Believing preceeds Knowing

02006-02-28 | Uncategorized | 3 comments

Some thoughts regarding the book The End of Faith by Sam Harris, which I already mentioned HERE and HERE.

I am still not quite finished with the book. Either I am a slow reader or I am reading too many books at the same time. Probably a little bit of both. Well, overall I am very glad that I read the book because it gave me a lot of food for thought, but I find the author’s writing a little smug and even angry. There is a lot of data and more than just a little of it seems presented with an emotionally charge, which is understandable given the subject, but not necessarily useful. However, I still highly recommend the book. In fact it should be used as reading material in school/college.

I think there are two elements to Faith. For one faith/believing is a basic default action of the brain. Faith and belief and pre-judice are all part of the same action that creates a perceived order in the brain. Order feels good to the brain and releases feel-good hormones… This default action of he brain is not a bad thing as it can save time, but it is one that needs to be questioned. Example: you walk down a street and in the distance you see a man who seems to be drunk as he is not walking in a straight line. Your brain might “believe” that the person could be a potential threat and at the very least would waste our time and suggests that we cross the street. On the other hand you could ignore that suggestion and encounter the man, and find out that he is a poet and a great guy. You might even help him call a taxi.

Simply put, believing is faster then knowing. Knowing anything takes time. Believing is like falling in love – we know nothing about a person and yet we are hopelessly in love… knowing somebody means that we have put in time. We hear a certain instrument and fall in love with it, believing that we want to learn more. Knowledge and mastery of that instrument comes from countless hours of confronting that instrument and ourselves in relation to it – years of practicing and playing.

Believing is at the beginning of the journey, not the end. From believing grows determination and practice. From practice grows mastery and knowledge. From mastery and knowledge grows understanding and compassion.

It seems to me that the problem is that too many people are happy to believe and don’t move on through practice. Believing is easy. Practice is hard. As Victor pointed out in his comment, at the beginning of any practice is the belief that the practice will improve one’s life – but therein lies the difference: can you make the shift from believing that a certain practice will improve your life to actually practice for years? Not an easy shift to make in our culture.

I am still working on these ideas and my mind is going a mile a minute connecting dots…


  1. Victor

    It makes sense to me that there is an evolutionary benefit to “believing” in that it allows for more complex problem solving. For example, if I want to figure out how to get from point A to B then I have to make some assumptions about how that process will go without actually having experienced the process. Add to that the fact that we are conditioned by our education process to feel good about coming up with concrete answers. We get rewarded for regurgitating the expected answer on a test, even though the answer is often about events that we didn’t actually experience.

    Well, these things have their usefulness, but how does one go beyond that conditioning? Our experiences with feeling good about quick conclusions are many… our experiences with feeling good after long practice and mastery are few.

    So here’s the funny thing… to change we have to “believe” in the value of practice and mastery in order to attempt it! And, we have to get to the point of realizing that nagging feeling of uncertainty isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  2. Just Me

    Knowing means that you have proof that support your beliefs. You may believe something to be true but until you have experienced the truth of the belief then you don’t know for certain.

    A belief can be blind based on arbitary information; knowledge comes from either experience or indisputable facts. Although that is not to say that the knowledge or the proof isn’t tainted by personal interpretation.


  3. Chris

    Believing is EASIER than knowing. Look how brand-loyalty can sell a poorly designed product. Why research new cars when you believe that “Company ABC” sells the best cars? It’s easier to believe without questioning.

    Questioning then either solidifies a belief or blows it apart. Blow apart a belief and a person then must find something else to take its place. All of that requires work. I don’t see people standing in line to work harder.


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