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What people believe to be true is that which is coherent to their already established cache of truisms. This cache is developed over time and is significantly shaped by the significant people in the environment. Its development is monitored by the rigor with which each new proposition is analyzed in relationship to what already exists. For scientist, the coherent belief system is developed through a continual examination of nature. Theories that are incongruent to such natural aspects are suspect. When incoherence is met with physical evidence of truth [the new theory proves capable of answering questions and predicting outcomes not able to be done earlier], the belief system is found to be potentially flawed and a decision to change becomes possible. In fact, it can be theorized that all change requires sufficient dichotomy with the known in order for new development to occur.

Douglas Hofstadter [1995], a physicist and mathematician has developed a computer program that has a set of overall tendencies that might characterize the human mind as it takes random elements and formulates a degree of perceived order.

  • There is a general tendency for the initially activated concepts to be conceptually shallow, and for concepts that get activated later to be increasingly deep. There is also a tendency to move from no themes to themes [i.e., clusters of highly activated closely related, high-conceptual-depth concepts].
  • There is a general tendency to move from a state of no structure, to a state with much structure, and from a state having many local, unrelated objects, to a state characterized by few global, coherent structure.
  • As far as processing is concerned, it generally exhibits, over time, a gradual transition from parallel style toward a serial style, from bottom-up mode to top-down mode, and from an initially nondeterministic style toward a deterministic style.

In such a manner, do human beings create beliefs from random facets of situations. If you feel uneasy about a proposition in which greater intelligence can result from making random decisions rather than using systematic ones, Hofstadter suggests this is an illusion caused by a confusion of levels. As sensory information is gathered there is a drive towards global coherence and deep concepts. As the person acquires more and more information, s/he starts creating a coherent viewpoint and focusing in on organizing themes converting from the initial largely bottom-up, open-minded mode to a largely top-down, close minded one. This movement toward coherent pathways results in macro decisions being made non-randomly. “Thus, randomness is used in the service of, and not in opposition to, intelligent nonrandom choice.”

Hofstadter metaphorically suggests that this is the equivalent of the fluidity of water.

…It is interesting to note that non-metaphorical fluidity – that is, the physical fluidity of liquids like water – is inextricably tied to random microscopic actions. A liquid could not flow in the soft, gentle fluid way it does, were it not composed of tiny components whose micro-actions are completely random to one another. This does not, of course imply that the top-level action of the fluid as a whole takes on any appearance of randomness; quite to the contrary! The flow of liquid is one of the most nonrandom phenomena of nature that we are familiar with. This does not mean that it is by any means simple; it is simply familiar and natural-seeming. Fluidity is an emergent quality, and to simulate it accurately requires and underlaying randomness.

It is critical, it seems, that people be allowed the potential to follow risky pathways in order to have the flexibility to follow insightful pathways, and in order to do so they must have random, not directed influences. In this complex world we are unlikely to know in advance what concepts may turn out to be relevant in a given situation and examination of a limited number, but randomly selected variables are most likely to enable us to consider nonconforming solutions. We want to avoid dogmatically open-minded search strategies which entertain all possibilities equally, while at the same time, avoiding dogmatically close-minded strategies, which in an irrational way rules out certain possibilities a priori. It might be argued that people with problems in living have a tendency to be too dogmatic in regard to close-minded strategies and develop automatic thoughts which quickly move toward limited [and often ineffective] ends.

Many people, even in civilized societies operate with beliefs that are unexplainable. Many others have explained their beliefs in nonlogical and inconsistent patterns which fluctuate between the conscious [able to be understood in symbolic terms] and the unconscious [without common symbols]. Where the understanding breaks down, the faith comes in. What is difficult to define is why people believe what they believe. We are aware that people absorb knowledge [used here to define understanding through common language symbols] and lore [used here to define understanding through subconscious characteristics such as style, tone, affect, demeanor, etc.] through their senses, but we are not able to delineate why they know what they know. This is of course, because the very existence of what we are calling lore is predicated upon our inability to define symbolically these experiences, thus we know more than we can say. Even belief systems which appear to be formed based on logical, rational data often rely on unsayable mental constructs.

Gilbert [1993], in writing about Spinozian theories, suggests that all we mean when we say that a person has a belief is that there exists in a person’s mind a coherent mental representation which contributes to that person’s behavioral propensities. He further suggests that these beliefs are what bind us to the reality outside. What we believe creates our reality and we believe that which is coherent with our prior beliefs. In this process, each person creates his or her own comprehensive perspective of the world based on an attempt to make all experiences congruent to former experience.

Gilbert further cites Spinoza’s speculation and later research evidence, that all propositions [mental representations using symbolic language] are considered by the person to be true unless the person has the energy and desire to do the analytic work to determine the proposition’s coherence. This analytic work must implement the set of rules [syntax] that the system has available and the truths [semantics] that that system already accommodates. This suggests that a system [child] needs energy, logic [syntax] and information [semantics] to create belief systems which provides an independent view of the reality of the world. Thus the capacity of an individual to arrive at a more or less objective sense of the reality around us is contingent upon an energetic desire to learn the “truth”, a finely honed set of logical skills and a willingness to expose each “truth” to stringent tests of empirical evidence, and finally a large and growing set of beliefs which have stood the test of time; been shielded from personal feelings which cannot be supported through evidence, and exposure to critical thinking.

But the child who has a poorly developed set of logical skills; whose information cache is personalized and moralized; and has little energy to deal with noncoherent propositions, will develop a reality which very likely depreciates his/her self concept which is likely to result in antisocial behaviors which set in motion a reality [pragmatics] which reinforces this perspective.

The important impact of words, both internally [thinking] and externally [communicating] upon people is of concern if we are to develop a society [school culture] which is capable of creating a more or less objective reality. Of particular importance to the development of competent children are metaphorical words which convey large generalizations of concept. [i.e., bad, lazy, stupid, etc.] Such words, when used pejoratively, without consistent data to support them, become euphanisms for who we are. While the logical [conscious] part of our brain may be significantly less powerful than the instinctive part, it is nonetheless important. We must be able to help people process the use of symbols consciously and correctly, if we hope to find a way to have significant impact on how people perform [communication and behavior] in day to day life. The hope is, from the perspective of the individual child, to strengthen analytic work through motivating [energizing] children to become conscious [ be attentive and aware] of their present schemata [coherent belief systems ] and to teach them the skills to develop logical analytical processes; in order to defuse metaphorical generalizations through an investigative process; and to enable people to make conscious those aspects of their thought which prove to be toxic.

Once armed with such cognitive skills, a child can then discover whether their beliefs about self, others and prospects “fit”. They can, with help. find and adapt the fittest constructs which help them to reach their goals. They can “recreate” themselves through their beliefs.