Discovering beliefs, core values online

[ Sun. Sep. 30. 2007 ]

What do you believe?

What is your personal philosophy?

What do you believe but cannot prove?

Answers to questions like these can reveal much about one's moral, spiritual and intellectual foundations.

It can say a lot about who you are, why you are the way you are and how you live your life.

How do your life views compare to those of writer Thomas Mann?: "Life is possessed by tremendous tenacity. Even so, its presence remains conditional, and as it had a beginning, so it will have an end. I believe that life, just for this reason, is exceedingly enhanced in value, in charm."

How about farmer Steve Porter's view on life?: "I believe in the 50 percent theory. Half the time, things are better than normal; the other half, they are worse. I believe life is a pendulum swing. It takes time and experience to understand what normal is, and that gives me the perspective to deal with the surprises of the future."

Thanks to the Internet, you can learn about other people's beliefs and philosophies, and examine those views in relation to yours.

A Web site called "This I Believe" (http://www.thisibelieve.org) plays host to thousands of short essays by people highlighting the core values that guide their daily lives.

The collection is built on the original "This I Believe" series of books and radio programs hosted by Edward R. Murrow that were popular in the 1950s.

A 21st century version of the books was recently published; National Public Radio has been airing audio versions of the new essays.

The Web site was developed by National Public Radio and Atlantic Public Media.

A related site by National Public Radio is at http://www.npr.org/thisibelieve/about.html.

You can search the essay database by person's name or topic/theme.

Each essay takes barely a minute or two to read, but the insights can get you thinking for hours. You'll be surprised by the number of people, famous and unknown, who share your core beliefs and values. You'll also be enlightened by the many different views, beliefs and observations of others that you might not have considered before.

Another great site to visit is Edge (http://www.edge.org). The mission is to "promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic and literary issues, as well as to work for the intellectual and social achievement of society."

That, alone, is a lot to ponder. But what the site is best known for is its series of provocative questions posed to the world's leading scientists and thinkers. One year, the question was, "What do you believe to be true even though you cannot prove it?" Another question was, "What do you consider to be your most dangerous idea?"

In answering these and other questions, the writers and readers explore fundamental ideas, concepts and beliefs that everyone has considered at one point in their lives to which they discover there is no final answer.

For example, French physicist Carlo Rovelli writes, "I am convinced, but cannot prove, that time does not exist; that is, there is a consistent way of thinking about nature that makes no use of the notions of time and space at the fundamental level."

Communications expert Howard Rheingold writes, "I believe that we humans, who know so much about cosmology and immunology, lack a fundamental framework for thinking about why and how humans cooperate."

The Edge Web site questions prompted the publication of several books cataloging hundreds of the responses.

You can read those short essays online as well as examine other issues and topics put out for public discussion. This site is a nice complement to the "This I Believe" site and concept.

These sites and the topics discussed are examples of how the Internet can be used in a positive manner. It seems we hear so much about what's wrong with the Internet that, on those rare occasions when something positive can be found in the digital world, that news needs to be loudly and widely recognized.

(Keith Darnay is the webmaster and designer for BismarckTribune.com. His Web site, featuring this column going back to 1995, is at http://www.darnay.com.iec.)

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