Spinoza and Descartes disagreed about whether we can neutrally assess a proposition before believing it. Descartes argued that this was possible and necessary in order to be rational. Spinoza suggested that it’s simply impossible — we must first accept something as true before we can understand it. Daniel Gilbert tested this [summary] about 30 years ago and it looks like Spinoza is the winner. It takes effort to unbelieve something after hearing it, even when told it is false.
This seems important. By default, we seem to immediately believe what we understand — what we read or hear or see. This is a bit scary for epistemic hygiene. On the plus side, it makes our beliefs quite malleable. Read something that you want to believe, or perhaps just say it to yourself, and it may become so. Prayer and affirmations are then expected to be quite effective.
Then you have to wonder, do beliefs even matter? To some extent, what we say we believe seems to correlate with our actions. But I’m pretty confused on this topic.
Also published on Medium.