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The Role of Belief in Meaning: A Journey from Knowing to Wisdom

Updated: Feb 6

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.
~ David Hume ~

Do you agree with the quote above from the Scottish philosopher David Hume? If in the affirmative, to what degree are your beliefs grounded in reality, truth, and empirical evidence? During these times of post-truth and alternate facts, are you sure? In a Psychology Today article titled “Overconfidence: The mother of all biases” (January 22, 2018), author Don A Moore, Ph.D., rightly called out overconfidence as “the mother of all psychological biases.”


overconfident


After sharing evidence of why and how humans can cross into a delusionary sphere that includes over- and under-confidence, Moore calls for a middle ground.

There is another way—a middle way, between too much and not enough confidence. This Goldilocks zone of confidence is where rational beliefs meet reality. It is fundamentally based on truth and good sense. It is built on beliefs that can be justified by evidence and honest self-examination. It steers between the perilous cliff of overconfidence and the quicksand of underconfidence. It is not always easy to find this narrow path; it takes honest self-reflection, level-headed analysis, and the courage to resist wishful thinking.
Let’s explore how we can find that middle ground.

I shared in my December 12, 2023, article titled "Navigating the Power of Attributions: Understanding the Impact on Our Lives” the significant role that attributions play in our lives. In Meaningful Purpose Psychology (MP or logoteleology), attribution is one of the essential building blocks or elements of meaning. In this article, the second in a series of the building blocks of meaning (i.e., construct), I will explain the essential role that beliefs play in our lives. Belief is the second element of what can make or break the quality of your life and of those around you.


Rock tower

From Knowing to Wisdom

In the fascinating world of our thoughts or human cognition, the journey from acquiring raw information to making profound judgments involves a nuanced progression through knowledge, belief, understanding, discernment, and, finally, wisdom. This logical sequence represents a cognitive evolution, each stage building upon the foundation laid by its predecessor.[ii]


Knowledge: The Pillar of Understanding

Knowledge refers to the information and skills we gain through experience, education, or training. It shows up as a theoretical and practical understanding of a subject. Knowledge, as it is acquired, is stored and recalled from a place we call memory. Think of memory as your knowledge encyclopedia, dictionary, and video library. Stored knowledge in our memory banks – for the most part -- can be recalled. For instance, how much is five times five?


Through knowledge, we are aware of facts, we communicate through language, solve problems, and can recognize people, places, and situations. Without knowledge, successive stages may lack substance.


Knowledge acquisition can be passive or active. An active knowledge acquisition process is hungry for knowledge.


Understanding: Grasping Meaning

Understanding follows closely, shedding light on the acquired knowledge. It is the process of grasping the meaning, significance, or nature of the information at hand. It transforms data into comprehension, making connections and establishing a coherent framework. Understanding breathes life into knowledge, allowing us to move beyond mere awareness to a deeper level of insight. For instance, through understanding, we can comprehend why saving money for a rainy day makes sense.


Understanding is about having a clear meaning (i.e., making sense) of people and situations. It helps us answer the question, “Why?”


As with knowledge, understanding is not just a phase. A well-developed understanding is actively curious and inquisitive. As new information is added to the memory bank, it compares, analyses, creates, invents, questions, challenges, and proves. On the other hand, a passive understanding risks ignorance.


Belief: The Merging of Convictions

As we understand things, we start adding our personal touch. Beliefs are like our own ideas about information. They make our thoughts unique and special. Belief is a firmly held opinion or conviction, a view of what is true or real. Beliefs show up as mindset, worldview, and convictions. Beliefs can be subjective or objective, a hunch or a fact, an opinion, or empirical truth. Beliefs – can operate as a mental GPS – ground us and form a foundation of predictability, reliability, and stability. They influence the paths we choose to follow. For instance, my belief that faithfully paying taxes will help my community build better schools and roads grants me a positive disposition to contribute to the common welfare.


Belief is a firmly held opinion or conviction, a view of what is true or real.

Also, beliefs are essential to trust. For instance, I believe that when I purchase produce at the supermarket, the label of approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will protect me from food poisoning.


Belief has a vulnerability: ignorance, which explains why the previous two stages are so important. Without firsthand knowledge and understanding, we are prone to be victims of biases, suffer from blind spots, and be easily deceived.

Trust and belief are two prime considerations. You must not allow yourself to be opinionated.
 ~ James Dean ~

Discernment: The Ability to Judge Well

Now that we have our own ideas, it's time to navigate life's twists and turns. Discernment helps us make smart choices. It's like having a compass to guide us through the complicated paths of life. Building upon knowledge, understanding, and belief, discernment involves the ability to perceive distinctions and make insightful judgments. Critical thinking plays a pivotal role, allowing us to sift through information, identify biases, and make informed decisions. In short, discernment helps us to judge situations well or to make the right call or decisions.

My failures have been errors in judgment, not of intent.
~ Ulysses S. Grant ~

General Grant

On the other hand, belief without discernment is like wandering through a thick forest without a compass. Without discernment, you might end up going off course, guided only by your personal biases and strong beliefs. Again, discernment keeps you on track, helps you make smart choices, and prevents you from getting lost in misinformation or unwarranted certainty.


Wisdom: The Culmination of Insight

Finally, there's wisdom. Wisdom is not just about knowing things; it is about using what we know to make good decisions continually. Wisdom is like having a treasure chest of experiences that helps us make smart moves in life. So, imagine it like a journey—from learning basic information to understanding it, adding our personal touch, navigating tricky situations, and finally, using all of that to make wise decisions. It's a journey we all take in our minds, and it's what makes each of us unique!


With applied wisdom comes a positive reputation. When the wise speak, they are heard and read.


Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.
~ Proverbs 3:13-14 ~

The Role of Belief in Meaning

In MP, a meaning is an aim backed by causes (i.e., reasons, motives, and justifications). Meaning has six components: attributes, beliefs, values, feelings, attitudes, and aims. This article is the second in a series on meaning components – particularly – beliefs. It illustrates a natural evolution from gathering basic knowledge to achieving a deeper understanding and, subsequently, forming personal beliefs. It highlights the importance of discernment in navigating life's complexities and making smart choices. Finally, I have emphasized that wisdom, the pinnacle of this cognitive adventure, involves not just knowing but using knowledge to make wise and judicious decisions.


The journey from learning to wisdom is depicted as a dynamic process that contributes to the uniqueness of each individual's intellectual landscape. It is important to understand that wisdom does not ensue; it must be mindfully pursued. In other words, we will become informed and wise by actively pursuing true and unbiased knowledge.


Finally, the pinch link between knowledge and wisdom is belief. Beliefs must be nurtured if we are going to become meaningfully wise. Wisdom, in turn, will lead us through the meaningful path.


Will you follow the meaningful path? After reading this article, what action does your belief reveal and require of you?

Wisdom is not the product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it. ~ Albert Einstein ~

Boston Institute for Meaningful Purpose: Discovering Life's Answers. ™


References

[ii] The terms knowledge, belief, wisdom, understanding, and discernment can be conceptualized in a logical sequence that reflects a progression in cognitive and intellectual development. However, it's essential to note that this sequence is not rigid, and individuals may navigate these concepts in different ways.


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