Many introduced to scenarios in which we would never

Many
things happen in modern day entertainment that are infeasible. How would it be
possible for someone to fly, or move things with their minds? In the world of
fiction, we are often introduced to scenarios in which we would never believe
if it was set in the real world, or the headline of a news story. For us to
enjoy these works, we must employ the phenomenon known as “suspension of
disbelief”. Suspension of disbelief is the semi-conscious decision that we as
the audience make in which we put aside our skepticism and accept that the
scenario is plausible in context to the work. But to initiate our investigation
into the necessity of “suspension of disbelief”, we must first define the key
term in the prescribed title: “essential”. In this context, I interpret
“essential” to mean absolutely necessary or a core part of the area of
knowledge. With this definition in mind, this essay aims to explore the
question that the prescribed title proposes and therefore my knowledge question
is: To what extent is “suspension of disbelief” essential in the acquisition
of knowledge in the areas of religious knowledge systems and natural sciences?

In
the Religious Knowledge Systems, knowledge becomes shared through the teachings
of another. When one looks at Religious Knowledge Systems, faith is the first
way of knowing we think of. This made me ask myself: To what extent is the
suspension of disbelief a component of the way of knowing faith? As someone who comes from a
Buddhist family, I grew up learning about the various deities and what each
would assist you with if prayed to. Although I never saw any solid proof, I
believed in this due to faith in my parents, not necessarily faith in my
religion. However, once in a while I would pray and my prayer would come true. Since
I firmly believer in knowledge with proof, I shook my head and told myself it
was merely a coincidence. Without hard evidence, I have no way of proving that
Buddhism and its deities are real, but my belief in it allows me to suspend my
disbelief and have my own “proof” which is difficult to communicate to others. When taking the first steps
in gaining faith in a certain religion, until ideas and values are explained as
well as continuously practiced, we are not able to fully commit in our belief
in it. This is akin to theatre in that a period of time to familiarize
ourselves with the work is required before we can fully suspend our disbelief.
Taking this into consideration, we perceive that this suspension of disbelief
can be seen as an important element of the way of knowing faith. Faith is
defined as “firm
belief in something for which there is no proof” (Merriam Webster). This is not
to suggest neither religion and theatre possess any tangible proof, but rather
that suspension of disbelief allows us to put our innate biases aside to see
religion in a different lense.

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But
does religion really have no cold, hard evidence that can prove our beliefs in
it? Or in other words: Can suspension of disbelief also be seen as a
willingness to create your own truth? Nicole Cliffe, a Canadian writer and
journalist wrote a book called How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life.
Her journey of transition begins with hearing a quote: “I believe that every
human being is sufficiently depraved that when we get to heaven, no one will be
able to say, ‘I merited this.'”. For Nicole, this evoked emotions of
uncertainty and a feeling of being overwhelmed.” This inner conflict made her
want to explore why she felt like this, and eventually as she delved deeper
into the ideas of religion, her emotion allowed her to feel a connection and
identify with Christianity. This curiosity and drive to find the origin of her
emotions allowed her to suspend her disbelief and ignore her preconceptions in
her search for the answer. From a subjective view, I saw this as evidence
that our faith in something like religion makes us unconsciously look for
things that can be used as proof to justify our suspension of disbelief.

In
the natural sciences, previous knowledge must be retained and disbelief cannot
be suspended because the acquisition of new knowledge must be verified with
prior knowledge. When a scientific hypothesis is made, there is an attempt to
acquire knowledge. But can a hypothesis be made without any prior knowledge?
Therefore we should be asking the question: To what extent is it essential
that new knowledge is built on past knowledge? Researchers have been able
to cure leukaemia by utilizing stem cell transplants. In this type of
treatment, a donor, usually a close relative like a brother or sister, whose
tissue type closely matches the patients’ donates a number of their stem cells. Stem cells are essential to
our survival because they can divide and mature into all the different types of
blood cells, including the cells of our immune system. These donor stem cells
are transplanted into the patient’s bone marrow to replicate and start
producing healthy myeloblasts instead of the cancerous ones. (Cancer Foundation)
This new knowledge in the form of a scientific breakthrough was prompted by
past knowledge that stem cells are able to specialize into any desired blood
cell. By employing reason, researchers were able to rely on their previous
knowledge of stem cells as well as its properties and the process of obtaining
and growing them to envision a process in which healthy cells can be
transplanted to replace old cells. From this, researchers were able to conclude
that perhaps this specialization process could be replicated artificially and
used to treat blood-related diseases.

But how
do we know that this “past” knowledge that we already possess is reliable and
correct? In history, there have been many theories that led to a huge paradigm
shift when disproven. To do this, one must stand up to and oppose a widely
accepted belief, and produce evidence that disproves that belief. If there
isn’t any previous knowledge to work with, how do you even begin to
conceptualize a new theory? Imagination is defined as “the ability to form a
mental image of something that is not perceived through the five senses.”
(Sasson) This made me wonder: What role does imagination play in the
acquisition of knowledge? Regarded as one of the smartest men in history,
Albert Einstein believed in the importance of imagination. He also frequently
used it to “prove” hypotheses in which couldn’t be tested in actuality, most
notably his dismissing of Sir Isaac Newton’s law of gravity which had stood for
over 250 years. Where Newton defined it as a constant, instantaneous force,
Einstein used his imagination in “thought experiments” to try and prove
otherwise. He imagined someone floating in an opaque box, and suddenly dropping
to the floor. This made his question whether the box is being pulled down by
gravity, or if the box is being accelerated by a force yanking it upwards. The
notion that both these effects would produce the same results led Einstein to
the conclusion that gravity and acceleration were the same thing. By
releasing himself from the constraints past knowledge, Einstein was able to
suspend his disbelief and instead utilize his imagination to think in a manner
that allowed him to distance himself from what he had known previously.

As
scientists, when a new hypothesis is introduced with the intention of it
becoming common shared knowledge, our goal is to falsify it. This leads to the
topic of falsifiability and its role. According to Karl Popper’s criterion of
demarcation, 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 that
something is in a particular place, that statement can be verified or falsified
by going that that particular place. If we were to “suspend our disbelief”
while evaluating new hypotheses, or are constantly looking to confirm new
knowledge, our progress could be hindered by trying to blindly prove it right
and try to force it to become true instead of critically analyzing it to
determine its merit. This insinuates that suspension of disbelief is indeed
necessary in the natural sciences, but what about Einstein and his thought
experiments? Under this idea of falsifiability, although Einstein applied his
suspension of disbelief in order to acquire knowledge, until verified false or proven
true, is still a hypothesis. Therefore, in the natural sciences, disbelief can
be suspended to generate a knowledge claim, but to solidify that claim, it must
be verified critically with the mentality of trying to prove it wrong, or in
other words not suspending disbelief.

          The barrier to knowledge and belief in
religious knowledge systems lies in the concept of not suspending disbelief. By
putting preconceptions aside, one is able to not necessarily provide physical
evidence, but one may be able to find a truth for themselves, since religion is
something you hold as a faith for yourself, not for others. In the natural
sciences, hypotheses can be created with suspension of disbelief that would
otherwise not have been possible without, but they cannot be proven as true
knowledge without being confirmed through critical analysis by disbelief. The
idea of suspension of disbelief can be seen as necessary for belief, but not
knowledge. In conclusion, the suspension of disbelief is essential in the
religious knowledge system, and prevalent rather than essential in the natural
sciences.