Belief is a powerful thing. It influences our thoughts and behaviour and, scientists are now discovering, even has the ability to affect our biology. Yet for many of us, our perception of the world around us is not truly our own. How we view ourselves and the people around us, what we think about the world, and what we desire or need, have all, in a sense, been ‘programmed’ into us from the day we were born. This is why it’s interesting to bring attention to certain beliefs that are common amongst a large portion of the population, consider how we came to hold them, and discover whether or not they are accurate representations of the world.
In 2011, psychologist Peter Halligan at Cardiff University assessed how common ‘delusional’ beliefs were in the UK. Of course, one could easily question the validity of the term delusional — how we define it and who is doing the defining — but for now, let’s simply take a look at his findings. According to Halligan, more than 90 per cent of people in the UK maintain at least one delusion:
The upshot of all this is that our personal guidebook of beliefs is both built on sand and also highly resistant to change. If you hear a new thing, you try to fit it in with your current beliefs. That often means going to great length to reject something that contradicts your position, or seeking out further information to confirm what you already believe.” – Graham Lawton, taken from his article in New Scientist titled “Beyond Belief”
Before I get into this article, I wanted to mention the importance of keeping an open mind, especially in the world we live in today. New information is constantly emerging which challenges the long-held belief systems of many. It’s okay to entertain an idea without accepting it, and opening our mind to new possibilities and explanations that contradict what we previously believed is an important step for the human race to take if we want to move forward.
1. Your Body Or Part Of Your Body Is Misshapen Or Ugly
Believe it or not, number one on the list is the fact that most people believe their body, or part of their body, is ugly. So many cultures today have come to idolize the Western, caucasian image of beauty, holding it up as the standard against which everyone must be measured. It’s a worldwide issue that has gotten entirely out of control. Truth is, these images of beauty have been driven into our psyche for decades, even though, for the most part, they represent an unrealistic, unattainable (and photoshopped) fantasy.
This fantasy has been manufactured by corporations and, through various means, is being imprinted deeply into our subconscious. Are our standards of beauty truly our own? Do we all really believe, of our own, natural accord, that thin is the only body worth having or that white is the only shade of beauty? Our minds are moulded by our environment, and when that environment only sends one message, it’s pretty remarkable the effect this has on our thoughts and feelings.
When it comes to the beauty industry, self-love equals no profit. We all buy into this idea of “real beauty” that is being sold to us, to varying degrees. Below is an episode of These Guys — in it they explore the obsession we seem to have with real beauty and present an alternative way to look at it and ultimately move beyond it.
2. You Are Not In Control Of Some Of Your Actions
Surprisingly, 44.3% of people believe they are not in control of some of their actions. This is a wide spectrum, because you can have somebody believe that their thoughts and actions are guided by imposters, aliens, or something of that nature. Such delusions are often accompanied by disorders of perception and emotional processing, and according to some, this is where these delusions start.
Another way to look at it is from the standpoint of mind-control. The neuroscientific investigation of belief began in 2008, when Sam Harris at the University of California, Los Angeles, put people into a brain scanner and then asked whether they believed in various written statements. Some were simple factual ones like, “California is larger than Rhode Island,” while others were along the lines of “There probably is no God.”
Harris found that statements people believed to be true produced little characteristic brain activity, triggering just a few brief flickers in regions of the brain that are associated with reasoning and emotional reward. On the other hand, disbelief produced longer and stronger activation in regions associated with deliberation and decision-making, which suggested that the brain had to work harder to reach a state of disbelief.
This is fascinating. If the brain has to work harder to reach a state of disbelief, then whenever deeply held ‘truths’ are called into question we must go against all our natural inclinations in order to adjust our thinking. On the other hand, as the study shows, we feel pleasure when we hear something that confirms these beliefs (related to confirmation bias). Perhaps this helps to explain why it takes so long for new information to become widely accepted.
We can see evidence of this today in the public discourse surrounding GMOs. Many countries have recently started banning GMOs, and prior to the global awareness which led to this shift, people who opposed GMOs were considered conspiracy theorists. It’s something to think about.
So, are we in control of our actions? Why do we buy junk food? Why do we go out and party with our friends? Why do so many people do the same things and act in the same way? Regardless of whether our thoughts have been influenced by various outside entities, ultimately, I believe we are always in control of our own actions. But the science of human behaviour is not clear cut or black and white, and various factors need to be added to the equation. Definitely interesting to think about though.
3. You Are An Exceptionally Gifted Person That Others Do Not Recognize
The belief that you are an exceptionally gifted person that others do not recognize is next on the list. There’s nothing wrong with having self confidence regarding certain abilities. It’s good to view yourself in a positive light, but there is a thin line between confidence and narcissism.
The need to be recognized seems to be a common symptom of our modern age. Many people express the feeling of not being understood, but we never really ask ourselves why we feel this way. Why do we need external acknowledgement? Why do we crave attention? I feel that if you let go of your need to be understood, then you will start to understand. Your gifts and passions are there for you, perhaps to share with the world, perhaps not, but if you are constantly looking for external gratification, you will never find happiness and contentment in your own right. Confidence, happiness, peace — these all come from within.
4. Certain Places Are Duplicated, i.e. Are In Two Different Locations At The Same Time
This was very interesting to find on the list, and I’m going to have to contest the implausibility of such a notion. Is it really that far-fetched to think that certain places could exist in two or more different locations at the same time? I say this because recently a pair of scientists — Dr. Yin of Bejing’s Tsinghua University and Dr. Li of Indiana’s Perdue University — proposed what they believe to be a plausible method of observing a living organism in two places at once. (source) In fact, quantum physics has shown us that when we observe matter at the smallest possible level, a piece of matter can exist as what’s known as a “wave,” meaning it exists as multiple probabilities. You can read more about this here.
This is why I believe that having the idea that one thing can be in two different locations at once is not really delusional.
5. People Say Or Do Things That Contain Special Messages For You
This was a weird one, and again, many delusional beliefs that are linked with some sort of ‘mental illness’ seem to be quite common among the UK population, which I believe can serve as a microcosm f0r most of the developed world. It’s important to remember that the very vocabulary of psychiatry is completely defined by the pharmaceutical industry, and that the Diagnostic & Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders is more so a political document than a scientific one. You can read more about that here. That does not mean that mental illness does not exist — of course it does, and it’s a serious problem. But while some deluded beliefs do arise from mental illness, we should not automatically equate the two.
That being said, if you think you think people are doing things ‘to’ you or that everything revolves around you, that even a random person walking on the street has more than a passing thought about you, your thinking is irrational.
6. Certain People Are Out To Harm And Discredit You
Who knows, maybe there are certain people out to harm or discredit you? This is a common phenomenon among alternative news websites, where hired ‘shills’ are paid to comment and discredit various articles. At the same time, as an individual, if you believe certain people are out to harm or discredit you yet nothing has happened, and these beliefs come out of nowhere and continue to occur, there is a good chance that they are probably the result of paranoia.
7. Your Thoughts Are Not Fully Under Your Control
Personally, I do not think this is a delusional belief. If someone were to say that their thoughts are under the control of an extraterrestrial or some outside agency then yes, that could be considered delusional (in many cases, in some cases not). But, as mentioned earlier in the article, we live in a world of mass propaganda and brainwashing, one in which our wants and our beliefs about ‘what is’ are dictated to us by a handful of corporations. That new car, that lavish lifestyle, and all the material wealth that all of us chase, might not be a product of thoughts which originated from your own mind, but rather from some outside entity (propaganda) encouraging you to constantly want and consume. Perhaps this is why we see such high numbers of people with delusional beliefs, because the self is constantly neglected? Or maybe it’s because some of the beliefs we label as delusion actually contain a grain of truth? It’s impossible to say for sure, but next time you have a thought or a desire, ask yourself where it’s coming from.
8. There Is Another Person Who Looks Like You And Acts Like You
This is another point on the list that I don’t really agree with as being completely delusional. Who knows? Maybe there is another person who looks like you and acts like you. These days, it’s not even that far-fetched to believe that there is another version of you that exists in a parallel universe. Call me delusional, but I would not be surprised if there was another person on this planet who looked like and acted like me.
9. Some People Are Duplicated. They Are In Two Places At One Time
I am not going to repeat myself here, as I would write the same paragraph as I did for the belief that certain places are duplicated. Why this is considered a delusional thought baffles me.
10. People You Know Disguise Themsleves As Others To Manipulate Or Influence You
This is one I can agree with. If you think people you know are disguising themselves and trying to manipulate you, you might want to question your beliefs. I am surprised this ended up on the list to be quite honest, I would have never guessed that this was a common belief.
NewScientist Magazine: “Special Report, Belief, They Drive Everything We Do.” Page 28.
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