Starting over with belief
Belief and believing (etc) have been a big part of my attention for many years. Having read a lot on this, I decided to start all over. What I mean is, I’m going back to the roots of belief. There are things that determine beliefs and I will go into that as well. Why should anybody read this post? If the question occurred to you, then it is not for you. Move on swiftly. The whole of this blog is not written with an obligation on anybody to read it or any part of it.
Some people actually don’t care to know how or why they believe what they believe. If you happen to be in that group, now would be a good time to move on swiftly. Am I insulting or arrogant in saying that? Sure – in social media terms anything that ‘offends’ is now insulting and arrogant. All I know is that I am trying save people from causing suffering to themselves and then blaming me!
We’re living in a world where there is ‘false belief’ about all sorts of things. I should not start on COVID, or people who held totally weird beliefs about vaccines, else I could be here for a very long time. It’s a world were we have ‘fake news’ that generates and perpetuates false beliefs. Then we have fake news about fake news – so it’s getting pretty ridiculous.
We have politicians who hold very strange and false beliefs. Dare I mention one who believed that if your vision is blurry, going for a drive is a reasonable thing to do. No lists today.
But then we have individuals who are locked up in mental hospitals for having delusional beliefs.
So basically we have two big lots of people a) those who are in the mental hospitals and b) those who are not. You could hold a delusional belief that the earth is flat, and not be sectioned to a mental hospital. If you’re a politician in some part of the world you might believe that HIV does not exist, or even that COVID does not exist. If your name is Pierce Corbyn you could say whatever you like! Caution: these words do not imply that ‘delusional politicians’ or public figures should all be locked up in mental hospitals. I have to say that because in a social media world it’s all too easy for a perception to become belief in somebody’s head and before long the police come knocking on my door.
People of sound disposing mind are ‘allowed’ to hold irrational or even totally stupid beliefs. That does not mean they have a mental health problem. As this is not a tutorial on delusion from a mental health perspective, I shall not go into that.
At the core
A belief is a cognitive thing. You have to know that you have a position e.g. ‘The sky is blue‘ or ‘My name is [____]’ or ‘Water is often used to wash clothing‘ or ‘Those words are offensive.‘ Some people believe that one can have a belief without knowing it. They are confused.
Myth is a special kind of belief. Whilst an individual may believe a myth, a myth usually involves a large number of people. Myths are usually culturally entrenched. An individual believer may not know exactly why they believe the myths. Some common myths:
- You’re more likely to be bitten by a person than a dog.
- A spoon in an open bottle of champagne prevents it from going flat.
- Pasta is good for you.
- Red meat is bad for you.
- Eating an egg a day, is courting a heart attack.
- Houses are a great investment.
Some of the above are completely false, whilst some are partially false but still powerful. People take the general picture and apply it to everything. Obviously investing in a house at the peak of a housing boom is not a great investment. But it may be great if one has 50 years to wait until a housing market crash recovers.
I’ve written on this before, so will not explore it again. Attitudes (inter alia) predetermine beliefs. If for example your attitude is that politicians in a certain party are not trustworthy, then you’re likely to believe that. What’s the difference from belief? An attitude is something that a person may not be very aware of, though some will be aware of their attitudes. Attitudes then shape perceptions, thinking and evaluation of evidence. It’s a right trap.
At the core is memory. To hold a belief, you just have to remember it. Oh yes – if you can’t remember what you believe that’s the end of that. If you cannot trust your memory how can you hold a belief? To say that, “I had a full English breakfast on 22nd January 2022“, I have to remember it and then believe that my memory is accurate. If I’m not sure, I cannot make an assertion with confidence.
So, memory and belief must go hand in hand. And right there is a fundamental pitfall of belief i.e. people believe what they remember/recall. Forensic psychology has shown how erroneous memories of events can be. That’s a separate big topic of many PhD theses.
Memory – the ability to record something of what happened – has survival advantage for any sentient and non-sentient organism. Based on that memory, the organism can learn to avoid dangerous situations or capitalise on an advantage. Single situations need to be recorded. Memory is also for patterns of several situations i.e. if something happened a few times in similar situations. Michael Shermer refers to this under patternicity – which is not simply drawing conclusions based on an observed pattern. Wut – you expect me to explain it? You’re in the wrong place for sure!
Attitudes are also recorded in a different kind of memory. Obviously they must be recorded, else attitudes would change from minute to minute or less frequently.
People are influenced to hold beliefs based on (an incomplete list):
- Authoritative opinion.
- Group factors – several: friends, family, political followings etc.
- Personal attitudes.
- Cultural influences.
- Past experiences.
- Perceptions and emotions.
Note that memory – again – is important for all the above. As this is not a PhD thesis, or a tutorial, I will not be ‘unpacking’ (aka spoon feeding) the above. If you didn’t see ‘religion’ in the list, then it’s because it may come under 8. cultural influences. If you didn’t see ‘money’, it’s because it may come under 1o. I’m not here to do people’s thinking for them – which instantly in a social media world makes me out to be arrogant and condescending; thereby proving point 10 above. If your attitude, perceptions and emotions inform you of ‘zip’, that’s what you’re likely to say or believe.
What people see with their own eyes they will consider to be evidence. If ‘you’ see and count 4 legs on a dog, nobody can argue with you that it wasn’t 4 legs. What many don’t realise is that the 4 legs is what appeared to the eyes to be 4 legs. The ‘appearance‘ and what the eyes ‘see‘ are actually perceptions. The eyes do not do the perceiving. It is the brain that does that. And there are too many perceptual hardwired pathways in the brain that could lead to a misperception and hence an erroneous evaluation of evidence. I’m not suggesting that people should go around palpating dogs legs to ensure that what their eyes see is for real. Stop being stupid. The study of forensic psychology shows the pitfalls of eye-witness evidence (aka testimony in America). Caution: the problem is no only in America! Jeeez.
Evidence also taken to mean ‘scientific evidence’. Most people who read about scientific evidence, actually never see the hard data. Yet they’re often willing to say “There is scientific evidence that [blah blah].” The latter sort of statement becomes a logical fallacy called ‘appeal to authority‘. Scientific evidence is quite often found to be wrong, though it tends to be more right than wrong. What I mean is, ‘be careful with quoting scientific evidence’.
In other parts of this blog I dealt with ‘What exactly is evidence’ and how ‘Evidence is a waste of time‘. I’m therefore not repeating the things that people do with evidence, when they desperately want to believe something.
The ‘lone wolf’ is a metaphor for a single person with a particular belief, not shared by others. ‘They’ may have a set of robust hard evidence that the rest of the world cannot appreciate. That situation occurred when Einstein presented his theory of relativity – and later on asserted that gravity could bend the path of light. I should also mention Galileo, who was forced on threat of death to retract his findings that the earth was not at the centre of the universe.
I’ve put this as a separate heading because I often hear “There is no evidence for [zip]“. People believe things because there is an absence of evidence. How is that possible? If I assert ‘there are no teapots orbiting the earth’, I could expect to hear ‘You have no evidence for that!‘. What that means is that a person is likely to believe that there is at least one teapot orbiting the earth because I cannot provide evidence that there isn’t. If you who reads this finds it stupid – so do I. But people are stupid and they believe stupid things for stupid reasons. This exploration is not to tell people what to believe or how to disbelieve what they want to believe.
Point? The absence of evidence is not evidence in itself. We believe things in the absence of evidence e.g. the earth is round – not flat. 99% of people alive have no true access to data proving that the earth is round (spherical). This means that evidence is overvalued in many situations. Note that I did not say in all situations. I cannot just provide a list of which situations evidence is valuable from overvalued. Why? Because situations are so different. When I drive on the M6 I have no evidence of the next major pothole ahead of me. Should I be conducting a fingertip search of the M6 to find no evidence of major potholes, before I drive on it at 70 mph. I think not! I am of course being ridiculous to drive a point home.
I could go on all day about this – but basically if you are emotionally invested in believing something you have a high probability of actually believing it; evidence or no evidence.
Start with the spoon in the bottle. This is a PhD thesis in itself, which you don’t get today; you’ll be relieved to know. Myths are part of cultures – like the one I had years ago about not putting hot food in a refrigerator to avoid food poisoning.
Cultures are deeply connected to religions and philosophies. They are obviously connected to group (social) factors. If you’re grown up in some statistical part of the Middle East, your beliefs are unlikely to be about a Christian god (statistically – which means there are bound to be a minority of exceptions).
Our attitudes which we assume are ours, are in reality those inherited from others via cultural influences – and our own experiences of the world. There are thousands of other things that determine our personal attitudes, but as I said this is not a PhD thesis – I need to remind some. Big questions in the post on the existential void is informative.
The same forces that orchestrate the formation of beliefs also maintain them, in the face of cogent and reliable evidence. The following table from this post outlines how beliefs remain in tact – and tough – I’m not unpacking it (aka spoon-feeding).
Catering for social media types of mindsets I now have the task of explaining what I mean and what I don’t mean. But for sure that doesn’t stop social media idiots from conjuring up whatever they want to believe about me or this post.
- I am not here to tell people what to believe, or to tell then how to believe or disbelieve anything.
- People are free to believe in all they myths the like; Santa Claus included.
- Attitudes – howsoever the are formed or shaped hold the most power over what people or groups will believe or do. Your political masters know this very well. Did I say ‘politicians’? I did not – but for sure some ‘believed’ that is what I meant. Who are your political masters? Go find out!
- Some people of a certain other mindset can look into why they believe what they believe, about anything.
Disclaimer & Guidance