How We Learn to Believe


I saw the movie Life of Pi in 3D the other day and it’s my pick for this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture.  I don’t have knowledge of the voting even though I use to work for the PricewaterhouseCoopers partner who tallies the votes.  I remember the book Life of Pi was a masterpiece of storytelling and the movie had me in its visual grip from the opening scene.    It’s what I would call magical realism at its finest.

Stories are very powerful and are one of the key ways we learn.  How did the movie director get me to submit to his enchanting spell and suspend my beliefs?   First, Pi promised that I would believe in God after I heard his story, an impossible task so I had lowered my expectations.    Then the director built a case that Pi had a special way with animals because his father owned a zoo and he grew up with the animals in the story.   Pi was also an accomplished swimmer as his father loved swimming pools and took him all over the world trying different pools.  He also built a case that while Pi’s father was a realist, Pi was a practicing Catholic, Muslim and Hindu.  His cleverness, resourcefulness and strong will power were apparent as he devised methods to get his grammar school classmates to start calling him Pi instead of the cruel nickname – Pissy – they gave him as a substitute for his given name, Piscine.

Suspension of belief is an important part of the change process. When first confronted with a new way of thinking or doing, we need to suspend our belief so we can be open to new ways.  We must admit to ourselves we are not qualified at this early stage to judge the methods or the outcome, we simply have no experience in these matters.  Once you are past your conscious sensors you are now open to new information and ways of doing things.  This is the critical place to be in order to challenge our ingrained beliefs and start Thinking Anew.  This is where we process our experiences and start to make sense out of what we see and the stories we hear.  This is where we mix faith, religion, empiricism, science, wishes, beliefs and emotions and chose how we see the world.

I believe Life of Pi has made my life richer.  As Abraham Rothberg said so well “Serious fiction is a lie that tells the truth.”