Spectrum of Belief

I hold a rather non-common-sense understanding of “belief“.  My view is not complex or technical, but easily seen with only a little introspection.  Actually, I’d guess that my view is largely shared by most academic psychologists and neuroscientists.

The following principles are what make my view of “belief” a bit counter-intuitive:

  1. We can (and do) simultaneously hold contrary beliefs.
  2. Our beliefs are not an on-or-off phenomena.  Beliefs come in different valences (strengths).
  3. Since we hold many contrary beliefs, the belief we hold at any moment is the result of the complex interaction of the valence (strengths) of those beliefs as triggered by that moment’s environmental influences.
  4. Once we have held a belief (or a tendency) it rarely disappears but instead, it just gets weaker or goes dormant until the right factors stimulate it to give it some strength.
  5. Many beliefs do not serve as cognitive maps of reality.  Many beliefs are not truth-statements concerning a person’s cosmology.
    Instead, these beliefs may serve as:
    (a) signals/flags/banners to others to convey belonging(or allegiance)
    (b) manipulations to acquire some end. Eg: “Maam, I am a Christian tonight” and see my post “Toothfairy
    Truth is easily sacrificed in these cases.  And often, the “believer” is not even aware that their mind is taking such a tack.

This post is simply to illustrate #2 above: our beliefs span a spectrum of strengths and are rarely fully just on or off — even when we feel we reject or embrace a particular belief.  Also, the strength of these beliefs slide of the spectrum depending on our circumstances (our selves).  Below is a key to the individual punctuation marks.

Decreasing Degrees of:
Disbelief / Skepticism Belief / Embrace
Reject Embrace
Strong Strong
Moderate Moderate
Mild Mild

My Related Posts:

  • Traffic Light Epistemology:  a similar attempt to illustrate my thoughts on this.
  • Beliefs as Circuit Components : Using the analogy of electronics to illustrate the dynamic aspect and function (vs. “truth”) function of beliefs.
  • Beliefs, What are they: A visual model of beliefs, person, brain, society
  • Many-Selves, No-Self :  Buddhists speak of “No-Self”, but I think “Many-Selves” more accurately explains the phenomena while honoring the Buddhist implication.
  • Your Inner Theist:  Due to Many Selves, our minds hold many contrary beliefs so that even Atheists can have a Theist side.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

5 responses to “Spectrum of Belief

  1. Boz

    This is part of the bayesian framework that I use to assess truth-claims. If I discover new (new to me) information that supports the hypothesis, my confidence level moves towards 100%. If the new information opposes the hypotheses, my confidence level moves towards 0%.

  2. Some comments:

    Right on! My favorite example of this is determinism vs free will, which seem mutually contradictory, but which many people hold provisionally, simultaneously.

    This is also related to your post about WPT. In WPT, people will often unnecessarily jettison one belief, because they think it is contradictory with another; but really maybe they should humbly hang on to both provisionally.

    Your “mild” signs look much “stronger” than the strong and moderate; I think partly because of the solid border, but also because of the passiveness and neutrality of the colors on the strong and moderate belief. Maybe removing the solid border and/or adjusting opacity/alpha transparency on “mild” would make them seem weaker.

  3. @ Boz :
    Indeed. Our brain does this automatically — weighting neural patterns. I too use the same methods when rationally evaluating. Problem is, we never fully rationally evaluate. Our brain uses emotions for each thought. Our brain also gives weight to all the various beliefs with emotions we are rarely aware of. And the ‘evidence” we think we have has been weighted by others in a similar unconscious manner and we are trusting it without really weighing ourselves. It is soooo complex.

    @JS Allen :
    Thanx, I agree, I changed the images — no borders (only shadow), no background (saved as .png vs .jpg. I think I agree with your other comment too.

  4. I know I am moderate in my skepticism (and sometimes strong) concerning some faith claims. I am also quite mild in my belief structure in some ways wayw, yet in other ways quite ardent. Life is such a conundrum.

  5. @ Society:
    Your honesty and humility are always deeply appreciated. Life is a conundrum.

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