What Do You Think You Know and How Do You Think You Know It?

This is a guest post by Vlad Dolezal, who works as a life coach, and writes on Alive With Passion.

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Imagine you have a table. Now imagine you have a person (let’s call them Gentleman A) leaning over the table, and a person (let’s call them Gentleman B) sitting on a small stool next to the table, their head just slightly above the level of the table.

Yes I’m invoking this convoluted setup to make a point. You see, there’s a water glass on the table.

“This water glass is circular shaped.” Claims Gentleman A.

“It most certainly is not. I can see as clear as day that it is rectangular.” Says Gentleman B.

“You are mistaken. It is very obviously circular.”

“Not at all. It is definitely as rectangular as a rectangle itself!”

At which point Gentleman A takes out a white glove and slaps Gentleman B, challenging him to a duel.

The whole problem above is that each person is completely convinced that their point of view is the only right point of view there is. Except they’re both correct. If you look at a water glass from above, the outline is indeed a circle, and if you look it at from the side, the outline is rectangular.

The mistake both of our lovely gentlemen above made was confusing the reality and their beliefs.

In reality, a water glass is not a simple outline, but a complex three-dimensional object. Actually, that’s a simplification too. In reality, it’s a convoluted probabilistic waveform that tends to resolve in a bunch of vibrating atoms we like to call “water glass”.

The point is, your model of reality is just that. A model. It is always, by definition, imprecise, and open to mistakes (or less-than-ideal interpretations).

Since Matt was so brilliant as to allow me to post on here, I figured I would go along with the theme of the blog, and share a big constraint I overcame a while ago.

What do you think you know? How do you think you know it?

In the summer of 2009, I was with my girlfriend at a summer camp, and she had a bit of a sore throat. So a friend of hers suggested eating ice-cream to soothe the sore throat. This idea horrified me, because I knew ice-cream is bad for a sore throat! But I let it slip.

Fast forward 6 months later. I’m with my girlfriend again, and again she gets a bit of a sore throat. She suggests eating an ice-cream, but I convince her it’s a bad idea, that it would only make things worse and that hot drinks are much better for a sore throat.

Then, in the search of truth, I decide to google the ice-cream vs. sore throat question. Well, I say in the search of truth. Actually, I was hoping to find more evidence to back my belief, so I could make a more convincing argument.

Except, it turns out I was wrong! Most people agree that ice-cream actually soothes a sore throat.

This blew my mind. I realized that something I accepted as completely self-evident for most of my life was in fact false.

I spent some time re-examining my beliefs, and realized I simply accepted this one as true because my mum told me so when I was a small child. So it got tagged in my brain as “true” and “from a very authoritative source”. And I never questioned those two assumptions again, until that day.

I was just like the two gentlemen at the beginning of this post. I thought my beliefs were the reality, rather than just a representation of it. A possibly faulty one, at that.

Ever since then, whenever I get in an argument about beliefs, I first pause and take a good inward look:

What do you think you know? How do you think you know it?

Those two questions will save you a lot of arguments. Considering them tends to turn most arguments from “my belief vs. your belief” to “let’s find the truth together”. It also helps you find weaknesses in your own thinking, and beliefs you’ve held so long you accept them as self-evident, even though they didn’t come from a very authoritative source in the first place – probably word of mouth from your relatives or friends.

And that’s how I overcame the constraint of thinking my beliefs were always right. Are you ready to do the same?

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Vlad Dolezal works as a life coach, and writes Alive With Passion, a blog to help you live in a way that makes you feel deeply, passionately alive. Check it out for more personal development goodness!

2 comments
Vishnu
Vishnu

Vlad, in fear of you slapping me with a white glove or challenging me to a duel, I agree with everything you say in this article. Thanks for the reminder - beliefs can be changed and everything depends on one's perspective.