In this short article I’d like to discuss a certain kind of belief that holds many people – people who are quite capable and talented – back from reaching goals, realizing dreams, and becoming all that they can become. The concept of the “Absolute Presupposition” is central to this discussion. (The term was originally coined by the British philosopher R.G. Collingwood, in a somewhat different context.)
What is an absolute presupposition? For our purposes here we may define it as a statement that is necessarily, unquestionably, inarguably true. You cannot imagine circumstances under which it can be false. “Two plus two equals four” is a statement of this kind. So is “If you throw a ball up in the air, it will fall back to Earth.” Absolute presuppositions are statements we must accept as true if our world is to make any sense to us at all.
However, as we shall see in a moment, sometimes we mistakenly believe a statement to be an absolute presupposition…and it turns out that it really isn’t. I’m going to suggest that if you are encountering an unusually tough problem in life – whether it be in business, the arts, sports, your personal life, whatever – it is because you are believing something to be an absolute presupposition which really isn’t one. You believe something to be necessarily true and it isn’t even true at all, never mind necessarily so. Let’s look at some instances.
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In the Middle Ages people believed that if you sailed a ship out to the line of the horizon, where the sea and sky met, then you would fall off the edge of the planet. Why? Because they believed the Earth was flat. They could not possibly imgine that it could be otherwise because they had no knowledge of the laws of gravity and physics – a round Earth was simply inconceiveable. “The Earth is flat,” was an absolute presupposition, and every single person who was alive on the face of the earth beleived it to be true. Yet it isn’t true.
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Similarly, at one time in history it was thought to be impossible for a human being to be able to run a mile in less than four minutes. People believed this to be true for untold centuries – millions, even billions, of people at one time took “It is impossible for a human being to run a mile in under four minutes” to be an absolute presupposition. Yet it was shown to be untrue when Roger Bannister did it. After Bannister, runners everywhere started beating the time.
So then: beliefs exist in your own life that are similar to “The Earth is flat” and “It is impossible for a human being to run a mile in under four minutes.” These beliefs are what hold us back from our greatest potential. We set up obstacles and impediments by taking for granted, and by not questioning, beliefs that we mistakenly hold as sacrosanct. By identifying these beliefs, and by examining how we might break free of the constraints they impose upon us, we begin to make incredible progress in all we want to do.