Believing in Belief

What is truth?  How do we know that we know?  Is it all a collection of beliefs?  Even science may say one thing today and another tomorrow, so an individual who follows yesterday’s precepts might now seem ridiculous – as if today’s explanations are closer to the truth.   Then does that make the truth, even factual truths, belong indefinitely to tomorrow’s understandings?

Then how do we truly know that we know?  Should we stick to our senses, or is there more to know?  We live and learn, and form opinions based upon experiences that lead to differences of opinion, even among experts.  Facts can be inconclusive, but they can’t make our decisions for us in any event.  Experiences are far from simple and those we take to be conclusive are usually filtered through tacit decisions about what counts, the primary filter being belief.  Our confidence in the facts is really a confidence placed in our tacit beliefs about the facts, certainty playing second fiddle to these beliefs.  Hence belief enables us to make decisions when we don’t know any better, the belief supplying the feeling of knowing better.

Knowing anything strikes a balance between the knowing and the knowing otherwise. The balance point is determined by belief.  Beliefs fabricate our certainties based upon images of reality.  Beliefs are the active mental screen on which those images are projected, together with the elaborated images of our senses.   Sometimes we recognise our beliefs, seeing belief as a form of thinking for tidying-up our thinking.  But if belief is a power we exert over our own minds, it is also a power exerted over us by the collective mind of our culture.   Often we can’t tell the difference or don’t bother to try.

We see as we believe, believing we see as we see.  Believing in belief flourishes amidst the urgency to know.   In a paradoxical world, belief is the possibility inviting us to entertain impossibilities that just might be true.  Not knowing is the only restraint we can exercise, but the exigencies of decision making may not allow us the scope for this luxury.  And the various forms of disbelief, non-believing and unbelieving all function as forms of belief serving as alternative social co-ordinates bearing an aura of superior neutrality.  Meanwhile the question about what is truth converts into an issue over what may stand as proof – as if proof is the unequivocal imparter of knowledge that remains independent of what we believe.

If it is ‘true’ to say that belief is the last refuge of the individual, then knowing that we believe is the last refuge of our integrity as individuals.  Then what of truth?  Perhaps belief affords a more pragmatic approach to truth – in accepting that truth is greater than our knowledge, and that the truths we make do with reveal more about our tacit systems of belief than we can ever discover by looking to the facts as absolutes, as decisive matters of fact.  But the same applies to the truth about our beliefs, for we cannot find an absolute in their content simply by believing in our beliefs.

Thus it may be true to say that knowledge is power, especially within our various spheres of influence and cultures of belief, including the religious, the political, the economic and the ‘factual’, but who can say that knowledge is truth?  Alternatively it might be more prudent to consider a more basic truth about knowledge:  knowing that we believe is the safest form of knowledge, believing that we know the most dangerous.

© Mike Laidler 2015

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