Never Believe Anything

by Michael W. Taft

“I don’t believe anything, but I have many suspicions.” ~ Robert Anton Wilson

 

I often give out meditation advice on this blog, but today I’m going to do something very unusual: I’m going to give some life advice. And you might ask, “Who are you to give me life advice?” Good question.

My answer is that it’s not about me knowing more than anybody else, or being a big-shot billionaire, or having some special qualification. It’s about sharing with you, from my heart, something that I have found to be incredibly important. Something that I feel is the best advice I can give you.

My life advice is this: Never believe anything. 

That’s it. It’s really simple. Just don’t believe anything. Ever. Seriously.

Don’t Believe Thoughts and Feelings, Models or Maps

People often find this advice upsetting, so I’ve included some pictures of adorable kittens on the page to help you feel warm and fuzzy. Also, people tend to really misunderstand what I’m saying, so here is a brief unpacking of some of the details:

never believe

I want to believe

1. Ideas are just sounds and pictures in your head. We use them to make approximate models of reality, and those are helpful for staying alive, eating, reproducing, and other fun and fundamental activities. However, don’t mistake an idea in your head for anything real. Never believe any idea. Ever. Thoughts are just thoughts. The menu is not the meal. The thought is not the reality. Don’t believe a thought.

2. Some people think that this makes me an atheist or a nihilist, but I don’t believe in atheism or nihilism either. They’re just more ideas; just alternate prisons. Never believe any idea. If there is a god, it’s definitely not a mental concept of god—so, again, don’t believe in mental concepts. Do you really think you know for sure whether there is or is not a god? Either way, thinking that you know for sure is a belief you can let go of. Instead embrace the fact that you don’t know.

3. The ideas people believe the most are the ones that cause a big emotional reaction inside them. But emotional reactions are just feelings in your body. They don’t make anything true or real. Never believe any emotion when it’s attached to an idea. Feelings are just feelings. Don’t believe a feeling.

4. I’m not saying everything is meaningless. Some things clearly are meaningful. They just aren’t eternally meaningful everywhere in every context to everyone. Is that such a bad thing? Tuning into meaning where and when it exists is a pleasant and useful thing for a human being. Here is a meditative practice to help you to do that.

5. Ideas, concepts, models, maps—they can be very useful. We need them to conduct our lives, and to run our world. It’s not that they’re not useful, because they are obviously incredibly useful. It’s just that none of them is a complete truth, a perfect map of everything. In other words, every model, no matter how useful, is just partial. Partial maps are not eternal truths to be believed. They are ad hoc, temporary tools to make good, practical use of. Never believe a model, map, or system to be an eternal truth. Nothing explains everything.

Real Freedom

I don't believe anything

I don’t believe anything

Please don’t believe anything that I’m saying. This isn’t some kind of meta-truth. No Truth with a capital T. It’s just another thought to play with. All ideas are useful or not. You can play with them or not. That’s what they’re there for. I’m not against ideas or thoughts. The brain very naturally generates thoughts all the time. No problem. Thoughts are really good for making stuff. There is (probably) a reality out there, but it’s not the content of a thought or a feeling.

I don’t believe anything, and in my experience there is a serious payoff—a real sense of freedom. Getting stuck to ideas is a bummer, because they don’t correspond to reality and they are notoriously fickle objects. It’s impossible to be free if you are anxiously clinging to a belief. Letting go of believing means you can use ideas without getting burned by them.

This stance of using belief systems without getting hung up in them is called metarationality or post-postmodernism. David Chapman has a very good website discussing this viewpoint. (I interview him on the DY podcast here.) Another big proponent was an author I had the pleasure of interviewing, Robert Anton Wilson. He often said that, “belief is the death of intelligence.” (His trippy website has an awesome statement of non-belief here.) Philosopher Ken Wilber also writes extensively about this way of handling beliefs in his integral theory, calling it “second tier”

Understanding that the map is never the territory, and that no system of thought can every explain all of reality is the basis of true awakening. Whether it’s called liberation, enlightenment, or realization, it cannot be experienced within a belief system. The thing you’re being liberated from is all belief systems. It’s that simple.

Conclusion: Never Believe

Try noticing the next time you really believe a thought. This is a great mindfulness practice. Can you let go of thinking it is somehow pointing to reality? Can you still play with it without getting caught again? This is a game that can change your life.

What belief do you have that you can let go of? What belief can’t you let go of?

Interesting in getting more satisfaction out of life?  Read more

 

 

 

orange calico kitten by Krisztina Lazar

middle kitten by Martin Thorpe

b&w kitten by Saxon Moseley

 

 

Comments

  1. Pingback: Michael W. Taft's Q & A on Reddit - Deconstructing Yourself

  2. appreciate strongly. in scientifically brain identify every thing with just signals of electric charges as we were taught. lets think about a particular color. it is not the same color that another person sees. Think about a similar brain feed with same signals. so can feel, see, taste and finally living in.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Great post. This is a philosophy that I think serves one very well in general daily life with the outside/external world, and also allows you to be agile enough to maintain stable emotions with the kinds of significant changes, tragedies, reinventions, etc., that define our modern lives.

    Truth, I think, is pretty clearly far from objective; I’d wager you agree based on this post. So I instead look at it as a tool to navigate my life – is a truth that I’ve encountered useful for dealing with a particular problem that has presented itself to me? Then I will adopt that truth and use it to build the paradigm that is my current understanding of life, the universe, everything. But it is still nothing more than a tool and has no substantial – “real, reliable” – basis in anything external to my own perception. I commonly encounter “truths” that are more rock when I need scissors, more paper when I need rock. So I will examine them with interest but ultimately pass them along without adoption – in your parlance, an idea I would not turn into a belief. Those tools – ideas – that do help me better understand and move through my world – I will adopt them, use them for as long as they continue to be useful to me, and readily dismiss them as needed.

    I think the importance of this is the dismissal. There is a dangerous ground in the process of adopting ideas, using tools, where the trouble comes. But I don’t think it’s in the idea -> belief stage, rather it lies beyond the adoption of a belief. Beyond a belief, you get dogma. You get doctrine. You get canon. When you are no longer willing or able to let go of a belief in light of contradicting evidence (or I would sooner call it ‘better tools for greater understanding’), you get… problems. To generalize.

    So I use this tool analogy when it comes to language as well, for I think language is also a great metaphor for truth – language changes, language has different meanings, language has what seems like stable and objective meanings – that then evolve. People are challenged in communicating across languages in similar ways to the challenge they face communicating across beliefs (religion being a great example here).

    I believe things. I believe that if I eat food I will be nourished. I believe that if I sleep I will be rested. These things are admittedly not certain, but in saying that I believe them, I use the word believe as a tool to indicate that I have come across an idea that I will continue to use in navigating my world. I have deemed it beneficial to myself and the people around me. I don’t know that believe is the best word for this, but I have found it to be generally sufficient. And I value greatly my ability to let go of my beliefs, which is at the heart of your point (I believe!). I do not so much think it is the language one uses in communicating this idea that is critical, as it is to always be wary that your beliefs don’t slide into the realm of the dogmatic.

    In my life today, I have much to let go of that I have lived with for a very long time. Thanks for posting this.

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