Believing in Santa and your poker hand

Taking the time to interrogate a belief that you hold takes more brain power than simply accepting the belief. It is easy to accept a belief you have grown up with. You won’t find a sceptical one-year-old. They believe the adults in their life.

Doubt comes after belief. The young child will believe in Santa, but slowly the counter-evidence will reveal itself.

Kathryn Shultz suggests that it is one thing to doubt the existence of Santa, but it is another thing to doubt the accuracy of a news story, and yet another thing to doubt a news story you wrote yourself.

We each have a different ability to doubt the beliefs that we have formed depending on our emotional investment in our beliefs and how much we have been trained in the skill of scepticism.

I like to play poker regularly with my friends. Not massive stakes, but enough money on the line to actually care about the result. In Texas Holdem poker there are four rounds of betting in one hand, with each betting round potentially seeing raising and re-raising. It is easy to initially like your hand so much that you continue to put big money into the pot in order to try to win more money from the other players.

As the hand progresses your cards can become less attractive, but with so much ‘invested’ in the hand already, it can become difficult to let it go and save the rest of your money. A rational mind would ignore the sunk costs in the hand and let it go when we are in all likelihood beaten. However, humans are bad at ignoring sunk costs and cutting our losses. We have ego and stubbornness that cause us to be seduced by the sunk costs of our beliefs.

I use this example to highlight how it can be very difficult to let go beliefs that we have ‘invested’ a lot in. The more we have invested, the harder it is to remove. Think about people who have been brought up with strict religious beliefs and the associated dogma. Even if they want to change their beliefs and live their own life, the invested costs of connections to the community, trust in their parents and sense of self, can make it very difficult to let the beliefs go.

Two environmental factors in which people live will influence the potential for losing their beliefs, and moving towards escaping Shouldland. Firstly, how much they are exposed to challenges to their beliefs; whether their environment enables (or shelters) them to face the flaws in their beliefs.

Secondly, whether the people around them make it hard or easy to accept their errors; the consequences to admitting they were wrong. We see when people are teased for their ill-informed beliefs, this can have the effect of strengthening their beliefs.

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