Brief On Belief

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

Though many may not agree, it is not unreasonable to assert that all of that which we perceive as reality is constituted of belief. Even our sense of what we think we ‘know’  is founded on beliefs. Belief by definition is the sense of assurance that we have about things including those things we have evidence for and those things that we do not. That assurance gives us a sense of certainty about stuff out there and the goings-on inside of us. Belief then seems to act much like our physiological sense of proprioception where all of the signals from our body tell us where it is we are and what it is we are doing in relation to maintaining equilibrium.


Belief as an orientation device functions as a module that attempts to balance the sense of self in relation to the entirety of existence in a manner of speaking. If this postulation is accurate it may go some way in shedding light on the fact that some people feel that their world has been turned upside down or even ‘right side up’ for that matter when some important parts of their belief system have been reconstituted.

On Solid Ground

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

― Yann MartelLife of Pi


Beliefs add what seems to be a concreteness to things that fall within their auspices. I am using the word auspices here with respect to its meaning as a ‘divine or prophetic token’, wherein the ancient Roman augurs would look at the flight of birds ‘auspex’ for the purpose of descrying omens, when the birds flew the right way or in the right direction, all was well with the world. Should they fly the wrong way then the signs were (omin)ous indeed. The other meaning of auspices is that of protection and support. From these two ideas alone when intersected with belief we see that beliefs hold stewardship of our sense of order and predictability in the world, and that which is outside of the belief structures rubric is to be defended against. Sometimes defended at all costs too because they ‘fly in opposition’ to that which is sensical and can therefore only auger nothing but tumult and chaos. The sense of stability and security that the concretising illusion that belief generates is readily apparent by the same degree of annihilation, disintegration and non-existence that it applies to that which does not fit its scheme.

Loves of our Lives


“If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

― Noam Chomsky

The root of the tenaciousness with which we hold on to beliefs is evidenced to a certain extent in the roundabout etymology of the word ‘ believe’ itself, and why belief by definition means that which we love and trust. Our English word ‘love’ comes to us originally from the Proto-Indo European word  ‘leubh’ which meant ‘caring, desiring and loving’. This word leubh was initially incorporated into Old High German as giloubo and it referred to that which was held dear or highly esteemed, eventually, this word entered Old English as ‘geleafa’ with the meaning shifting from love and esteem more towards trust and faith and by the 12th-century morphology had played its part and the word became leave, and eventually evolved into our current words ‘believe and belief’  The word ‘belief’ as we have it today than at its core means ‘to love’, interestingly the component word ‘lief’ is still used as it is in Afrikaans and Dutch and mean ‘love’. and even the German word for love ‘Liebe’ holds to its ancient origins. This, of course, means that if we tell someone that their beliefs are wrong we are saying that what they love is invalid, that in a sense they should ‘break up’ with their most cherished and trusted life partner. Little surprise that people take umbrage and sometimes violently so in others meddling in their ‘love life’.   


A Safe Haven

“Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.”

― Coco ChanelBelieving in Ourselves: The Wisdom of Women

We tend to use our beliefs as a refuge from the assaults of an otherwise chaotic and random world to create a sense of order and control within our lives. The process of belief generation results in a couple of preconditions that allow us to take action in the world. Belief presents the believer with a sense of agency because it predisposes the agent to an assumption that not only the agent exists but that the world around it does too. To have a belief presupposes that there is something in existence able to generate opinions about itself as well as about the environment, so beliefs in this respect are self-affirming, and for the self to exist it must somehow be assumed to be resident in something, this sense of residency acts to confirm then that the environment must too exist on some level.

Further to this, our beliefs indicate to us how we should behave in certain situations as well as what the outcomes of those behaviours will be. If this is true for us, it must also be true for other agents out there, whatever it is that they believe about themselves will determine what they believe about the world and if I know what those beliefs are I can then predict what they are going to do and how I am going to react. This view is what is known as ‘Intentional Stance’  and was coined by the Philosopher and acclaimed autodidact  Daniel  Dennett.


“Here is how it works: first you decide to treat the object whose behaviour is to be predicted as a rational agent; then you figure out what beliefs that agent ought to have, given its place in the world and its purpose. Then you figure out what desires it ought to have, on the same considerations, and finally, you predict that this rational agent will act to further its goals in the light of its beliefs. A little practical reasoning from the chosen set of beliefs and desires will in most instances yield a decision about what the agent ought to do; that is what you predict the agent will do.”

— Daniel Dennett, The Intentional Stance

What this means is that our entire belief system regardless of its content is a mental function employed to position us within a prediction simulation. If the simulation is correct its sequence and outcomes will be reflected in reality. A problem sometimes happens when we fall in love with the simulation even if it is wrong, because we may have felt so good in the simulated state. We want it to be right so much that we erroneously retreat into the simulation and end up in self-delusional denial about that which is really happening around us. Why I say is that it is ‘sometimes’ a problem is because I have encountered executives of very successful global brands who expressed the opinion that it is that very act of self-delusion that others call ‘Vision’. The head of one company ones told me when I inquired of him how he had managed to beat all of the competition out of a very niched market said to me ” You have to cultivate a healthy delusion that what you are going to do is going to work because if you consult the ‘facts’ you’re f@#%d”. Peoples beliefs do not need to be ‘true’ for the beliefs to tell us the truth, for whatever is believed even if it poorly informs the holder, still informs us richly about the believer.