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02-09-2011 - Suspension of disbelief

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This concept is used by all of us. When we read a book or watch a movie we disregard reality in order to get maximal enjoyment from the story. If we picked apart all the details according to realistic standards the stories would fall apart and mean nothing. Suspension of disbelief is not only a means of enjoyment. It is a powerful tool sometimes required to fully investigate and understand topics or issues in today's world. This is due the the mind's propensity to refute things perceived to be unbelievable or distasteful.

UFO's are a great example. The idea of aliens visiting Earth is beyond most people's acceptance level. That is all well and good. If someone is a skeptic they would have to overcome a natural aversion to the topic to do any investigation. One way is to simply pretend that they are real, but unidentified, and proceed accordingly. If you introduce any bias you will not have an optimal conclusion, but you have to assume that the sightings, or a certain percentage of them, are accurate and reliable. From there, the basis of the assumptions and any implications of the associated research can be attained, cross-referenced and verified or deemed inconclusive.

In a way, suspension of disbelief is the mental form of a temporary theory. It is assumed accurate to facilitate exploration of the potentials in any circumstance. This ability most likely developed through eons of oral traditions and enhanced our ability to integrate information.

Suspension of disbelief can also be associated with empathy. Any time you empathize with someone you are suspending disbelief in order to feel what they feel. In this regard, religions, politics and individuals can be better understood through active employment of these tools. Religion, specifically faith, is related to suspension of disbelief. Faith is belief in something that is not self-evident. In order to believe it through faith one must suspend disbelief. Faith is the moral equivalent of suspension of disbelief. I realize that faith may transcend simple suspension of disbelief at some point, but, for some, it may be a lifetime of such mental gymnastics. Whether they realize this or not is a question. Turning the phrase around we have "suspension of belief." This could be a way for those with strong beliefs to access alternate viewpoints, although many strong beliefs preclude this type of investigation.

We can't believe everything and be rendered gullible. We can't refute everything. A diverse world requires a dynamic, objective perspective and this simple, mostly automatic ability can make us better observers. Better observers formulate more accurate opinions.

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