By Gretchen Mullen
UPDATE: Filmmaker Ben Fama has now made the full film available for free on YouTube. See link at the bottom of this article.
Filmmaker Ben Fama Jr. was kind enough to provide us with a private screening of his new film Reasons to Believe. Here’s our take on this exciting project available for general release on September 11, 2017.
Allegory of the Cave
The film begins with a cinematically pleasing vision of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where humans are imprisoned in a cave and denied knowledge of the outside world. In the allegory, humans move from darkness to light, from false beliefs to truth and reason.
Fama then poses the following questions:
- How do beliefs shape our reality? Why do we believe?
- How are we influenced to believe?
- How do other people affect our thinking?
- How do our beliefs hold us back?
- How do we free ourselves from false beliefs?
- MICHAEL SHERMER, Author, The Moral Arc; The Believing Brain
- PETER BOGHOSSIAN, Author, A Manual for Creating Atheists
- CALEB LACK, Coauthor, Critical Thinking, Science, and Pseudoscience: Why We Can’t Trust our Brains
- JENNIFER WHITSON, Author, “The Emotional Roots of Conspiratorial Perceptions, System Justification, and Belief in the Paranormal”
- CHAD WOODRUFF, Author, Neuroscience of Empathy and Compassion
Fama’s questions are carefully considered by each expert and are addressed through carefully interwoven comments on each topic.
The film takes us through the human brain’s need to understand the world, often through a process in which beliefs come first and evidence comes second. In other words, beliefs are often not evidence-based, but make us feel better, perhaps even superior to others. These sometimes false beliefs are further influenced and reinforced by family, community, education, and the time period in which we live. While our beliefs often make us who we are, or who we feel we are, they also have the power to divide us into ideological communities.
The discussion expands on the idea that we may be predisposed to accept certain beliefs because they are often confirmed by intense personal experiences. However, we are reminded, that experience does not equal objective truth.
The experts then explain that much of our human propensity for superstitions, magical rituals, and religious beliefs are rooted in the fact that life is random, unpredictable, and downright scary. We seek to avoid anxiety and a feeling that we like control; we seek comfort and meaning; we want to make sense out of chaos; we want to cope with uncertainty. This magical thinking is reinforced by the brain as we seek out patterns, even if these patterns are false and illogical.
So if false beliefs make us feel better, why does it matter? In the long run, false beliefs can lead to problems, the greatest of which is violence. Bad ideas lead can easily lead to bad behavior. Science teaches us that it really does matter what is right and what is wrong. Faulty beliefs lead to real world consequences and must be combatted. We must update our view of the world and weed out bad ideas. We must use data as opposed to anecdotes.
The film ends on an encouraging and positive note. The experts make practical suggestions to embrace reason. Some of the best:
- Be comfortable with the words, “I don’t know.”
- Model the behavior of a skeptic.
- Use the scientific method.
- Don’t attack beliefs—be polite, be thoughtful, use humor, listen to others and then respond with statements that open a conversation such as “I wonder how that could be true? What do you think?”
- Study scientifically why religion has been viewed as so beneficial and how we can address that need in other more rational ways.
- Help others to trust reason and value correct information.
- Introduce critical thinking in early education. Teach children to recognize that our brains can fool us.
- Assert that a more thoughtful and examined life has value.
- Suggest that an alignment with reality will help humans flourish, that science and reason can and will lead to justice, freedom, prosperity and peace.
Reasons to Believe is well-organized and builds nicely from a primer on the brain to the foundations of belief, ending with a lovely, positive message about the future of skepticism and science and practical solutions we can embrace as individuals and as citizens of the world. It is a film you will want to view more than one time to take it all in.
Michael Shermer ties it up nicely at the end of the film: “I think we have a new enlightenment—a science-based enlightenment.”
View the trailer
BEN FAMA JR: DIRECTOR
Ben Fama Jr. is an award-winning filmmaker, podcaster, and entrepreneur noted for his work on his short film A Virus Called Fear and his documentary Reasons To Believe. He has been featured in Huffington Post and his films have been featured on PBS, Medibiz.tv, and IndieFlix. Ben’s films and talks reflect the social and psychological behavior of humans and their social constructs on society. He is a very outspoken skeptic and atheist, as well as an advocate for mental health. His goal is to challenge the way we think and see the world, as well as what we believe.
He is the owner of Fama Media Productions, LLC. and the host of the podcast Reality Trip with Ben Fama Jr.
MESA FAMA: PRODUCER
Mesa has produced three award winning films with Ben Fama Jr. including two documentaries and a narrative. She holds a degree in psychology as a graduate from Arizona State University. She continues to produce and manage Fama Media Productions and sometimes is a guest host on the podcast Reality Trip with Ben Fama Jr.
Release date: September 11, 2017