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The Manifestation of Belief

  1. Nov 29, 2009 #1
    I'm writing a paper exploring the effects of belief on an individual's perspective/worldview. My intent with the paper is more of a Sociological and philosophical viewpoint; I will explore subjects such as Religion, collective belief, perspectivism, and the manner in which our beliefs both project (through constructs) and shape our world (through our actions).

    My particular concern here though, is the specific scientific concept that I have included in the included thought experiment: If there has been no observation made as to what is in the box, is it safe to suggest that anything could be in the box, from the perspective of quantum mechanics? I have read on introductory quantum mechanics in the past, and I am interested in the affect that belief has on quantum mechanics, but I am uncertain as to how thoroughly I understand the topic.

    Essentially, I would like to know if belief (specifically the collective belief of an entire population) can be considered an observation, and would it affect the probability of a specific outcome occurring?

    Please give me feed back, as I would like to include it, but only if it is in fact grounded in extant theory. Any insight from any discipline is welcome.

    (It may need some editing; at the moment I'm worried about the content)

    "The world is plagued by problems. As it slips deeper and deeper into despair, it searches desperately for solutions, but finds none. The desperation is great. Then one day, hope literally appears on humanity’s doorstep: There, sitting in the middle of Times Square, is a large box. No one knows where it came from. No person in the world has ever seen the box before. As media coverage of the box rises, curiosity mounts. The focus of the human population shifts from the hardships of everyday life, and the box is marvelled over. Questions are asked, reworded, and repeated continuously. What’s in the box? Who put the box there? As plans are made to open the box, a scientist steps forward with what is both a dire warning, and an extraordinary hope for humanity. The scientist warns that the box must not be opened, for the contents of the box are truly unknown; no person in the world has ever observed them. Anything can be in the box, but if the box is opened, then the contents will be revealed. The box may contain humanity’s only hope for survival. But it may also contain a powerful evil, or may even contain nothing at all. For as long as the box remains sealed, hope survives. The scientist warns that there must be no attempt to discern what’s in the box: Its weight must not be calculated, its dimensions must not be not be measured. Any attempt to do so would beget the contents, and hope may be lost. The government, desperate to resolve the world’s disparity, heeds the call, and the box is covered, so it may not be measured. The world buzzes with speculation and rumour. If no one put it there, where did it come from? Does the box contain humanity’s greatest salvation, or does it contain the obliteration of all they know? What’s in the box, and how can they know?

    The box, a variant of the box that held Schrödinger’s cat, epitomizes all possibility. Until the contents of the box have been observed, the contents of the box can be anything— the poignancy of the box is not that the box contains humanity’s greatest hope, but that it may. And so the true power of belief lies in what may have happened after the scientist came forward. Suppose that the entirety of the world came to believe that the contents of the box did in fact contain their greatest hope. Would it? Now suppose the rumor spread that everyone was wrong, and that the box contained explosive atomic energy, of majestic proportions. What would the box actually contain? Is there even anything in the box? And does it matter, since the box can’t be opened? Here, one can only speculate, and we will never know. Quantum theory says that since the contents have not been observed, the box is empty, and so it contains only chance: There is a chance that upon opening the box, the world’s problems will be solved; there is a chance that Pandora’s spirits of evil will pour out, and malevolence will be wrought. But what if the entire world truly believed that hope was contained within the box? Could their beliefs affect chance? Could they determine the contents of the box? And more broadly, does belief determine existence?"
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2009 #2


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    First, any scientist worth his salt would want to open the box to see what's inside. That's what drives a scientist to discover the unknown. So I don't get your scenario. Realistically, before any scientist had a chance to get near the box, the local police would have it detonated it.
  4. Nov 29, 2009 #3


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    "I'm writing a paper exploring the effects of belief on an individual's perspective/worldview"

    This is too vague. Is not, for example, the set of beliefs a person has precisely his "worldview"??
  5. Nov 29, 2009 #4


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  6. Nov 29, 2009 #5
    The scenario is purely hypothetical. Ignoring the things that would probably happen due to the promptness of the police, and the curiosity of the scientist, I would like to explore the effect that belief has on our physical world.

    Exactly, they are the same. Again, what I'd like to know to what extent our beliefs manifest themselves as reality.
  7. Nov 29, 2009 #6


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    Depends, if I think my foot is a squid, obviously I'm wrong.
  8. Nov 29, 2009 #7
    But if you truly and wholly believed that your foot was a squid, would you not perceive your foot to be a squid, which would manifest itself in your vision, and so you would see a squid squirming around every time you looked down?

    Now, what if every conscious observer believed that your foot was a squid? The entire world would perceive it to be that way.

    I'm thinking somewhere along the lines of 1984 here. If Big Brother says your foot is a squid, well then too bad Winston, your foot is a squid.
  9. Nov 30, 2009 #8


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    Perhaps, but it would certainly go a long way towards explaining some of the more interesting ways you've managed to injure yourself...
  10. Nov 30, 2009 #9


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    Why would you believe your foot is a squid if it is not? There would be evidence in your thoughts and brain to indicate your brain is busted.

    You cannot just assume a phenomenonand not ask how it got that way.

    It could be used to explain pegasi just as easily.

    You: "Let's assume you truly think your foot is a squid."
    Me: "How would that come about? Am I drugged?"
    You "Doesn't matter how, let's just assume it and go from there...Now, is my foot really a squid, or..."

    Me: "OK. Let's assume pegasi really exist."
    You: "How would that come about? There is no evidence to support it."
    Me "Doesn't matter how, let's just assume it and go from there... Now if it can fly me to the Moon..."

    Same thing. How would it come about that everyone believed that?

    If they were rational, you could point out rational counterarguments. For example, squid have ten tentacles and are up to sixty feet long, whereas your leg seems to end in fewer tentacles and they fall somewhat short of sixty feet.

    At some point, they would have to change their views or stop discussing it rationally.
  11. Nov 30, 2009 #10
    Your beliefs would surely have an effect on what you would believe could be in the box.

    A very practical person would probably attempt to compare the box to things they had seen before or know could fit in the box.

    An optimist would probably assume something good was in the box.
    A pessimist something bad.

    An adventurous person would probably find out what if anything was preventing him from looking in the box.
    A cautious person might consider it safer to let the box alone.

    Given enough information and a certain amount of faith the person may even decide that the contents are known and make assumptions as to the contents of the box.
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2009
  12. Nov 30, 2009 #11
    Well now what we're talking about is true belief :smile: It truly doesn't matter why you hold a belief, so long as the belief is held. Without delving too far into the irrationality of certain extant beliefs (ie Most Religion), I think it is safe to say that rationality and belief are by no means reliant upon each other.

    And besides religion, drugs and mental disorders are actually the perfect examples of belief taken to an extreme, in which it manifests itself as perceived reality.

    Could the pegasi fly you to the moon? Let's go with no. Could we believe the pegasi flew us to the moon? That's a different story. Really, what's the difference, if there is no way for us to know the difference? (assuming the belief manifests itself as strong as it would if we were actually on the moon)

    And so the question is, if the contents of the box are actually observed, but it is believed that they are known, what's in the box?

    Assume we wanted to know something that we could not ever directly observe, but could only measure in ways that led us to make educated assumptions... much the way science does with the far off cosmos, or the smallest constituents of matter. Do we truly know?

    (Now getting dangerously close to slandering science. Not my intent. And scientists admit they don't know, true)

    I guess the question is, was the world ever flat?
  13. Nov 30, 2009 #12


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    I would say no, it's not an observation insofar as it doesn't give any Bell-inequality limitations.
  14. Dec 1, 2009 #13
    I guess your asking whether or not a belief would actually affect the contents of the box?
    I think the question as to whether the Earth was ever flat or not would be a fairly simple one. Regardless of whether or not everyone believed that the Earth was flat, the effects of a round Earth would have been the same.

    Horizons would still exist because you were passing over the curvature of the Earth, not because of a mist or the falling of a ship off of the edge of the world.

    Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth without leaving Egypt using observations that only could have been accurate on a round Earth. Despite observations like these, it would be over a thousand years before the round Earth was finally commonly accepted (with a few exceptions).
  15. Dec 1, 2009 #14
    Well, ok, at some point in the past, someone made the box right? And from that point on, it had a set of contents. Now, in order for the contents, to be indeterminate, the past has to be indeterminate. Now let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that you (or some subset of people) are the only real person (or people) in the world, and you're in a simulation or something, and the past really is indeterminate. Then perhaps the box could be indeterminate. But you can do a simple experiment, and see if your beliefs effect the world around you. Since you will find that they don't, even if the world is a "simulation" it has consistent rules. Since these rules suggest a set past that can be discovered, which will have a causal relationship with what can be observed in the present, you can be fairly sure that the past "exists" in some sense and determines the reality of the present.

    So the answer to your question is no, people's beliefs do not effect the content of the box.

    It sounds like perhaps you are getting confused by the schrodinger's cat thought experiment in quantum theory. That is a very specific scenario, and it is related to observation, not belief. If you're interested in that, someone else could probably explain it in more detail better then I could.
  16. Dec 2, 2009 #15


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    I found this an incredible statement which I hadn't thought of before. Does it not present a clear metaphysical paradox for normal interpretations of quantum physics?

    Normally the question is phrased like this: "How does the quantum description of reality, which includes elements such as the "superposition of states" and "wavefunction collapse", give rise to the reality we perceive?

    But instead you've flipped it around and asked "How does our perception give rise to reality in a quantum sense, with superposition and wavefunction collapse?"

    There's really one question to answer, isn't there? What entails measurement?

    If we look at a few rough definitions one may draw certain conclusions:

    Belief: What we think is.
    Justified belief: A belief acquired through rational and empirical observation.
    Truth: When belief coincides with Fact.
    Fact: Fact is what happens behind the curtain, in objective reality.

    If I hold up two fingers and ask you to tell me how long, or soft, or old my fingers are, humans as would generate a lot of error. If I ask how many fingers I am holding up, perception will not fail you. Hard science tries to get measurement to the counting of fingers, instead of estimating of qualities.

    A belief is not a measurement. Measurements are generated by high-precision machines, with human subjectivity involved only at the end, in reading numbers. Humans only add the final ingredient: our Belief makes it True, because that is the final link between the subjective and objective realities. Even if a True statement is said, it is not True until someone Believes it to be.
  17. Dec 9, 2009 #16


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    I start by noting that belief is closely realated to expectations.

    Most responses so far suggest that expectations does not change the outcome of an experiment.

    I think that is at first thought sound, but it is IMO also a simplification. In particular when you consider the expectations of an entire community, which essentially makes up an environment.

    I suspect you were looking for a deeper idea?

    And certainly, the expectations from an environment, does extert a selective pressure on any system, since there is a relation and mutual feedback between any individual, and the environment. Also an individual physical subsystem and the physical environment.

    So if you ask, can the expectations of a dominating environment actually influence "what is inside the box", then I think the answer is, yes it can.

    Can social group pressure in the form of expectations from the environment, focused towards an individual, actually change the behaviour of an individual? Sure.

    Can physical influence from a physical environment change systems embedded in it? Sure.

    But to connect this to physics, I think one has to connect this to an evolutionary perspective, where you realize that an arbitrary "box" with "arbitrary content" simply isn't STABLE in an arbitrary environment. In this specific sense, it does make sense to say that expectations can make changes, also in a physical sense.

  18. Jan 23, 2010 #17
    Here's moi's wee world view as a parody song

    BTW: I would change "Repressed" to "Distressed" if'in moi ever rerecords this.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
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