Beliefs: A functional understanding


You are probably aware of the concept of what we call a “belief.” Much has been written on the importance belief systems play in the lives of the individual and interacting groups of people. Maps of Meaning by Jordan Peterson is one such work that explains this idea But what does it even mean? How you would describe the impact that your belief that apples are better than oranges has on your experience? You don’t have to dig very far before realizing, like almost everyone, that you don’t really understand it like you may have thought. Understanding the idea is one thing. Understanding it well enough impact change in how beliefs effect you is another. Here, it will be argued that beliefs best understood by examining their connection to behavior, with the goal developing a functional definition of this concept.

A functional definition of belief is one that allows for insights into how one can make positive behavior modifications. The dictionary definition of a belief takes a general form of “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.” It is hard to grasp the implications of that statement. You are person existing within belief systems that simultaneously make it difficult for you to change them due to the very properties that make them beliefs. What implications does “accepting to be true” have on your life and how would you ever differentiate that from something you do not accept to be true? That reason for not accepting something is in itself based on other beliefs that prevent you from making such necessary determinations required to change beliefs. The ideal perspective is one in which individuals are empowered to change beliefs. These social structures lead to irrational conflicts that cannot be solved without being able to gain the insight without change beliefs. 

A more useful way to think about  beliefs is as accepted organization principles of your mind on the basis that they support the conscious rationalization of decisions and behavior. What is true to you, is what coherently explains your life experiences. How can you get better control over how you experience the world and effectiveness in creating positive change? You do that by acting in ways that result in such things regardless of what you may believe. Beliefs can be updated and modified to support those actions as you begin to do them. It is too difficult change beliefs without making actual physical changes with your relationships with others and environment. This process t starts with deciding what you want to work towards. You can go towards something better without knowing what direction to start going. Where you go can change as you move, but you need to get moving initially.

At best this is towards meaningful beneficial goals, and at worst towards goals that harm society. People are generally a little of both without a clear direction and end up circling the same stop without changing anything. This is represented by the same types of experience to occurring repeatedly in cycles. This a mix of “good” or “bad” experiences. Either way, it is often not a life that is very exciting or one that leads to personal growth that comes with continuously updating/improving beliefs. The goal is to continuously change beliefs so that they do not become stagnant, as this will always result in conflict within you own life and between others. You have two options. 1) a life of purpose in which you did you can be satisfied for having done your part in making positive impacts on the world, or 2) randomly drifting through life and letting past experiences you cannot change control your life. (Option 1 please!!). Once steps are made to make plans to change the physical relationship you have with the world, that process of continually changing beliefs for the better can begin. Beliefs reflect what is possible for you and that possibility is limited within a single belief system. A functional definition of beliefs is focused factors in behavior because it is behavior that ultimately creates the positive changes. There is a lot out there about creating a more “positive mindset” or “growth mindset.” Those are great, but not acknowledging the behavioral component will give a partial understanding that neglects the necessary actions required to improve the external environment. It is illusionary change that does not improve life satisfaction because beliefs are not updating. That is where some self-help material and inspirational messages do more harm than good. A belief that you can think your way out problems is false belief based in the desire of the ego to resist change with the alluring promises of instant gratification that avoid confronting uncomfortable confrontation with personal fears that protect the truth required to believe something better that can actually make positive changes.

Belief (functional definition): a conscious or unconscious explanation of the causal relationships among visible objects in the environment and/or with yourself that informs behavior in a way that supports your relationship with the world and resists changes with fears and doubts.

1) A verbally expressed definition has varying levels of truth. Truth is related to how consistently the verbally expressed explanation is congruent among contexts in which the belief should play a causal role in experience.

2) Truth of an explanation is determined by its usefulness when applying to the desire to create positive changes across time and predictive power.

3) The unconscious belief is reflexive or conditioned responses to the environment. It is a true statement of patterns that need not explain why and the entirety reflexive responses playing a role in a given moment is not realistically possible:

4) The conscious belief (expressed in language) about something is the explanation of the observed environment contingent behavioral responses. Is a tool to help create change via questioning said explanation and developing the your understanding. Taking actions on this understanding is what can lead to establishing it as a new belief.

Example: You hide from people when you are at a party because that is what you have always done. There is no necessity of going beyond the statement of the pattern because it is true. Around people -> try to avoid extended conversation. The party context is a more specific environment that which in under the generalization of social anxiety. Breaking this automatic pattern down further elucidates actions more specific to a context. Being intoxicated could lead to less avoidance behavior. It is an additional aspect the pattern ant that leads to greater variance explanation that is specific to a environment. Those additional additional "data points" make for better prediction on how you would act given the a similar context and without forgetful inter-meaning attempts of to modify behavior. Beyond the unconscious belief just described, is the attempt to communicate why the pattern exists, which is hard. These patterns are conditioned from the day one is born. However, significant or emotional events do have explanatory power. For example, social anxiety could be in part a function of bullying in 1st grade. Even this can't describe how much that explains or it does at all. The pre-first grade period social ability relative to others, particular stage in brain development, life at home, other experiences that caused you to feel anxiety over social interactions, genetics and other factors are all playing role. The point of knowing is that there is always room for improvement because there are always more contributing factors to be found in explaining why one acts a certain. They all serve as entry to behavior modification. 

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