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Slashing Your Way to Certainty

 

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by Luke Setzer

Here in the information age, you are bombarded daily with an avalanche of sensory data. Attempting to absorb this data all at once would be impossible, since humans have finite senses and the surrounding amount of information is, for all practical purposes, infinite. Thus, you must learn to program your mind with specific filters to repel unimportant parts of reality while paying attention to those segments of reality that can maintain or improve your well-being. These filters, or "razors", can let you cut through life's nonsense to reach the bottom line of any situation quickly. I would like to propose a triple-bladed mental razor that you can use to slash your way to a sense of certainty as you plow through life's offerings.

The first blade is "Rand's Razor", named after the famous novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. Rand's Razor simply states, "Name your primaries," which means "name your irreducible axioms." It holds the basic axioms of existence, consciousness, and identity as the standards by which to ponder or to reject any assertion. Any statement that attempts to deny any of these axioms must necessarily be self-refuting because all human knowledge implicitly assumes that "There is (existence)--something (identity)--of which I am aware (consciousness)." These axioms grant existence primacy over consciousness. In other words, consciousness is simply an awareness of external reality via the senses, not a power to control or alter external reality other than through bodily motions caused by an attached brain. Thus, no "spiritual" action such as wishing or praying can cause hurricanes to change course or cause water to change into wine. The axiom of identity, or "non-contradiction principle", holds that a given entity will possess a given nature under a given set of circumstances, and will possess no other nature under those circumstances. For example, a given item cannot be all black and all white at exactly the same time. Together, these three axioms can help you to slash off a whole category of false or useless ideas.

The second blade is "Occam's Razor", named after William of Occam (c. 1285-1349), the English monk and philosopher. He contended that, all other things being equal, the simplest explanation should be given the most consideration. In his own words, "It is vain to do with more what can be done with less." Those who receive daily exposure to the popular media need this razor to carve through the convoluted arguments made by politicians, lawyers, journalists, broadcasters, televangelists, "psychic hotlines", "business opportunities", and a host of other influences. If you are intrigued by Occam's Razor, I encourage you to investigate the broader field of informal logical fallacies, a list of which can be found on my web site. Together, Occam's Razor and a solid understanding of informal logical fallacies can forge a great scimitar to slash through the constant myths and outright deceptions foisted onto the public by misguided "leaders", business hucksters, and other folks.

The last blade of the triple-bladed razor is what I call "Robbins's Razor", named after world-famous peak-performance consultant Anthony Robbins. Robbins's Razor insists that, when faced with two or more possible beliefs about a situation, a person should purposely select the most empowering belief. In his book Awaken the Giant Within, he explores the impact of beliefs and the distinction between "empowering" and "disempowering" beliefs on human behavior. Put simply, an empowering belief helps a person to reach a desired goal, while a disempowering belief hinders a person's achievement of that goal. His book offers methods for collapsing disempowering beliefs and replacing them with alternative, empowering beliefs. Robbins uses a "table with legs" metaphor to describe beliefs, with the table top representing the "belief" and the supporting legs representing the sensory data that support that belief. By creating states of doubt about a belief, a person can begin knocking out the supports of that belief until the belief itself collapses. Simply collapsing a disempowering belief is not enough, Robbins argues. A new, empowering belief must be constructed in its place in order to re-route the neural associations permanently and thus prevent the return of the disempowering belief.

Robbins provides an example of an overweight person who possessed a disempowering belief that attempting to lose weight is a vain act and that vanity is a bad character trait. Thus, this man did not even bother doing more research on the matter of becoming thinner because he believed that doing so would reflect badly on his character. Some counseling revealed that this person did have at least a latent desire to lose weight. Robbins helped him to create doubt about the disempowering belief by asking questions such as, "What is stupid or ridiculous about this belief?" Eventually, the man formed a new, empowering alternative belief: "My body is a temple for my spirit, and I should honor my spirit by caring for its temple." As a result, he began a successful program of weight loss. While this example is very mystical in nature, it does convey the concept of distinguishing two types of beliefs and how to choose the more helpful of the two.

Although I find Robbins's Razor very useful, I contend that attempting to apply it without the aforementioned razors of Rand and Occam can lead a person to significant errors in thinking. If a person does use Rand's and Occam's Razors first, though, Robbins's Razor can serve as a valuable tool to hack through the mountains of negativity and self-helplessness that pound our world today. After all, if you can brush aside the many statements that violate laws of nature and rules of logic to get down to several equal possibilities, why would you want to pick the least empowering of the set? I cannot think of a good reason, at least not if I want to produce ongoing happiness and prosperity for myself. I suspect you will draw the same conclusion as you adopt this triple-action scalpel to excise the fetid gangrene that has infected the information age.

 

Objectivism 101
Objectivism 101