What Do You Mean By Belief?
Beliefs — I’m stunned! The very premise of our experience has been manipulated, challenged, disrupted and fragmented into millions of tiny shards, shards of discordant belief— like splintered reflections in a shattered mirror.
Belief 101 — Breaking Out— Un-limiting Your Beliefs
What does belief mean for you? In our contextual cauldron belief conjures up ideas of faith, religion, and the supra-natural. These areas do get us to question our beliefs and sometimes our sanity. But, this is misleading, if not dangerous. We can’t safely lock our beliefs away in a numinous cloister and forget about them. Our beliefs are wild and unruly, stubborn things that refuse to be shut up.
Your beliefs bleed into and through everything that you do. They determine what’s important to you and what isn’t— the values that color your world with meaning, and the purpose that you champion throughout your life. What you believe guides your behavior, your ethics, choices, and decisions.
“Because of our beliefs, we brush our teeth or don’t bother; we vote for Jennifer and not for John; we eat certain foods and avoid others; we worship one deity or another or none at all; and we rely on scientific medicine or homeopathy…” Beliefs propel us to work tirelessly toward our goals or to abandon all hope and sink into despair.
Even though they’re relegated to religion and watered down by convention, your beliefs are omnipresent. They are always with you, reinforcing and defining who you are inside and out, to yourself and others.
Without trust and its objectified partner truth, belief would be meaningless— an oxymoronic noun. No one in their right mind can believe something that they consider to be untrue and false. Now could they?
The elusive nature of trust and truth and their intimate relation to belief is a subject that we’ll revisit time and again. For now, let’s suffice it to say that what you believe is your personal truth. However, it may or may not turn out to be inter-subjectively correct. Meaning that it may be true for you but not for others. It might not even stand the test of time because you can always change your mind.
The truth, the true nature of things, is hard to uncover. It’s like a buried treasure, a treasure chest filled with multi-faceted jewels, gems of knowledge and wisdom.
The reason d’etre, the purpose of science is to get to the unmitigated truth of the matter, or better yet— of what matters. In fact, ’true belief’ is the definition of knowledge. It’s what knowledge is taken to be in epistemology, the branch of philosophy that examines how we know what we know.
Are you beginning to see what’s going on here? There seems to be a collective slight of mind, a misdirection if you will, that limits our beliefs to religion and esoterica. While knowledge gets a free ride to venture beyond its borders— to refer to things that may or may not end up being ‘true belief’.
But let me ask you—
What’s the Difference Between Belief and Knowledge?
Being that knowledge is a subdomain of belief on the most comprehensive level the answer is none at all. Is that hard to believe? It does seem to go against our intuitive grain. Think about it though! It’s like asking what the difference is between seashells and clam shells.
But, I am not being fair. We wouldn’t want to skip over the exquisite subtleties between the two. The subtle gradients between knowledge and belief enlighten our understanding and enrich our lives. So, lets back up. Instead of taking the question head on, and plunging into the doxastic depths of philosophic minutia. Let’s listen to what the words themselves imply, what they are telling us.
We’ve touched on the fact that knowledge is defined as a true belief in epidemiological circles. And here’s why— Can you know something without believing that you know it? You see, it’s still a belief. Designating knowledge as true belief implies the belief that knowledge is indeed true.
Even though it is an intellectual fallacy belief is commonly juxtaposed with knowledge and is often considered the lesser of the two. Knowledge may appear to carry more weight than belief. But does it really? What moves you? What’s more upfront, personal and real— what you know or what you believe?
The world is not a machine, merely a rational construct. Only a tiny sliver of reality adheres to the narrow confines of reason. Truth is not always reasonable or logical! Our lives aren’t driven by logic. Most of our decisions come from the hip— they’re emotional, instinctual, and spontaneous.
Belief is unbridled by logic. If our minds could be reduced to simple rationality, we would be nothing more than bio-computers.
Never the less, there are those who would still argue that knowledge is more robust, more meaningful than belief. In the context of science, they’d be right. When it comes to scientific research, belief biases are the last thing you want slipping into your experiments. Yet, we don’t live in a lab. We experience life, not experiments.
For knowledge to have any impact, you have to believe it’s correct? Without belief, knowledge is like a tiger without teeth. So, wouldn’t you agree that knowing, doesn’t have the same influence that believing does, at least not in our personal lives?
Yes, you could play with semantics, as some may be apt to do, by saying something like: “I don’t need to believe (it), because I know (it).”
Besides being the fodder of frustrated parents and unscrupulous politicians, even the best of us have fallen prey to this slight of tongue. It can slip out when you least expect it or you’re at your wit’s end. That’s what happened to Carl Jung during his B.B.C.’s ‘Face to Face’ interview in 1959.
When asked if he believed in God, Jung paused for a moment, before saying that: “I do not need to believe in God; I know.” Implying that he knows God.
The reaction was immediate and overwhelming. Jung was inundated with so many letters, that he was compelled to pen an open letter in response. It was published in the BBC weekly magazine, The Listener.
Here’s a short and telling excerpt—
“My opinion about ‘knowledge of God’ is an unconventional way of thinking…
“I did not say in the broadcast, ‘There is a God/ I said, ‘I do not need to believe in God; I know.* Which does not mean: I do know a certain God (Zeus, Jahwe, Allah, the Trinitarian God, etc.)…
“I know that the superior will is based upon a foundation which transcends human imagination. Since I know of my collision with a superior will in my own psychical system, I know of God…”
Of course, the main thrust of his response was towards clarifying his views on god. Not, on our subject, the disturbing dichotomy between knowing and believing. However, he did, somewhat awkwardly, shore up his usage of the word, know— by putting it into a psychological context, his “own psychical system.”
This brings us full circle! Do you see how the line between believing and knowing is ill-defined and hazy in our mind? Some of us use the word know as an emphatic gradient of belief. From now on, you’ll probably notice when the two terms are conflated, when they’re flip-flopped in casual speak.
Isn’t it odd though? How is it that two of the most important words in the English language became so muddled? Knowledge and belief are not inconsequential terms. They are world-shaping words.
One can only wonder, what effect this poisonous ambiguity has on our sciences, on our lives, and on our worldview.
The quandary between knowledge and belief is far too important to leave hanging in limbo. It’s helpful to remember where the terms came from. In an upcoming piece, we’ll look back into origins of the words, belief, and knowledge. You’ll be shocked at what we find. We’ll discover how belief, a word that once meant loyalty, care, and even love, has come to all but usurp, knowledge (logos).
Thus far, we’ve done what we set out to do. We’ve loosened the shackles on belief and explored its meaning in the context of our lives. But much has been left unsaid. We haven’t looked into the makeup of beliefs, what they actually are. How they are formed. How to evaluate them. And, we’ve hardly even touched on the extraordinary power that they appear to wield.
One thing is all but certain, coming to terms with our beliefs, brings us one step closer to living more authentic lives— to breaking through the veils of specious illusion; and to offsetting the brain-boozling effects of manufactured abstraction.
Before we come to a close, there’s one more thing I’d like to leave you with. I’ve got an idea! Would you like to know what it is? An ‘idea’ is a kernel of belief— a belief in the making, a belief that’s ‘in formation’.