efficient belief (or, how to trick yourself into telling the truth part 3)

The practical distinction between universal conditional suspension of disbelief (which I attempt to practice) and universal skepticism (which I reject without prejudice) is very small. In principle, as can be easily described, they are pretty much opposite:

Universal conditional suspension of disbelief is being willing to believe in anything provided you have not been personally confronted with a good reason not to believe it. The disbelief is always available, waiting in the wings so to speak. But you will not call it out unless you feel it is needed.

Universal skepticism is refraining from belief in anything unless you have been personally confronted with a reason to believe in it. Here the belief is what waits in the wings, arriving only when called for.

It all depends on the location of the burden of proof. You can think of the burden of proof like a boulder which must be rolled aside before a thing can enter. Do you put it in the path of belief, or of disbelief? Which is more conducive to mental health, which is a more efficient use of your spiritual resources--and of course, which is more fun? Making it very hard to let yourself accept, or making it very hard to let yourself reject?

How this plays out in practice is the Theory Stack. You may sometimes have heard me referring to this in conversation or here on the blog. Things like Solar Integrationism and the sock puppet theory of god are high on the stack; things like the Saurian conspiracy and King Arthur's literal return to save England from unspecified disaster are very low. The Theory Stack is in part about what I would prefer to believe, based on the emotional and mental states I can enter into when believing them. But it is also a true measure of what I believe about reality, what kind of a place I think the universe actually is. As I see it, since there are considerably more true things than can ever be known, more illuminating perspectives on a thing than anyone can possibly visit, it is better to err on the side of caution. To err by too much belief, rather than not enough.

Thus on the spectrum between those two possible endpoints, I choose to place the burden of proof more often in front of disbelief by a substantial proportion. Now, I've been pretty sure I understood the implications of this in my interactions with other sapients. On the down side, I often end up behaving in a naive way or finding it difficult to express my true feelings. I take people and situations at face value, fail to realize that someone is kidding until the joke has ceased to be funny. Or I'll find that someone's opinions are so different from my own that I can only discuss a tiny proportion of my own preferred opinions, because anything more would provoke the kind of disagreement in which they would perceive me to disbelieve things in which I'm perfectly happy to not disbelieve. On the up side, I make people comfortable, very comfortable interacting with me. Because whatever they believe, I can believe it; whatever they say, I don't doubt it; whatever they do, I think it's cool--within very wide limits. So I am perceived as trustworthy and friendly and kind and stuff. (At least, I think so. Hard to be 100% or even 80% sure vis-a-vis how others perceive onself, no?)

However, there is another downside that occurs to me now. Has probably occurred to me before, but I will talk about it now. Nyah.

Definition intermission!

I have previously (not sure if it was here, though) made the distinction between identity beliefs and reality beliefs. Yes yes, one's identity and the identities of others are a part of reality. But I think they should be categorically separated because they serve such different functions in the personality.

For purposes of personality construction the following definitions apply:
Reality is all things which in any characteristic or mode exist independent of the self.
Identity is the sum potential within the self to form relationships with beings (especially persons, groups, and valued ideas) which exist in reality, and to choose to act based upon those relationships.

YEAH. I went there.
The only essential qualities of self are the capacity to form relationships and the power to choose. All else is predicated on a relationship: the relationship to one's body, one's physical environment, one's family, one's nation. All action takes place in context--and all context is provided by relationships.

So. I have been thinking of my belief/disbelief/proof situation only in terms of reality beliefs. NOT in terms of identity beliefs. I have not been consciously attending to their transmission in the same way that I attend to the transmission of reality beliefs. At least, not as systematically and not to the same extent.

Do you see how monumentally stupid this is?

At the top of my theory stack for some time has stood the assertion I made in the Anatomy of Trust: that at silver or above operating assumptions and beliefs can be absorbed between people with little or no conscious oversight. So if my anti-unbelief strategy is causing me to treat everyone I interact with (howsoever briefly, publicly, or virtually) as silver with an asterisk, I have been absorbing identity assumptions from everyone. Like asking everyone you meet to sneeze on you in case they're sick. Or if every website in the universe had a big music file that you let upload into your temporary internet files, then closed the webpage before it started playing and never cleared the cache.

The protocols I currently have in place help me to be advertent about absorbing or not absorbing beliefs which have to do with the world outside the self. However I have been far less attentive to absorbing beliefs which relate to the interior of the self. The thing is, when you're mirroring somebody (which is how all beliefs are absorbed), your unconscious mind does all the grunt work. Waaay too much data for consciousness to be able to process and perform higher functions at the same time. So my unconscious mind (maybe yours too, who knows) generally seems not to distinguish targets of identity beliefs. If someone has fears and doubts about me or fears and doubts about themselves which they don't manifest in an obvious enough way to get my conscious mind's attention, my unconscious mind will absorb them and just mix them right in there with my own fear-and-doubt level beliefs. And once the beliefs or assumptions are in my mind, I apply them to my fears and doubts about myself, regardless who or what the original fear was pointed at. Double the negativity, double the fun!

Lately, I walk around all day having beliefs and assumptions in my mind jump up and smack me in the face and say "you suck!" Usually they come along with a recent memory of me and another person interacting, and the emotion-laden memory/impulse will be pushing an interpretation of the interaction which I know to be false and irrational. Happens to me every so often. I get in a condition where mean, nasty, self-critical thoughts like those bubble up continuously in my brain and I make myself miserable. I end up, usually, doing something crazy and self- or other-destructive to hit the reset button in my personality and clear everything out of there.

But what if these thoughts are not the results of insanity or evil, but instead of poor mental hygiene? What if I strove to be as conscious of the beliefs I temporarily adopt for the sake of interest or diplomacy on the identity side as I am on the reality side? That could mean one less thing in my brain to make me sad! I would be able to believe and emote and interact at a much higher level of emotional efficiency!

A muted huzzah, with reservations and quid pro quos. But a huzzah nonetheless.