The diagram below is one I used to discuss my view of “Many Selves, No Self“. The dots are modules of mind and the lines are the ways they interconnect and operate together. The connected dots form a self — in this case, let’s make it a web of beliefs. It is this web analogy that aids me in thinking about our beliefs. The web is how we hold our lives in our hands.
Our beliefs are woven together to support our lives. When we focus on the literal beliefs themselves, we often miss the function of the web because we forget about the complex interconnections of our beliefs, others and our environment.
For instance, it is possible to have two individuals with very different beliefs but woven in such a way that their webs are incredibly similar in function — they hold their lives together in very similar ways in spite of holding contradictory beliefs.
This is the problem with simple reductionist thinking. It tends to look at the smallest components of a system but forgets that what makes a system work is the interconnection and interaction of all these components.
It is our web of beliefs that gives us meaning and helps us move in life. It is not the individual beliefs themselves but the manner in which they interact with our other beliefs and our environment that give meaning. Beliefs are clothing, they are functional and can take different forms while serving the same purpose. Our beliefs are not as substantial as we imagine. Depending on a Christian’s web of beliefs, for instance, she may be closer to a Buddhist or even closer to some atheists than she is to her fellow Christians. We can not judge a person by their beliefs alone, we must watch how they are woven into their lives and the lives of those to whom they relate.
Now I will agree that some beliefs are almost impossible to weave well into one’s life, like: “It is good to kill others to obtain your desires”, or “Those who differ from me should be punished” or several others. I am not pointing toward total relativism. But I hope the reader sees the possible benefits of my limited analogy.