How Belief Works

Chapter 1: The Revolutionary Truth About the Psychology of Belief

What we believe about belief is profoundly wrong

Belief, from core beliefs to mundane ones, is the centre of human psychology. That is, each other major aspect of human psychology – perception, reasoning, imagination, emotions, action, language and memory – revolves around belief. However, the current understanding of how beliefs form, and the nature of belief, is wrong – and not just a bit wrong, but the-Sun-goes-around-Earth wrong.

And just as the truth about the Sun and Earth’s relationship revolutionised cosmology, the truth about the psychology of belief will revolutionise psychology, and have equally profound implications for every aspect of our lives. However, this truth is so counterintuitive that it can initially seem unbelievable, as first did the idea that Earth isn’t the stationary centre of the universe but sweeps around the Sun while spinning about an axis.

How beliefs form

A belief, however fundamental or mundane, involves a specific claim. For example, we may believe that killing is wrong, or that there's no milk in the fridge. And a claim enters our mind via one of four mental processes:

    • comprehension – when the claim is communicated via some medium that we perceive, which is normally voice or text

    • reasoning – when we generate the claim using logic, whether good or bad

    • imagination – when we generate the claim without using logic

    • recollection – when we remember the claim.

The counterintuitive truth about how beliefs form is that the mere entrance of a claim into our mind, via any of these processes, causes us to believe it, and this is the cause of all belief formation. The apparent unbelievability of this assertion can itself seem to disprove it. The assertion can seem obviously contrary to both the concept and experience of comprehending a claim, or recalling one, or generating one with our imagination. Regarding reasoning, a conclusion is by definition a belief. However, it can seem obviously contrary to both the concept and experience of reasoning that our belief of this claim upon it entering our mind is due merely to that entrance, rather than being due to the claim being the product of our reasoning.

However, the idea that Earth sweeps around the Sun while also spinning about an axis – heliocentrism – initially seemed implausible mainly because it initially seemed obviously contrary to experience. That is, we can't feel such movement, and it was wrongly assumed that we'd be able to. Consequently, the idea that Earth is the stationary centre of the universe with the rest of the universe revolving around it – geocentrism – remained the consensus for around twenty centuries after the earliest known heliocentric theory was proposed, by the ancient-Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos.

And just as it was shown that, upon closer analysis, heliocentrism actually isn't contrary to experience, so it can be shown that, upon closer analysis, this counterintuitive theory of belief formation actually isn’t contrary to experience. It also can be shown that, upon closer analysis, the theory actually isn't contrary to the concept of comprehending a claim, or recalling one, or generating one with our imagination. And the current conception of reasoning is actually wrong.

Also as with heliocentrism, the theoretical and practical implications of this theory are profound.

And not only is this how beliefs form, this is so not because of the nature of the human brain, but simply by logical necessity – a second counterintuitive aspect of this theory. The central tenet of the field of psychology today is that how the human mind works is solely due to the wiring and chemistry of the human brain, which is in turn determined by a person’s genes and experiences. Therefore all mainstream theories about any aspect of the functioning of the human mind involve that aspect being due, in some way, to the nature of the human brain. However, although our capacity for belief is obviously due to the nature of the human brain – rocks can't form beliefs – there isn’t anything about the human brain which causes our extreme credulity. Instead, that extreme credulity is simply a logically inherent, and therefore inevitable, feature of a claim entering a mind, for any form of intelligence. And so the current understanding of belief formation is actually logically impossible. Also, separately, there’s a surprisingly basic logical flaw in the specific idea that we believe something because we’ve assessed that it’s true – even though this idea can seem true by definition and therefore unimpeachable.

This theory of belief formation actually isn’t new. The prominent 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza proposed it in his 1677 book Ethics. However, to support his theory he used an obscure theoretical argument, and several modern researchers have independently concluded that it doesn’t support its conclusion. This partly explains why belief of his theory has, ironically, been negligible since it was published. Even awareness of the theory is low today, even among researchers in psychology and philosophy, and interest in it is lower still.

Spinoza and the title page of his book Ethics

The most prominent modern academic writing on Spinoza’s theory is a 1991 paper called ‘How Mental Systems Believe’, which catalogues observational evidence, including experimental research, which seems to support the theory. It was written by the Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert, one of the rare academics who subscribe to the theory.

Gilbert’s paper

The paper also presents a speculative alternative theoretical argument for the theory, but it involves belief formation working this way for an evolutionary reason, rather than logical necessity, and has several flaws.

However, there does exist a theoretical proof for Spinoza's theory.

The nature of belief​

The current understanding of the psychology of belief is badly wrong in a second way. It can also seem obvious from experience that we can have different degrees, or strengths, of belief. For example, it can seem obvious that our belief that we’re eating an apple is stronger than our belief that it’ll rain tomorrow. However, the counterintuitive truth about the nature of belief, from core beliefs to mundane ones, is that we don’t have different degrees, or strengths, of belief, because belief is certainty. As with Spinoza’s theory of belief formation, closer analysis reveals that this theory actually isn’t contrary to experience. And also as with Spinoza’s theory, the theoretical and practical implications of this theory are profound.

Also as with Spinoza’s theory, not only is belief certainty, this is so not because of the nature of the human brain, but simply by logical necessitya second counterintuitive aspect of this theory. As I stated above, our capacity for belief is obviously due to the nature of the human brain. However, there isn’t anything about the human brain which causes belief to always be certainty. Instead, the certainty of belief is simply a logically inherent, and therefore inevitable, feature of belief, for any form of intelligence. And so degrees of belief are actually logically impossible.

And also as with Spinoza’s theory, the idea that there are no degrees of belief isn’t new. However, as with Gilbert's theoretical argument for Spinoza’s theory, none of the previous theoretical arguments conclude that degrees of belief are logically impossible, and each is flawed. And also as with Spinoza’s theory, the flawed logic of these arguments partly explains why awareness of this theory today is low even among researchers in psychology and philosophy, and interest in it is even lower, and support for it is lower still. Regarding interest, there doesn’t seem to have been any experimental research into the theory, unlike with Spinoza’s theory.

However, also as with Spinoza's theory, there does exist a theoretical proof for this theory.

Revolutionary implications​

The truth about the psychology of belief isn't just counterintuitive, but revolutionary, because belief is the centre of human psychology. That is, each other major aspect of human psychology revolves around belief:

  • perception:

The function of perception in human psychology is to enable us to form beliefs about our surroundings based on information collected by our sense organs. And our current beliefs influence the processing of that information.

The only exception to this is the perceptual process which leads to a reflex action. This involves the signal from a sense organ triggering muscular activity before that signal has reached our cognitive processes, and therefore before any beliefs have formed from the sensory information. However, even in such cases the information is still used to form a belief when it enters our cognitive processes, after the reflex action has begun.


  • reasoning:

Reasoning is the formation of beliefs using logic, whether the logic is good or bad. Also, our reasoning is normally based on our current beliefs.

The only exception to this is hypothetical, 'What if...', reasoning, which involves premises that we either disbelieve or are uncertain about – although, even such reasoning often also involves premises that we believe. And the conclusion of such reasoning is at least a belief – the belief that a particular claim is a logical implication of the premises.

To be clear, judgements and decisions, which are the product of reasoning, are beliefs. Judgements and decisions are conclusions, which are by definition beliefs, however much our reasoning is influenced by our emotions. A decision can be a resolution to do or not do something, which may not seem like a belief. However, a resolution to do or not do something is the conclusion, and therefore belief, that we're going to do or not do that thing.


  • imagination:

The function of imagination is to aid our reasoning, and thus belief formation, by enabling us to generate possibilities in our mind for analysis. Also, our current beliefs influence the creation of those possibilities.


  • emotions:

The function of the different emotions is to motivate us to think and act in particular ways – ways that tended, in our evolutionary past, to be ultimately beneficial, however indirectly, to our chances of reproduction. In the short term, positive emotions motivate us to think and act in ways that are aimed at increasing our experience of them, whereas negative emotions motivate us to think and act in ways that are aimed at decreasing our experience of them. But in order for us to think and act in such ways we must first form beliefs about which ways of thinking and acting will most likely have such effects. Therefore in human psychology belief enables the emotions to lead us to think and act in particular ways, and thereby fulfill their function. However, given the speediness of the brain, which works on the timescale of milliseconds, our emotions can lead to particular ways of thinking and acting so quickly that such thinking and acting can seem to be a direct product of those emotions.

Also, whereas some emotions are triggered by bodily states – such as the emotions of hunger, physical pain, sexual pleasure and the pleasure of eating – many emotions are aroused by our beliefs about the world, including our beliefs about the content of other people’s minds, and about the world of the past and the future, and about mere possibilities. Even emotions that are aroused via our perceptions are aroused by our beliefs about the world that we form on the basis of those perceptions although, the speediness of the brain means that such emotions can follow our perceptions so quickly that they can seem to be a direct product of those perceptions. And even emotions that are triggered by bodily states are often accompanied by emotions aroused by our beliefs about such states. For example, the pleasure inherent in eating tasty food can be accompanied by the emotion of relief that is aroused by our belief that we're satisfying our hunger by eating tasty food.


  • action:

Our deliberate actions are based on our beliefs about the world including about our own bodies and about what effects we should try to have on it through action, and about what particular actions are likely to have those effects. The desired effects of our actions range from the mundane, like a door being opened, to the fulfillment of life ambitions, and can involve things occurring from several seconds to several years in the future, and even after our death.


  • language:

The psychology of language can be divided into language use and language comprehension.

The immediate aim of any language use is to cause our audience to form particular beliefs based on the content of what we say, whether or not we hold such beliefs ourselves. Such beliefs include beliefs about what are our own beliefs, and thoughts, feelings and desires.

Also, given that speech is a deliberate act, the above points regarding deliberate action apply to language use. That is, our speech, even when we lie, is based on our beliefs about the world – including our potential audience’s current beliefs – and about what effects we should try to have on it through speech, and about what words are likely to have those effects.

Regarding language comprehension, the immediate aim of this is to form beliefs about what someone is saying. And upon doing so we can then in turn form beliefs based on that content, including beliefs about what are the speaker’s own beliefs, and thoughts, feelings and desires.


  • memory:

The function of memory in human psychology is to record our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, so that we can use this information in the future to aid our reasoning and thus belief formation. This includes the reasoning involved in making judgements and decisions, which, as I mentioned above, are types of beliefs. Also, the recording of our thoughts includes the storage of our beliefs, and so we don’t stop holding a belief just because it's no longer involved in our thinking. This includes beliefs about how to do something, from opening a door to fulfilling a life ambition.

To be clear, the claim here isn't merely that belief is central to human psychology, but that it's the centre of human psychology. Belief and the above other aspects of human psychology are equally central to human psychology. That is, they're all essential aspects of human psychology. But only belief is the centre of human psychology.

Strangely, there doesn’t seem to be a general awareness within academia that belief is the centre of human psychology. No psychology book or paper that I’ve read states this, including those specifically on reasoning and belief. For example, the psychology professor James Alcock, who’s an expert on belief, doesn’t refer to belief being the centre of human psychology anywhere in his 638-page 2018 book on belief, Belief.

The cognitive scientists Nicolas Porot and Eric Mandelbaum also don't refer to it in their 2020 paper 'The science of belief: A progress report'. They do refer to 'the centrality of belief to cognitive science'. Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of the mind, which combines theories in psychology, philosophy, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology, and other fields. However, again, the claim that belief is central to the workings of the human mind isn't as strong as the claim that it's the centre of those workings. Indeed, they never claim that belief is uniquely important, but write: 'As belief arises in so many areas of cognitive science, it deserves pride of place alongside such venerable stalwart concepts as memory, attention, perception, and mental representation'. Also, the claim that belief is central to this study of the workings of the mind actually isn't strictly even the claim that belief is central to those workings themselves, given that the former claim is about this field of study, whereas the latter claim is simply about the subject of that field.

The only reference to belief being the centre of human psychology by a philosopher that I’ve found is these words from a 1921 lecture on belief by Bertrand Russell: ‘Belief … is the central problem in the analysis of mind. … Psychology, theory of knowledge and metaphysics revolve about belief …’.

The study of belief isn’t even an established subfield of academic psychology, unlike the study of perception, reasoning, emotion, language, memory, and many other areas, including more niche subfields such as music psychology. For each subfield there are multiple dedicated textbooks available, but there’s no dedicated textbook on the psychology of belief. Even textbooks covering psychology in general, that I checked, don't have dedicated chapters, or even dedicated chapter sections, on belief. And the term belief usually doesn't even appear in the indexes of such textbooks.

Given that belief is the centre of human psychology, a fundamental change in our understanding of the psychology of belief will inevitably have profound implications across the whole field of psychology. That is, it will constitute a paradigm shift that will revolutionise the field, which will in turn have equally profound implications for every aspect of our lives.

And the acceptance that the mere entrance of a claim into our mind, whether via comprehension, reasoning, imagination, or recollection, causes us to believe it, and this is the cause of all belief formation, and also that there are no degrees of belief, only certainty, would clearly constitute such a fundamental change in our understanding of the psychology of belief. Therefore these two theories are radical not just in their difference from the current understanding of the psychology of belief, but also in their potential to revolutionise the whole field of psychology, and thereby have an equally dramatic impact on every aspect of our lives.

Academia’s open-mindedness deficit

As I mentioned, the flawed logic of previous theoretical arguments for these two counterintuitive theories about the psychology of belief partly explains why awareness of these theories today is low even among researchers in psychology and philosophy, and interest in them is even lower, and support for them is lower still. However, this past absence of sound theoretical arguments is ultimately much more an effect, than a cause, of the poor status of these theories within academia. The more fundamental cause of that poor status is their counterintuitive nature, which has led most academics who’ve encountered them to not take them seriously, which has in turn resulted in academia not giving them sufficient attention to discover the sound theoretical arguments that do exist for them.

It’s of course an academic’s job, as they seek to understand reality, to be open-minded, given that it’s always possible that reality differs from our current beliefs. Indeed, the history of science is full of examples of initially counterintuitive ideas eventually being vindicated, although often after being rejected by most scientists in the relevant field, and often with scorn. As someone once said, 'That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another'.

The tendency to immediately reject counterintuitive ideas or data is called the Semmelweis reflex, in honour of the doctor and researcher Ignaz Semmelweis. In 1847 Semmelweis showed that the mortality rates for women in maternity wards was dramatically reduced by doctors washing their hands with disinfectant before performing each delivery. But his finding pre-dated the germ theory of disease, and the medical community rejected it for many years – at the cost of many more lives – and ridiculed Semmelweis, partly because it seemed implausible that the hands of a gentleman doctor could transmit disease.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of reality differing from our beliefs is our past understanding of the cosmos. We once believed that Earth is flat, and then discovered that it’s actually round. Then we discovered that Earth isn’t, as thought, the stationary centre of the universe, with the rest of the universe revolving around it, but orbits the Sun while rotating about an axis. Then we discovered that even the Sun isn’t, as then thought, the centre of the universe, but is just an ordinary star that we happen to be orbiting, and is one of the myriad which make-up the rotating whirlpool-shaped swarm of stars that we call the Milky Way galaxy. Then we discovered that the Milky Way isn’t even, as then thought, the whole universe, because there are other galaxies. Today we know that the Milky Way consists of over 100,000,000,000 stars, and is part of a group of at least 54 galaxies, which is part of a supercluster of around 100,000 galaxies, and that there are at least 10,000,000 galactic superclusters in the universe.

This photograph can look like an image of a starfield, but it isn’t. This is the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field image, and almost every object in it – even the tiny points of light – is actually an entire galaxy, each of which contains between a few hundred million and a few trillion stars.

Of course, academics shouldn’t automatically consider any theory credible. As is said, ‘Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out’. But academics equally shouldn’t, as often happens, immediately reject a counterintuitive theory simply because it’s counterintuitive.

Most academics would probably protest that they wouldn’t do that themselves because they’re well aware of the importance of open-mindedness in their work, and of past cases of counterintuitive theories that were initially widely rejected but then vindicated. However, an awareness of the importance of open-mindedness isn’t itself open-mindedness, contrary to what can be assumed. That is, even with such an awareness we may still, upon encountering a specific counterintuitive theory, be too quick to think ‘I’m open-minded, but that’s so obviously false that it’s not worth serious consideration’.

Ironically, believing in the importance of open-mindedness can actually reduce our open-mindedness, because it can enable us to assume that our rejection of a counterintuitive claim can’t be due to a lack of open-mindedness. One version of this is that someone who regards themselves as being committed to reason and science, and therefore to open-mindedly following logic and evidence wherever it leads, can be too quick to conclude that a counterintuitive theory must be the product of an insufficient commitment to reason and science.

Similarly, our exercise of a small degree of open-mindedness towards a counterintuitive claim can, ironically, prevent greater open-mindedness, because it can enable us to assume that we’ve been sufficiently open-minded.

Also, our memory of past instances of being open-minded can, even if accurate, lead us to wrongly assume that we're open-minded by nature, and therefore always open-minded.

Also, one of the many universal biases in human cognition is illusory superiority, which is our cognitive bias towards overestimating our qualities and abilities relative to those of other people. For example, most drivers think that their driving is safer than that of most drivers, even though this obviously can’t be true for all of them. We're therefore biased towards thinking that we're more open-minded towards counterintuitive claims than most people. And even if we’re aware of this bias we’re then biased towards thinking that we're more able to overcome it than most people.

Also, we may assume that our rejection of a counterintuitive claim is due not to it being counterintuitive, and therefore to a lack of open-mindedness, but to us having a specific reason to reject it. However, whenever anyone rejects a claim they do so because they’ve at least one specific reason to do so. Therefore having such a reason doesn’t itself rule-out insufficient open-mindedness. That is, we could be insufficiently open-minded about the possibility that our objection is invalid.

Also, another universal bias in human cognition is confirmation bias, which is our cognitive bias towards interpreting, seeking and remembering information in a way that confirms, or helps to confirm, what we currently believe. Confirmation bias therefore reduces our open-mindedness towards counterintuitive claims, including making us biased towards interpreting such claims as false.

Ironically, confirmation bias not only contributes to our closed-mindedness towards a counterintuitive claim, but creates a bias towards concluding that someone's belief of such a claim must involve closed-mindedness, given their apparent inability to see the obvious falseness of their belief. And the more counterintuitive the claim is, and therefore more distant from the truth it seems, the more closed-minded the person can seem. And this judgement further reduces the probability that we'll notice our own closed-mindedness. Also, if we consider that we're just as confident in an alternative claim as the person is in the counterintuitive claim, then we'll be biased towards interpreting our confidence as being justified rather than the product of closed-mindedness. Also, if we accuse the person of being closed-minded, and they dispute this, confirmation bias means that we'll then be biased towards interpreting their response as being due to their closed-mindedness preventing them from seeing their closed-mindedness.

Also, availability bias is our universal cognitive bias towards making a judgement on the basis of whichever relevant information happens to be most readily available to our mind, instead of suspending judgement until we’ve checked for other relevant information. In short, it's our bias towards jumping to conclusions. Given that what we currently believe regarding the subject of a counterintuitive claim is obviously readily available to our mind, availability bias means that we’re biased towards jumping to the conclusion that a counterintuitive claim is false.

Also, an implication of a counterintuitive claim is that our current belief regarding the subject of the claim is wrong – and the more counterintuitive the claim, the more dramatically wrong we must be. Conversely, an implication of our current belief is that those who believe the counterintuitive claim are wrong, and that we’ve succeeded in seeing that the claim is false – and the more counterintuitive the claim, the more dramatically wrong the believers of it must be. Therefore a counterintuitive claim is simultaneously a threat to our self-image and reputation, and a potential boost to that self-image and reputation – and the more counterintuitive the claim, the greater this threat and potential boost. And this can result in a bias, out of self-interest, towards dismissing, and even attacking, the claim – and the more counterintuitive the claim, the stronger this bias. And this is especially so for an academic if the claim concerns their area of expertise – especially given that academics publicly advocate their beliefs about their research area to considerable numbers of people, in lectures, conference presentations, and writings.

Also, a counterintuitive claim can threaten to invalidate an academic’s line of research, or at least a significant part of it – and the more counterintuitive the claim, the greater the potential degree of invalidation, and so the greater this threat. Therefore such a claim can both be a threat to their funding and imply that they’ve wasted time and effort on their line of research, which they may have been following for years and even decades. And both of these considerations lead to a bias, out of self-interest, towards dismissing, and even attacking, the claim – and the more counterintuitive the claim, the stronger this bias.

Also, many fields of research affect, directly or indirectly, our lives. Therefore a counterintuitive claim can imply that a current consensus is in some way bad for people – and the more counterintuitive the claim, the worse for people the consensus may be. Therefore a counterintuitive claim can be a threat to an academic’s self-image and reputation in this sense too, which leads to a bias towards dismissing, and even attacking, the claim – and the more counterintuitive the claim, the stronger this bias.

Given all of the above points, academia’s open-mindedness deficit isn’t surprising. To be clear, the claim here isn't that every academic is insufficiently open-minded, but that the average academic is, and therefore academia as a whole is. Also, just as academia’s incredulity towards Spinozan belief formation can initially seem contrary to Spinozan belief formation, but actually isn’t, this is also the case for academia’s incredulity towards any counterintuitive theory.

The problem of academia’s open-mindedness deficit was starkly captured in a single sentence by the theoretical physicist Max Planck in 1906:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

This quote has been shortened to ‘Science advances one funeral at a time’. One study found that the vitality of a scientific subfield indeed increases upon the death of still-active scientists who are eminent in that subfield.

Another study found that ‘… highly novel papers … deliver high gains to science: they are more likely to be a top 1% highly cited paper in the long run, to inspire follow-on highly cited research, and to be cited in a broader set of disciplines’. But the study also found ‘… strong evidence of delayed recognition of novel papers and that novel papers are less likely to be top cited when using a short time window’ and that ‘… novel papers typically are published in journals with a lower than expected impact factor [a measure of how often a journal’s articles are cited]’. The paper points-out that being little-cited, and published in journals with low impact factors, can also have a negative effect on a researcher’s future funding prospects.

This frustration of scientific progress by scientists themselves has frustrated humanity’s progress. A tragic example of this is our failure to find a cure, or at least a disease-slowing treatment, for Alzheimer’s, despite decades of research. As the science journalist Sharon Begley reported:

The brain, Alzheimer’s researchers patiently explain, is hard – harder than the heart, harder even than cancer. While that may be true, it is increasingly apparent that there is another, more disturbing reason for the tragic lack of progress: The most influential researchers have long believed so dogmatically in one theory of Alzheimer’s that they systematically thwarted alternative approaches. Several scientists described those who controlled the Alzheimer’s agenda as “a cabal.”

In more than two dozen interviews, scientists whose ideas fell outside the dogma recounted how, for decades, believers in the dominant hypothesis suppressed research on alternative ideas: They influenced what studies got published in top journals, which scientists got funded, who got tenure [an indefinite academic post], and who got speaking slots at reputation-buffing scientific conferences.

This stifling of competing ideas, say a growing number of scholars, is a big reason why there is no treatment for Alzheimer’s.

The 'dominant hypothesis' is that Alzheimer's is caused by a build-up in the brain of protein fragments called beta-amyloid, which form amyloid plaques that kill brain cells. But it's looking increasingly likely that the true main cause of Alzheimer's is a condition called insulin resistance, which is a reduced response by the body's cells to the hormone insulin, and the driving factor in the development of type 2 diabetes. The association between Alzheimer's and insulin resistance in the brain is so strong that researchers in this area often refer to Alzheimer's as type 3 diabetes. And just as there's increasing evidence that a low carbohydrate diet is effective in both treating and preventing type 2 diabetes, there's increasing evidence that this diet is equally effective regarding Alzheimer's.

The problem of academia’s open-mindedness deficit is encapsulated by the usage of the terms fringe research and fringe researcher within academia. Fringe research, which questions things that are considered facts by the great majority of mainstream researchers, can only benefit mainstream research. Each failed challenge to an apparent fact further strengthens the case for it, and each successful challenge both advances our knowledge and saves mainstream researchers from wasting further time on research that’s premised on a false belief. Indeed, many mainstream theories have begun as fringe theories – such as the idea that Earth goes around the Sun – with the preceding, and once highly-regarded, mainstream theory itself becoming a fringe theory – such as the idea that the Sun goes around Earth. And yet the terms fringe research and fringe researcher are derogatory within academia, because its open-mindedness deficit leads to a generally disdainful attitude towards such research.

The two counterintuitive theories about the psychology of belief clearly qualify as fringe theories given that they dispute what are considered facts by the great majority of mainstream researchers in psychology: that the mere entrance of a claim into our mind doesn’t cause us to believe it, and that there are degrees of belief. Hence the poor status of these theories in academia today. However, my theoretical research shows that they’re correct. Although, my conclusion that belief works this way simply by logical necessity actually contributes to their fringe status, given that the central tenet of the field of psychology today is that how the human mind works is solely due to the nature of the human brain.

My research

I conducted this research while working at Edinburgh University. However, I’m not an academic – I don’t even have a university degree, having dropped-out of an astrophysics degree years earlier. I was working in the university’s main library as a book shelver. I left that post in 2016 in order to work full-time researching the implications of my findings, while burning through some money left to me by my parents, the unwitting patrons of my research.

The combination of the fringe status of my research, and my lack of an academic position and even any academic credentials or connections, and the fact that my research is self-funded, makes me a sort of uber fringe researcher. However, I managed to get my initial research published in an academic journal, albeit one with a very low impact factor. My paper ‘How Belief Works‘ was published in September 2013 in the philosophy journal Think, a publication of the UK-based Royal Institute of Philosophy.

My paper

As publication approached, I wondered what impact my paper would have, occasionally fantasising about it making a splash. My email address was to be printed at the end of the paper, and I wondered how many emails I’d receive. Eight years later, I’ve yet to receive any. The paper has been cited a total of three times, by two other papers and a PhD thesis, and each only refers to it briefly. And they’ve together only been cited eight times themselves. So the splash made by my paper turned-out to be of the order of that made by a raindrop hitting the surface of an ocean. Also, none of my attempts to generate interest in the paper by contacting academics directly have been successful.

However, this didn’t diminish my desire to continue this line of research and investigate the implications of the two theories about the psychology of belief. But I decided not to submit any more of my research to academic journals. Given the poor response to my paper there didn’t seem to be any point. I concluded that my counterintuitive fringe research wasn't going to be taken seriously by academia, especially given that I’m not an academic and don’t even have a university degree. Also, it seemed almost certain that subsequent papers wouldn’t even be accepted anyway, given that they’d be premised on two counterintuitive fringe theories.

I'm therefore going to instead present all of my research in this evolving online book aimed at the general public. This way I not only ensure that my further research gets published, but, by having a much bigger potential audience, have a much greater chance of reaching people who are sufficiently open-minded to take my research seriously. And if the two theories thereby gain credibility outside academia then that could lead to them being taken seriously within academia.

But before I present the arguments which vindicate these two theories I need to define belief.


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