"Belief is the natural attitude of a thwarted mind"

Essay by joosUniversity, Master'sA-, April 2004

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"Belief is the natural attitude of a thwarted mind"

This quotation is from a rather outspoken mathematician named Scott Buchanan, who has studied the style of human thought right along with its mathematical accomplishments. It is meant to describe our style of thinking when approaching mathematics. Yet it seems to me that it has a larger meaning: that it applies to the human style of thought when approaching any problem. Buchanan is telling us that when we are confronted with a problem and a possible solution and we cannot find our way to the solution, we have a tendency to believe in the solution out of pure frustration, or perhaps just wishful thinking. As in: "that has to be it!" A similar thing will happen when we are confronted with multiple possible solutions and we cannot show one is true. We choose one, nearly arbitrarily, and believe in it.

In a broader scope, this tendency to believe is present in people's beliefs in general.

There comes a point where the events of life force one to consider what one believes. Many people seem to simply "inherit" their beliefs and value systems, giving no more thought to it than that their parents were that way, no more explanation than "that's how I was taught". Other people seem to pick a set of beliefs, almost randomly, according to what "feels right". Still others seem to pick beliefs as if they were just a facet of their personalities, something to attract people. Finally, there are those who never really address the issue, who are standing right next to those who haven't decided.

Most people when questioned or challenged become rather fervent about their belief rather quickly if they weren't already, sometimes wandering into blatant hypocrisy. Somehow, while people talk freely and...