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9.3.5. Thinking: Assumptions and Beliefs


How To Invent (Almost) Anything > 9. Managing in a Complex World > 9.3. Deep Thinking > 9.3.5. Thinking: Assumptions and Beliefs

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Our need to understand the world around us can never be fully satisfied. Indeed, the more we learn, the more we realise how little we really know and how futile the task is. To complete our models of how things work, we thus have to start making assumptions about what is true and what causes what. Beliefs are thus about assumed truth.

Given a topic of interest, we have an area of true understanding, based on our verifiable experiences. Beyond that, there are three other ways of creating belief.

We may accept a body of knowledge that is available from a highly credible source, such as mainstream physics or chemistry.

We may accept a statement as true from somebody else. This can be quite insidious when people we trust, such as our parents, pass on their prejudices and biases as if they were unshakeable truths. This is also the basis of cults and groups where membership and advancement is based on unthinking acceptance of a pre-defined truth.

We may autonomously decide that something is true, often because it fits with our own internal mental models or because it is simply convenient to do so (many beliefs are born of natural laziness).

Many of us have a strong need for certainty and will rapidly make assumptions and adopt beliefs about any new situation, which soon become cast in concrete within our internal models of the world. This can lead to a strategy for dealing with challenges to our beliefs that is more about denial and defence than curious exploration.

Creativity treads heavily in the area of belief, surfacing and challenging the assumptions and needs that puts things there. Inventors sometimes need large quantities of courage to question both unspoken assumptions and even those beliefs that they have long assumed to be unassailably true.

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