Is belief simply what we do to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know ?
For example, Are we mere children, making up stories of demons in the closet, or reasons why a fairy star will come down and help us ?
There is so much room for interpretation in any term we use – most definitions are so lose that they can mean almost opposite things to different people.
Belief is one of those words that without qualifiers it is almost meaningless to me, as it has so many different meanings.
It seems to me that we all start out with beliefs in the sense of an understanding that aspects of reality are exactly as we think they are.
It seems that some of us learn to question everything.
It seems that some people follow that path of questioning into the nature of understanding, and the mechanisms of brain and mind that allow us to be what we are.
It seems that we are each amazing entities. It seems that each of us has brains with hundreds of times more neurons than there are people on the planet, and each neuron is connected to thousands of others, and is capable of identifying and signalling pattern at some level.
It seems that each of us has more complex sets of pattern recognition systems composed of dozens of neurons that are capable of recognising both pattern and sequence than there are people on the planet.
It seems that some of these pattern recognition systems of our brains build a predictive model of reality, that we as conscious entities get to experience as reality.
So it seems clear that none of our experience is of reality as it is, but is rather an experience of the model that our brains create. No model of a vastly more complex entity is ever accurate in all details – they must, of logical necessity, make simplifying assumptions that work most of the time.
It seems that our models of reality are remarkably accurate in ordinary (common) situations, and thus our “common sense” usually serves us very well, and not always.
So it seems that all belief contains uncertainty in reality.
Most people hold on to the illusion that belief can be certain.
Such belief is comfortable in many senses.
Acknowledging fundamental uncertainty is hard.
Our primary distinctions are simple binaries – true or false type things. Under stress we all tend to revert to such simple distinctions – we are evolutionarily primed to do so – it aids with rapid decision making in stressful situations. If a sabre tooth cat is charging down on you, there is no time to consider all aspects of the situation, urgent action is called for. The more stressful the situation the more our brains focus down to simple binaries, and eliminate all the subtleties that do in fact exist in reality. Survival often requires rapid response, and often any response is better than standing still.
So for me, belief (as used in most common senses) is an illusion, and if I get scared enough, my brain will respond with the same sort of belief structures as anyone else. In this sense, “fear” really is the mind killer.
So there is certainly a sense where the common usage of “belief” at any level is a gap filler, a simplification that works in most situations that ignores a great deal of complexity and subtlety that exists in reality.
In that sense, belief can be really useful, because reality is simply too complex for us to be able to deal with all of the complexity, we need to make simplifying assumptions, and beliefs are one method of doing so (the other method is to acknowledge that they are in fact simplifying assumptions that contain uncertainties that vary with context).
So beliefs can have a certainly utility in practice for many, and if one is embarked upon a path of deep enquiry, it is powerful to acknowledge that it seems highly probable that all belief is illusory at some level, that all understanding involves profound uncertainty.