Saturday, January 23, 2010

Psychology Class- Part 7 of 12

For the last couple weeks, I have been posting charts describing the discussion in Part 4. Last week I posted a chart showing assumptions that must be made before we can make reliable observation about the world around. I also demonstrated how emotions can sabotage this process. I explained how the updated chart connected to the chart from the previous week. Finally, I pointed out that all paths lead to an end point of either a true belief or a false belief. This will be the final set of charts for this series. I will have one more post describing some implications of the processes on these charts next week. Then I will continue posting material submitted to my psychology class the week after.
After my PSY300 class was completed, I had a class on Motivational Psychology. The important tidbit that I received from that class is the fact that no human being acts without the presence of at least one belief (a belief leads to motivation, and motivation leads to (non)action). This is something that I knew to be true a long time before I took the class, but it was nice to hear it from a credited scholar in the field. I remember that in his book A World of Difference, theologian and philosopher Kenneth Samples states that one of the tests for a true worldview is consistency. He's talking about consistency among beliefs (which forces consistency among observations throughout the universe)- lest our emotions get in the way. Since no action can take place without at least one belief, the consistency will follow through with our actions- lest, once again, our emotions sabotage us. The end points of the previous charts lead to two different possibilities: a true belief, or a false belief. I will start with the chart showing a true belief:

Notice that I included a step for checking the reasonableness of the behavior given the belief. This is to make sure that the behavior remains consistent with the belief (independent of emotion). The next step (regardless of which side), is another test for consistency. This is depended on the emotions (yes, they show up again). So, someone can have a true belief and still act inconsistently with their belief, but it is the result of the emotions (the idea of the action stimulates the "pain" center). I have colored the inconsistent actions red because of the fact that inconsistency indicates a problem with the person's worldview.

Now let's look at false beliefs:

The same steps are included here with two main differences: all lines are red and all actions are red. The lines are red to remain consistent with the previous charts (false beliefs). All actions are red because they are ultimately the result of a false belief, which is ultimately the result of implications stimulating the "pain" center. The actions that are inconsistent may be "right" actions, but they are doubly dependent on emotions (you don't like a conclusion in the previous levels of reasoning, and you don't like the implications of your false belief). In other words, you are doing the right thing for the (or many) wrong reason(s). What's the big deal about this? Intentions.

All these wrong reasons are intentions. I know that most people who hold a false belief and act in a "right" way that is inconsistent with their belief, would argue that their final (and ultimate) intention was "right". What this reduces down to is a last minute change in action based on emotion, in order to keep a false belief. This will have to be done many times if the false belief is maintained. Changing an action at the last minute does not cure the problem, it only treats the current symptom. If the cause of the symptom is not treated, then the symptom is bound to return, along with many other symptoms (inconsistent actions, in our case). It would be best to treat the cause of the original symptom. That would prevent the original symptom from returning or bringing others. If the false belief is changed to a true belief, the cause of the inconsistency is fixed, and the "right" actions are no longer inconsistent. By fixing the inconsistency, the person's worldview is closer to reflecting reality (being the true worldview).

Changing our beliefs as we find them inconsistent with what we know to be right actions will help us avoid inconsistencies in the future and put us closer to truth. Fewer inconsistencies in the future will make it less difficult to determine which way to go when dilemmas arise; even though we won't be perfect, we have a better chance of doing right. 

Since emotions play such a critical role in determining our actions, just having a true worldview (right beliefs) is not enough to guarantee right actions. Even if an action is consistent with a true belief, the idea might still stimulate the "pain" center of the brain, while at the same time stimulating the "pleasure" center because we know that it is consistent with the belief. This is where being able to look at the situation from multiple angles and multiple distances beyond the "here and now" becomes required. The two options must be weighed using the same process. The difficulty level of this rises exponentially if the beliefs held are false. The person is then dealing with other symptoms that will arise along with the still existing symptom they are already attempting to fix.

As humans, we have limited perspectives. One limitation of our perspective is that we exist and experience existentially (here and now). Our emotions react to that single perspective more powerfully than any other perspective we can possibly have. The emotions generated by experiences, that one is currently having, are the most powerful. Even though all the other emotions generated by all the other perspectives may point the other way, the current emotions will hold sway. Having the right worldview does not guarantee right actions.

The apostle Paul struggled with this irony himself. He stated, "What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (Romans 7:15b). Paul was the epitome of what a Christian should be, yet even though he had right beliefs, he still did things inconsistent with those beliefs. Why? He goes on to state, "And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it," (Romans 7:16-20). Paul ties the inconsistency between his beliefs and his actions to his sin nature, as a human. Our sin nature causes us to naturally be existentially hedonistic (pursue the pleasure of the current moment)- this is why the current emotions caused by the currently active perspective hold so much more power over the others. It follows, then, that to prevent wrong actions (even though we have right beliefs) is to make ourselves constantly aware of the most perspectives (past, present, and future), the emotions stirred by those perspective (good, bad, and indifferent), and work out all possible outcomes that will produce more information to evaluate. Do you have the faculties to concentrate on all that information enough to understand it, then act accordingly? I know I don't.

So, what am I stating with all this? My whole point is that starting with actions and working toward beliefs will cause one to end with wrong beliefs every time- because actions trigger emotions first. Emotions will lead one down the wrong path without a right belief to guide it down the right path. However, what I have presented, so far, shows how difficult (and even impossible) it is to guarantee right actions if one starts with right beliefs. If your ultimate goal is to perform right actions, then you have nothing prior to determine the "goodness" of an action if you start with actions- all you do is in vain and subjective in "goodness". If you start from right beliefs, you can determine the "goodness" of an action; it is objective in "goodness". But, as I have shown, it is impossible to perform the right action most of the time. We will never be perfect. We cannot earn anything based on our actions, if the standard is perfection or even majority good.  

If you have any concept of "salvation" or "release" (or whatever you want to call it) based on how you live your life, you will realize that you cannot (I mean, "absolutely impossible to") do it on your own. That is why (if it is to be even possible) we need someone to rescue us. Even though it is our goal to live the perfect life, we will fail. We will fall short, at least, some of the time- we can't help it! When we realize (believe and accept) that Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to cover us when we fall short (not to mention, it also restores our relationship with the Father), we can rest knowing that we don't have to be perfect, even though our eyes are on and we are working toward that target.

While I've been writing out this post, I've seen an answer to the question "Can someone be good without God?" That will be next week's topic, then I will get back to posting content from my class.

For easier navigation in this series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12


  1. "We will fall short, at least, some of the time- we can't help it!"

    That implies that sin is not a choice. Is that what you are saying?

    "we can rest knowing that we don't have to be perfect, even though our eyes are on and we are working toward that target. "

    Matthew 5:48 - "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

  2. Are you asking about "sin" as a nature of humans or "sin" as an action?


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