“Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true.”
Question: True or false: Hypnosis is useful in helping witnesses accurately recall the details of crimes?
False. Hypnosis helps people recall more information but not more accurate information. Yet, according to a scientific study, sixty-one percent of people still falsely hold this belief about the power of hypnosis. Sixty-five percent of people also believe that they can they sense when someone is staring at the back of their back and an even higher percentage (76%) believe that subliminal messages in advertisements can cause people to buy things. Like the hypnosis theory, these beliefs have also been scientifically proven to be untrue.
With apologies to the band, Journey and their 1981 hit “Don’t Stop Believing’,” to effectively engage in unlearning it is, in fact, healthy to stop believin’. Please note that I’m not saying, nor am I advocating, that you rashly drop all of your beliefs—only that you temporarily stop believing.
Specifically, there are three things you should do to become more open to unlearning. First, you must learn to suspend your beliefs. To do this you need only admit the possibility—however remote or unlikely—that your belief may be misguided or wrong.
Second, once you have engaged in this thought exercise and allowed a thin crack of light to pierce your belief, actively seek out the opinions of those who believe differently than you. It has been said that the mark of an educated mind is the ability to entertain an idea without accepting it so, at this stage, simply seek out “unbelievers” and listen to their arguments. Do this without judging their beliefs.
Next, if they raise legitimate points, use those to further explore your own beliefs. Better yet, if they make observations which surprise to you—such as scientific studies highlighting how hypnosis doesn’t improve accurate recall; how people can’t tell if someone is staring at their head, or proof that the person (James Vicary) who originally claimed that subliminal ads in movies increased sales of Coca-Cola admitted his study was a fraud—turn those surprises into question marks and use those questions to further investigate why you believe what you do.
In the Paris riots of 1968 students spray painted signs on walls saying, “We demand the right to contradict ourselves.” It is easy to laugh at the statement and dismiss it as the epitome of sophomoric indiscretion. It is much harder to view it as a wise statement. Alas, it has been said that the “wiser one becomes, the more one is able to contradict one’s own ideas.”
The problem is that modern society has made self-contradiction a shameful act. It isn’t. What is shameful is inability to change one’s mind when presented with new and contradictory information. The ability to change one’s mind—even on long-held beliefs—is not a weakness, it is a strength.
Ironically, by submitting your beliefs to continuous and rigorous examination those beliefs you do choose to hold will likely come to rest on a more stable and solid foundation.
Homework assignment: Do you believe that humans only utilize 10 percent of their brain capacity or do you believe that listening to classical music will improve a young child’s intelligence? If so, suspend your belief and seek out people who believe differently than you. What were the results of your research?