Is belief a choice?

‘Snow is white’ is true if and only if snow is white.

—Alfred Tarski

Is belief a choice? Let me ruin the surprise: Yes, you get to choose what to believe. If you want to believe that you can fly, you are free to believe that. Reality, however, is a hostile place. It does not care about what you believe.

Jump from a cliff and you will not fly, no matter how much you wish it to be so. Beliefs do not change what is. They do not change what is true. You can choose to believe true things or false things, but your belief does not change what is real, what is actual.

If you choose to believe only nice things, you will end up believing many false things. Reality is not nice. There are not only nice things out there in the world. While the idea of an eternal afterlife is nice, the niceness of the idea says nothing about whether or not it is true. It would be nice if serial killers were just pretending and their supposed victims actually went to live in the tropics, but this doesn’t make it so.

I don’t mean only to attack nice beliefs as false. The opposite holds as well. Something that is painful to think is not true just by virtue of being painful to think. Negative, pessimistic beliefs are not true because of their negativity. They are true if and only if they correspond to reality. Gary Kasparov might think to himself, “I’m no good at chess,” and he might feel bad after thinking it, but that doesn’t make it true.

What is real, what is actual, what is true, all of these things are already so. You can believe whatever you like, but this doesn’t change what is already so. When people believed that the sun rotated around the earth, this didn’t make it so. Belief is a choice, but truth is not. You don’t choose what is true. It has already been decided. Belief feels like a choice because it is a choice, but do not confuse belief with truth. Believing something does not make it so. Truth already is.

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