In order to provide a definition of a belief I need first to explore the difference between belief and knowledge.
Belief versus ‘knowledge’
We are taught in science that belief is somehow ‘bad’, but knowledge is ‘good’. But let us have a look at this for a moment. Beliefs are pieces of information, theories or hypotheses that either have not been proven or cannot be proven. This is supposed to be not the case with ‘knowledge’.
For example, a man out wandering in the woods may see a mushroom. He has a mushroom book which identifies the mushrooms, he has picked mushrooms before and can recognise them, and he has eaten a mushroom of that sort before and it has not poisoned him. As such, one might think he has sufficient evidence to prove that he had the knowledge to distinguish whether the mushroom was edible, inedible or poisonous for him.
He eats the mushroom and he is OK, the mushroom does him no harm. One might think that he would be justified in subsequently stating that he knew the mushroom was safe to eat. So what he possessed was apparently knowledge.
Another man is walking in the same wood with the same book, he too has picked mushrooms before, but has not actually eaten one of that type before. He sees a mushroom identical to the one the first man has seen. Again, we might think that he has sufficient evidence to prove that he had the knowledge to distinguish whether the mushroom was edible, inedible or poisonous – furthermore he has the precedent set for him by the first man.
He eats the mushroom and the mushroom poisons him. Where does this leave us?
It means that there is no such thing as universal knowledge. Knowledge is particular and it is particular to groups - of people, of plants, of animals, of countries, of planets, of galaxies, and so on. One group of people may be able to eat a mushroom, oysters and so on, another group may be violently allergic to them.
No ‘knowledge’ is universally applicable.
The ‘scientific method'
The scientific method is usually based on collecting observations from which are deduced patterns [laws, hypotheses etc], subsequently tested by experiment and use. Observations are usually collected from samples which have ‘statistical validity’ - but always a sample.
This therefore is not knowledge, this is a belief because the entire population has not been used in the sample and never can be. To be valid, to be knowledge, we would need to not only test the whole ‘population’ to which the knowledge relates, but over all time – past and future. We don’t possess universal knowledge only very particular knowledge.
If you take the view that ‘science’ has overtaken religion in its applicability to man, then this point becomes particularly important, as scientists have for some time challenged both established religions, as well as other belief systems with the claim to base their rules and laws on ‘knowledge’. But their knowledge is no more knowledge than that of many exponents of belief systems, in some cases the samples on which they base their hypotheses are smaller than those used for developing so called beliefs. It is worth noting that much scientific ‘knowledge’ has only remained true for as long as the evidence on which it has been based has remained true. When new evidence has come along, the ‘proven’ has often proved to be false.
Einstein’s laws, for example, cannot be called ‘knowledge’. They were not based on observations but on inspiration. Once formulated they have proved to be resilient and workable, but they are still a belief system, because we cannot prove, for example, that the same set of rules apply in other parts of the universe as they do in our particular part.
This is true of all scientific laws. All we can ever say is that for a certain well defined sector of our observed world, [in computing we term this the 'scope' of the system] over a given time scale, certain set of rules devised by scientists appear to be true and as a belief system make a reasonable basis on which to base our activity. Scientists’ theories are just as much a belief system as anyone else’s.
Mental models and beliefs
Our mental models are system models based on classification – of things, their properties and their activities. If we can classify, and the same rules seem to produce the same effects each time, we believe then we have a system. If not, no system. A system can be said to exist if the same set of inputs produce, using the same activity, the same set of outputs.
We can develop our own systems from scratch [which we as humans have done for some time – railways systems, payroll systems, accounting systems etc] these are clearly not belief systems because we developed them.
Alternatively, where the system is ‘natural’, we can study the patterns of input, output and activity to try to deduce the rules. This is what scientists do, what astrologers do, what religious leaders do, what astronomers do, what mathematicians do, what physicists do, what chemists do, what doctors and pharmacists do, what medical researchers do, what psychologists do, what philosophers do, what meteorologists do, what farmers and gardeners do, what biologists do …. And so on. We examine the world created for us – and try to deduce a pattern – a system.
The way that all professional observers – from scientists to astrologers – base their analysis is by using observed events coupled with probabilities. Where a given activity using the same inputs has produced the same results a number of times, we say that there is the likelihood that a system exists and the likelihood is based on the frequency with which the result is obtained within a given sample. So if nine times out of ten, the given result is obtained we have a 90% chance of a system. If ninety per cent is a reasonable basis on which to proceed we say that a system exists, but convert the probabilities to RISK – there is a 10% chance that this won’t work or isn’t true.
For each one of us, our entire lives are a long series of activities – eating, driving, drinking, crossing the road, falling in love - based on our own individual belief systems and an assessment of the risk. Some of us are happy to take more risk than others.
From day one at birth, we are observing and learning. We learn systems from our parents, our teachers, our friends, our enemies. We learn system by our own observation and by listening and learning from others. We learn systems from books in the hope that this quickly expands our range of observations because we are using other people’s experiences. Every moment we are collecting, analysing, sorting and forming conclusions.
Every one of us is on a day to day basis taking observations and developing patterns in our heads – patterns of system on which we can base our lives.
The more observations we have that something is true, the happier we are that the belief system can be followed and used. The risk lessens. The fewer and more unreliable the observations are, the more we take a risk. The men who are the first to do anything – go to the moon, pilot fighter jets, cross the Antarctic alone – are taking huge risks, because there are no observations in place to say it can be done. Then we say they are taking an act of faith. We can either think of these men as pioneers and heroes [which is the view I hold] or just plain daft, either way they start the process of observation, if it works then we have one example of a person who made it – the risk lessens.
As more try the same thing and succeed we obtain a growing body of evidence to show it can be done – the belief system holds true - and the risk lessens yet more.
Furthermore, the feedback we receive from them helps us lessen the risk further – we can prepare more. So more and more people do the same thing, they set off in the belief that whatever it is can be done, for example, they too can cross the Antarctic alone – but of course some never make it, because in reality the risk is always there – we in reality never know.
Belief systems and our cultures
Societies, cultures, nations operate around belief systems. Without them there would be chaos.
I go to a cash machine in the belief it will give me cash if I put in a card and a certain number. I drive a car in the belief the car does certain things and that other people on the road are going to behave according to a certain set of rules. I fly in an airplane to go on holiday because I believe that planes fly [and don’t drop out of the sky] and that hotels honour the bookings I have made.
Everything we do is belief and system based.
Our belief systems rely very heavily on people telling the truth and keeping to the rules. The more people lie about the observations, the more people are unable to follow a belief system. And it may take only one lie, one bad experience, for a person to discard the whole belief system ‘I’ll never do that again’.
As such, our societies are wholly dependent for their smooth functioning on people telling the truth and following the systems keeping to the rules. It is no coincidence that the groups of people [countries, sectors of society etc] who do the least well and cause the most disruption, are those who don’t – in fact we even say that there has been a complete breakdown in systems, and we talk of ‘corruption’- in essence dishonesty.
So knowledge is an illusion, everything is belief and we rely entirely on the existence of systems of belief – not just spiritual ones.
How does this hinder spiritual experience?
In the first place, belief systems are what is input [terrifying though it may sound] to the function of Reason in order for the Will to make decisions about what to do next. If the Memory is full of beliefs, the Reasoning system will carry on extracting what it helpfully perceives to be fact after fact whilst what you are trying to do is get the Will out of the way so that your composer can work instead.
The chattering Will, chatters because of the chattering memory.
Secondly – it is our belief systems that create ‘separation’ that create the illusion that we are autonomous entities. Belief systems also create fear and fear [in the context where we seek suppression] can be a terrible block to progress.
Lewis Carroll was also well aware of the block that beliefs can have on spiritual experience. In the following quote he tries to demonstrate how beliefs create a sense of separation and fear, because instead of just ‘being’ we use beliefs and our ‘knowledge’ to make assumptions about things.
Lewis Carroll – Alice through the Looking Glass
Alice enters a wood where things have no names. On entering she is not only unable to remember her name but is unable to remember the name of anything.
Just then a Fawn came wandering by. It looked at Alice with its large gentle eyes, but didn’t seem at all frightened.
‘Here then. Here then’ Alice said as she held out her hand and tried to stroke it …
’What do you call yourself?’ the Fawn said at last. Such a soft sweet voice it had!
‘I wish I knew!’ thought poor Alice. She answered rather sadly ‘Nothing just now’ ….
’Please would you tell me what you call yourself? she said timidly ‘I think that might help a little’
‘I’ll tell you if you’ll come a little further on’ the Fawn said ‘I can’t remember here’
So they walked on together through the wood, Alice with her arms clasped lovingly round the soft neck of the Fawn, till they came out into an open field and here the fawn gave a sudden bound into the air, and shook itself free from Alice’s arm.
‘I’m a Fawn!’ it cried out in a voice of delight. And ‘Dear me! You’re a human child!’
A sudden look of alarm came into its beautiful brown eyes and in another moment it had darted away at full speed”.
So by forgetting we find Love and love is the key to spiritual experience
Thirdly, beliefs tarnish the experience. Read any religious observation and you will see it wholly corrupted by the beliefs of that person, they saw ‘God’ or an ‘angel’ or were swept in ‘divine rapture’ or taken up ‘in bliss’ or ………. It makes for rather sobering reading because these closed minds often experienced nothing of the sort. Many of them had visions and experiences no different from today’s drug users, but the drug users simply say – ‘man I got high high high and saw a weird man in a white bathrobe telling me to lay off the drugs – cool eh? Cool!’
You have to go into this knowing nothing. If you accept you know nothing you can learn and you will learn, but every lesson will be quite a knock to your belief systems.
We know NOTHING.
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Al-Ghazzali - The Alchemy of Happiness - 05 On what prevents spiritual experience
- Al-Ghazzali - The Alchemy of Happiness - 19 The need to experience to know
- Asvaghosha - The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana - The ego
- Asvaghosha - The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana - The problems of the 5 senses
- Auden, W H - Sext
- Babbage, Charles - The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise
- Belgian Tarot - 16 - The Tower
- Book of Five Spheres - The Scroll of Emptiness
- Burton, Sir Richard - THE KASÎDAH 06 1
- Burton, Sir Richard - THE KASÎDAH 09 2
- Charcot, Jean-Martin - If you do not have a proven treatment for an illness, do not harm your patients
- Chesterton, G K - Orthodoxy - Science and belief systems
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Wound of Amfortas
- Dawkins, Professor Richard - On belief systems
- Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Intellect - On inspiration and wisdom
- Epictetus - The Enchiridion - 05
- Huxley, Aldous - Pala
- Katha Upanishad
- Koestler, Arthur - Janus - The need to question beliefs
- Krishnamurti - Be a light unto oneself
- Krishnamurti - The Network of Thought - Man has always sought something beyond the physical existence
- Krishnamurti - The Network of Thought - Where there is attachment there is corruption
- Monroe, Robert - The Belief system territories
- Moody Blues - Of course you are my bright little star
- Mullis, Dr Kary - A first experience of LSD
- Nietzsche - Daybreak - Christianity has succeeded in transforming Eros and Aphrodite into diabolical kobolds
- Nietzsche - Ecce Homo - The concept ‘sin’ invented together with the instrument of torture which goes with it
- Nietzsche - On the Genealogy of Morals - The exploitation of the sense of 'guilt'
- Nietzsche - On the Genealogy of Morals - Too long the earth has been a madhouse
- Nietzsche - The Anti-Christ - Religion is a profound discontent with the actual
- Nietzsche - Thus spake Zarathustra - As long as men have existed, man has enjoyed himself too little
- Nietzsche - Thus spake Zarathustra - Those who grave new values on new tables
- Omar Khayyam - On Creed and Belief systems
- Planck, Max - On Belief systems and Miracles
- Ramachandran, Dr V S - The distortion of perceptions to fit belief systems
- Raynor Johnson and the dangers of sensory deprivation
- Reichel-Dolmatoff – Amazonian Cosmos - Wisdom vs knowledge
- Rops, Felicien - Le bibliothécaire
- The Sutra of Hui-Neng - Essential nature
- The Sutra of Hui-Neng - There is nothing true anywhere
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 03 - 4 Alice and the fawn
- Through the Looking Glass - Ch 05 - 1 Wool and Water
- Villoldo, Dr Alberto - Soul loss and retrieval in children
- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali - Book I - Sutras 01 to 51