Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beliefs and their Influence on Our Emotions

Sasami believed that eating pork is sinful (-). She ate pork (-) today, and she felt guilty, unhappy.

Bhonna believed that eating pork is good for health (+). She ate pork today (+), and she felt satisfied, happy (+).

The core element here is belief. 

Belief makes who you are. I sometimes feel that our mind is a set of belief itself. Tell about anything in this world, and I think I can correlate some underlying belief based on it. For instance, say 1+1=2. Some would argue that such a mathematical truth is not a belief. Well, for 1+1=2 to be a mathematical truth, you must believe that 1 is a unit which is equal to nothing other than 1 itself, and 2 is a unit which is nothing other than 'two' 1s where 'two' is 1+1, where + is nothing other than taking two separate things and combining them together. Such a simple equation involves a number of beliefs hidden within it. Again, what does combining mean? and so on.

Beliefs could be altered through changing the underlying beliefs. That should involve in some sort of logical reasoning. Let us get back to the example of Sasami. Sasami believed that eating pork is sinful. She believes so because her family said so. She believes in her family. Now, her belief about eating pork can be altered by altering her belief about the family.

Some beliefs are strong, while others are weak. Strong beliefs have more number of underlying beliefs (which I shall call sub-beliefs) than a weak beliefs. Some sub-beliefs are parallel in nature, while others are sequential. Parallel sub beliefs are a set of sub beliefs which directly influences a belief. Sequential sub-beliefs are a set of sub-beliefs which are chain like, one influencing the other in a sequential manner. For example, Sasami believes that eating pork is sinful because 1) her family says so 2) her doctor said so 3) she read it in a medical Journal 4) her scripture says so etc. These are parallel sub beliefs. Example of sequential sub-beliefs is, Sasami believes that eating pork is sinful because, she read about the harmful effects of eating pork in a Journal, the article was written by a doctor, the doctor had a medical degree, medical degree was given by X organization and so on. Interestingly most of our beliefs have both parallel and sequential sub-beliefs which makes psychology (especially cognitive psychology) so complex.

Can beliefs be changed?

Admit it or not some deep rooted beliefs are very hard to change for even the most liberal person. If the reader is like most of the modern homo sapiens, imagine your neighbor persuading you for incest or cannibalism. Would your belief change? At the same time some beliefs are easy to change. Sundhru used to have aspirin for quite a few years, and a single article, on his favorite newspaper, about the negative side effects persuaded him not to have aspirin.

So do I have a mantra to be happy? Yes. Let Sasami not eat Pork or let her change her belief about eating pork and then she will be happy with pork, at least. Remember it is often easier to control our animal nature (more about animal nature and mental model in future post) than to change one's deep rooted beliefs.

I would like to hear about some instances in your life which changed your previous beliefs.