Why do we believe what we believe?

I was watching a story about a guy who pretended to be a guru, and successfully attracted numerous followers. The reporters interviewed one of the followers, who admitted something very interesting.  She said “I wanted to believe he was a great guru”. This struck me because I have been thinking about the power of our own states of mind and how this shapes our thoughts.  We all agree that for many things, perception is reality. We believe 2+2 =4 because it can be proven, but so much of what we encounter and choose to believe is a function of what we perceive. We can’t know everything for a fact, so we must choose what to believe is truth. As a result, I am extremely interested people’s perceptions and how they are manipulated. An actor for example could pretend to be a doctor, and I might believe him to be a real doctor.

But, going back to what that woman said, I find it very interesting that what we perceive, is a function of both what we want to see or what we want to be reality, as much as it is a function of how well the actor plays a convincing doctor.  In the case of the guru and this follower, she wanted to believe that a guru and wise master existed, and that she was fortunate to know him, and that following him would lead to her happiness; but the guy was also a good actor.   The question in my mind is what which force was more influential…her desire to believe or the actors ability to portray, convince, persuade, etc.

In another example, I think about how a person might think that it makes sense for a doctor to be confident and borderline arrogant, and as a result would not believe an actor portraying a doctor who behaves or speaks insecurely.

So, what is the takeaway?  I think there is two.  The first is that–to avoid being swindled by a fake–we should be aware of our desires to believe in something, and how this clouds our judgment.   The second takeaway is that if we want to be convincing, we should consider what our audience wants to believe in and portray this.

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