Orbiting or Crash and Burn — Belief-planets and the Gravitational Pull of Coherence

We stick with many things because they seem to work.  Or because that is just the way it is.  That is the hand of cards you were dealt, so stop whining, join in, and play. If and when we even try to rise above the daily slog and question why–why we play by these rules, if I don’t like the experience or outcome–the world’s response slaps us back down to the ground.  If we try and try, again and again, the response gets stronger and stronger, experienced eventually as a crash and burn.  Gravity wins.  In this case, the strength of the argument that slaps us back down is in its coherence, the way it holds together and the way it corresponds with our experience.  “See.  Here is the evidence.  This is the way life really works.  And, because of that, this is also true.  See.  It works.”  This internally consistent story is very hard to argue with, thus the crashing back to the ground.

And, the experience of the questioning mixed with the experience of a crashing back down might also be indicating not that gravity always wins, rather that you haven’t risen high enough to get into outer orbit.  Gravity wins; until it doesn’t.

In recent reading on a different topic, I came across a really helpful characterization of this phenomenon, described by a writer I have cited a few times recently, for the ideas that he has sparked in me.  So, while he applies this idea to another context, I thought his description was so well written, that I would rather cite it in full than try to paraphrase it.  In The Big Picture (2016), a theoretical physicist at Cal Tec, Sean Carroll writes:

No analogy is perfect, but the planets-of-belief metaphor is a nice way to understand the view known in philosophical circles as coherentism. According to this picture, a justified belief is one that belongs to a coherent set of propositions.  This coherence plays the role of the gravitational pull that brings together dust and rocks to form real planets.  A stable planet of belief will be one where all the individual beliefs are mutually coherent and reinforcing.

Some planets are not stable.  People go through life with a a very large number of beliefs, some of which may not be compatible with others, even if they don’t recognize it.  We should think of planets of belief as undergoing gradual but constant churning, bringing different beliefs into contact with one another, just as real planets experience convection in the mantle and plate tectonics near the surface.  When two dramatically incompatible beliefs come into direct contact, it can be like highly reactive chemicals being mixed together, leading to an impressive explosion–possibly even blowing the entire planet apart, until a new one can be reassembled from different parts.

Ideally, we should be constantly testing and probing our planets of belief for inconsistencies and structural deficiencies.  Precisely because they are floating freely through space, rather than remaining anchored on solid and immovable ground, we should always be willing to improve our planets’ old beliefs and replacing them with better ones…The real problem is that we can imagine more than one stable planet–there can be multiple sets of beliefs that are consistent within the sets, but not among them (117-118).

Is the scarcity-only-based planet-of-beliefs the only experience we have?  Or is there another planet-of-belief forming, one based in abundance also?  What will it take to rise high enough to orbit one, to see the other?


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