The Cognitive Power of Belief

There are people who believe in very, very many things out there. That medicine can become more powerful the less of it you take, that Atlantis was a super-advanced civilization that interacted with aliens, that the universe is six thousand and change years old, that the leader of a group is in fact a god come to earth, that everything, including abstract objects like rivers and mountains, have souls, that our government is secretly working against us all, that our government isn’t working against us all… and so on. The gamut of human belief is absurdly wide, and the depth of human belief is similarly stunning.

I can’t help but think there’s something to that.

It seems clear from these beliefs that human beings are not rational creatures, that we function using some other fundamental thought method that only incidentally supports rationalism. But what method could that be?

I’m of the personal opinion that what we describe as ‘spiritualism’, ‘mysticism’, ‘religiousity’, and so on (henceforth to be called ‘mysticism’ ’cause I think the word sounds cool) functions as a kind of emotional interface to our conscious, cognitive and linguistic abilities, by functioning as a system of triggers that when activated cause us to learn associated ideas and behaviors quickly and persistently. So persistently, in fact, that we could have difficulty overcoming them consciously even if on a rational level we know they are incorrect.

The existence of the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance in regards to mysticism, in particular, fascinates me. What I imagine, is that what someone learns with strong facilitation by such a ‘mystical’ drive is something well-learned indeed, and unlikely to be overridden except through use of a comparably powerful cognitive tool.

All in all, it seems that mysticism, long used by hucksters and cult leaders to mislead and confuse people, could be used as a tool for good – and considering its’ power, used very potently indeed.

The first question would regard what we could use mysticism for – to that end, I would posit that the collective functions of mysticism serve two purposes for the human mind: To describe the world around us in an intricate and emotionally engaging way (descriptive mysticism), and to proscribe to us correct behaviors on a largely emotional level (proscriptive mysticism).

It seems to me the bigger question, though, is to precisely how to go about using mysticism constructively, a task which additionally entails coming to understand mystical functions in the human mind in greater depth.

I’m musing (pun appreciated, but not intended) on that one.

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