We believe in so many things. What we learn from books or others in general are nothing but information. They just stay in our brain waiting to be converted to beliefs. When you experience them, you believe them.
If your mother warns you as a child to not put your finger in a lighted candle saying that it will burn your fingers, you don’t believe it. You try it and then you find that to be true. Now what your mother told you becomes a part of your belief. You advocate it to others who can verify it themselves.
A testable belief is a fact.
Earth is a spherical body is not something you can experience first hand without being a Jeff Bezos or becoming eligible to pay him for a trip to space. You believe them from pictures and the statements made by people who you believe are more learned than you, the scientists.
Also, you really don’t care if Earth is round or flat. It does not affect you in any way bringing food to your table or watching your favorite web series. It is the same way when Scientists peering into deep space with Hubble say that a black hole is devouring a galaxy for its breakfast or they hear the murmur of a gravitational wave of two blackholes colliding with each other. Your heart does not skip a beat on hearing that. Yes, they sound very interesting and you don’t have a pressing need to believe them as much as those astrophysicists who are working on the data from the telescopes have.
So many things that are verified as facts by a whole bunch of learned people are in the ‘don’t care’ zone for you.
On a day to day living basis, you come across people a lot. And you deal with them to get things moving. And this is where our beliefs are often nebulous. You would expect a person fixing your car which begins to make some random noise to do a good job. You have no choice but to believe him, in his skills, in his unwavering attention to details and his resolve only to find that the random noise persists later in another side of your car. You readjust your belief.
You go to a Doctor with a swelling on your cheek based on the recommendation from your closest pal and then find that the swelling remains after several weeks and you seek another friend’s advise, another Doctor who can look at it. You readjust your beliefs about your friend’s ability to recommend doctors for a swelling on the cheek and the belief that the doctor who looked at it can fix such swellings.
In your daily life, you constantly go about calibrating your beliefs when you see data that is for or against it. Of course that is what Thomas Bayes put it in a mathematical formula.
There is nothing you can tell as fact when it comes to people. The events inside and outside of people are so complex and random that even with the power of Quantum computers, it will be difficult to nail down something as a fact.
That is where our emotional aspect kicks in. We try to bind humans with ‘trust’ and ‘loyalty’ and ‘conscience’. We have stories and epics that highlight the virtues. All of this is done because human minds are inherently fickle.
Emotions are the tools to manufacture beliefs. Emotions brings humans close to one another. When someone is close, you can believe them without the need to verify. This is good and bad. We cannot have relationships by running a Sherlock Holmes in our head. Trust backed by actions and not words is what can work among humans.
The downside of beliefs driven by emotions is that they cannot be verified. If you believe I am bad because you saw me driving on the wrong side of the road, then I can say you have an evidence to back your belief. On the other hand, if you believe I am bad just because your friend told you so, then your belief does not stand on an observation that can be verified.
Most of our social beliefs with people and events we encounter are often backed by inappropriate observations, rumors, hearsays and the fact that we are too busy to process and verify them ourselves.
We form opinions about everyone around us based on this utterly biased view. We tend to substantiate our beliefs by grouping with others who believe the same. We believe that if a large group believes something then that must be a fact. This works nicely in the social media context as you believe your friend, who believes his and a neat social graph of beliefs is constructed.
This is similar to the case of believing Earth as round or flat. They fall into the set of beliefs that you don’t care too much about. So you just end up believing what your friend forwards without bothering much to question or verify it before you act as the link in the chain of forwards. Often you are subscribing to things which you don’t have a clue of how it will impact your future.
Our world is composed largely of beliefs and less of facts. Facts always lag behind beliefs because there is the hard work needed to verify and prove them. However, a single fact can alter a lot of long-held beliefs. Such is the power of fact. So it is important to work on getting the facts right.
Beliefs are needed to move forward. However, when facts arrive that counter your belief, it is important to reevaluate the belief in the light of facts. The more flexible we are in amending our beliefs to facts, life becomes easier. If we believe that our beliefs are superior and don’t care to adjust to the facts, we lose the beauty of an intelligent being.