Monday, May 11, 2015

Belief and wild orchids


I'm no great shakes at chemistry, but for some reason I’ve always found it interesting, easy to understand and the exams easy to pass. Hence my career in chemistry no doubt, but why do I find the subject comparatively easy? Why do you find your areas of expertise easy?

In my case I’d love to put it down to intelligence, but a far more convincing clue is in the words interesting and easy to understand. There is a significant similarity here because we are not usually interested in anything we find difficult, where the learning effort just doesn't yield the hoped for return. So perhaps interesting and easy to understand are much the same.

If we think in terms of conditioning then the similarity also becomes easy to understand. And therefore interesting of course. So I found it easy to imitate the things chemists are expected to do, say and write. I was easily conditioned by these things. 

In other words I absorbed the approved behaviour easily, acquired the correct expectations for mixing copper sulphate with sodium hydroxide or spilling concentrated sulphuric acid on my shoe plus a host of other expectations, both practical and verbal.  

Yet remembering the names of wild flowers is an entirely different matter. Daisy, buttercup and dandelion I know, plus one or two others, but even though I encounter many wild flowers while out walking, their names mostly go in one ear and out the other. So when it comes to the names of wild flowers I am stupid, not intelligent at all.

Yet I do recognise wild orchids such as the Early Purple Orchid because there is something memorable about them. Even though fairly common, people ooh and aah over them, take photos and generally raise their status in the pecking order of local flora. So in spite of my wild flower stupidity I’m conditioned to remember wild orchids because they are associated with a different, more forceful type of conditioning.

So what has this to do with belief?

Belief is also a symptom of a person’s susceptibility to conditioning. It is an indicator of education, upbringing social and economic status and possibly genes. It is evidence that a person is conditioned to respond to certain situations in a certain way, evidence that they were easily conditioned and in consequence they find their beliefs easy to understand, explain and elaborate. As we know, beliefs can be extremely stable, commonly lasting a lifetime.

All belief is conditioning while unbelief or scepticism could indicate some kind of contrary conditioning or simply a lack of conditioning. Or aspects of both. Life is complex.

Does it matter? Of course it does. If we see belief as some kind of rational structure inside our heads then we cannot analyse it adequately. We are controlled by it, unable to think our way round it, unable to see alternatives. The alternatives remain difficult and uninteresting, in stark contrast to the overwhelming clarity of our beliefs.


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Paddington said...

Many skills are due to certain parts of the brain being developed in a particular way. My skill is mathematics, but I did not find it easy. However, most people seem to find it much harder than I did, so these things are relative.

For what it's worth, I find the names of people hard to remember, but not those of species of animals (or even names of pets that I know).

A K Haart said...

Paddington - names are odd. In the supermarket a few months ago a young woman began speaking to me. I could see I was supposed to know her but she had to tell me her name before it clicked.