image by geralt - source: Pixabay

The mathematics are the same in each variation: in both one life is sacrificed to save ten lifes. But when asked to physically push a person to his death, most people opt to do nothing. This is because now the decision is much more personal and thus more emotional. And the ones that do answer they would push the fat man from the bridge all took a very long time to come to that decision, showing they had to actively think over the pros and cons, they had to let mind win over emotions. We get emotionally attached to our most inner convictions. This is why we need to take the time and think when engaging in discussions, and think again about the things that are prone to touch us on an emotional level.


No, not really. This article was born from my concerns about the developments around A.I., machine learning and the way algorithms powering popular social media platforms are exploiting this strong natural tendency to kling firmly to our beliefs. It is so very easily said, but so hard to actually do. Still I believe it is good to at least be aware of all this and it's up to each and every one of us to decide what to do with that knowledge. Be aware that any idea you and I hold, we will never recognize them as bad ideas even if they are bad ideas because no one in their right mind holds a bad idea on purpose. Then it follows that people who do hold ideas that are bad according to our world-view, also don't recognize their ideas as bad for the same reason. There really are people who believe that the world is flat, that they were abducted by aliens, that were personally touched by God, that believe the earth is 6000 years old, that Trump is actually a lizard like humanoid from another dimension, as are all the Illuminati...

Like I said: I don't have answers, just questions and challenges ;-) I'm sorry that I had no knowledge about any of this during that first debate all those years ago; I must have hurt my friend real bad that day to make him react like he did... I can only hope this rambling article can contribute to someone not making that mistake in the future in one or two discussions. All we can do is try to stay critical about our own ideas by keeping an open mind, or as open as possible at least, for opposing ideas. Confuse the machine learning algorithms by regularly clicking on a link that takes you into the lion's den of opposite mindsets, while you hone your id's flexibility to the max. That came out weird...

Anyhow, I'll leave it at that for today. Thanks so much for enduring my ramblings once again, dear reader. I'll be back tomorrow and I hope you'll be back here to! Until then, try to keep an open mind!

Einstein's Biggest Blunder, Explained

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Thanks for stopping by and reading. If you really liked this content, if you disagree (or if you do agree), please leave a comment. Of course, upvotes, follows, resteems are all greatly appreciated, but nothing brings me and you more growth than sharing our ideas.


Dear @zyx066 , Your arguments have been b very interesting and informative to me.
I hope you understand that I can comprehend a part of your wonderful and great ideas and beliefs.

I believe in God because I am a Christian. This passage appears in Dostoevsky's masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov.
Atheists will eventually argue that evil is the wisest course of action.

I think the end of atheism can be seen from the actions of the communists, the Nazis and the fascists in the Soviet Union and China.

 5 months ago Reveal Comment