How do we know what we know?
As we go through life, each of us forms our own unique personal philosophy as we acquire beliefs and form belief systems. although we barely realize it, our beliefs (what we Think is true) guide our thinking and decisions, fuel our emotions, and in large part shape our lives.
But how do we know that what we know is true?
If our beliefs were true, they wouldn’t be beliefs, they’d be facts. But we go through life convinced that our beliefs are true, holding unquestioning faith in things we decided long long ago, and often, finding more and more evidence that we are right as we interpret the world through the lens of our beliefs.
Your Personal Philosophy
Each of us lives out of a personal philosophy. This personal philosophy shapes our behaviour and emotions, guides our choices and decisions, dictates our motivations.
Behind symptoms of depression we will find a personal philosophy characterized by pessimism about the future, hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. Behind anxiety lies a personal philosophy about future dangers, the need to avoid them and powerlessness to do so. What about obsessive-compulsive disorder, pathological gambling, eating disorders, personality disorders, dependency and addictions? A personal philosophy is hiding behind the scenes and behind the symptoms.
Those who achieve impressive levels of performance, wealth and success did it as a result of their personal philosophy. That person who is always so happy and seems to get what they want, while everyone else wonders how they do it, is able to consistently get the same results as a result of the collection of ideas, assumptions and convictions they are living out of; their personal philosophy.
Get a degree in philosophy and unfortunately you won’t be seen as highy valuable in the job market, but philosophy rules our lives. Our society, economy and government are all based on philosophies. Our lives are no different, and so, each of us is a philosopher.
Some of us have a personal philosophy that leads to empowerment, happiness and achievement while others have a personal philosophy that ruins their lives. Mother Theresa’s life was shaped by a personal philosophy. So was Ghandi’s and Lincoln’s and Osama Bin Laden’s. The schizophrenic has a very unique personal philosophy that leads to his symptoms, as does the addict, the stutterer and the phobic.
What do you believe? What is your truth? What hidden assumptions direct your choices, actions, motivation?
Although it dictates our life, our personal philosophy is mostly unconscious, hidden from our awareness, and as such, unquestioned and unchallenged.
How does your personal philosophy develop?
You probably didn’t form your core beliefs yesterday. For most of us, our deepest beliefs formed when we were children, formed as the mind of a child attempted to make sense of of painful events. This philosophy then acts as a powerful command to our nervous system for the rest of our lives.
According to science, There are 5 methods of acquiring knowledge, and it is through these methods that we formed the personal philosophy upon which our life is currently based and through these methods that our beliefs (both the empowering ones and the not so empowering ones) are held in place.
The 5 Methods of Acquiring Knowledge
1. The Method of Tenacity
According to the method of tenacity, we believe what we believe because it has been held as true for a long time. As a result, we hold things to be true out of habit or superstition. Of course, the more we hear a statement, the more we’ll believe it, and so, as children we come to believe what is repeated often; repetition= truth.
Not too long ago, everyone believed the world was flat, and it was heresy to challenge this. Popular belief once held that the sun revolved around the earth and anyone who didn’t agree was nuts. Today, we are guided by popular ideas held by tenacity. All of the “that’s not possible” or “that’s just the way it is” and the “you can’t do thats”.
Are they really true or merely superstition?
2. The Method of Intuition
According to the method of intuition, we determine what is true because it feels right. When we trust our gut, we’re relying on the method of intuition. In some cases intuition can be reliable and useful, but often our intuition is just plain wrong and what feels true isn’t true at all.
How can we tell the difference?
3. The Method of Authority
Using the method of authority, we acquire knowledge by trusting an expert or authority figure. Whenever we trust doctors, politicians, professors, leaders, celebrities, newspapers, books or information on the Internet we are relying on the assumed expertise of someone else.
This is also called the Method of Faith as people often have unquestionning trust in an authority figure and so, accept what they say without challenge or doubt.
Is this a problem? Experts can be wrong, can be biased, and can deliberately mislead. What’s more is that experts can disagree! What then? Everywhere you look you find conflicting information on nutrition and health. What we are told to eat one year is the next year’s public enemy.
As children we are subject to the authority of our parents. They are the experts and so we take what they say as Gospel truth. Even if they are troubled abusive or cruel, they are the authority and so what they say must be true.
Is it really? Was it?
4. The Rational Method
The Rational Method seeks knowledge through logic. According to this method, one begins with a fact or assumption and then reaches logically conclusions based on the initial assumptions.
The problem with this is two-fold: First, if the initial statements aren’t true, the logic doesn’t hold. Second, people are not good at logical reasoning! Most of our reasoning is faulty!
Often people keep themselves stuck because they reason based on assumptions that are both harmful and untrue. Few question the initial assumptions upon which their thinking is based. Logic then becomes a trap.
5. The Empirical Method
The Empirical Method seeks knowledge through direct experience. Through empiricism, we determine what is true through our senses; it’s true if we can see, hear and feel it.
When young, we determine what is true about life, the world and the future greatly through direct experience. We reason that what happens to us indicates the truth about life, but in reality our childhood usually has little to do with the rest of our life ( except to the extend we are trapped with childhood beliefs). Direct experience may tell us something is true, but it doesn’t mean it’s true in other times, contexts or situations. We easily overgeneralize from direct experience without realizing the past doesn’t equal the future.
The Empirical Approach is the “I’ll see it when I believe it” approach, but many things are true even though we don’t have direct experience of them. We can’t see bacteria with the naked eye but we know it’s there. The same is true of atoms, molecules and particples. A hundred years ago we had no direct experience of computers, but they were still possible.
What about optical illusions? These are also evidence of the fallibility of direct experience.
The sense tell us that ones of these lines is longer than the other, but a ruler will show they are identical in length.
Can we always trust our senses?
The Scientific Method… and Your Life
It was dissatisfaction with these methods of gathering information that led to the development of the scientific method. Science aimed to gain more reliable information about the world and have more confidence in the validity of the answers, and everyone knows that the scientific method rules the world today.
But each of us still lives in a world of superstition. We believe what has been believed, rely on faulty logic and trust shaky feelings and perceptions. We believe things because our mind tells us they are true, but the mind is cunningly deceptive.
What would happen if we would put our personal philosophy under the microscope and subject it to the tests of truth through the scientific method? This is precisely what cognitive and NLP-style interventions do to help us free ourselves of outdated mental
mapping that is keeping us stuck.