Manythings happen in modern day entertainment that are infeasible. How would it bepossible for someone to fly, or move things with their minds? In the world offiction, we are often introduced to scenarios in which we would never believeif it was set in the real world, or the headline of a news story. For us toenjoy these works, we must employ the phenomenon known as “suspension ofdisbelief”. Suspension of disbelief is the semi-conscious decision that we asthe audience make in which we put aside our skepticism and accept that thescenario is plausible in context to the work.
But to initiate our investigationinto the necessity of “suspension of disbelief”, we must first define the keyterm in the prescribed title: “essential”. In this context, I interpret”essential” to mean absolutely necessary or a core part of the area ofknowledge. With this definition in mind, this essay aims to explore thequestion that the prescribed title proposes and therefore my knowledge questionis: To what extent is “suspension of disbelief” essential in the acquisitionof knowledge in the areas of religious knowledge systems and natural sciences?Inthe Religious Knowledge Systems, knowledge becomes shared through the teachingsof another. When one looks at Religious Knowledge Systems, faith is the firstway of knowing we think of. This made me ask myself: To what extent is thesuspension of disbelief a component of the way of knowing faith? As someone who comes from aBuddhist family, I grew up learning about the various deities and what eachwould assist you with if prayed to.
Although I never saw any solid proof, Ibelieved in this due to faith in my parents, not necessarily faith in myreligion. However, once in a while I would pray and my prayer would come true. SinceI firmly believer in knowledge with proof, I shook my head and told myself itwas merely a coincidence. Without hard evidence, I have no way of proving thatBuddhism and its deities are real, but my belief in it allows me to suspend mydisbelief and have my own “proof” which is difficult to communicate to others. When taking the first stepsin gaining faith in a certain religion, until ideas and values are explained aswell as continuously practiced, we are not able to fully commit in our beliefin it. This is akin to theatre in that a period of time to familiarizeourselves with the work is required before we can fully suspend our disbelief.Taking this into consideration, we perceive that this suspension of disbeliefcan be seen as an important element of the way of knowing faith.
Faith isdefined as “firmbelief in something for which there is no proof” (Merriam Webster). This is notto suggest neither religion and theatre possess any tangible proof, but ratherthat suspension of disbelief allows us to put our innate biases aside to seereligion in a different lense.Butdoes religion really have no cold, hard evidence that can prove our beliefs init? Or in other words: Can suspension of disbelief also be seen as awillingness to create your own truth? Nicole Cliffe, a Canadian writer andjournalist wrote a book called How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life.Her journey of transition begins with hearing a quote: “I believe that everyhuman being is sufficiently depraved that when we get to heaven, no one will beable to say, ‘I merited this.'”. For Nicole, this evoked emotions ofuncertainty and a feeling of being overwhelmed.” This inner conflict made herwant to explore why she felt like this, and eventually as she delved deeperinto the ideas of religion, her emotion allowed her to feel a connection andidentify with Christianity.
This curiosity and drive to find the origin of heremotions allowed her to suspend her disbelief and ignore her preconceptions inher search for the answer. From a subjective view, I saw this as evidencethat our faith in something like religion makes us unconsciously look forthings that can be used as proof to justify our suspension of disbelief. Inthe natural sciences, previous knowledge must be retained and disbelief cannotbe suspended because the acquisition of new knowledge must be verified withprior knowledge. When a scientific hypothesis is made, there is an attempt toacquire knowledge. But can a hypothesis be made without any prior knowledge?Therefore we should be asking the question: To what extent is it essentialthat new knowledge is built on past knowledge? Researchers have been ableto cure leukaemia by utilizing stem cell transplants. In this type oftreatment, a donor, usually a close relative like a brother or sister, whosetissue type closely matches the patients’ donates a number of their stem cells. Stem cells are essential toour survival because they can divide and mature into all the different types ofblood cells, including the cells of our immune system. These donor stem cellsare transplanted into the patient’s bone marrow to replicate and startproducing healthy myeloblasts instead of the cancerous ones.
(Cancer Foundation)This new knowledge in the form of a scientific breakthrough was prompted bypast knowledge that stem cells are able to specialize into any desired bloodcell. By employing reason, researchers were able to rely on their previousknowledge of stem cells as well as its properties and the process of obtainingand growing them to envision a process in which healthy cells can betransplanted to replace old cells. From this, researchers were able to concludethat perhaps this specialization process could be replicated artificially andused to treat blood-related diseases. But howdo we know that this “past” knowledge that we already possess is reliable andcorrect? In history, there have been many theories that led to a huge paradigmshift when disproven. To do this, one must stand up to and oppose a widelyaccepted belief, and produce evidence that disproves that belief. If thereisn’t any previous knowledge to work with, how do you even begin toconceptualize a new theory? Imagination is defined as “the ability to form amental image of something that is not perceived through the five senses.”(Sasson) This made me wonder: What role does imagination play in theacquisition of knowledge? Regarded as one of the smartest men in history,Albert Einstein believed in the importance of imagination. He also frequentlyused it to “prove” hypotheses in which couldn’t be tested in actuality, mostnotably his dismissing of Sir Isaac Newton’s law of gravity which had stood forover 250 years.
Where Newton defined it as a constant, instantaneous force,Einstein used his imagination in “thought experiments” to try and proveotherwise. He imagined someone floating in an opaque box, and suddenly droppingto the floor. This made his question whether the box is being pulled down bygravity, or if the box is being accelerated by a force yanking it upwards. Thenotion that both these effects would produce the same results led Einstein tothe conclusion that gravity and acceleration were the same thing. Byreleasing himself from the constraints past knowledge, Einstein was able tosuspend his disbelief and instead utilize his imagination to think in a mannerthat allowed him to distance himself from what he had known previously.Asscientists, when a new hypothesis is introduced with the intention of itbecoming common shared knowledge, our goal is to falsify it.
This leads to thetopic of falsifiability and its role. According to Karl Popper’s criterion ofdemarcation, a statement is cognitively meaningful if and only if it is, in principle,possible to verify. (IEP.UTM) For example, if I were to make the claim thatsomething is in a particular place, that statement can be verified or falsifiedby going that that particular place. If we were to “suspend our disbelief”while evaluating new hypotheses, or are constantly looking to confirm newknowledge, our progress could be hindered by trying to blindly prove it rightand try to force it to become true instead of critically analyzing it todetermine its merit. This insinuates that suspension of disbelief is indeednecessary in the natural sciences, but what about Einstein and his thoughtexperiments? Under this idea of falsifiability, although Einstein applied hissuspension of disbelief in order to acquire knowledge, until verified false or proventrue, is still a hypothesis.
Therefore, in the natural sciences, disbelief canbe suspended to generate a knowledge claim, but to solidify that claim, it mustbe verified critically with the mentality of trying to prove it wrong, or inother words not suspending disbelief. The barrier to knowledge and belief inreligious knowledge systems lies in the concept of not suspending disbelief. Byputting preconceptions aside, one is able to not necessarily provide physicalevidence, but one may be able to find a truth for themselves, since religion issomething you hold as a faith for yourself, not for others.
In the naturalsciences, hypotheses can be created with suspension of disbelief that wouldotherwise not have been possible without, but they cannot be proven as trueknowledge without being confirmed through critical analysis by disbelief. Theidea of suspension of disbelief can be seen as necessary for belief, but notknowledge. In conclusion, the suspension of disbelief is essential in thereligious knowledge system, and prevalent rather than essential in the naturalsciences.