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Belief and reality

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Belief is the mental process experienced by a person who adheres to a theory or hypothesis, so that he sees it as the truth, regardless of the reality of elements confirming or refuting this thesis or assumptions.

In this sense it is opposed to the concept of critical thinking, and finds its antithesis in the instrumentalism that considers that scientific models are the only tools that allow us to design phenomena conveniently.

By metonymy, the term also refers to the subject of this belief. The philosophical concept of belief is part of the theory of knowledge. Beliefs, whether religious, scientific, superstitious or otherwise, are also an object of study of cultural anthropology.

Some authors speak of myth to describe a belief they consider false or erroneous.


The term belief has two common uses easily distinguishable:

  1. on one hand, the assumptions held true, relating to the processes of everyday life, such as weather forecasting,

  2. on the other hand, the statements relating to the mystical theology, cosmology and myths.

The phenomenon of belief can be approached from a psychological angle as the mechanism governing the apprehension of reality by the individual according to his sensory perceptions, but also in relation to the myths passed to him in his culture.


Belief and reality

In its minimal sense, the belief is a universal phenomenon that affects all individuals, and somehow all living beings: to take action, we must “believe” in the possibility of its realization. This basic form of belief is the object of study of stochastic and cybernetics. The general principle highlighted by these two areas is that an individual (or also, for the social beings, a group) does not lead his actions in a linear causal processes, but makes assumptions on the results, which will be overturned or confirmed ; constantly verifies these results by the feedback he receives from his environment (feedback) and adjusts his behavior based on this information. This phenomenon is largely unconscious in the common actions because it usually focus on highly predictable behavior and the corrections on the negative feedbacks are minor. It is only when there are significant corrections (tripping, hitting an obstacle) when it is found the awareness that these assumptions about reality are approximate, that what we “believe” is an approximation of what is indeed feasible – but a fairly reliable estimate.

This ordinary and immediate form of belief induces a questioning of what is really the free will, and raises the question of the difference between our assessment of what is a conscious or unconscious decision and the reality of the level of unconscious action in our usual activities.

If the belief is often associated with mysticism and religion, it is a constant part of everyday reality, in every act and gesture of life, in what seems to be the most banal or trivial reality. Doubt is the mechanism that, in each individual, challenges the image he has of reality. But as it is impossible to put perpetually all the involved knowledge to act, we act in a more or less fine approach to reality according to our goals, situations and contexts.

For example, believing that the relief of a region is immutable is sufficient and necessary in the context of everyday life, while a geologist consider the relief under dynamic and long term angle.

For the mathematician and logician Frank Ramsey, our actions are determined by an estimate of the probability of success, self-estimated using a degree of belief in the information that led to this action. Thus, all information is likely to gradually trust, rather than a categorical adhesion or rejection by a specific individual. Ramsey characterizes the concept this way: “the degree of a belief is a causal property of this belief, that we can express vaguely as the extent to which we are prepared to act on the basis of this belief.

Beyond the action decision, based on a set of higher or lower beliefs, Ramsey considers a principle of truth in each of these beliefs, dependent on the success of these actions. The principle of Ramsey can be stated thus: The true beliefs are those that lead to the success of our actions regardless of the involved desire. In this formulation, the notion of variation of the possibilities of applicability of the belief, as part of a decision based on a desire, is crucial because it involves applying the principle of Ramsey for a set of situations, and not to a specific situation in which a given belief will be involved in actions which can estimate the success.

Translated from Wikipedia

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