Have you ever seriously considered where your beliefs came from? I can't, for the life of me, remember ever making a decision to believe the things I believe. They were usually already there, fully formed, or when they were presented to me for the first time, I glommed onto them immediately without a doubt. Now, I do remember rejecting things I had been given or told to believe, examining them an trying to see if they made sense, and when they didn't, trying to find some explanation that made sense. I guess the closest thing to a decision to believe something came when I finally accepted the proposition that there really wasn't any reason for anything, I did fight against that concept for the longest, but when I finally did make the decision to accept it, it did seem inevitable. So, did I choose that belief or was it just waiting there for me to realize.
I tend to give genetics a lot of, if not total, power in determining who we are. That is not to say that genetics are inevitable, but that genetics provide the potential, and the environment actualizes that potential. (one may have all the genetic factors for alcoholism, but if one never takes a drink ...) So did I choose my beliefs or did my beliefs choose me? I guess there may have been beliefs that I held that were proven impossible, but if there were I must have immediately replaced them with something else, and were these really beliefs or just misinformation? Anybody got any ideas about this?

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Comment by Kirk Holden on January 2, 2010 at 6:09pm
Some of the answers to this are in Steven Pinker's "The Blank Slate"

We are not blank slates into which ideas are poured. The genes build the phenotype which is then molded by the culture as you say. Our minds remain forever plastic. Not only are the contents of the minds in our brains fungible -- our brains and the minds that spring from them are plastic.

Memes infect us like a virus. Most ideas reach into our minds like parasites. That's just a theory but a fun read is Susan Blackmore's "Meme Machine".
Comment by Doug Reardon on January 2, 2010 at 7:42pm
I didn't hear about evolution until the 7th grade, I went to catholic school, but as soon as i heard about it I thought, now that makes sense and I immediately believed it was correct, I didn't know all the particulars, but I "knew" that the general concept was correct, i didn't decide it was correct I just knew, or felt it was true, without hesitation.
And I remember a story my philosophy of religion professor told of an old African man who was in his 70's when the Christian missionaries made it to his neck of the woods, and after listening to their spiel said: "I've been waiting all my life to hear this!" So, to what extent is belief a choice?
Comment by Kirk Holden on January 2, 2010 at 8:35pm

belief 1: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing.

You cannot "rewind the tape" to see exactly how a state of habit of mind got into your mind. You can probably begin to enumerate your beliefs after the fact to understand whether you trust them now or if you should trust them in the future.

You are doing that by using free will. The two parts of free will are:
1. thinking about thinking
2. talking to other people who are also thinking about thinking.

Belief 2 : something believed; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group.

We all get this from our past associations or groups. Most belief complexes are poorly constructed and in constant need of repair as new evidence becomes available.

belief 3 : conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence.

This is the kind of belief we can use. It's the kind we choose when we are careful.


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