What is so Believable about Belief?

Gerald Zezas

I've spent the last few years trying to understand why there are so many intellectual differences among people who come from the same planet, live substantially similar lives, have similar DNA, genes, hopes, fears, and phobias. I have yet to come up with an answer, but I'm getting closer to the hypothesis.

The thread that runs through all of our differences appears to be tethered to that thing upon which many of us would give our lives. That thing is called belief.

1. "I believed that he's telling the truth," said the woman who let the thief in because he claimed to need to use the phone.

2. "I believe his alibi," said the jurors who acquitted OJ Simpson.

3. "I believe that I have found the one," said roughly the roughly 50% of all married couples who will get married and then divorced.

4. "I believe that I can stop in time," said the tailgater just before he rear-ended the guy in front of him.

5. "I believe that he loves me, "said the teen who was about to reluctantly give up her virginity to a guy who couldn't care less.

6. "I believe the salesman when he says that this is a terrific deal on this car," said the woman…you get the idea.

Or, here's a variation on the above:

1. My gut instinct tells me that stock is going up.

2. I can feel it in my bones that the black square is coming up next.

3. Those lottery numbers are getting closer and closer to my kid's birth dates.

4. Trump can't win the presidency. I know it.

5. Today's gonna be a great day. I can feel it.

This may seem harmless, but certain of us take those beliefs to extremes, as with most human endeavors. Examples are:

1. I believe that these magnets, copper bands, or crystals will heal my arthritis.

2. I believe that these supplements and vitamins will cure my cancer.

3. I believe that this faith healer can shrink my tumor.

4. I believe that if I pray to God, I will win this boxing match or football game, or I will be able to find my car keys.

5. I believe that if I follow this or that interchangeable (but incompatible) religious dogma, I will spend eternity in paradise.

This is still a work in progress, but other than being included in certain books of dubious provenance, what is really the difference among these various beliefs?

And so, the question becomes: If you rely upon belief of any kind, what makes you believe, based on empirical evidence, that belief is actually reliable?

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