On Beliefs and Provisional Models

Beliefs are fixed; reality flows. Knowledge grounded in direct experience but nonetheless provisional and open is most useful to us. Mere belief and blind faith rarely if ever help, and often hinder.

It helps, for instance, to understand from direct experience that suffering has distinct causes: identification with the changing as if it were permanent, craving, clinging, aversion, hatred, etc., but not even this should be allowed to congeal into a belief.

It is a useful model, drawn from experience, but subject to change like all models. In the Buddhist tradition, there is a teaching called ’emptiness,’ which is used to detach students from the belief in a permanent separate self. But there is also a teaching called the ’emptiness of emptiness,’ which is designed to break attachment to even the idea of emptiness. Emptiness removes a thorn using a thorn; the emptiness of emptiness throws the second thorn away. Our models can be like this too; useful tools, but disposable ones as well, however ‘sacred’ they may be.


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