NOTE: If publishing, start with a story. Perhaps how I use to believe in the Simulation argument, and then reassigned my probabilities after a few years. Mention how I wanted to believe in it, life after death etc.
How to Form Beliefs - When To Believe What Someone Else Believes
How do you know that what you believe is true?
Have you followed all the scientific methods to test and confirm that gravity, the stars or evolution exist and are true? We form beliefs about how we think the world works all the time. We believe a certain political idea will work better for more people than another, or we believe that pursuing our current lifestyles and goals will make us happy.
Each belief we make is likely to be dependant on many other things being true. If you believe the earth orbits the sun, you would also need to believe in current theories of gravity, believe that the earth is round and so on. But a single individual cannot go through all the proofs needed to ensure these beliefs and sub beliefs are actually true. It would take too long. So we have to believe some things that we are told. But how should we decide who to believe on what?
I can see the evidence myself
When you learn about something new and you can see proof of its existence that is certainly a good first step. Someone tells you the world works like this because of x, and you can clearly see the result of x. However, our world is a complex place, so many events can cause a certain result to be visible. (NOTE: Example) How can you be sure that the result you’re seeing was caused exclusively by x, and isn’t infact a byproduct of something else. Or that x slightly increases the chance of the result happening but isn’t the main cause.
What makes a good source of beliefs
Their methods and results are replicable
When an individual or organisation publish a fact about the world that may inform your beliefs, one of the best ways to check its validity is to see if other people have set out to collect similar data and found the same results. The scientific method is about producing a set of experimental steps that will always lead to the same data and conclusions. It’s why the scientific community in general is one of the best places to find the most accurate facts and beliefs. As for an idea or belief to be accepted in the community it must have been verified by people other than the original expirementors. And the methods are available to anyone who wants to check themselves.
They set out to prove their ideas wrong
One of the best ways to filter a valid belief from the huge array of false ones, is to try and prove the idea wrong. Rather than trying to prove it right. As seen in the media, it’s not particularly hard to find data to fit your theory. (NOTE: Example) But that data may not be related to the theory. By setting out to prove the belief wrong you’re discarding alternate explanations of your observations until you may be left with a single plausible belief.
They show that they update their beliefs and agendas when their ideas are proved to be wrong
Humans can be stubborn creatures, unwilling to admit they’re wrong and change their beliefs. A great way to have more trust in a source is by seeing them adjust their beliefs according to the new information they encounter. It shows a willingness to embrace rationality and how the world actually is, rather than how they want it to be.
Bringing these ideas into your daily life
Doing your due diligence on every idea you come across is impratical. Just like doing the experimental proofs for everything you believe, you’re not going to vet every single source for how well they exercise rationality and the scientific method. Instead I propose the following changes you can make:
Read up on rationality
Learning more about rationality will help you to reason about beliefs and ideas in a more logical way. The ideas it teaches will stick in your subconcious and help you automatically as you hear about new ideas that may affect your beliefs. The blog LessWrong (NOTE: Link) is a great place to start learning more about rationality concepts in a concise way. Also the fan fiction book Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, is very entertaining and has great concepts in it.
Read about different bias
Reading a list and explanation of different bias is a quick task and can really change the way you accept new ideas. You’ll recognise a lot of things that you already do without realising. This is a nice quick win, and for any bias you don’t necessary agree or believe is true you can look up the experiments proving it in more detail. I suggest you start with (NOTE: Link).
If you’re going to check an individual or organisation for their methods, start with ones you encounter a lot, or for beliefs that are high impact for you
With our limited time, if you do feel the urge to delve a bit deeper into an idea or source, you should start with the ones that impact your life the most. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are there any beliefs that would dramatically alter your life if you believe/disbelieve them?
- Are there any sources of information you constantly come across and often adopt their beliefs?
Having answered those questions, look at which beliefs or sources you think would be most useful to analyse first and start there.
Practice assigning probabilities to beliefs and ideas
When coming across a new idea or source, try a quick and rough estimate of how accurate you think that idea or source is based off your current knowledge. Ask yourself “What do I know, and how do I think I know it”. This will be super rough, but the main point of it is to train your mind to notice the uncertainties in the idea or source, rather than to get an accurate probability. By making this a habit, you should be able to better identify when an idea may be lacking enough proof to fully believe it.
If you knew someone to be a perfect rationalist, as a rationalist yourself you would believe everything they said, without needing to check the proof. This is not the case, but the principle applies for assigning a probability to it. How rational do I think the people with these beliefs are?
Find groups with a high level of rationality and get your information from them
Lots of people believing something can be a very weak proof of that thing being true, however the general public are not normally very good rationalists and very susceptible to the news and social media. Which is not usually a great space for rationality. Instead if we seek our information from groups we believe have a high level of rationality, we’re likely to form more accurate beliefs. Whether that’s a specific website for news, podcast or any other source.
More Info (WIP)
- Bias Links
- GRab a bunch of links from my Rationality Note