Jens Oliver Meiert

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On the Anatomy of Beliefs

Post from November 8, 2015 (↻ June 6, 2021), filed under .

As alluded to in my last as well as at the end of this post, my academic studies reveal how much I’m still a philosophy student. The following is not strictly new; it’s found in a number of places (Dualism!) set up by a number of philosophers. Yet I publish as is, to keep with this blog’s schedule and authenticity, and to allow you and me to develop and progress together.

From a philosophical viewpoint, here a strictly solipsistic one, any statement can be regarded a belief.

Beliefs are important because they determine how we interpret, and per some schools of thought, make our realities. In a nutshell, hence, paying attention to and working with our beliefs is crucial for a constructive life experience.

The strength of a belief, then, could be represented as follows.


(S = Strength, B = Belief, T = Trust in perception.)

In words, the strength of a belief may equal the trust in the perception of the belief. Perception is physical: In most cases, we’d make a particular experience leading us to a belief, or someone would tell us something that leads us to a belief. Hence trust appears relevant: How strong the belief is may depend on how much we trust our sense organs or the conveyor of the message.

This model applies to new beliefs. It could get more complicated when we consider pre-existing beliefs that may overlap or eradicate new beliefs. Hence:

SB = TB – SB(old)

(B(old) = old related belief.)

In words, the strength of a belief may equal the trust in the perception of the belief, minus any old related beliefs.

An example. Someone may have learned that eating a lot of fruit is healthy. That’s a belief (not a fact of life). The belief came from the person’s trusted parents and got reinforced through trusted media. It’s strong. That someone now listens to the radio and picks up the idea—another belief—that fruit contained sugar, and that sugar would be harmful for the body. The strength of that new belief would now depend on the trust in the perception of radio and sender, minus the strength of the related old belief in the healthiness of fruit.

This is a simplified model, and yet the problem is not that it’s simple. The problem is that this model, so far, is all physical. It hinges on perception. By doing that it rules out entirely that our beliefs may also have other sources; and since perception, how (not properly) defined here, is tied to physical reality, too, we couldn’t even trust any other sources, either.

I, like other philosophers I’m just getting to know, put up the hypothesis that this is nonsense. To me it seems inconceivable that the only way to believe something is through perception. It contradicts our facilities (mind), our experience (life), and certainly our institutions (religions). (If I get Kant right, then he found the idea nonsense, too, when talking about noumena.)

What’s missing may not be hard to find. One other source we have is our imagination—our ideas—, and the way that source gets credibility is through faith.

SB = (TB ∨ FB) – SB(old)

(F = faith in idea.)

In words, the strength of a belief may equal the trust in the perception of the belief or the faith in the idea of the belief, minus any old related beliefs.

This, I venture to say, could despite all simplicity be a better, more realistic model of how beliefs basically work. It’s another so far simple way, too, to show how the scientific method may be limited, for it probes statements (beliefs) about reality solely by means of (strong) trust in perception. This, now, would only allow to explain parts of our world.

Although I suppose this is both in line and in conflict with a number of theories I, this naive-confident thinker-student-writer, will work with this. For the moment.

About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead—currently manager for Developer Experience at LivePerson—and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!

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