Beliefs are like hammers

If one sees oneself as possessing a hammer, problems tend to become just a bunch of nails.  If anything appears to confirm that the problem may, in fact, be a nail, one is not only more likely to smash it with one’s hammer, but also to feel good about smashing it with one’s hammer.  Research suggests one gets a rush of dopamine – the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good – when one stumbles upon information that supports one of their beliefs.

So how can one avoid this preemption of reason?

If one is looking for the optimum solution, one must pretend that the obvious answer that one comes up with first is not it. One must suspend one’s belief that the problem is to be solved in that way.  By taking that solution and that approach off the table, at least for the moment, one looks at the data associated with a difficult problem with an entirely new perspective and can discover solutions that, once found, may be much more optimum and more obvious than what one first thought was the ‘obvious’ solution.

Beliefs are like cherished hammers that may have helped one drive all the nails that hold one’s house together.  But unless one is building a house, it’s pretty useless.

Supposedly many people have gone to their deaths on ventilators believing they did not have Covid-19, believing that Covid-19 would not be lethal, believing that vaccines do not prevent Covid-19, and maybe even believing that vaccines include chips that are distributed by Bill Gates to subjugate the world.  But maybe this supposition about the stupidity of my fellow man is just what I choose to believe.  Maybe, but I don’t believe so.

One response to “Beliefs are like hammers”

  1. Sean J. Vaughan says:

    Doing as you say, “suspending one’s belief,” or not cognizing while being aware, is the heart of buddhism. There is a space between ignorance and knowledge that is clear like space. This is where your true self is, where your mind is, where all sentient beings truly exist.

    It took me years to understand what was meant by the Buddha’s “Diamond Sword” term. Swinging the diamond sword is cutting off attachment to all beliefs, views, and ideas. It’s like the ultimate skepticism, letting go of all hammers. When one finds this clear space, one is experiencing enlightenment, one’s true self.

    I prostrate to Gautama
    Who through compassion
    Taught the true doctrine,
    Which leads to the relinquishing of all views.
    — Nagarjuna, Mulamadhyamakakarika (Fundamental Wisdom
    of the Middle Way), translated by Jay Garfield

    Not knowing is most intimate.
    — Luohan Guichen, Case 20 of The Book of Equanimity, translated by Gerry Shishin Wick

    If even one thought appears, that is already a mistake.
    — Zen Master So Sahn, The Mirror of Zen, translated by Hyon Gak

    I do not teach Buddhism. I only teach don’t know.
    —Zen Master Seung Sahn, The Compass of Zen

    (The above quotes are from this very good article about Zen Master Sueng Sahn’s “Only Don’t Know” teachings

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