What is reality?
The best question to start one’s quest for truth.
No one sees reality as it really is because we all see the world through layers of cognitive biases & assumptions. So we see the world as we are, instead of as it is.
A good place to start being more circumspect about our beliefs is to question how we make our beliefs in the first place.
I always advise people now not to believe everything they think or feel. And to question the reasons for those beliefs.
Most of us, as humans, base our beliefs on emotion driven thinking. Rather than on strong evidence & objectivity.
As a result human beings are extremely gullible to unjustified beliefs.
Psychologists can tell you that most people make their beliefs first then look for evidence to confirm those beliefs. This leaves us vulnerable to subconscious cognitive biases like confirmation bias or observer bias.
As humans we can be very irrational about our beliefs and hold onto them despite disconfirming evidence to the contrary.
I strongly recommend studying how we, as human beings, actually form our belief systems.
Accepting that there is an actual reality out there is the first premise.
Then realising & understanding the limitations of our perception of reality is the next step.
Understanding how our minds perceive reality starts us on our journey into discovering what reality is & how to avoid the mistake of believing everything we think & feel is a true reflection of actual reality.
I believe that the best way to perceive reality is with a combination of:
1. Personal experience
2. Rational thought & reasoning
3. Empirical evidence.
The more of these three methods we use to understand reality, the more reliable our perception of it.
Our perception of reality is quite subjective.
It’s scary when one realises how unreliable our understanding of the natural world really is.
Which is why I no longer trust my own feelings & intuition as much as I used to as an active Church member.
But rather, question everything!
I find the Mormon concept of coming to know truth through the feelings of the heart or spirit particularly unreliable.
You can have different emotions about knowledge. Certain information can make us feel happy or sad. But the information or knowledge exists independent of our feelings about it. The information actually doesn’t care what emotion it evokes. It just exists.
I think in the Church we confuse emotions about the information as proof of its veracity. Whether something is true or false has nothing to do with our feelings about it.
It’s a well studied & understood psychological phenomenon common to all humanity & used by most religions & even some businesses.
When looking at the evidence for cognitive biases, assumptions, phobias & prejudices being used as evidence for truth it’s frightening.
After 46 years of following my faith tradition & truly putting it to the test on many occasions I ‘knew’ I knew the Church was true & God was more real to me than life itself.
I had so many experiences which ‘proved’ to me of it’s veracity.
I too put my absolute trust in ‘spiritual knowledge’.
Till I realised I had been grossly in error. Just like all the billions of Catholics, and many millions of Muslims & Hindus etc. Their ‘spiritual knowledge’ was just as fallible as mine.
I came to realise the power of the mind in tricking us into believing in fallacy, as if it were reality.
Our minds are amazingly powerful & incredibly malleable which makes us vulnerable to severe errors in judgement.
As humans we are all susceptible to incredulity & even serious gullibility.
The more we understand the workings of the mind, the more we understand ourselves.
I recommend a wonderful book called ‘The Believing Brain’ by Michael Shermer, which looks at the evidence for how our minds work & how human beliefs are formed.
There really is no such thing as ‘spiritual knowledge’. It’s just explained very simply by how our minds work.
All beliefs are either justified by evidence or unjustified.
Declaring belief or faith in something is honest.
Hoping for something is honest.
Expressing a feeling about something is being open, and human, and authentic.
No-one can be absolutely certain of anything because none of us experiences reality in every possible way imaginable. As all of us merely perceives some aspects of reality, so none of us can know absolutely!
We can assess reality and judge the certainty based on levels of probability. So we assign degrees of certainty over information based on our assessment using the three methods I mentioned above:
2.Reasoning/rational thinking, and
3.Scientific evidence & observation.
Our assessment of the level of certainty is dependent on how much information we have about a subject, our preconceived ideas, and on automatic subconscious assumptions, biases, phobias and prejudices. These are often inculcated into our minds by the culture in which we grew up and live.
But asserting to have certain ‘knowledge’, when it is merely faith, hope and belief is, I believe, a form of self-delusion and shows a lack of thorough care in defining that level of certainty.
It is, of course, a common finding amongst all people and religions of the world and in every human being to some degree.
All of us, as humans, dislike uncertainty. Our subconscious minds abhor insecurity.
So, even if we are not certain, our subconscious minds will persuade us that we are certain after all.
A very useful way to avoid becoming trapped by unscrupulous people or organisations is to question even our own thoughts and emotions, instead of interpreting warm peaceful feelings as confirmations of the Spirit.
After all, that’s what we’d advise Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims.
Being honest to oneself is the first step to having integrity and being authentic.
That is my goal.
Though I realize that our perception of reality is imperfect, I don’t hold to the concept of universal relativity.
There are many things in the natural world which the scientific method has discovered are universal certainties. Just like with mathematics and certain sections of science like physics & chemistry which are absolutes.
But I think it is seriously misleading for anyone to consider ‘spiritual knowledge’ in the same way.
One is justified by empirical evidence, the other by feelings.
Most religions use similar strategies to convince their adherents that they can rely on their feelings as confirmation of truth, & that feelings about God & their particular faith are somehow uniquely more reliable then any other emotions they may experience.
This complete & absolute trust in spiritual knowledge as being supreme is what scares me now about religion.
For it is this absolute knowledge in what God wants them to do which leads some to give up their lives in suicide bombings.
On the other hand there are many wonderful people in the world who are constantly striving to find answers through scientific enquiry. A good scientist is never satisfied that they have all the answers. They humbly try to disprove their research to increase the degree of certainty.
I believed I knew that Mormonism was God’s work & kingdom on earth for 46 years as a Latter-day Saint, seven years whilst serving faithfully as a Bishop.
I have since come to realise that what I considered knowledge was merely belief and faith. Fervent and sincere as it was at the time. I thought I knew. I fervently & sincerely believed I possessed unassailable and certain knowledge.
I was, in effect, lying to myself. It was merely belief, hope and faith.
Other people and leaders in the Church may try to persuade you it is more than faith and belief, but just like con-men and tricksters, they have their own agendas.
Always question your cognitive assumptions.
Humans are naturally gullible. Just look at the billions of other religious adherents around the world. I admit I was one of them.
We all like a good story! Especially if it makes us feel good.
“Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the attendant of truth.
Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.
A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.
Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.
Let no one fear for the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief.
The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing;
For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.
Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands.
But those who fear not doubt, and know its use; are founded on rock.
They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure.
Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help:
It is to the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth.”
– Robert Weston, Unitarian Universalist minister