Believe: 1 To accept as true or real. 2. To credit with veracity; have confidence in; trust.
In its simplest form, belief occurs as a mental act, a thinking process in the brain. To "believe" requires a conscious thought accepted as having some "truth" value. To communicate this thought requires spoken or written language. Not only does belief require thought but also a mental feeling of "truth" which according to neurological brain research, occurs from the limbic part of the brain (discussed in the mechanism of belief, later in this paper). Thus, belief occurs as a thought with a truth-value feeling attached.
Most simple beliefs come from the expression of the experience of external events. From past experience, for example, people believe that dark clouds can produce rain, therefore, we attempt to predict the weather by forecasting from past events. Indeed, the intent of most beliefs aim at predicting the future in some form or another. However, to believe that an event will occur can produce disappointment if the prediction never happens. To make a prediction based on past events alone does not require believing in the future event, but rather, a good guess as to what may or may not happen. We can eliminate many of these simple beliefs by replacing the word "believe" with the word "think." The word "think" describes the mental process of predicting instead of relying on the abstraction of belief which reflects a hope which may not happen. And if we replaced aristotelian either-or beliefs with statistical thinking we would reflect probable events instead of believed events.
Belief represents a type of conscious mental thought, a subclass of many kinds of mental activity. Thinking may or may not include beliefs or faiths. Therefore, when I use the word "think" I mean it to represent thought absent of belief.
Many kinds of concepts occur without the need for belief. People can invent rules, maps, games, social laws, and models without requiring a belief or absolute trust in them. For example, a map may prove useful to get from point A to point B, but to believe that the map equals the territory would produce a falsehood. Humans invented the game of baseball, but it requires no need to believe in the game, or to attach some kind of "truth" to it. People can enjoy baseball, simply for the game itself. Technological societies invent "rules of the road" and construct traffic lights, signs and warnings. We do not take these rules as absolute but realize that they form a system of conduct that allow mass transit to exist. If any confidence results from the use of models and rules, it should come from experience of past events predicted by the models rather than from the thoughts themselves.
Personal beliefs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are rational and sensible while others are outright misguided, occasionally veering into mental pathology or emotional instability. Pschologists and researchs have shown that belief is highly entangled with language. If there is a word for something we tend to believe it must exist, as in the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Like it or not, most people 'language' their reality into existence. This is one reason why people from different countries have difficulty 'understanding' one another, because beliefs are wrapped in language and culture.
It is wise to remember that personal beliefs do not form in a vacuum. They are deliberately germinated and nurtured—first from one's family and then by society at large—sustained through repetition, presumption, coercion, compulsion, even complacency and laziness. How one views the world or embraces religion, science, and politics, is usually decided by the geographical and economical location of one's birthplace—sometimes very little more.
Education plays an important role as well, wherein those who've earned college degrees typically hold views decidely more analytic and scientifically-oriented than those who have not. This is quite understandable. It is in college that students learn the importance of critical thinking, dedicated research, asking informed questions and the testing of hypotheses, provided their schools are not constrained by proprietary political ideology or narrow religious doctrine (both of which severely hamper the free exchange and gathering of contrary information).
Education plays an important role as well, wherein those who've earned college degrees typically hold views decidedly more analytic and scientifically-oriented than those who have not. This is quite understandable. It is in college that students learn the importance of critical thinking, dedicated research, asking informed questions and the testing of hypotheses, provided their schools are not constrained by proprietary political ideology or narrow religious doctrine (both of which severely hamper the free exchange and gathering of contrary information).
Exploring Mind, Memory and Psychology of Belief
Problems with Beliefs