Chapter Fourteen

FREEDOM FROM DELUSION


A delusion held by one person is a mental illness, held by a few is a cult, held by many is a religion. - Robert Todd Carroll


As fallible human beings, it is probably not possible to be 100% free from delusion. This fact does not justify clinging to insane delusions, and passively allowing others to plant and manipulate delusions within us.

The first step to purging delusions is the realization that many of our current beliefs may be (and probably are) wrong. Anyone who has ever had first-hand knowledge of an event which received significant news coverage probably knows that what passes for news reporting is usually filled with errors. Why would we believe that accounts of “miraculous” events were accurately passed down from generation to generation, prior to being recorded in a book designed to attract and control followers?

Although beliefs based upon experience, observation and experimentation are certainly of a higher quality than silly faith-based beliefs, they are still often wrong or subject to misunderstanding. Since we do not know everything, we will certainly find out that past or current beliefs are wrong, and must be revised or abandoned.

The greatest enemy to intellectual growth and the acquisition of new knowledge is the belief that we already know everything. All beliefs should be held tentatively, and subject to revision as new knowledge, insights and context become available.

The desire for absolute knowledge is strong. A giant leap in wisdom is achieved when one realizes that all of his treasured knowledge is only tentative, and that nothing can be known for certain.

Try looking at the world through the perspective of others. If you can truly see reality through the eyes of a person of a different country, culture, race or gender, you may be able to understand how much of your own viewpoint is nothing more than perspective. A belief does not become a fact merely because it is reinforced by others who believe the same. Nor can the intensity of your desire for reality to be something other than what it is change the physical laws of the universe.

Many new-age gurus make a living convincing people that their thoughts and beliefs change reality. I would agree that when translated into action, your thoughts can effect change on your environment. Your perspective and beliefs can also change your personal experiences, which may change your interaction with the world. But the extension to these facts often preached by feel-good, new-age gurus, i.e., that the very nature of external reality is changed when you change your beliefs, is pure nonsense.

So long as people remain in sheltered, materially affluent societies, they can afford (to an extent) the luxury of such beliefs, should they prefer comfortable delusion to harsh reality. It would be a much more difficult task to convince a starving third world child that she is only hungry because she believes she is hungry, and that she could become affluent if she would only abandon her poverty mentality, in exchange for a mentality of abundance. Since starving third world children don't have the money to buy new-age self-help books, this flaw is apparently not one of their authors’ concerns.

I prefer to hunt down and abolish my delusions to the extent possible, rather than seek new ones for comfort. Losing a cherished delusion is often painful, but this is the pain of growth, not the pain of injury. Whatever temporary comfort a happy delusion may bring does have a cost, as unclear, hazy thinking is never optimal, and is nearly always subject to manipulation.


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