Humans use arbitrary rules, false information, biases and imaginary environments to reach higher levels of achievement. This achievement can range from a musician composing a great symphony to a ten year old improving her math scores.
Humans do not have the mental capacity to effectively focus on a variety of tasks simultaneously. To reach higher levels of achievement in an area, the human must put most to all of its focus on that area. Humans must eliminate or stabilize (make a non factor) areas that distract from the needed focus.
This is comparable to a water kettle with four equal sized holes in the top. When water is boiled inside, steam will raise a height from the holes. If three of the holes are sealed, the steam will rise much higher from the remaining hole.
* * * *
The following are everyday examples of manipulating one’s mental and physical environment to produce achievement:
* While background music or others’ chitchat may be fine while browsing a glossy magazine, many of us cover our ears in order to comprehend a difficult passage or perform a math problem.
* To expand one’s mind by meditation someone focuses on a repeated mundane and often arbitrary task, such as following one’s breath or repeating a word.
* To improve the team’s horrid free throw percentage, the junior high basketball coach teaches the players to focus on the basket and their shooting motion and to ignore the crowd. He has them practice by ignoring recorded crowd noise and cardboard cutouts of fans.
* Many with a fear of speaking reduce their nervousness by imagining the audience wearing only their underwear. They create a fantasy.
* * * *
The Rituals of Baseball
Baseball hitters, and baseball players in general, are notorious for their strange rules and rituals. Players often wear the same unwashed undershirt and socks during a hitting streak. Most players don’t step on the white foul lines when entering and leaving the field. Pitcher Turk Wendell waved to left field every time he entered and left a game. When coming to bat, Nomar Garciaparra went through a well documented ritual of pulling at his shirt, opening and closing the Velcro straps on his batting gloves and tapping the toes of his shoes. Lucky charms, bracelets, necklaces, gum brands abound the game. Five time batting champion Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game. U.L. Washington batted with a toothpick in his mouth. After parents complained that kids might emulate the unsafe habit, he switched to a q-tip. After the first slump, U.L. was back to the toothpick.
Though many of the rituals are comical, they can aid performance. Hitting requires a calm and focused mind and exceptional mind body coordination, all while the player is surrounded by television cameras, screaming fans and the other pressures of being a professional athlete expected to perform. If wearing the lucky undershirt or repeating an odd ritual eases the batter’s mind and gives confidence, it can increase the player’s batting average. U.L.’s reason for switching back to a toothpick was because it made him feel more comfortable. While a toothpick as aid may seem nonsensical, the desire to be comfortable makes sense.
* * * *
For a rule or belief to aid performance, the person must have faith in the rule or belief.
During a meditation session, one must accept that the thing of mental focus is worthy (breath, mantra, stone, other). Whether the thing was carefully chosen by an instructor or picked in a rush (a pebble hastily grabbed from the ground), meditation requires you to focus on that thing. If you fret about whether or not the mantra was the perfect pick, this very fretting makes the meditation session less effective.
The lucky blue undershirt only helps the baseball player if he believes it lucky. If the blue undershirt is deemed lucky because he had a great game the first time he wore it, this illustrates the arbitrariness in his belief. If before that big game he pulled his grey undershirt from the drawer, it likely would be the grey undershirt that is considered lucky.
* * * *
Positive achievement is regularly based on false beliefs
There are regular cases where positive achievement is achieved from a false belief. This includes in your daily life. Believing the false, if only temporarily, is a technique we all use to remove distracting thoughts. The following are two examples.
* A placebo helps when the patient falsely believes it is medicine. When the patient knows what it is, a placebo doesn’t help.
* A freshman at the University of Georgia, Jessica is entering final exam week before winter break. Unknown to her, her beloved 14 year old cat Tiger just died back home in Savannah. The night before her first test she has her weekly telephone conversation with her parents back home. Jessica asks how Tiger is doing. Her mother says Tiger is doing just fine, adding that the cat is playing with a toy on the couch. After hanging up, Jessica’s mother feels bad about lying, but thinks it was best considering the exams. After a productive week, Jessica takes a bus home to Savannah where her parents break the bad news and explain why they delayed it. Jessica understands, agreeing that the news would have distracted her from her studies.
In both these cases it was a false belief that lead to the desired achievement. In both cases, knowledge of the truth would have hindered the achievement.
This shows that positive achievement arising from a belief is not proof that the belief is correct.
Patients who get better after taking a placebo often swear the pills had to be medicine. To them, getting better is the proof. Even when the doctor informs them it was a placebo, some patients continue to believe it was medicine because they got better.
A sincere faith involves a psychological, often irrational attachment to the ideas. This psychological aspect is both what helps the placebo-taking patient get better (Most doctors believe positive ‘I am getting better’ thinking aids recovery) and what prevents him from accepting his belief as false even when confronted with the facts. This psychological attachment has both a positive and a negative result.
* * * *
This points to the fascinating relationship humans have with facts. A human cannot function as it desires without the distortion and suppression of facts.
Even a search for the truth requires false beliefs to focus mental attention. In other words, a search for the truth requires lies.
* * * *
For world class Olympic athletes a common rule is that one must believe one is going to win in order to win. Paraphrasing a top speed skater interviewed the day before an Olympic race, “You shouldn’t just think you will win, you must know you will win.” In a track, swim or bike race, the difference between first and fourth may be a fraction of a second, and the winning psychology can mean the difference between a win and loss. Of course most of these athletes who are sure they will win will not win, and those who win do not win every time. Even when the belief turns out to be wrong, it may better the athlete from, say, fifth to third or third to second.
* * * *
Whether the idolized is a sports coach, historical leader or artist, most worshipers of a human being worship an unreal representation. Much of the misrepresentation is intentional, followers embellishing good qualities and glossing over bad.
At first it seems strange that groups intentionally misrepresent the person they supposedly idolize. However, the representations aren’t about complete factual accuracy. Amongst other things, they are concerned with gaining and maintaining members’ loyalty and spirit, group self importance, gaining power versus other groups and perhaps giving a representation to whom members can better relate and understand (see ‘Racial Depictions of Jesus Christ in Art’). The word idolizes implies the act of changing, changing something into an idol.
It should not surprise that during a political election supporters put their candidate in the best light and their competitor in the worst. Their representation isn’t about truth, it’s about winning the election. If you ask either campaign manager why he doesn’t include bad facts about his candidate in the campaign literature, he’ll look at you as if you are crazy.
* * * *
This essay show how false beliefs can lead to productive practical results and how practical results do not prove that the underlying beliefs are correct. Do you believe that the fiction and make believe of art can produce results where telling the truth would not? For example, can fiction be a better way to teach people important ideas and concepts? People sometimes say “To illustrate my point, let me give you a theoretical example.”