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ENGAGED INTELLIGENCE

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BELIEF AND DOUBT

"It was much pleasanter at home," thought poor Alice, "when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered around by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit-hole--and yet--and yet--it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life…!"

from Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll


Charles Sanders Peirce, the American philosopher who first developed the concept of reasoning which we're calling Engaged Intelligence, wrote:
"All you have any dealings with are your doubts and beliefs with the course of life that forces new beliefs upon you and gives you the power to doubt old beliefs." 

How can this be so? Surely, our lives are made up of much more than mere believing and doubting…?

Perhaps it will help you to know that Peirce placed a global meaning upon the word "belief." For Peirce, the word "belief" covers much more than commonly understood meanings of this word--say, as opinions about religious or political matters, or as something different from facts. For Peirce, beliefs are habits of body and mind, for which we possess different degrees of certainty. Beliefs include our instincts, as well as those habits acquired through experience and learning. Thus, the word "belief" means contrary to doubt--regardless of the degree of certainty you have about the belief.

When you hold a belief with a low degree of certainty, you are probably only tentative about it. You may feel that you need more information before you can reach a higher degree of certainty. However, we hold many of our beliefs with such certainty that we do not even think to question them. Our beliefs, regardless of their degree of certainty, usually endure comfortably as mostly unconscious habits of mind. They endure, that is, until something comes along to cause you to doubt that belief, and shake things up for a while. Our beliefs tell us what things "are" and what they "mean." Things were much pleasanter at home for Alice because at home she knew what things meant. Her beliefs (or habits of mind) endured quite comfortably until she ventured down that rabbit-hole, where nothing was quite as she knew things to be. "And yet--" said Alice "--and yet--it's rather curious…."

Whenever in the course of life you find yourself traveling down rabbit-holes, it means you are being given the power to doubt old beliefs....

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