Many times, I’ve argued that we can’t choose what we believe. It’s such a simple fact, but we still hear all the time that people choose this belief or that.
People frequently say, “I choose to believe that people are good.” Or something like that.
You may be able to choose tuna or chicken salad for lunch. To prove this, flip a coin and go with one or the other based on the coin toss. *
You cannot choose to believe that the moon doesn’t exist, or that cows rule the universe. Or whether there’s a God, or whether people are basically good. Wanting to has nothing to do with it.
Flip a coin. Flip heads to believe that the earth rests on the back of a giant turtle and that ships fall off the planet somewhere around New Zealand. Tails and believe that the sun is literally the eye of a fiery chameleon that soon will blink.
I suggest to you that you can’t do it. You can act as though you believe it and you can pretend to believe it. But I don’t think you can choose to actually believe it.
Same goes for God or goodness of humanity. Simply choose to believe the other way for a few minutes, as you would choose the tuna. Can’t.
Getting 1984 on the idea: Let’s say that, in order to make yourself believe something, you subject yourself to shock therapy. You let rats eat your face until you believe the thing. That might work. You might actually begin to believe it.
But still, your choice was to do the therapy, not to believe. The believing comes by itself. After all, if you could just choose to believe, you wouldn’t bother with the therapy. I mean, come on. Rats eating your face? (Winston didn’t get a choice, in 1984. But then, just the threat of the rats was enough to screw him up. No eating necessary.)
So there ya go. People can’t choose what to believe.
* Of course, there’s reason to believe that you don’t get to choose the tuna or chicken salad either. If we started the universe all over again, with every bosun, lepton, and quark in the same position, moving the same way, at the same speed as it was way back in the beginning… would we all be here, billions of years later, doing exactly the same thing we’re doing right now?
Maybe not, thanks to the true randomness of quantum theory. But who knows?