Beliefs act as lenses


“Look at everything as though you were seeing it for the first time or last time.  Then your time on earth will be filled with glory.”
–   Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 


Our beliefs act as lenses. These lenses can help us see things we can’t otherwise see, but they can also block us from seeing parts of reality.”
–   Steve Pavlina



It is possible to identify four key, albeit overlapping functions of belief. First and foremost, beliefs provide a consistent and coherent representation of a subject’s world and the subject’s place within it. Such an intuitively coherent and ever-present framework allows subjects to pursue goals, avoid threats, and regulate their behavior in response to changes in their environment. This framework is presupposed by other higher-order cognitive functions, such as planning and decision-making, which require beliefs to conceptualise and evaluate the current situation, actions, and consequences. This framework thus provides the basis of action (Tullett et al., 2011, 2013). As Tullett et al. (2013, p. 401) note:

Every action that we take is grounded in an elaborate web of beliefs and goals. Take the simple act of opening a door. Such an act depends on our beliefs about what lies beyond the door, as well as what is available to us in our current location. At an even more basic level, our attempt to open the door is rooted in a belief that we understand how a door works, and are capable of using it. Furthermore, without the goal of pursuing something beyond the door, the act of opening the door would probably not take place.”

While such a framework may often be assumed, securing a sense of meaning appears particularly critical when defining one’s identity and coping with uncertainty (Inzlicht et al., 2011).

Second, as a stable representation, beliefs provide an explanatory framework for interpreting the world and processing incoming information. When faced with situations that threaten the coherence of the collective framework, subjects typically attempt to resolve inconsistencies by seeking to restore the over-arching sense of meaning. The coherence provided by the subject’s web of beliefs allows the subject to quickly integrate and, if necessary, reconcile new observations with previous observations held in memory. In this way, collective representations can evolve over time in response to new experiences, yet still represent the subject’s pooled understanding based on the past. This adaptive function allows subject’s greater capacity to understand and adjust to their environment. It also allows a subject to quickly interpret ambiguous or incomplete information and respond accordingly. Beliefs thus allow subjects to go beyond the available sensory information and act effectively in their environment.

Third, at a more basic level, the explanatory framework of beliefs helps to configure and calibrate lower-level modular cognitive systems, such as perception, language, memory, and attention. Beliefs provide the interpretive “lens” that shape our experience of the world. Consequently, beliefs are not just the reportable end-product of cognitive processes; they also generate expectations that help define on-line sensory experience through top–down processing. It is well established that phenomenological experience is not simply the registration of sensory inputs through domain specific transducers, but rather the constructive integration of sensory information filtered through pre-existing beliefs. This is nicely illustrated in visual illusions: a large body of research has shown that perception of an object or scene is not determined solely by the empirical sensory information, but rather is subject to top–down processes and expectations (Gregory, 1997). In the same way, our beliefs about the world prefigure our perceptual system. Our perception of the world thus involves the reconstruction of both sensory and pre-existing information about the world. This interpretative filter provides for the meaning, structure, and unity of immediate experience (Gregory, 1997).

Finally, at an interpersonal level, beliefs serve important social functions. In addition to allowing subjects to navigate social relationships and interpret other people’s motivations, beliefs provide a sense of community and security. Shared beliefs help define group norms and values. They provide a common understanding that enables interaction and facilitates social governance. They also help co-ordinate groups of individuals and provide for the development and transmission of cultural representations (see Sperber, 1997). These social functions may be particularly important in the acquisition of knowledge: they allow individuals within the community to acquire knowledge about their environment without necessarily learning this knowledge first hand and being exposed to any accompanying risks. The social functions of beliefs also means that beliefs cannot simply be understood by studying individuals in isolation and instead need to be related to their broader social context, including other beliefs in their milieu.




Beliefs are best considered as being multidimensional. Beliefs share a number of common properties but can vary across dimensions within these properties. These include the following:

  • (1)
    Beliefs have different origins. Beliefs, for example, can be formed through direct experience or by accepting information from a trusted or authoritative source (Hughes and Sims, 1997; Langdon, 2013).
  • (2)
    Beliefs vary in terms of the level of evidence and support they command. Some beliefs have high levels of evidence, while others appear to be accepted without requiring much evidential support (Lamont, 2007).
  • (3)
    Beliefs can said to be “held” at different levels of awareness. Whereas some beliefs may involve considerable conscious preoccupation and rumination (susceptible to reflective control), other beliefs may appear implicit, unconscious, and only evident by inference from behavior (not susceptible to reflective control; Young et al., 2003).
  • (4)
    Beliefs vary considerably in generality and scope. Beliefs may refer, for example, to specific objects or individuals, groups of objects and people, or whole classes of objects and people (Freeman, 2007).
  • (5)
    Beliefs vary in their degree of personal reference. A belief can be limited to the specific individual holding the belief (e.g., “I am unique”); extend to friends, relatives and other in-group members; or apply to other groups of people or all people equally (Freeman, 2007).
  • (6)
    Beliefs can be held with different levels of conviction or degrees of confidence. This can range from firmly held (e.g., in the case of basic physical laws) to relative uncertainty (e.g., in the case of unfamiliar topics; Peters et al., 2004). In some beliefs, this conviction may even fluctuate over time or across different contexts (Bisiach et al., 1991; Connors and Coltheart, 2011).
  • (7)
    Beliefs vary in their resistance to change in response to counter-evidence and social pressure. While related to conviction, people can also vary in how open they are to disconfirming evidence toward their belief and to considering alternative points of view.
  • (8)
    Beliefs can vary in their impact on cognition and behavior. This may likewise be influenced by degree of conviction. Whereas people may act on some beliefs, they may fail to act on other beliefs that they verbally endorse (Bortolotti, 2013).
  • (9)
    Beliefs can produce different emotional consequences. Whereas some beliefs may be relatively innocuous or even self-serving, other beliefs may cause considerable distress (Beck, 1976).
  • (10)
    Beliefs vary in the degree to which they are shared by other people. Whereas some beliefs are very common, other beliefs may be comparatively unusual (e.g., in the case of some delusions; David, 1999).


from here:

Beliefs Vs. Reality

Each of us has our own unique set of beliefs.

The beliefs that we hold about life, play a major role in our happiness and our thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others.

It is vital that we examine our belief system.

For example, it has been shown statistically that those who hold strong spiritual beliefs recovery more easily from grief and loss.

I would imagine that those who believe perhaps that there is meaning in suffering, that there is a plan for them, that they will get better, etc. might have a better chance of recovery compared to those that don’t.

Let’s examine where some of our beliefs come from and how accurate they are.

My brother, born a year and a half before me, died in 1974 at the age of 20.

Go through each stage of grief… The first is shock/denial. Then you move on later to anger and depression. You can move back and forth with these two and later to acceptance. Actually you can break these stages down further if you want, but basically those are the stages.

I have reached the stage of acceptance with the loss of my brother a long time ago. However the emotional pain does not stop.

I was young when this happened and many say this permanently changed me. Why do you suppose? What have the losses in your life done to you? What statements do you say about life as a result of your losses?

There are many kinds of losses – loss of jobs, loss of relationships, loss of a lifestyle, etc. These losses teach us about life. What life is for us, depends upon our experiences, our personality and how we were raised in my opinion.

My neighbor does not believe in God because her mother died at a young age due to severe diabetes and did not take care of herself. Apparently her mother suffered miserably and my neighbor felt that if there was a God, He/She would not allow that kind of suffering. You see, if my neighbor would have had a radically different childhood experience, her core beliefs might be very different.

Be careful about what you “learn” due to your experiences.

I learned that I was mortal and that life was not very important. My brother spent all his life in school for nothing. He may as well have stayed home and played because going to school amounted to nothing as he died at age 20. So why was anything I was doing important? What a fool I was to think that I was important and that my life was.

I began as a fresh person with an air of innocence. Each strand of my hair was made by God and was important and had a purpose.

After my brother’s death, really nothing, including myself was important anymore. I was permanently stained with my brother’s death on me so life began to be about emotional pain and I remember wondering why everyone wasn’t an alcoholic. How could anyone stand life otherwise? I have an additive personality but not chemically.

The joke I had heard actually made some sense. “What is the definition of reality? An illusion brought on by the lack of alcohol.”

I remember envying alcoholics because they had a place to escape to and I didn’t.

It is much easier to learn something than it is to UNlearn something. I had to UNlearn all the incorrect absolute nonsense that I told myself about me, other people and life after my brother died. Why? Because it was toxic. It was making me ill and keeping me there. 

I had to learn how to love myself and discover that indeed I am a wondrous and precious human being.

Part of learning to love myself included forgiving myself for all my behavior related to my illness. That was a lot!


from here:



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