Breaking Out of the Prison of Belief

By George A. Boyd © 2022

Many people have difficulty releasing beliefs that are based on lies and misinformation. To begin to let go of these erroneous beliefs, it is important to understand the stages of belief:

Stage One – Belief acquisition. In this stage, you learn about an idea or proposition and you choose to believe it. It may intuitively resonate with you. It may explain something you didn’t understand. It may make connections between ideas that give you a larger perspective and new insights into some world events.

Stage Two – Belief maintenance. In this stage, there is nothing to challenge your belief, so you continue to hold it as true.

Stage Three – Belief confrontation. In this stage, someone challenges your beliefs and tells you it is false. You may defend your belief. You may not listen to the arguments of the person, who confronts you. You may attack and demean the person, who challenges your beliefs.

Stage Four – Belief modification. In this stage, you gather new information about the belief, which allows you expand your understanding of the belief, and you can more cogently communicate it to others. Your experience with belief confrontation allows you to better counter arguments against your belief.

Stage Five – Belief dissemination. With sufficient knowledge of the belief and its implications, you are able to explain the belief so others can understand it, and convince them why there is value in holding it.

Stage Six – Belief reconsideration. When you find inconsistencies or errors in the belief, you may reconsider it. In this stage, you analyze the validity of the belief and you decide whether to maintain or reject it. If you find palatable explanations for the inconsistencies or the error does not detract from the overall coherence and explanatory value of the belief, you will retain it.

Stage Seven – Belief rejection and adoption of a new belief. At this stage, you find the belief is incorrect and you jettison it. You form a new belief based on new knowledge.

Here’s an example of the process:

  • We learned that Pluto was the ninth planet (stage one).
  • We didn’t question this belief for many years (stage two).
  • New astronomical discoveries about the nature of planets and the zone of space where Pluto dwells led some scientists to question the status of Pluto as a planet (stage three).You learn more about the solar system, and this seems to confirm your original belief that Pluto is a planet (stage four).
  • You communicate to your children that Pluto is the ninth planet; if you are a teacher, you teach this to your students (stage five).
  • Other worlds about the size of Pluto are found in the Kuiper Belt; those worlds and Pluto are found to not clear their orbits, as do the other eight planets. Scientists re-examine their belief that Pluto is a planet (stage six).
  • The scientific consensus shifts and re-labels Pluto as a dwarf planet. You learn this new information and reject your old idea that Pluto was a planet; you now embrace the new belief about Pluto (stage seven).

If you learn an erroneous belief based on misinformation, you may never go beyond stage four, where you may modify your belief with new misinformation and learn to defend it against attack. If you are strongly committed to the belief and feel that others must know it, you will disseminate the belief to others through writing, speeches, or social media (stage five). You never critically examine the belief (stage six), so there is nothing that allows you to release it and adopt a more accurate belief.

When many beliefs link together to form a network of beliefs about a topic, these enmeshed beliefs can become a veritable prison within the mind. Conspiracy theories, political and religious dogmas, and the hate-filled ideologies of terrorist and hate groups construct these mental prisons, from which it is very hard for people to escape.

Byron Katie, in “the Work,” used as series of questions that were designed to help break people out of their prisons of belief. This questioning process asked people to consider (a) what is the implication of holding the belief, (b) what might they perceive if they let go of the belief, and (c) what would their life be like if they abandoned the belief.

Examples of this questioning method are:

2020 Election was stolen: (a) “What are the implications of holding this belief?” (b) “If you didn’t hold this belief, what would you perceive?” (c) “What would your life be like if your abandoned this belief?”

Everyone needs to be a Christian [or Muslim, etc.] or risk going to hell: (a) “What are the implications of holding this belief?” (b) “If you didn’t hold this belief, what would you perceive?” (c) “What would your life be like if your abandoned this belief?”

If you are not a Republican [or Democrat], Satan has deluded you: (a) “What are the implications of holding this belief?” (b) “If you didn’t hold this belief, what would you perceive?” (c) “What would your life be like if your abandoned this belief?”

Only the God in which I believe is true, all other gods or goddesses are false: (a) “What are the implications of holding this belief?” (b) “If you didn’t hold this belief, what would you perceive?” (c) “What would your life be like if your abandoned this belief?”

People don’t escape their prisons of belief until they reconsider the implications of holding the framework of beliefs that construct them, and discover the inherent untruth(s) that locks them into its thrall. Those who dwell in the shadow of the lie rarely question it. Those who get free have examined the underpinning of these cognitive structures and found them to be erroneous.

How Do Conspiracy Theories Arise?

By George A. Boyd ©2021

Q: How do we explain the prevalence of conspiracy theories?

A: We can look at this phenomenon from different perspectives:

  1. Targeted information triggers an innate tendency in the mind – this standpoint believes an “informational stimulus” interfaces with people’s karmic substrate and triggers an unconscious pattern. This position posits a stimulus-response mindset; if the tendency is already in the mind, the information will trigger it.
  2. Intentional influence – In this point of view, influencers manipulate people’s unconscious mind through specific words or images: they prey upon people’s desires, fears, hatred, guilt and shame to evoke emotions and to stir them to take action. You see this used in advertising; those with a political or religious agenda also utilize this strategy.
  3. Awakening negative character traits – This view holds that certain individuals only respond to the message of the conspiracy theory because it stirs innate character traits in them. The message draws out the mental aberrations of people with dark triad personality patterns—paranoia, antisocial, and Machiavellian traits—or borderline personality disorder. This perspective suggests that those who believe in conspiracy theories would have high levels of these associated personality disorders.
  4. Genetic substrate – This position holds that people’s response to a conspiracy theory is an inborn predisposition to process information in a non-linear, irrational way. In this perspective, people who believe in conspiracy theories potentially have different neurological wiring.
  5. Learned beliefs – This perspective holds that conspiracy theories are constructed. What people learn about a conspiracy theory consists of an array of beliefs that conform to their unconscious fears and desires. These irrational beliefs, with skilled intervention, can be deconstructed through psychotherapy or deprogramming.
  6. Splitting – In this stance, conspiracy theories evoke psychological splitting of people’s worldview into black and white, good and evil—and those who hold this mindset cannot reconstruct the whole picture of those they demonize. We see these dualistic mindsets in Zoroastrian, Manichean, Christian, and Islamic sects. These world views demonize those who are labeled alien, or non-believers; those who engage in religiously proscribed behavior; or those who support views different than their own. This same dualistic polarization and demonization of opponents can similarly be found in political ideology.
  7. Immersion in thought streams – In this outlook, conspiracy theories arise from listening to the thought streams of Occult Adepts, the purveyors of nonsense from the Psychic Realm, and those who misinterpret scripture in various religious groups. This same dynamics operate in religious cults, radical political organizations, and terrorist groups. This outlook perceives that people tune into a particular inner channel of information through intuition or outer information through the media—and this message resonates with what they have come to believe is true. This information stream (a) defines what is true, (b) gives people a rationale to believe it, (c) rewards them for believing it, and (d) it urges people to take action on these new beliefs.

People are exposed to the information from proponents of a conspiracy theory. Through whatever internal processing takes place for this information—through whichever explanatory perspective among one to seven—it changes their beliefs, reframes their perspective, and leads to new behavior. We can point to certain mental operations of the unconscious mind as contributing to the adoption of conspiracy theories; the cognitive behavioral approach (perspective five — learned beliefs) gives us hope that people who become enmeshed in these delusional frames can regain their rationality again.

Those who are interested in the dynamics underlying religious influence systems may find our book, Religions, Cults, and Terrorism: What the Heck Are Doing? helpful.

We take on these layers of false beliefs in our Cult Recovery Coaching Program, which is designed for those who have been involved in religious or political cults, and want to find their authentic inner compass again. We have several articles we have written about conspiracy theories in our web log: we invite those are interested in this topic to search for these articles.

When Your Intuition and the Internet Lead You Astray

By George A. Boyd © 2021

Q: What if your intuition tells you gonzo stuff?

A: What your intuition tells you is information. This information may be true or false. Where this changes you is if:

  1. You believe it
  2. You emotionally react to it
  3. You act on the basis of the belief

If my intuition tells me there is an abominable snowman that lives in the thicket outside my house, I might consider that my intuition is playing with me.

But if I believe this is true, it affects my emotions and my behavior:

  • I might be afraid to go outside because I fear the yeti might kill me and eat me, injure me so I need to go to a hospital, or drag me off to its lair so its children can eat me.
  • I might walk out the back door, so I avoid the thicket where the yeti lives.

At issue, I have not verified the statement is true—that an abominable snowman actually lives in the thicket. If I do an exhaustive search of the thicket, and there is no trace of Mr. Yeti or his offspring, I might conclude my intuition is tripping, and I might laugh at myself for my gullibility.

When people believe something that isn’t true, it engages their emotions, and may also change their behavior.

If someone is lying to them, they may carry out what the person who is sowing this false narrative wants them to do. We see people manipulated through this means through government propaganda; misleading advertising; the speeches and writing of demagogues, cult leaders, and leaders of hate and terrorist groups. This dissemination of misinformation is rampant on the internet: one “thought leader” can introduce these falsehoods and compromise hundreds—even thousands of people—with a tweet or social media post.

Finding Out What Is True

There are four positions I can take regarding a statement is true, whether I receive it internally from my intuition, or externally through others’ communication:

  1. The statement is true – I have verified its veracity. I conclude the information is reliable.
  2. The statement is false – I have analyzed its message and I have found logical errors, or attempts to deceive me. I conclude the information is not reliable.
  3. The statements truth is unknown – I cannot verify the truth of the statement as the evidence I need to verify it is not available to me. The information may be based on the statements, opinions, testimonials, or beliefs of others, but I cannot independently verify their claims. I conclude the information is not verifiable, and withhold my belief.
  4. The statement is non-sensible and clearly false – The information appears to be the product of fantasy, delusion, or irrationality. I conclude this information is not reliable, and I reject it outright.

Let’s review these four conditions:

In condition A, I am able to prove the statement is true. If I suspect that I have termites in my house, and I find an insect that looks like a termite, I can verify that I do have termites.

In condition B, I am able to prove the statement is false. If a politician tells me that he had the largest crowd size “ever recorded” for his inauguration, and historical records and actual photos of the crowd show that it wasn’t the largest crowd, I reject his statement.

In condition C, there is not enough verifiable information to prove the statement, so I hold it as an unverifiable hypothesis. If someone tells me that there are extraterrestrial bodies in a freezer locker in a secret air force base in the Nevada desert, I have no way of verifying this is true. Maybe this is possible, but I have no way to prove it.

I rather doubt if I ask the guard at the gate of the facility is going to let me in to view them if they were there. For example, if I showed up at the west gate of the base, and told the security officer, who is armed with a high-powered, deadly-accurate automatic weapon, “Oh hi! Hey, I’ve heard that you’ve got ETs in the freezer in here? Mind if I have a look? I promise I won’t take any souvenirs!”

In condition D, the statement is so clearly a statement of fantasy that I can reject it outright. For example, if I told you, “I am Spiderman and I’m actually from the planet Venus,” you would know that I sho’ be trippin’—and you wouldn’t believe me.

Sowing of the Seed

To set up misinformation, the one seeking to disseminate it must make you believe that condition B, a false statement, is actually condition A, a true statement—that something false is true.

This commonly occurs through giving you false proof based on spurious or distorted facts—what one of the press secretaries of the Trump administration famously referred to as “alternative facts.”

Sometimes in my leisure time, I watch UFO conspiracy shows on Netflix. I listen to these reports, and I conclude, “I cannot verify this hypothesis and I suspend my belief that it is true. This is condition C.

However, if the scout ship with the grey aliens—the ones with the large heads and prominent black eyes—lands on my lawn… Three aliens come out of their vessel… they come towards me and one of them gives me a high five—or in their case, a high four, as they only have four fingers—my belief that there are space aliens has been validated. I then can say, “yes, there are space aliens: they are parked on my lawn.” This is condition A.

When people get seduced by conspiracy theories; entrapped in cults, hate and terrorist groups; or deceived by propaganda—they believe something that is false is true—and this conditions their emotions and behavior. They believe the false statement, which should be recognized as false—condition B—is actually A, verified as true.

To bring people back from this alternate reality, these false beliefs that appear to them to be true must be shown to be false. The challenge of this is that they tenaciously defend these false beliefs as “the truth.”

The “Aha Moment”

The sudden insight or realization—the “aha moment”—that makes someone realize that something they believe is false and reject it, is the catalyst that enables someone to escape their alternate reality. For them to change, they must have this realization.

For a person who is committed to a false belief:

  • You cannot argue with them. They will not listen.
  • You cannot convince them through showing them other information. They will not believe what you show them.

They must discover that it is false. Then they emerge, and awaken from the dream.

To the degree that you can catalyze this realization, you can assist them to break the spell. Our best psychotherapists and coaches can do this, once in a while.

Going back to your original question, you must verify what intuition tells you, the same way you might check out something another person tells you, or something you view on social media.

If you can’t verify it, it’s conditional—an unverified hypothesis. Perhaps if people could learn to hold more things as an unverified hypothesis, instead of wildly believing them, we would have fewer people getting lost in conspiracy theories and cults.

Those interested in learning more about the dynamics that underlie religious and political cults, you may enjoy reading our book, Religions, Cults, and Terrorism: What the Heck Are We Doing?

Preaching and Satsang

By George A. Boyd ©2021

Q: What is the difference between preaching and satsang?

A: Preaching is communicated from the Moon Soul nucleus of identity. Satsang comes from the attentional principle, the spirit, or the ensouling entity.

The spectrum of preaching spans a range of communication: from material contaminated with human paranoia and ignorance to the channeling of the Holy Spirit and the Divine directly. We can sketch out seven levels of preaching:

  1. Dissemination of conspiracy theories and superstition – at this level, material from the preacher’s unconscious mind contaminates the message.
  2. Conversion message – the message attempts to instill fear, guilt, shame, or self-loathing to make someone become a member of a religious group. This messaging may point out sinful or adharmic behavior, describe its dire consequences, and then offer faith, prayer, or some type of contemplative practice as a solution. Those who play an evangelistic or “soul winner” role in an organization use this type of preaching.
  3. Practical advisement – in this aspect of preaching, the message communicates keys to success, prosperity, and happiness. The strategies advocated in this type of preaching include using scriptures to claim what people desire “by faith,” employing affirmations, or performing tithing to bring about personal rewards. New Thought ministers and those who preach the “prosperity gospel” adopt this approach. Pastoral counselors who utilize scriptural passages to give solutions to the problems of life also tap this dimension of preaching.
  4. Moral guidance – in this level of preaching, the message attempts to instill moral values and character change through metaphors, parables, stories, or testimonials. The homily of the Catholic priest and the testimonial of one who has been saved in Evangelical churches draw on this type of preaching.
  5. Exhortation – this type of preaching exhorts people to take urgent action. Some preaching makes use of this type of message to raise funds. Some clergy may exhort their parishioners to vote for a political candidate that shares the religious institution’s values.
  6. Revelation – This type of preaching explains the layers of meaning of scriptures. It may attempt to interpret the symbols and archetypes found in prophetic and mystical passages of scripture. It may attempt to use analytical strategies like Gematria or analysis of historical word meanings to tease out meaning from religious texts. Those who play a teaching role in the religious organization commonly exercise this communication style.
  7. Transmission of the gifts of the Spirit – In the core of the Moon Soul, where the Holy Spirit comes to dwell, in response to the believer’s fervent invocation and prayer, the Living Flame speaks directly through the individual. This can take the form of inspired preaching, prophecy, speaking in an unknown tongue (glossolalia), and anathema.
  • In inspired preaching, the Holy Spirit speaks through the individual, who takes no thought as to what he or she will say—it is revealed in the moment; the preacher gives voice to what the Spirit whispers within.
  • In prophecy, the Divine Spirit reveals what is to be in the future.
  • In glossolalia, the Spirit bestows a mantramic language upon the believer, which enables the believer to enter into union with the Holy Spirit in the core of the Moon Soul.
  • In anathema, the Divine commandment executes the karmic law.

Those who wish to study more about religious conversion and the dynamics underlying religion may value from reading our book, Religion, Cults, and Terrorism: What the Heck Are We Doing?

The Gentle Art of Creating an Alternate Reality

By George A. Boyd © 2021

Q: How do political and religious leaders move their followers into an alternate reality, so they believe lies and conspiracy theories?

A: This hypnotic co-option of the follower’s reality testing and judgment appears to come from both the behavior of the leader and the response from his or her followers.

When you look at the behavior of the leader, you see:

  • The leader will modify and distort perception by magnifying certain elements and minimizing others
  • The leader will change beliefs about events and other people, so that people will only get information about the world the way the leader sees it
  • The leader will declare the world your senses perceive is unreal
  • The leader will lie to people incessantly, so followers begin to doubt their own beliefs and perceptions

When you observe the behavior of the leader’s believers, you commonly see

  • They proclaim the leader is the only source of truth, and tell other people to only listen to their leader
  • They cast the leader as a savior, someone who can alone solve the problems of the people and the nation
  • They make the leader appear as larger than life, as super-human
  • They believe the leader has charisma, or God has chosen him or her
  • They pledge fealty or allegiance to the leader, and obey his or her commands as infallible
  • They dedicate their life to the leader, and are willing to fight and die for him or her
  • They listen to the leader’s advice, abandoning their own judgment
  • They do anything the leader wishes, leaving aside their life’s goals
  • They live in fear that the leader will withdraw his or her approval and support, and they believe terrible consequences will ensue if the leader does not support them—in religious groups, this may be framed as going into eternal damnation or losing their chance for salvation
  • They create a larger-than-life myth about the leader, inflating his or her deeds, so they appear heroic or superhuman
  • They want to see and be in the presence of the leader, so they will receive his or her supernatural force (mana)
  • They believe the leader, no matter what, even when he or she blatantly lies to them
  • They are loyal to the leader, even if he or she uses them and betrays them

While not an exhaustive list, these are several of the features you see in political and religious cults that authoritarian leaders control. A common theme in these groups is that followers are swept up into an alternate perception of reality. In this state of heightened suggestibility, it is very easy for them to believe in the most absurd conspiracy theories their leader promulgates. We certainly see this occurring in nations where authoritarian leaders have seduced a large portion of the populace in believing his or her lies.

Co-opt reason, and you create an alternate world where anything can be true. Suppress judgment and you can believe the most absurd conspiracies. Control others through fear and guilt, and you create a group of obsequious myrmidons.

Those who have been drawn into this vortex of delusion no longer realize they have become unmoored from reality; they become hypnotized to believe the alternate reality the leader disseminates, in which he or she controls them.