Definition of beliefs

"I don't want to give them up, " my patient told me.

"Why not?" I asked.

"I've been reading some articles on the Internet that say they might cure me."

Tragically, he was referring to vitamin supplements, which he'd somehow come to believe would cure him of Stage 4 metastatic colon cancer. I'd suggested he stop taking them because they seemed, by his own report, to be making him nauseated.

In the kindest tone I could muster, I told him I knew of no reliable studies that showed vitamins have any effect on colon cancer. And though I certainly didn't object to people taking them in general, if they were indeed the cause of his nausea, they were compromising the quality of however much life he had left while almost certainly providing him no real benefit. I urged him to experiment by stopping them to see if his nausea receded. If it didn't after two weeks or so, I argued, he could always start them back up again. In fact, I said, even if his nausea did cease once he stopped them, he could start them back up again to see if it came back in order to produce more definitive evidence that the vitamins were in fact his nausea's cause.

He paused and then after a few moments reluctantly agreed.


Simply, a belief defines an idea or principle which we judge to be true. When we stop to think about it, functionally this is no small thing: lives are routinely sacrificed and saved based simply on what people believe. Yet I routinely encounter people who believe things that remain not just unproven, but which have been definitively shown to be false. In fact, I so commonly hear people profess complete certainty in the truth of ideas with insufficient evidence to support them that the alarm it used to trigger in me no longer goes off. I'll challenge a false belief when, in my judgment, it poses a risk to a patient's life or limb, but I let far more unjustified beliefs pass me by than I stop to confront. If I didn't, I wouldn't have time to talk about anything else.

What exactly is going on here? Why are we all (myself included) so apparently predisposed to believe false propositions?

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