Warning: I did not do any research for this note, aside from the inordinately large amount of time I already spend reading my Twitter feed(s).

The term load-bearing is a rich concept that describes the elements within a system that are integral to continued functioning of that system. Typically, it refers to physical structures (a load-bearing wall cannot be removed without catastrophically affecting the structural integrity of the building) but the concept applies quite well to any connected system.

Some examples:

  • I own a flugabone that currently has a piece of duct tape patching a tiny hole in its tubing. Without the duct tape, the instrument will buzz annoyingly when played. The tape is Hello Kitty branded (don’t ask me how or why), but its function is beyond cosmetic; a friend once referred to this piece of tape as load-bearing.
  • Mathematics and logic are all about load-bearing elements. The endeavor of doing math or logic involves proving or disproving statements about a formalized system. Crucially, this requires establishing a set of axioms – statements that are assumed to true without proof. The axioms are load-bearing; without them, one could not proceed with proving statements such as the ham sandwich theorem.
  • Similar to the prior example: an individual’s belief system contains load-bearing elements. These load-bearing beliefs are essential to the individual’s worldview; if directly challenged, they present danger to an individual’s psychological well being.

This note focuses on the last example – that of the load-bearing belief. This isn’t a novel concept by any means, but brings up an interesting analogy to explore: an individual’s worldview as a structure consisting of many interconnected statements, where belief in a small core set of statements undergirds belief in the entire structure.

A couple of unorganized thoughts exploring this analogy:

  • Religions, cults, and political ideologies are all specific cases of belief structures with core load-bearing beliefs.
  • Dan joins a cult. From an outsiders point of view, Dan’s belief system is being taken over by carpenter ants; they remodel and degrade his belief system over time.
  • “Strong beliefs, loosely held” refers to someone who can rebuild entire worldviews from the ground up without much fuss. One physical analogy of this is particularly interesting: housing policy in Japan has led to a phenomenon where many houses are torn down and rebuilt every 30 years.
  • A debate between two parties that ends with the phrase “let’s agree to disagree” is a productive one where both parties have found the load-bearing core of their disagreement.
  • Are load-bearing beliefs typically out of sight, or are they apparent? I think it’s natural for us to avoid confronting our load-bearing beliefs. Discovering a load-bearing belief is kind of like discovering your {car, house, body} has a single source of failure; the act of discovery can be harmful in and of itself.
  • Structures can be robust if they are well-connected and avoid the “single point of failure” problem. What do robust belief structures look like?