Were do your beliefs come from?
When you come into the world, you are a blank slate (Tabula Rasa) but have certain inherited attributes: for example, instincts and reflexes like eating, breathing and other rooting reflexes. These are the things that are stored in your subconscious mind as well as being in control of your other bodily functions.
As you go through life, you form habits, beliefs and values and you go through experiences that form memories that are stored in the unconscious mind.
These beliefs and values and habits are determined by your culture, parents, friends, television, music, books, politics, as well as assumptions and misunderstandings.
Once we have a belief, any information from these sources is filtered so that we strengthen our original belief and reject any information that may contradict it.
For example, if someone believes they are ugly, stupid, incompetent, then no amount of reassurance from friends or family can help them, because they reject any information that contradicts their belief. This is most notable in body dismorphic disorder.
This filtering is called the conscious critical factor and filters information at an unconscious level and starts to form primary and secondary beliefs around a certain subject.
These primary and secondary beliefs are like a chemical structure where the primary belief is at the centre, and connects to the secondary beliefs to form a structure.
The secondary beliefs are of different sizes and at different distances depending on how many times these beliefs have been reinforced. This is one of the ways in which beliefs acquire their power over our behaviour; the other is dependent on how much emotion the suggestion evokes.
When we have a belief that has been repeated and repeated, it is strengthened, and also when there is a lot of emotion underlying the suggestion, that strengthens the belief.
Research suggests that the unconscious mind receives 20 million bits of information per second but we can only process 7 plus or minus 2 bits of information at a time consciously. So all the rest is filtered by our conscious critical factor and if it strengthens our belief, it is admitted into the unconscious mind or rejected if it contradicts what has already been stored there.
This filtering system is one of the reasons witnesses give different accounts of a crime, even when they are standing side by side. It also explains why different people have different perceptions, assumptions, beliefs and values.
Before the age of 3, the filter system is very weak and whatever we are told is normally believed without question, because we have nothing to compare it to. As we get older, the filter becomes stronger so that less and less suggestions are allowed in.
The filtering system gets stronger as we age and by the age of 12 it is fully formed, so that any suggestions that we get from then on are unlikely to change our beliefs. Although the filter can be bypassed if there is enough emotion generated or by using hypnosis or a lot of repetition.
We accept these beliefs so strongly that we don’t think of them as beliefs but as knowledge and our mind will always find a way to fulfil our beliefs.
Some examples of this are the belief that doctors had about it being impossible for a human being to run a mile in under four minutes. It used to be believed that if people ran over 30 miles an hour, their lungs would not be strong enough to breathe out and would fill up until they exploded. Before Galileo, people believed that the world was flat, but these people didn’t say they believed these “facts”, they said they knew that this was correct.
The study of knowledge and belief is called epistemology and it studies how we know what we know.
As you read this, you may begin to wonder what you have believed that may be incorrect. Maybe you have been told something incorrect and believed it, or have misinterpreted something that has formed your opinion of someone or something.
What did you once believe that you now don’t?
Within the unconscious mind there are different depths. So, for example, your name and telephone number are close to the surface and easily retrievable, but we may find it harder to recall childhood experiences or information we learnt at school.
Every part of the mind has a protective function as its main goal. Although this can cause conflict because the unconscious does not have the ability to assess whether what it is doing is harmful. It just does what it has been told to do without question.
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