Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Knowledge vs. Belief

My mom's dad told me that before he joined the Navy, he knew the Earth was round, but he didn't really believe it. The first time he saw a ship on the horizon rise straight out of the water, he believed in the curvature of the Earth in a way he never had before.

When I was in college, I took a physics class in which we learned about light in mathematical detail. I understood the concepts well enough to manipulate them. I could explain it, and I could analyze it. I could do the math. I didn't really believe it until I performed an experiment that only made sense if light propagates in waves. My eyes grew wide. Light! Is in waves! For days afterward, I raved to my friends about my revelation.

There are things we know but don't really believe.

People fear death—even people who think there is an afterlife and that they'll be happy there. They don't really believe in their afterlife.

Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.

This is a point I saw best made in Tuesdays with Morrie (which, as I recall, was absent from the movie version, so read the book). Everyone knows they're going to die, but few really believe it. People who believe they'll die do not behave the way most people behave.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this except to say that it's one challenge of life to reconcile knowledge with belief. Often times I know what I think without knowing what I believe. When it comes to simple binary questions ("will you die?"), it seems obvious that knowledge and belief can be in direct conflict, not merely a little uncoordinated.
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