The Renewing of the Mind

The transition from one deeply held belief to another is not a matter of intellectual argument.  It’s not a matter of adapting a new set of ideas on an issue, it’s a matter of becoming a new person.  The more deeply held the belief, the truer this is and the more laborious the transition.

It does take logical arguments.  But walking through the reasons a belief you have is false, and why an alternative is true, will not be sufficient to change your point of view for good, even if you accept the argument.  You’ve got to go out into the world and experience things, at which point your old beliefs will creep back in, since they are comfortable and second nature.  Even if you know they’re wrong, you won’t be able to recall exactly why.  A single convincing is not enough to overcome years of justifications and deeply etched neural pathways.  You’ve got to return to the logic, time and again and from every angle, until the conclusions no longer require work, but flow from you.  You don’t accept a new idea, you become a new person, one who holds that idea.

You have to be baptized over and over until all the residue of the former belief washes off.  You have to remove the scales from your eyes, layer by layer, until you see the world anew.  And you truly do see a whole new world.  It’s stunning how the acceptance of a different set of logical conclusions is not merely a swapping of bits of data in the brain, but a fundamental shift in the lenses through which the entire world is taken in.  All looks different from the vantage point of the new belief.

One of the surprising things is how incapable you are after your transformation of acting like your old self.  It becomes impossible to even remember how and why you used to believe what you did.  You may lose patience with others who believe what you once did.  It would seem, coming as you did from the same place, that you’d have a keen understanding of their position.  Instead, you find as time passes and your new self becomes more familiar, you look at the same picture and see things so different that dialogue becomes difficult.  You have to remind yourself that they are on a journey, and a single conversation will not suffice to transform their mindset.  You can’t get them to see what you see with one dose of data.  They’ve got to be curious enough to examine and reexamine the issue, each time removing another layer of the lens, just like you did.

You can become many different people over the course of one lifetime.  I recall some of the biases and beliefs of my former selves, and I can only smile in wonderment.  How did I persist in believing those things for so long?  How much happier am I now with new eyes!  I imagine I’ll eventually think the same about some of my current beliefs.

Some new beliefs still aren’t second nature.  I find myself in situations where I no longer believe my default response, but I haven’t transformed enough to know what my new ideas mean in practice.  I’ve got to return to the arguments, again and again, until my mind makes a shift.

First, you get the idea intellectually.  Enough work, and you get it on a gut level.  Finally, when the transition is complete, you understand it well enough to explain it to others.  Arguing for an idea you haven’t yet become is difficult and counter-productive, unless you’re doing it as a lighthearted intellectual exercise.  Become a new person, and your very life will be an argument for your beliefs.