Editorial: To believe or not to believe

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You are about to read something hypocritical. I’m going to try to convince you that a belief I hold dearly is true, but if at the end you believe it, I will have failed.

I want to write it regardless, because it changed my outlook on life. If I wasn’t against clichés, I would claim that it made me the man I am today.

Let me start with how this belief came about.

I was taught the curriculum approved version of how airplanes stay up. You’ve probably been taught this too: the curvature of the wing makes air flow faster over it and slower under it, resulting in high pressure underneath the wing and low pressure over it.

And that contributes to it, sure. But the fact that plane wings have to be at an angle to the airflow, and force air downward, was completely left out, even though it’s a huge component.

I didn’t learn that until I researched it for myself, out of curiosity.

High school taught me about gravity — Newton’s model of it. No mention of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity and its explanation of gravity, which had been scientifically accepted for decades already.

Yes, it’s complex, but it would have been nice if it had at least been mentioned. Again, I learned that myself.

But by that point, I had learned a much more important lesson. It’s a lesson that I can’t forget even if I try, because the evidence is inescapable.

We don’t actually know anything.

Yeah, most other people roll their eyes too. Try it, though. Think of any statement you know is true, and prove it. Done? Now list every assumption you made in proving it and prove them all, too. Repeat the process for every statement you prove, and you will eventually get to a statement it’s not possible to prove — a statement you don’t know is true.

You can assume that what you’re learning in your courses will still be relevant a decade from now, or that the sun will rise tomorrow. You’re probably right.

Our world views are built on what we think are firm, indestructible pillars of truth, and held together by what we believe to be a continuous, rigid frame of logic.

Dig deep enough though, and we find that those pillars don’t have a solid base. Peel back the superstructure, and we see that that frame has more holes than a moth-eaten duvet — it bends and stretches with the slightest touch of emotion.

It’s both a freeing and restricting thought. Freeing, because you realize that the universe is open to interpretation. Restricting, because if you accept it, you will spend the rest of your life wondering how far from the truth your version of reality is.

You see, now comes the great hypocrisy. How can I preach that nobody knows the absolute truth, and then ask anyone to accept that to be true?

The ideal position, I think, is the area between belief and disbelief: making assumptions. You can behave as if something is true while knowing it may not be, because it makes life simpler.

We do it all the time, whether we realize it or not. I made the assumption when I stepped out the door this morning that I wouldn’t get pooped on by a pigeon.

Was I right? Yes. But I may not have been.

You can make the assumption that reality is, in fact, real. You can assume that the laws of physics work everywhere (classical-quantum gap aside).

You can assume that what you’re learning in your courses will still be relevant a decade from now, or that the sun will rise tomorrow. You’re probably right.

You just might not be.

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