Spring Cleaning for the Brain


Spring cleaning is rarely pleasant, but the results make your life more pleasant overall by creating a healthy environment. Challenging your own beliefs and updating them based on evidence is even less pleasant than spring cleaning, but if everyone makes the commitment to critically examine their own beliefs, and calibrate their inner map of the world so that it represents reality more accurately, society will improve. We act on our beliefs, so in order to act rationally, we must think rationally.

In this spirit, I challenge all of my readers to ask themselves what they believe and why. Here is an exercise to assist with this process.


Step 1. Pick a belief. This could be anything personal, political, or scientific. If you find yourself flinching away from challenging this belief, we will examine why in further detail.

Step 2. Try to remember how you formed the belief, and list the evidence you have to support it.

Step 3. Double check the original source for your evidence, and critically examine it. Was the source a study? Was it properly blinded? Are there alternative explanations for its observations, and have they been properly accounted for? If your evidence comes from tradition or personal observation, try to examine how the belief may have been built over time, and whether you have sought out unbiased data or alternative explanations.


Step 4. Seek out alternative points of view. Critically examine the counter evidence, as well. Some of this may include explorations of the alternative explanations listed above.


Step 5. Weigh the evidence. If you find new evidence, compare to your prior beliefs and evidence. Is it enough to update on?


Step 6. Calibrate your beliefs according to your findings. If this feels painful, or if you still find yourself flinching away from doing so, we need to look at what else your belief is tied to.


Sometimes, a belief might be tied to your view of yourself. Finding out that you were wrong might challenge your idea that you are a smart person. You might also feel like the belief you’re attempting to challenge is a virtuous belief to hold. It’s important to separate your view of yourself and your view on an idea. It’s virtuous to seek honest answers. It’s smart to critically examine ideas. Once you’re able to put your concepts and ideas into their own “buckets,” you will find critical examination easier. Read more about this idea here.
Step 7. Congratulations! You are on your way to building a better self and a better world.


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