Sunday, May 27, 2012

Habits and Belief

I've been reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business looking at it in relation to Peirce's notion beliefs and habits.  There is a diagrammatic view of habits — as cues, routines, and rewards – and various communities, as well as faith, that can play a role too.  Of course, Duhigg looks at habits from an psychological and mass-marketing perspective, whereas Peirce's concern was with an intellectual and scientific point of view, but the two perspectives feed into each other in interesting and fruitful ways.

One thing that caught my attention was Duhigg's notion of belief.  I always understood belief as referring to the habit; that is, being a habit meant the thing was believed and there was a willingness to act on it.  However, as Duhigg discusses in his chapter on changing habits, a willingness to act is not automatic with a habit.  A new habit can function flawlessly day after day, and then in an important or tense situation, can fail (the person reverts to their old habit) from an unwillingness, a lack of belief or trust, in the new habit.  Believing seems to be something over and above, separate from, what is believed.

Maybe this should have been obvious.  After all, Pierce characterized the methods of tenacity and authority as making no reference to the content of what was believed.  But perhaps believing should be seen as something separate from what is believed even with those methods of fixing belief that do focus on content?  Perhaps the scientific community is as necessary to scientific beliefs as the community of recovering alcoholics is to undoing a habit of alcohol abuse?  Perhaps induction is a faith in science to the point of being willing to act on habits whose only guarantee is that they are part of a process toward the truth?

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