What are beliefs?
"[We] go around actively searching for things to see and..."see" mainly those things that were expected." (1)
English neuroanatomist Dr J. Z. Young
"And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.'
We are starting to appreciate the power (and susceptibility to damage by excessive stress) of the cerebrum, through its acquisition, manipulation and application of patterns in the development of behaviour.
Now patterns or symbols brought to our consciousness called thoughts (and dreams) are the seeds of behaviour. And thoughts are the product of direct (external) and indirect (internal) experience. This means all the information we gather from the environment through the sensors of our body and from our memory (or garden of the mind) leads to the creation of thoughts which can be made to produce, control and nurture our behaviour.
For example, we can all generate thoughts that make us feel angry or thoughts that make us feel happy and, depending on how emotional and intensely visual the thoughts are, act accordingly if we wish.
Nothing is more evident of this observation than by looking at children and how they play. When children see something they like, it is common for them to imitate what they see and later imagine through play-acting.
For adults, we show behaviour through our emotions when we see something or imagine something capable of moving us deeply enough. Whether it be a romantic scene or a monster suddenly appearing out of know where, it is the same the world over for everyone. Our thoughts affect our behaviour.
What's the purpose of thoughts?
The purpose of having thoughts is so that we may adapt quickly to ourselves and to the environment by controlling our behaviour.
Luckily most of our thoughts can be changed, together with their corresponding behaviour and action. Yet there are behaviours that are more involuntary, more habitual. They exist because a thought, whether or not it was derived through balanced thinking, has been dwelled upon repetitively for long periods of time or has a strong emotional connotation, which leads to a strong memory imprint of that lingering thought and its corresponding behaviour and action in the cerebral cortex. This strong memory imprint in the brain leads to an almost instinctive behaviour or habit called a belief.
Beliefs are reinforced thoughts or strong patterns etched firmly in the brain and made concrete to the individual through the process of thinking/learning/performing over a long period of time.
Our reptilian brain also contains beliefs
When we talk of beliefs, we mean more than just the everyday patterns we learn from experience and knowledge throughout our lives. Real instinctive and innate behaviours such as our need to procreate and other 'hard-wired' activities in the brain stem and midbrain sections are also beliefs formed during evolution. These have been learned so well and have been so fundamental to the survival of the human species that the beliefs have been faithfully recorded in the genes.
The fact that these hard-wired beliefs have become so valuable to our survival and have been used so regularly can be physically observed as large bulbs of neuronal matter coming off the brain stem owing to their extensive usage over millions of years. (2)
Also, as a general rule of thumb, beliefs with similar kinds of information tend to be stored in the same region of the brain. Beliefs with quite distinct kinds of information are often stored in different regions of the brain. And the more beliefs that are encoded in the brain, the greater the complexity and size of the brain. Also there are complementary beliefs that tend to counteract the effects of other beliefs, such as the left-brain counteracting the effects of the right-brain and vice versa.
Why do we need beliefs?
Beliefs are an important and necessary part of our lives. They help us to survive in times of great crisis and stress (i.e. periods of intense problem-solving).
One benefit associated with procuring and maintaining beliefs is through the rapid adaptation to oneself and/or the environment via immediate changes in behaviour of a pre-programmed nature. For example, if a predator comes running in your direction, you cannot afford to sit around and think about what would be a suitable behavioural response. There is simply no time to think about the situation. So you must rely on your beliefs to create and immediate behavioural response in order to maximise your survival.
Another benefit of acquiring and nurturing beliefs is to protect the mind against a barrage of irrelevant information that would otherwise be accepted as true and recorded faithfully by the brain like a photographic camera.
And yet another benefit in having beliefs is to help free up the conscious part of the brain to perform other tasks. The brain is like a parallel-processing machine. Once something has been learned and thoroughly imprinted in the brain, the behaviour formed by it can be enacted almost involuntarily or subconsciously without needing to think about it any further. Once something can be done without thinking, the mind is free to do other things at the same time.
A classic example would be when a person has learned to drive a car for a long time. Eventually the brain sees the skills of driving as thoroughly imprinted into the brain. Then the brain starts to see how it is possible to do other tasks such as turning on the radio, looking at the side mirrors, having a casual conversation with a passenger and so on without affecting how you drive.
Are all beliefs good for us?
Yet whatever beliefs we have, whether they are highly instinctual or not, they must be considered no more than assumptions. Beliefs are a collection of prejudices. They literally control the way we think, feel and do things. In fact, the development of our entire personality is firmly based on the complete set of our most trusted and deepest beliefs acquired throughout our lifetime and in evolution.
We developed our beliefs and allowed them to prosper because we perceived reality in a certain way and have found them to be the most effective beliefs in dealing with this perceived reality as needed for our survival. But there could have been other ways of surviving. Beliefs are merely assumptions.
Yet there are many people who believe that their view of the world based on their belief system, especially those acquired during their lifetime, is the right way and the only way and that everyone else must conform to this view regardless of how others may see the same things in a different way.
This is the major disadvantage of beliefs. We simply do not know how balanced our beliefs are and how well they represent reality. And because we tend to be so trusting of all our beliefs, whether they are right or not, we cannot see how they affect our behaviour and the behaviour of others.
Anyone who supports their beliefs too strongly (as reflected in their behaviour) to the point of believing they are the right and only way become less openminded to new ways of thinking, feeling and doing things. In order to become more adaptable and openminded, it is important for all of us to improve our belief systems.
How do we change our beliefs?
Changing our beliefs can only be achieved by learning. Learning, whether by acquiring knowledge or experiencing life in a different way, is necessary for us to stop stringently upholding any of the beliefs we gather in life.
Life is a learning experience. If we do not learn to ameliorate our beliefs and expand our perspective on life, then there is one thing you can be assured of. As German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) said: 'The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history'. We will repeat the same mistakes of the past. Such an approach could be detrimental to the survival of the human species.
Remember, accrued beliefs have enormous power over people. Whatever we believe and accept as true will be reflected in our experiences. If we think the world is good, the world will be perceived as good and all we will see and want to remember is good; if we think the world is bad, the world will be perceived as bad and all we will see and want to remember is bad. If we want to see the good in people and everything in the universe, then remember:
"...whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is anything praiseworthy, think/meditate on these things." (3)
As the great Roman philosopher and sage Marcus Aurelius, said, 'A man's life is what his thoughts make of it'. America's leading philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said, 'A man is what he thinks all day long'. And in the book of Proverbs 23:7, 'For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.'
Our minds are like magnets. And our hearts (emotions) reinforce what is in our minds. We attract into our lives whatever we believe in our minds and feel in our hearts. Therefore, should you ever experience on a regular basis some kind of negative event or meet up with negative people in your life, look at what you say to yourself everyday and the beliefs you hold. Is it right? Are these thoughts being reflected in your personality without realising it? To change your experience and the type of people you meet, you must think and believe in different things. Then, by acting on your thoughts and beliefs and seeing how more positive it is for you, you will over time attract the right things in your life to help reinforce your new thoughts and beliefs. We call this the law of attraction.
In summary, if you want to change your situation, the key is to learn something different so you can change your beliefs to something you want to see happen in your life and experience. When you find the right beliefs and believe in them whoeheatedly (you will know when the beliefs are right), this will in turn attract different things into your life to help support what you believe.
NOTE: Thoughts, feelings and actions have to be aligned to the new beliefs for the law of attraction in the right area to work properly.
Our beliefs dictate whether people are likely to get mental illness or not
Therefore, the real reason for why mental illness arises in society is because we all hold certain unbalanced and inaccurate beliefs that tells us how to solve problems in a very limited way (i.e. the L-brain approach) and we use those beliefs to justify our expectation of others that they should see the problems and the solutions in the same way.
It is truly our beliefs that is controlling how we view the world around us and other people, how we think, and how we should solve problems, as well as the essence of all common behaviours characteristic of left-and right-brain dominant people. If we wish to change our approach to things in order to reflect a more balanced and complete view of life, then we must change, modify and/or widen our beliefs. (4)
Are beliefs easy to change?
Fortunately most beliefs are fairly easy to change, so long as we are aware of them and know how they are reinforced, and if we can deal with them quickly. However, modifying extremely long-held beliefs is no easy task. Without a person's full consent to accept change, it would require a lot of effort. Even violence does not guarantee a change in people's beliefs. No argument, emotional appeal, or physical action can persuade us to change from within our beliefs of enduring quality. It is only through acceptance, love and the provision of quality and enjoyable experiences, knowledge and the skills of effective learning that a person can be given the power to change.
As Marilyn Ferguson once remarked:
"No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or by emotional appeal." (5)
Ultimately it is up to the individual and society as a whole to choose whether or not to accept a change in one's beliefs as well as ensuring that the environment is set up correctly and in a balanced way to make things conducive for change.
What is faith?
We sometime hear from religious people the idea of faith. What is this precisely?
Faith requires a belief in something. To say to someone, "I have faith in your ability to achieve great success" is only possible if you believe the person is doing something in his/her thinking and behaviour that tells you there is a high probability it will lead to success. Only then can you have the faith in the person to achieve success even if the evidence for success is not yet observable or known at the present time.
Also, faith is of two types: good faith, and faith that isn't good. Good faith is where the belief behind the faith is well supported by observations and experience, and is tested against adequate sources of knowledge to help challenge and refine the belief. Otherwise any talk of faith without rational and sensible belief(s) to support it will be like a child following on blind faith what adults say about the tooth fairy, which we know the belief is incorrect and the faith formed by the child is misguided.
To have good faith, you must develop certain solid markers in the knowledge you keep in memory called beliefs acquired through experience and knowledge. These beliefs have to be refined by experience and knowledge, and enough of them have to be kept in memory for the brain to develop links between them. Because it is these links that often reveal new and previously unseen patterns.
Should the experiences and knowledge be widespread and all-encompassing and the beliefs are well-refined, these hidden patterns can reveal something about the nature of the universe and life in general, which is what genuine religious leaders should be focussed on.
Many of these hidden patterns cannot be proven directly. It can only be done indirectly, which means each one of us have to go through our own personal journey of gathering experiences and acquiring enough knowledge to see these patterns. Yet despite this, people can, and do, see a number of hidden patterns in their own minds. In some cases, the hidden patterns can lead to a new fundamental re-orientation of people's lives because of a realisation of the grander reality that exists.
It is these hidden patterns that can help people to:
- Give greater meaning to life and the universe. In other words, people with hidden knowledge quickly realise there is more to our existence than can ever be observed with our eyes. For example, genuine religious leaders will see life as like a pearl on the necklace of eternity. In other words, we will all experience the moment of life (i.e., the pearl), and at some point we must relinquish life in order to return back to life again (i.e., the necklace). Also, with each successive cycle of life and death, another hidden pattern starts to emerge for some people. It is a pattern suggesting that we are reaching the ultimate Truth about this universe.
- Think long-term about their own actions because of the confidence of knowing what the future will bring if they do the right thing.
As a result of this, people who acquire these hidden patterns often have a greater sense of confidence and a positive view for the future. They are less afraid of death (as well as life), and are more willing to help people. It is from these hidden patterns that people are more able to develop faith in people because of their awareness of these hidden patterns, knowing they will occur again and again.
So to have any sense of faith, you must believe in something. Even scientists, who are naturally inclined to challenge beliefs all the time must at some point believe in certain things. For example, they will believe in the existence of the gravitational field because they have observed time and time again the falling of objects to the ground, and talk of a mysterious field pervading the universe and concentrating around matter seems to be the best explanation scientists can come up with. Whether or not the belief is correctly explained is another question. But the point here is that people must believe in something.
Yet at the same time, those beliefs must continually be questioned and refined. You cannot accept blindly everything that you are told by others or observe in the universe. You might see, for example, a UFO and think, "Yep! That looks alien!" when in fact, some careful analysis might reveal a more prosaic explanation. It does not mean aliens don't exist and are not visiting the Earth. They may well be doing so as we speak. Hence you cannot ignore every observation or pattern you have seen yourself, or heard from others. You have to go on your own journey to find out. But when you do, not only must you become a scientist, but you must also become a religious person in retaining the most refined and accurate beliefs.
Once you are religious enough to retain adequate and well-refined beliefs, you will discover indirect patterns emerging from these beliefs. You will do all you can to check those new patterns against all your knowledge, experience, and the beliefs you hold. This is totally understandable. Your scientific side is speaking to you. You must make sure the patterns are right. But once you realise everything you have learned will support the new patterns and are correct, at some point you must believe in these patterns. The patterns are too powerful. You cannot ignore them. Sure, you may not be able to prove many of these patterns in real life for those other people who use their eyes. However, you will know how true the patterns are to you at a personal level because they make sense to you. The patterns give greater meaning and purpose to everything that you do.
This is the religious side speaking to you.
Once you make the decision to accept these patterns and become beliefs in their own right, developing faith will not be hard to do. You will soon have faith not only in these patterns, but of the people you meet as well. The hidden patterns will tell you if something, or what people want to do, is possible.
You just need to have faith, and things will happen in all the glory.