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Monday, 3 January 2011


There are few words in the English language who's meaning has been twisted as much as this word.

The fact is that it's been taken and used by millions of people in such a way that it means something very set and specific now.  What it means is - things that have no evidence, or cannot be proven, but I believe them anyway.

And to go further, it also means the 'special goodness' of a person who does that.

This special goodness is seen as a holy and vital thing, to be protected.  You can't be challenging your beliefs too much, or your faith might be shaken.  So don't do it.

Now, here's the thing.  If you have a belief that you have to protect from being challenged, how much faith can you really be said to have?

How much faith can you really be said to have that what you believe is true, if you have to close your ears to things?

Surely, if you actually did have faith that what you believed was true, you would be totally fine with having it challenged, because your faith would be that if it's real, no challenge can actually change the reality of it.

If it's not real, then who cares?  Best kick that belief as soon as possible.

But also, there's another dynamic, which is very interesting, and hasn't really been looked at.  And this dynamic is key to all science, all true philosophy, and all human discovery.

Pay attention, it's a little bit subtle.  Not too much, but you can't dial this in, so keep your eye on the ball here.

If you have a belief and it is challenged in a way you've never seen before, or never thought before, what happens?

Well, if you have faith that your belief is actually true, you build up the challenge.  You don't hide from it, or call it heresy, or pick at little bitty problems with it.  You, even more than the person issuing the challenge, want to know if it is true.

Can you see?  If it's a belief you hold, you have by far the more invested in whether or not that belief is true.  What this means is, you have far more invested in whether or not that challenge is true.

Is this making sense?  That you're not hiding your beliefs, or protecting them.  If you have faith in your beliefs, you want them challenged and you want to see them challenged well.

Because at the end of the day, what you believe is what you bet your life on, one way or another.  If you're betting your life on something that isn't true, you want to get off that bet as fast as you can.

And after all this, we come to that really interesting dynamic I talked about earlier.  The one that is fundamental to science, and human discovery.

It's this.  That if someone is challenging your belief in a way that you have never seen before, and what you believe actually is true, then building up that challenge, and making it really strong, and staring it right in the eye, won't destroy your belief.

Right?  Because no matter how much you build up that challenge, no matter how strong you make it, if what you believe actually is true, it can't ever destroy it.  There has to come a point where that challenge will collapse, of its own accord.

Most people never do this.  Most people protect what they believe - whether it is religious, or not.  Don't get fooled by the word 'faith' into thinking this is just something that religious people do.  Everyone does it.  It is the norm.

The norm is to protect what you believe, from any challenge.  To pick little holes in the things set against you, and what you believe, and never to truly stare into the heart of them.  To make little sniping attacks, just enough so you can reject and ignore what's being said.

This is essentially how the majority of people, religious or otherwise, deal with challenges to their beliefs.

And if you do this, and continue to do this, then you're in glad company because you're just the same as everyone else.

The other way of dealing with challenges is far rarer, but has massive power.  Specifically, the power to reveal.  To reveal unseen contour and shape.

And it works like this.

If you have faith that what you believe is actually true, you'll stare challenges right in the eye.  You won't be interested in picking at little side-problems or incidental issues.  You want to know if this challenge is true.


If it is true, your belief will be shattered.  But that's ok, because it can only be shattered if it's actually false.  So nothing lost.  Apart from a lie.


But if that challenge falls apart... and pay attention here, this is the subtle bit, the bit that underlies all scientific discovery - if that challenge falls apart, you get to see HOW it falls apart.

Forgive the shouty capital letters, but it's a very important word.

And it's important because the 'how' of that challenge's failure is not something anyone could have predicted. You didn't invent it.  The challenger didn't invent it.  And that challenge will always fall apart in the same way.

And that way - where is that coming from?

Where is that detail coming from?

It's new information, right?  Can you see that.  How a challenge collapses in the core is not information that you had before you looked into it.  It's not information that the person who laid the challenge had - they believed the challenge was strong, that's why they put it out there.

So where is it coming from?

The answer is simple.  Reality.  A challenge that fails reveals a contour - and the deeper you have looked into that challenge, the deeper the contour.

This is how discovery happens, and it all begins with faith.  The faith to throw your beliefs into the fire, and see what burns.  The faith in reality, in the truth of things, to know that the worst that can happen to you is that you lose a lie.

And the best that can happen is that you reveal something about that very truth that you believe that you have never seen before.  Many times, it's something nobody has ever seen before - because so very few people actually treat ideas and beliefs like this.

This is how discovery happens.  When you look deep into a challenge - a good one, a strong one - because win, lose or draw, something will be revealed.

Now remember - tiny little, picky, small-minded challenges that have no vision or depth to them, but merely pick at little side issues to look clever, or whatever - these are of very little value in this.  And looking deeply into them usually reveals their hollowness very quickly.

What you're looking for is risk and danger.  If it doesn't genuinely endanger your beliefs, leave it.  Find the stuff that does.  Find the stuff that shakes it, that opens up vistas of the real that throw it all into doubt.

They're the powerful ones, they're the ones that open up the belief you have, and make it work.

If, of course, you have faith.  Real faith.  Faith enough to go beyond belief, and discover something far better than that little human conceit.


Now, philosophy as I practise it can essentially be understood as this process, applied in an industrial way, to the foundational assumptions of pain, suffering, hope and truth.  It's not a particularly complex idea - but the practise is ferociously complex.

To turn this approach inward, into the deepest assumptions of humanity, is a very intense thing to do, and a very difficult thing to do well.

Why?  Well, when you're dealing with the very deepest assumptions and beliefs of human life, the stakes are very high.

It is scary to stare into challenges that will, if true, utterly destroy all hope.  But these are the deepest challenges, and the most potent revelations, and so this must be done.

Another reason is that any new idea about how suffering works has to be tested on real suffering.  And the more powerful the idea, the more accurate it is, the more it must be pushed, and the harder it must be pushed, to get to the breaking point.  And so the nastier the emotional backlash when it comes down - if it does.

There's another big issue as well.

When you see how challenges break down, that does reveal previously unseen contours of reality.  But because you don't know the whole of reality, you don't know where those contours fit into the wider picture.

So what you get is a lot of insights that are very deep, but aren't connected.

Of course, everything true is connected - but the question is how.  And you don't know that.  So a big part of this process (in terms of philosophy) is taking those insights and seeing how they connect.  Trying to find commonalities and patterns that link them up.

However - human beings are pretty damn good at pattern recognition.

Philosophy as I do it takes years to develop.  Years.  There is no short cut.  It's a hard path... but a real one.  And it really does generate insight, both deep revelations and the bringing together of those revelations into a clear and coherent picture - like nothing else can.

The process isn't for everyone.  The theory is simple, but the practise is not.  There are a thousand little rules of thumb that hold it all together, and that only experience can allow you to develop.

So let me leave you with this.  If you want to be a philosopher, as I do it, this is how.  Spend 6 hours a day, every day, for 5 years, doing this and only this, with the deepest things you can get your hands on.  Read widely and deeply.  Don't worry about remembering all the names or quotes - you just want to get to the core of what people are saying, because that's where the really deep perspectives are, and the deep revelations.

Go deep, step back.  Go deep, step back.  Rinse and repeat.

After 5 years, if you push yourself, and if you put in that 6 hours a day, you will have mastered this process to the extent that you will be genuinely able to blow ideas clean apart and get the core of things in a way that is unheard of in this world.

Not.  For.  Everyone.

I'm not recommending you do this.  I'm not saying it's a good idea.  It's what I do.  It's the method I developed.  I don't know of anything else that can do anything like what this method can do.  If I did, I'd be doing that.

But even if you're not interested in being a philosopher (and fair enough, it's something of a mixed bag, and it doesn't have a very good pension plan) you can still use the method above to cut to the heart of things, and see what can be seen.

You don't have to 'go industrial' like I did.  But to really understand things, to really get inside the results of this method and have them change your life, faith is how.

Faith in reality.  That you don't need to protect your beliefs - if they're true, they don't need protecting, and if they're not, they shouldn't be protected.  To stare deeply into every challenge, everything that shakes your assumptions.

It's not just the way to generate deep insight into the human soul.

It's the way to use that insight too.