Understanding the Difference in Believing and Knowing

April 21, 2010

I have mused before about how a belief can form an attitude. I still think that is true, but, somehow there is a difference in what someone believes and what someone knows. The belief system is formed, adopted, modified, and solidified generally on what we have seen, heard, been, tasted, experienced, touched, or read. In other words, it is formed through our senses based on what we have been told, taught, or information we have received. Beliefs are often supported by anecdotal information. Our belief system can be formed by our parents, schoolmates, media, employer, partner, books, T.V., internet, etc.–often from people we think are in authority or have more information than we have.

Generally, the belief system is formed from external sources, and then unconsciously adopted internally. If we are exposed to the same information over and over again with little if any contrary information, the belief system becomes more deeply held. The view may reach what can be called a core belief and can even approach something that is just known.

Knowing can be distinguished from most beliefs because it is something you just know. You can feel it. You are certain. You can’t always explain why, but there is something within that just tells you this is so. Maybe some kind of internal guidance system, or innate knowledge, or even primal knowledge, but something is providing you with the needed answers, the direction, and the right reflex as long as you listen to the internal information. A belief is subject to contradiction and possibly can be changed–a knowing generally cannot.

Although beliefs can be altered, the more deeply a belief is held, the more difficult it is to alter. Once it reaches the state of knowing, it’s much more difficult to alter, if it can be altered at all. It requires a much longer and a more systematic rhythmic experience. Sometimes the source of knowing is referred to as the inner voice, or may even have a spiritual dimension, but from wherever the source, it is undeniably there. There are just things we know, oftentimes on an unconscious gut level, but just as often on a conscious cognitive level. The level of knowing is much more powerful than the level of believing.

As lawyers who try cases, it is important to learn the beliefs and even the “knowings” of the people who compose our juries. Believing is seeing, not the other way around. It is just as important to understand views regarding politics, parties, religion and opposing views. Attitudes, beliefs, and knowings affect our very lives. Being aware of their effect on our lives is a plus.

I think it was Will Rogers who once said, “It’s not ignorance that’s so bad, it’s what you know that ain’t so.”