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The problems with beliefs

By Jim Walker


People have slaughtered each other in wars, inquisitions, and political actions for centuries and still kill each other over beliefs in religions, political ideologies, and philosophies. These belief-systems, when stated as propositions, may appear mystical, and genuine to the naive, but when confronted with a testable basis from reason and experiment, they fail miserably. I maintain that beliefs create more social problems than they solve and that beliefs, and especially those elevated to faith, produce the most destructive potential to the future of humankind.

Throughout history humankind has paid reverence to beliefs and mystical thinking. Organized religion has played the most significant role in the support and propagation of beliefs and faith. This has resulted in an acceptance of beliefs in general. Regardless of how one may reject religion as their belief, religious support of supernatural events gives credence to others in their support of mysticism, occultism and superstitions. Most scientists, politicians, philosophers, and even atheists support the notion that some forms of belief provide a valuable means to establish "truth" as long as it contains the backing of data and facts. Belief has long become a socially acceptable form of thinking in science as well as religion. Indeed, once a proposition turns to belief, it automatically undermines opposition to itself. Dostoyevsky warned us that those who reject religion "will end by drenching the earth in blood." But this represents a belief in-itself. Our history has shown that the blood letting has occurred mostly as a result of religions or other belief-systems, not from the people who reject them.

However, does rational thinking require the adherence to beliefs at all? Does productive science, ethics, or a satisfied life require any attachment to a belief of any kind? Can we predict future events, act on data, theories, and facts without resorting to belief? This paper attempts to show that, indeed, one need not own beliefs of any kind or express them in human language to establish scientific facts, predict future events, observe and enjoy nature, or live a productive, moral, and useful life.

Relative to the history of life, human languages have existed on the earth for only a few thousand years, a flash of an instant compared to the millions of years of evolution. It should come to no surprise that language takes time to develop into a useful means of communication. As in all information systems, errors can easily creep into the system, especially at the beginning of its development. It should not come to any wonder that our language and thought processes may contain errors, delusions and beliefs. It would behoove us to find and attempt to deal with these errors and become aware of their dangers.

The ability to predict the future successfully provides humans with the means to survive. No other animal species has a capacity to think, remember, imagine, and forecast to the degree of Homo sapiens. To replace our thoughts with intransigent beliefs belies the very nature of the very creative thinking process which keeps us alive.

Origins of belief

"The closest relative of the chimp is the human. Not orangs, but people. Us. Chimps and humans are nearer kin than are chimps and gorillas or any other kinds of apes not of the same species."

-Carl Sagan

Very little evidence has yet appeared about how belief arose in humans. As social animals, we probably have always held beliefs to some degree. Studies of our closest DNA relatives, the apes, have suggested that primate social animals require both followers and leaders. The followers must assume the codes of conduct of their leaders if they wish to live without social conflict. Since there always occurs more followers than leaders, the property of accepting the leaders without challenge and the introduction of language may have led primates towards the expression of beliefs.

Some animals have in their DNA a predisposition for imprinted programming. [1] Some young animals have what scientists call "eidetic" memory; they will believe whatever gets taught to them. Many people also accept, without question, the religion of their youth. The degree that humans have eidetic memory or the ability to control their beliefs, or reduce them remains open for further investigation. Learning about the mechanism of beliefs at this early stage may help us understand the consequences of imprinting and may lead us to modify the strategy of early learning.

The earliest evidence of human culture (or more accurately, a lack of evidence), has revealed that during the early Neolithic period, human culture showed few signs of dangerous war-inflicting belief-systems. Their concerns seemed aimed towards nature and female fertility worship. Notably, the first known examples of art contain no images of armed might, cruelty and violence based power. No images of battles or slavery [2]. There existed at that time no fortifications built for defense, or offensive weapons designed for war. Violent belief-systems did not seem to come into existence until humans invented language and male dominated religions. According to Riane Eisler, "one of the best-kept historical secrets is that practically all the material and social technologies fundamental to civilization were developed before the imposition of a dominator society." With the introduction of war-god beliefs, killing became honorable and acceptable and to this day, people continue to revel in it.

Many early societies believed in spirits and animism, the belief that animals and inanimate objects possess a spirit. Indeed, the Latin word, anima , means soul. The word "spirit" also derives from the Latin word for breath. No doubt ignorance about the nature of wind, breath and movement of animals led them to construct an "explanation" about things in their world. How could they possibly know the difference between beliefs, facts, and evidence?

With language came the contemplation and study of thoughtful systems. Socrates and Plato introduced beliefs of "forms" of things existing independently of their physical examples. The measurements in the world represented superficial representations of an underlying and absolute"reality." Aristotle carried the concept further but placed these forms to physical objects as "essences." He posited the existence of a soul and introduced the concept of an immovable mover (God) to justify matter which moves through the "heavens." These ghostly concepts live today, not only in religion, but in our language. Many times we express essence ideas without thinking about them because they exist in the very structure of common communication derived from ancient philosophers. Since no one can see or measure these essences, the only way to comprehend them comes in the form of belief. Sadly, people still accept these essences as "real" based on nothing but faith without ever investigating whether they exist or not.

Orthodox religionists hinged their "sacred" philosophies upon the shoulders of ancient philosophers. Plotinus reorganized Plato's work as the bases for Platonism which lasted for many centuries. Thomas Aquinas became the foremost disseminator of Aristotle's thought. Aristotelianism and its limited logic still holds the minds of many believers. Today people still believe in inanimate objects, spirits, gods, angels, ghosts, alien UFOs, without ever questioning the reliability of their sources. Belief and faith can overpower the mind of a person to such an extent that even in the teeth of contrary evidence, he will continue to believe in it for no other reason than others around him believe in it or that people have believed in it for centuries.

"Religion. n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to ignorance the nature of the Unknowable."

-A. Bierce

Defining belief

To establish a common ground for the general definitions of belief I quote from the American Heritage dictionary:

Belief : 1. The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in a person or thing; faith. 2. Mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or actuality of something. 3. Something believed or accepted as true; especially, a particular tenet, or a body of tenets, accepted by a group of persons.

Believe : 1 To accept as true or real. 2. To credit with veracity; have confidence in; trust.

In its simplest form, belief occurs as a mental act, a thinking process in the brain. To "believe" requires a thought accepted as having some "truth" value. To communicate this thought requires spoken or written language.

In the mildest form of belief, that of acceptance without absoluteness, I intend simply to provide a semantic replacement for the words "belief" and "believe." In the case of its extreme form, belief without evidence, and faith, I intend to eliminate its use entirely.

Note that in most instances, one can replace the word "believe" with the word "think". For example:

"I believe it will rain tonight."

can be replaced with:

"I think it will rain tonight."

Most simple beliefs get established through the experience of an external event. From past experience, for example, people believe that dark clouds can produce rain, therefore, we attempt to predict the weather by forecasting from past events. Indeed, the intent of most beliefs aim at predicting the future in some form or another. However, to believe an event will occur can produce disappointment if the prediction never happens. To make a prediction based on past events alone does not require believing in the future event, but rather, a good guess as to what may happen. We can eliminate many of these simple beliefs by replacing the word "believe" with the word "think." The word "think" describes the mental process of predicting instead of relying on a belief which reflects a hope which may not happen. And if we replaced Aristotelian either-or beliefs with statistical thinking we would reflect probable events instead of believed events.

Belief represents a type of mental thought, a subclass of many kinds of mental activity. Thinking may or may not include beliefs or faiths. Therefore, when I use the word "think" I mean it to represent thought absent of belief.

Many kinds of concepts occur without the need for belief. People can invent rules, maps, games, social laws, and models without requiring a habit or absolute trust in them. For example, a map may prove useful to get from point A to point B, but to believe that the map equals the territory would produce a falsehood. Humans invented the game of baseball, but it requires no need to believe in the game, or to attach some kind of "truth" to it. People can enjoy baseball, simply for the game itself. Technological societies invent "rules of the road" and construct traffic lights, signs and warnings. We do not take these rules as absolute but realize that they form a system of conduct that allow mass transit to exist. If any confidence results from the use of models and rules, it should come from experience of past events predicted by the models rather than from the thoughts themselves.

Differences between thinking with beliefs and thinking without beliefs

The two charts above represent a visual abstract concept of the differences between the paths of belief and the path to knowledge. Both paths represent a form of thinking or mental activity. Note that the chart on the left shows a conversion point at simple beliefs and thoughts. At this level, they are virtually the same with the only difference being its semantic designation ("believe" can be substituted for "think" and vise versa). However as each path progresses, they diverge; the path of belief progresses towards intransigence and the path of knowledge leads to factual knowledge. Each progresses as a matter of degree and each path can be taken, completely independently. For example, beliefs requires no external evidence whatsoever (examples: belief in ghosts, gods, astrology, etc.) The path of knowledge requires no reliance on beliefs (examples: the observation that the earth obits the sun and airplanes fly, etc. occurs regardless of whether you believe in them or not.) However, the path towards knowledge requires external verification (observation and testing) whereas the path of belief does not. The path towards workable knowledge must agree with nature if it's to serve as factual. The path of belief requires no agreement with nature (although it might coincide).

Unfortunately, the usual practice of thinking involves the combination of beliefs with theory and factual knowledge (see the right chart). Most people tend to believe in what they think of as facts and knowledge, including perhaps the most rational people of all-- scientists and philosophers. And although scientists rarely approach intransigence (although some do) , they usually believe in their data and theories and most philosophers believe in their philosophies. However, consider that every scientific fact can stand on the evidence alone. Nature occurs without human beliefs and so does reliable evidence. There simply exists no apparent necessity for attaching beliefs to knowledge.

Consider this: regardless of how strongly one has attached beliefs to scientific facts, no matter how religious the disposition of a scientist, there has never appeared a single workable theory or scientific fact that required the concept of a god or superstitious idea. Not a single mathematical equation contains a symbol for a "creator." There occurs not the slightest evidence for ghosts in our machines or in our bodies. Even the most ardent non-believers can live their lives in complete accord with nature and live as long as the most fanatical believer. In spite of the temporary mental comfort that belief might bring, (as do drugs) then what purpose can belief serve in the establishment of useful knowledge about the world?

I find it interesting to observe people who believe. They most always see the problems of belief above them on the chart, such as fanatical believers, but they never accept those of lesser believers. They are always at just the right stage of belief it seems. I contend that all of us are non-believers in some sense. It's just that some believers have less beliefs than others and non-believers are simply at the bottom of the scale. Once you understand why you dismiss the beliefs of others, you'll understand why non-believers dismiss yours.

Problems that derive from belief

Although, it can be argued that beliefs supported by scientific evidence represent a benign form of beliefs, they also act as barriers towards further understanding. Even the most productive scientists and philosophers through the ages have been prevented from seeing beyond their beliefs.

For example, Aristotle believed in a prime mover, a "god" that moves the sun and moon and objects through space. With a belief such as this, one cannot possibly understand the laws of gravitation or inertia. Issac Newton saw through that and established predictions of gravitational events and developed a workable gravitational theory. Amazingly, Newton began to think about relativity theory long before Albert Einstein. However, his belief in absolute time prevented him from formulating a workable theory. Einstein, however, saw through that and thought in terms of relative time and formulated his famous theory of General relativity. However even Einstein had beliefs which barred him from understanding the consequences of quantum mechanics. He could not accept pure randomness in subatomic physics, thus his famous quote "God does not play dice." However, physicists now realize that for quantum mechanics to work, nature not only plays with dice, but randomness serves as a requirement if one wishes to predict with any statistical accuracy. And on it goes.

Although thinking without beliefs does not, by any means, guarantee that people will make scientific breakthroughs, it can, at the very least, remove unnecessary walls. Beliefs even at its lowest form of influence can create problematic and unnecessary barriers.

As belief progresses towards faith and dogma, the problems escalate and become more obvious. We see this in religions and political ideologies, especially those that contain scripts (bibles, manifestos) which honor war, intolerance, slavery and superstitions. We see this in the religious inquisitions, "holy" wars, and slavery. During the period of the black plague, millions of humans died out of ignorance of the disease with beliefs that Satan was the cause as religious leaders discouraged experimental scientific investigation. In the 30s and 40s we saw the fanatical idealizm of communists as they destroyed millions of lives, and the holocaust by the Nazis. To this day, one can observe religious and ethnic beliefs creating war and intolerance in Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Israel, Africa, Russia and many other countries.

Children are taught at a very young age to belief in abstract concepts such as Santa Claus, the toothfairy, and eventially religious concepts. There simply exists no control or understanding of the dangers. Thus we prepare our society to not only accept beliefs, but to honor and fight for them. This can result in a conflict between free expression and censorship. For a believer, expression of ideas in-and-of-themselves represent beliefs. Thus violent television, movies and fictions present opportunities for the unaware to believe in them.

If, instead, we taught our children about how beliefs infect the mind and about their dangers, there would be little need for censoring ideas. For without believers, there would be no one to believe them and the violence and fantasy portrayed in the fictions could only represent just that-- fictions.

Everyone believes in something

Many a believer, religious and atheist alike, will become astonished at any statement against belief, if for no other reason because they believe and the people around them have beliefs. They tend to form a belief-of-its-own that projects beliefs onto others. However, simply because most others believe does not necessarily follow that all people require the concept of belief. To claim the knowledge that everyone on earth believes in something portends an astonishing proclamation. It would require an omniscient ability to see into the minds of every human on earth. Moreover, many people fail to understand that belief requires conscious acceptance. People who own beliefs (unless they're liars) do not deny them. Quite the contrary, people who believe, admit their beliefs quite readily. Furthermore, few people stop to ask what we mean by beliefs or understand that one can replace belief with other forms of "thinking."

I don't believe the sun will rise tomorrow, but I predict it will

Disbelieving does not mean thinking something may not happen. The absence of belief does not prevent one from predicting the event. It may seem fatuous not to believe the sun will not appear the next day. However, as a limited human being, I maintain no absolute certainty that a sunrise will occur. At best. I can only make a prediction based on past experience. Since I have experienced daylight every day of my life, and know of no human who hasn't, I have little evidence that a sunrise will not occur tomorrow. Therefore I can make a prediction based on past experience that the sun will appear extremely likely the next day. Note that I do not require belief to do this, only observation, experience, and good guessing. Prediction based on experience, in this case, replaces belief. But note that my prediction may prove wrong, regardless of how remote the chances. We have evidence that supernovas exist in the universe that can create destroy local solar systems. If, indeed, such an event occurred in our part of the galaxy, our sun could possibly get absorbed, along with the earth and all humans on it. So although there exists a very remote possibility that the sun will not appear, I can at least predict with great although imperfect accuracy that I will see sunlight the next day.

By replacing belief with predictive thought, one can eliminate the need for belief, yet still maintain an outlook on life and make useful predictions.

Don't you believe you exist?

Questions about belief of our own existence aim to put a philosophical end to the discussion by proposing an impossible (to believers) proposition that no one could possibly deny. However, eliminating belief does not deny the evidence of existence. To their proposition I can simply reply that I have no need to believe in existence. I get knowledge of my existence directly from my feelings, perceptions, and thoughts; no belief required. Belief only introduces an unnecessary proposition. I can simply say "I exist," instead of "I believe I exist." My knowledge of existence comes from experience, not belief. The elimination of beliefs, makes our statements more concise, accurate and meaningful.

The mechanism of thought

Because thought and belief requires a mental process involving neural activity, this allows scientific investigation into its mechanism. Although the abstractions of belief sits at a hierarchical level above the neuron level, there obviously occurs a connection between neuron activity to mental thought and vise versa. Unfortunately we still have only minute knowledge about the working of the brain, let alone the complex process that produces thought. However, studies have shown that some forms of delusional thought involve problems with the neocortex. Indeed, one of the characteristics of schizophrenic delusion involves grandiouse and religious thinking [3] Some have even suggested that schizophrenia involves beliefs and attitudes taught to them while young [4]

Also, in epilepsy, neurological storms can trigger feelings and thoughts divorced from external events. Although the neocortex and its sensory equipment gets its information from the external world, the limbic system takes its cues from within. The neuroscientist, Paul MacLean became fascinated with the "limbic storms" suffered by patients with temporal-lobe epilepsy. [5] MacLean reported:

"During seizures, they'd have this Eureka feeling all out of context-- feelings of revelation, that this is the truth, the absolute truth, and nothing but the truth."

"You know what bugs me most about the brain? It's that the limbic system, this primitive brain that can neither read nor write, provides us with the feeling of what is real, true, and important."

The worst forms of schizophrenia almost always involve extreme forms of delusional beliefs. They hear voices, act on impulse, think they hear the voice of God, Satan, or act out whatever belief myth they grew up with. Interestingly, it appears that only thinking animals develop schizophrenia. We have no other animal model for this disease for holding false beliefs and the perception of unreal things. [6] Schizophrenia appears to exist only in humans.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we can observe humans who have the ability to stop their thoughts. Ancient meditation or biofeedback practices allow some people to stop the semantic noise within their head. During training, concentrating on a single idea or word (mantra) can reduce the thought level to a minimum. The final aim at eliminating this single thought results in a state of no-thought. While in such a state, all thoughts, ideas, and beliefs cease. Brain scans reveal that, indeed, the neocortex brain waves that produce thought stop at this extreme form of meditation.

I bring up meditation and delusion to show that we can produce a simplified map showing the extreme ranges of thought and to show, that some humans can survive, for a little while at least, without the need for belief type of thinking.

The degree of thought and belief determines dispositions to believe one's assumptions. Although schizophrenia describes an obvious dysfunctional disease that causes harm to themselves and possibly to others, many schizophrenic properties can coexist in the "normal" human thinking process without causing notice to people observing them. Delusional thinking usually accompanies schizophrenia. But note that delusions represent false beliefs, virtually the same as the conditions for faith. Faith has become acceptable maily because powerful social institutions support it.

Symptoms of mental disease, of course, do not appear identical for everyone. Some people may have only one episode of schizophrenia in their lifetime. Others may have recurring episodes, but lead relatively normal lives in between. Others may have severe symptoms for a lifetime. Indeed, many who we consider sane commit the most atrocious criminal acts without a diagnoses of insanity. Even legal acts such as war, inquisitions, and pogroms can cause harm to its believers as well as to others. Yet we do not diagnose these acts of belief as a mental disease because the very engine of belief puts them in the context of acceptability. Most societies do not abhor war; instead, they honor it because their belief-systems support the notion of solving problems through mass killing called war. If, instead, we approached violent social actions based on faith the way we attempt to solve mental diseases, perhaps we might produce solutions to some of our cultural problems.

Accidents will happen and tragedies will occur. Errors in our models of perception will no doubt always happen. But if we can eliminate the thoughts that constitute belief, we would have fewer reasons to commit acts of violence towards others. Although we may not solve all mental diseases or prevent dangerous beliefs from forming, we might at least become aware of the mental processes that create beliefs and why they sometimes lead to intransigence. Although no one has a clear understanding of how schizophrenia originates, it appears it may have some connection with genetics, brain damage, chemical imbalances and early mis-education. Fortunately treatments have become available for many mental diseases. For those who have mild cases of mental problems, education alone may redirect the neural path towards productive thinking. For others, drugs and therapy can help alleviate mental problems. Likewise, early education in critical thinking, identification of logical fallacies, and the mechanism of belief may alleviate many of our dangerous beliefs.

From belief to faith

Many rational people, including most scientists still insist on utilizing beliefs with the rationale that beliefs must accompany evidence to support them. Of course it proves more prudent to attach evidence to one's beliefs than to own beliefs without evidence, but why should anyone feel compelled to attach beliefs to evidence at all? Why not stand on the evidence without beliefs? Consider a measurement, for example the velocity of light. I can simply state the calculated or measured velocity as a numerical figure or I can say "I believe that the speed of light equals 299,790 KPS. But the velocity represents a measurement of an external event based on a theory of light, not a belief. The belief of the velocity of light adds nothing to the information about the velocity of light. The belief only reflects an intransigent property of the believer, regardless of how mild the intransigence, and provides no value to scientific knowledge. On the contrary, the belief may grow to such extent that it overshadows the evidential data. As a theory, however, the possibility of future evidence may reveal that the velocity reflects an entirely different concept than originally thought.

I have met such believers before and when shown evidence of the differing velocity of light in crystals, their belief of an absolute value of light rose to the occasion to combat this new (to them) information. Note that when I say that belief appears unnecessary to evidence, I do not mean that ideas and thoughts should not accompany them. On the contrary, instead of beliefs, we can establish theories and models about the evidence, a predictive and productive way of understanding the consequences of the evidence. (I'll add more about this later.)

Although the reasons why people tend towards certain belief-systems remains unclear, Frank Sulloway, a research scholar, has proposed that family dynamics and birth order influences social survival strategies [8]. In general terms, firstborns tend to think conservatively and laterborns tend to think as liberals. In the extremes of both liberals and conservatives, the beliefs can take on a fantastical form of thinking. In its most dangerous form, belief can take its most intransigent property as faith, the reliance on hope and ignorance. Indeed, many psychopaths and schizophrenics provide extreme examples of faith as the beliefs inside their heads take over the evidence from outside their heads. Some researchers have noted the higher prevalence of schizophrenia in certain religions [9].

Inside our head vs Outside our head

Many people have a difficult time telling the difference between what happens inside their heads as opposed to what happens outside their heads. And I don't mean just schizophrenics or psychopaths, but also some sane people. Most of us have had confusions about "reality" at some times in our lives. Since all sensations and information comes filtered through the brain, we experience all our perceptions in our head. To establish the difference between outside verses inside events, we usually derive, through intuition, some sort of comparative test. Most of our sensations instinctively tell us what occurs outside. As infants, we quickly learn that the sounds we hear in our heads actually emanate from the outside. We learn to manipulate objects through touch, observe movement through sight, etc. As we grow, we begin to form abstract thought and we attach these abstractions to our perceptions. Observation, reasoning, and experimentation gives us the means to define the difference between outside and inside.

Errors can creep into our thinking process. And from there it can invade our language system. This happens, virtually in any information system. If we do not correct these linguistic and logic errors, we may go for years propagating ancient errors without thinking about them. It seems obvious that this has already occurred to many cultures that have promoted dangerous belief systems. Although most will agree that dangerous beliefs present a threat and that we should do something about them, many beliefs that seem inconsequential receive no concern at all. These, seemingly, innocent beliefs act through our language system and can give us a false sense of "knowing."

To give an example, we usually think of color as "out there." We observe green foliage, blue skies, red apples, etc. Yet color, demonstrably, does not occur "out there," but rather, totally inside our heads. Matter contains no color. Color has no bases from the physics of light. Color, rather, describes a sensation. [10] However, matter does reflect or produce light (photons). Our eyes absorb this energy and our brains interpret this information by tagging a "feeling" of color to it. Many times we express this perception through an error of language that projects color as "out there." We use ancient "essence" words like "is" and "be" that put mystical properties to events which occur only in our heads. For example, "the grass IS green" seems to project the property of "greenness" to an external plant form. Regardless of how much chlorophyll a plant may contain, it contains no "green." The color green occurs in our brains as a tag to an indirect reflective property of light. Yet our "essence" words and ideas continually fool us into thinking that things exist outside our heads, without the slightest evidence to support it. To help eliminate these "essence" verbs, we can simply replace them with descriptive verbs. Instead of saying "The grass is green," I might say, "The grass appears green (to me)." The descriptive verb "appears" connects a personal perception of green to the observer instead of an external event. Many sentences which use "to be" verbs produce false statements. [11]

Hypothesis, theories and models

It comes mostly from religious people who challenge the scientists in an attempt to make their scientific theories equivalent to faith. I suspect this gives the faithful comfort, as reducing theory to the level of faith puts both on an equal plain. However, useful theories do not rely on faith and do not even require belief. Scientific theories must agree with nature to some degree, faith does not. If a theory's predictions do not produce results, then the theory itself cannot provide usefulness and the scientists must throw it out. A hypothesis represents nothing more than a good guess subject to further verification and usually precedes a theory. A workable theory, however, represents a good guess based on evidence and makes useful predictions.

"It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is-- if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it."

-Richard Feynman

Newton's theory of gravity, for example, represents a useful set of guesses that make predictions about matter traveling through space. Newton's mechanics, however, does not give us absolute or exact predictions. It only allows predictions about matter within acceptable tolerances. Einstein's theory of gravity carries Newton's theories to ever more exact figures and we can make even better guesses. But note that the theories of gravity must rely on outside evidence, and the guess must agree with experiment. A theory, therefore, without supporting evidence has no meaning. The following provides some examples of theories:

The kinetic theory of matter depends on the measurable properties between the forces between particles of matter.

The theories of gravitation depend on the facts of the measurable results of matter in the field of gravity.

The theory of natural selection depends on the facts of evolution as confirmed by observation, evidence and experiment.

Note that understanding any aspect about the physical world requires some form of theoretical thought.

Models differ from theories, in that they usually represent an abstract copy of the event or thing that we wish to understand. They may provide us with predictions, but they can never fully represent the subject in all its nature. A model represents an incomplete abstraction of a thing outside our heads. Maps, scale models, computer simulations, etc. all provide us with methods to predict the future of an event or thing. For an example of scientific modeling, look at the history of the investigation of atoms. As the evidence accumulated, the physicists made better and more accurate (although incomplete) models of the structure of matter.

A hypothesis may lead to experiment and both may lead to a theory. If the theory of the evidence provides accurate predictions every time, sometimes we call these "laws" or "knowledge." Note, however, that "knowledge" does not mean that it comes absolute. A fact or theory may change in the future and we may have to modify our knowledge to accommodate the changing evidence.

By utilizing hypothesis, theory and models, we can express thoughts about the world without resorting to beliefs and faith.

Logic, mathematics, and reason

Unfortunately, many people misuse the concept of logic and believe that it provides a method of arriving at "truth" about the world; that if they propose a logical argument it, somehow, has validity to external events. However, logic, by itself, says little about the world and does not guarantee "truth." Logic provides a language of self-consistent reasoning that pertains only to the construction of itself. A logical conclusion based on sound reasoning, in fact, might disagree with the external event we wish to understand. For example, in the following logical construction:

All judges are lawyers

No bishops are lawyers

Therefore: No bishops are judges

The above syllogism consists of valid logic. However, each of its propositions must agree with observation before its conclusion can provide any usefulness. Does every judge actually serve as a lawyer? Have no bishops ever served as lawyers? Reason and logic without evidential support cannot determine much about the world until the evidence supports the propositions.

All ghosts are spirits

No cartoons are spirits

Therefore: No cartoons are ghosts

The logic above appears sound, but what in the world does it mean and how does it relate to the world? In what context does it refer? What about Casper the ghost?

Interestingly, one of the signs of mental illness, especially schizophrenia, involves their irrational thinking and the errors they make in syllogistic reasoning [12].

Note also that many different "Logics" occur for many different fields. Traditional logic, for example, simply does not work in the world of quantum physics. The math, the reasoning, and the logic of the quantum world differs widely from the macro-world. Unfortunately, today most people rely on only one kind of logic, usually some from of Aristotelian logic. We tend to think in terms of black/white, true/false, good/evil, guilty/not-guilty, up/down, inside/outside, etc. Although many things, indeed, follow this simple kind of logic, a plethora of things operate through a continuum. Although Aristotelian logic may work great for digital circuits, or simple syllogisms, it fails miserably when trying to understand the human condition or things that work through calculus.

Mathematics, represents a symbolic language of logic and provides us with a tool for reasoning. But mathematics and logic must accommodate the external events if it wishes to explain them. Of course people may have beliefs about one mathematical system over another, but any philosophical belief always fails in light of nature. Only the results of the accuracy of the predictions matter in the mathematical world; beliefs have no requirement in the outcome, regardless of how good it may make its believers feel. In fact, it has appeared commonplace in physics, especially quantum mechanics, where two entirely different mathematical approaches derived from different starting points turn out to give identical quantitative answers [13].

Although logic and mathematics may provide a useful tool for reason, scientists may encounter information about the world that matches no logic whatsoever. Unknowns and incomplete information occurs many times, but that does not necessarily prevent establishing useful results. Doctors knew that aspirin, for example, worked as a pain blocker, but for many years they had no workable explanation of how it worked. Even gravity, to this day, with all the mathematics predicting its effect on matter, has stumped physicists as to the nature of its mechanism. Many times the physicists do not even understand why their system works. They only know that it works. The prime requirement of making useful predictions must come from nature herself, from things outside our heads. All the beliefs, theories, logics and models, regardless of how well they got constructed, cannot do us any good unless they have some support from evidence. Many times events outside our heads provide us with life sustaining support without our thinking about them at all!

Instead of relying on one logical system, as most people do, we might instead incorporate a language that incorporates a system of logics and we might choose the system that best fits the object of investigation. Sadly our English language contains severe limitations and cannot possibly express many of the extraordinary discoveries of the new physics. Mathematics allows a language of continuum, multiple dimensions, and infinities and all without the need for introducing ghostly beliefs.

Preconceived beliefs

A stranger recognizing Picasso, asked him why he didn't paint pictures of people "the way they really are." Picasso asked the man what he meant by "the way they really are," and the man pulled out his wallet a snapshot of his wife as an example. Picasso responded: "Isn't she rather small and flat?

To believe that an abstract representation shows the actual thing leads to an unnecessary biased form of perception. Belief of any kind puts a kind of shield on the thinker and puts in its place a form of thought which in effect says: "This is real." Preconceived beliefs coupled with the lack of information can lead to false conclusions.

I might say to a group of people, "I love fish." Everyone may hear me correctly, but because of preconceived beliefs, and a lack of context, some may interpret my meaning as a statement about dining and others may believe I have a love for aquarium fish. Virtually all expressions of thought contain some limitations and to add preconceived ideas without evidentiary support can produce false statements and beliefs.

Without resorting to belief, I can look at a photograph and see that it only resembles some aspect of a particular thing or person, and that it represents an indirect abstraction. Without belief, I can question a proposition before arriving at a conclusion.

Limitations of knowledge

"It used to be thought that physics describes the universe. Now we know that physics only describes what we can say about the universe."

-Niels Bohr

"It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong."

-Thomas Jefferson

Our thoughts and expressions through language represent abstractions about the world, metaphors and models about things and not the things themselves. Language and thought cannot describe the totality of a thing anymore than a painting or picture can. A picture does not equal its subject, and a map does not equal its territory. But our maps, models, and abstract thoughts do provide a limited means to understand the world and to make predictions about external events. They provide a way to quantify and simplify our communication systems so that we can perform desirable and useful actions in the world. But if we allow unnecessary thoughts and beliefs to reside with our abstractions, we develop semantic noise which can lead to incorrect information.

As limited humans, we do not possess absolute knowledge. Our perceptions and information comes to us incomplete. When we look, touch and measure at an object, for example, we only observe part of its totality. Belief, on the other hand, can produce the illusion that we understand without limitations. Eliminating concepts of beliefs, at least puts us closer to the range of our perceptions. We inherit mortal limitations, we cannot know with absolute certainly about the external world; we cannot completely remove doubt about our conclusions. Many philosophers and scientists have come to this same observation [14]. Doubt leaves the door open for further investigation. Intransigent belief puts a mental barrier to further knowledge.

Bias (point of view)

Because our models and theories represent limited knowledge about the world, this forces us to examine the universe within boundaries. This produces a point of view. Bias represents a focus, direction, or preference towards a point of view. One cannot avoid it. Regardless of how one might try to prevent bias, there will most always occur something left out of the description. Similar to Heisenburg' Uncertainty Principle, as a focus becomes narrow, the more outside its focus gets left out. And vice versa, the more general a view becomes, the more the details get left out. If one tries to include the details with the general, a view can bog down with an overblown aggregation of information, turning a direction of thought into a cloud of complexity; and even still, the entire system would reside within a framework of limitations. Regardless of how one may reject beliefs, a bias occurs if only because we represent a unique and limited spatial entity within the universe.

However, if a bias gets attached to a belief, it can become intransigent and prejudiced. If a faith in a point of view becomes overwhelming, then nothing, even in the light of evidence, will the faithful yield to better information. A biased belief can convince its believers that they hold the key to all understanding and "truth" without providing any evidence to support it.

A biased view, however, does not demand a predisposition to belief; it can simply represent a direction of thought. Ideas, by their very nature, represent limitations of thought. As long as a point of view produces a reasonable explanation, uses only pertinent information necessary to make predictions and leaves open the possibility of change in favor of better evidence, then it serves as a useful and productive tool. As we learn and understand our limitations, that a point of view represents an understood bias, we have the possibility to transcend it into an even more productive point of view.

Fantasy, imagination, and wonder

As humans, we have the inalienable and remarkable ability to make things up and to pretend. Fantasy provides us with one of the most pleasurable ways to experience thoughts and gives us one of the fundamental requirements for the ability to create. Our imagination provides us with the mental capacity to express models in our heads and to act out scenarios of love, conquest, gamesmanship and adventure. I can't imagine any new invention, art, or literature deriving without its author engaging in the pleasure of a fantasy. The feeling of wonder about things in the world and the mysteries of the universe fills us with imagination and speculation.

Fantasies and imaginations, of course require no belief in them. They provide us a way to model and hypothesise non-actual events. Fantasy coupled with ideas about actual events can lead to great insights about future events. Many a science fiction story, for example, has lead scientists to construct hypothesis that lead to verifiable experiment and the invention of useful machines. Even fantasy by itself, provides an enjoyable way of expressing thoughts. But if an individual begins to believe in his own fantasy, or worse, has faith in it, then usually only disappointment or tragedies result.

Natural desire

"We always move on two feet-- the two poles of knowledge and desire."

-Elie Faure

Desire comes to us as a natural inalienable feeling. We cannot avoid it. We desire food, shelter, freedom of expression, etc. As exploratory animals, we humans use our minds as a tool to help satisfy the desires within us. With reflection and thought, we learn the limits to our desires. Eating too much, for example, can lead to limited heath and the prevention of satisfying other desires. By understanding the consequences of desire, we can avoid the excesses and blockages of desire. To express and satisfy our desires (sex, feelings, hunger, etc.) provides a human need. And if we do not satisfy our natural needs, then severe consequences can result.

Sadly, many of our belief-systems put strangle-holds on our natural instinctive desires. If a belief-system teaches that "sex is evil," "only godly belief will help you," or suppresses expression and communication, we may turn depraved, depressed, or violent.

Believers many times express desire indirectly in terms of hope, a form of wishful thinking. Indeed faith hinges on the requirement of hope and ignorance. Hope without an adequate method of achieving our desires can lead to debilitating disappointment and sorrow. I can only imagine the number tragedies that have occurred from failures due to hope and prayer. Instead of relying on faith and hope, we might analyze our desires and use our knowledge and creative minds to find a way of satisfying them.

No, I don't believe my own words

This text presents points of views based from experience, observation, and research about the thought process. I do not present them as beliefs but rather as an investigation into the mechanism of belief. If any of my statements prove false, then they will show simply that, and subject to further revision. Disowning beliefs does not guarantee "truth" or accuracy, only a method to help clear away superstitions and falsehoods.


Beliefs and faiths represent a type of thought process that produces an unnecessary and dangerous false sense of trust and wrongful information. Faith rarely agrees with the world around us. History has shown that beliefs and faith, of the most intransigent kind, have served as the trigger for tragic violence and destruction and sustained the ignorance of people. Replacing beliefs with predictive thoughts based on experience and evidence provide a means to eliminate intransigence and dangerous superstitious thought.

Beliefs and faiths do not establish "truths" or facts. It does not matter how many people believe or for how many centuries they have believed it. It does not matter how reverent or important people think of them, if it does not agree with evidence, then it simply cannot have any validity to the outside world. All things we know about the world, we can express without referring to a belief. Even at its most benign level, beliefs can act as barriers to further understanding.

Instead of beliefs, we can utilize hypothesis, theory, and models to make predictions about things in the world. In its semantic form, we can replace "belief" words with "thinking" words which better describes the formation of our ideas. We can use our imaginations to create new hypothesis towards desired goals. The wonder of the universe gives us a powerful feeling of inquisitiveness. Certainly we will fail sometimes, but thinking without belief allows us to correct our mistakes without submitting our ideas to years or centuries of traditional time consuming barriers. Theory coupled with imagination can yield inventive thoughts and points of views. By further understanding our language and eliminating unworkable essence words, we can communicate without resorting to preconceived ideas based on past beliefs. Our feeling of wonder about the universe provides us the fuel for exploration; how much more magnificent the results from useful thoughts than ones based on faith.


[1] Sagan, C., Duryan, A., "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors," p. 198

[2] Eisler, Riane, "The Chalice & the Blade," Chapter 2

[3] Shapiro, Sue A., "Contemporary Theories of Schizophrenia, Review and Synthesis," p.10

[4] Modrow, John, "How to Become a Schizophrenic," See Introduction & Chapter 1

[5] Hooper, Judith & Teresi, Dick, "The 3-Pound Universe, "p. 48 (paperback)

[6] Hooper, Judith & Teresi, Dick, "The 3-Pound Universe, "p. 106 (paperback)

[7] Scheibe, Karl E., "Beliefs and Values," p.27

[8] Sulloway, Frank J., "Born to Rebel: Birth Order; Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives." Sulloway presents a scientific statistical analysis of radical believers in history compared to conservative believers. His findings offer evidence that family dynamics influences the behavior of siblings. Firstborns tend to identify with parents of authority and status quo, while laterborns tend to rebel against authority. This engine of behavior can influence what we believe in.

[9] Bellak M.D., Leopold, "Disorders of the Schizophreneic Syndrome," pp. 26-27

[10] Feynman, Richard, "The Feymnan Lectures on Physics," Vol 1, pp. 35-10

[11] Bourland, Jr., D. David, and Johnston, P. D., "To Be or Not: An E-Prime Anthology, 1991, International Society for General Semantics

[12] Chapman, Loren J. & Champman, Jean, P., "Disordered Thought in Schizophrenia," Chapter 8: "Errors in Syllogistic Reasoning"

[13] Heisenberg's matrix mechanics and Schrodinger's wave mechanics provide an example of two mathematical systems which give equivalent results. See Polkinghorne, J.C., "The Quantum World," p.14 (paperback)

[14] Levi, Isaac, "The Fixation of Belief and its Undoing," pp. 2-3


Bellak M.D., Leopold, "Disorders of the Schizophreneic Syndrome," Basic Books, Inc., New York, 1979

Bourland, Jr., D. David, and Johnston, P. D., "To Be or Not: An E-Prime Anthology, International Society for General Semantics, 1991

Chapman, Loren J. & Champman, Jean, P., "Disordered Thought in Schizophrenia," Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973

Crees, Adrian, "Anatomy of Religion," Freshet Press, 1989

Eisler, Riane, "The Chalice & the Blade," HarperSanFrancisco, 1987

Feynman, Richard, "The Character of Physical Law," The M.I.T. Press, 1965

Feynman, Richard, "The Feymnan Lectures on Physics," Vol. 1, Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1963

Gottesman, Irving I., "Schizophrenia Genesis, the Origins of Madness," 1991

Herbert, Nick, "Quantum Reality, Beyond the New Physics," Anchor Books, 1985

Hoffer, Eric, "The True Believer, "The New American Library," 1951

Hooper, Judith & Teresi, Dick, "The 3-Pound Universe," Dell Publishing, 1986

Is Religion a Form of Insanity a Free Inquiry Symposium, [Free Inquiry, Summer, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1993]

Levi, Isaac, "The Fixation of Belief and its Undoing," Cambridge University Press, 1991

Modrow, John, "How to Become a Schizophrenic," Apollyon Press, 1995

Murphy, H.B.M., "Cultural Factors in the Genesis of Schizophrenia, in the transmission of schizophrenia," Rosenthal, D., & Kety, S.S., Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1968

Polkinghorne, J.C., "The Quantum World," Princeton University Press, 1984

Sagan, Carl & Druyan, Ann, "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors," Random House, New York, 1992

Scheibe, Karl E., "Beliefs and Values," Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1970

Shapiro, Sue A., "Contemporary Theories of Schizophrenia, Review and Synthesis," McGraw-Hill Book Co. 1981

Sinclair, W.A., "The Traditional Formal Logic," Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1937

Sulloway, Frank J., "Born to Rebel: Birth Order; Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives," Pantheon Books, New York, 1996

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