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Alief (wikipedia.org)
307 points by jkuria on July 7, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 52 comments

If you like wikipedia articles like these, you might like http://wikipedia.reddit.com , which highlights other obscure and interesting articles.

A related concept is Belief in Belief:

Suppose someone claims to have a dragon in their garage, but as soon as you go to look, they say, "It's an invisible dragon!" The remarkable thing is that they know in advance exactly which experimental results they shall have to excuse, indicating that some part of their mind knows what's really going on. And yet they may honestly believe they believe there's a dragon in the garage. They may perhaps believe it is virtuous to believe there is a dragon in the garage, and believe themselves virtuous. Even though they anticipate as if there is no dragon.


Alief seems to be the "gut feeling"-type of conclusion that happens before more elaborate conscious processing takes place. Contrast that with Belief in Belief which is characterized by the astounding process of logical thinking required to anticipate and explain away the opportunities for the falsification of a belief in something imaginary - suggesting that at some level believers do in fact know that they're propping up a fantasy.

It's not really conceptually related to be honest, but BiB is an excellent article that pertains mainly to religious belief and it was a very entertaining read. Thanks for linking to it!

I am not an expert on this topic. However, I don't agree based on OP that alieves necessarily 'go away' with elaborate conscious thinking. Note, that OP also says the concepts applies to some religious believes.

So, I would actually argue it applies here too: In OP's terminology the person believes there is a dragon in their garage, but alives the opposite.

Any philosophy majors want to help me out here: is this what Sartre called "bad faith"?

No, bad faith is quite a different thing.

The point behind belief in belief is that one sincerely believes oneself to hold the beliefs they defend. It is rather inconsequential to them that there are viable challenges which, if rightfully considered, would provide ample evidence that countered a given belief--this because they believe more strongly in their possession of belief in a given belief than in the belief itself. Hence, they can anticipate the ways in which evidence might be presented to counter the belief and, in an effort to save the belief and for the purpose of continuing to believe in the belief, they can explain away the weaknesses of the belief in question. Fundamentally, the power in this state is that one continues to consider oneself a "believer", capable of suspending belief in the problematic belief, but choosing not to so as to retain their status as a "believer". It is important that one not seriously question their beliefs--by which it is meant to seriously consider evidence that supports their beliefs and, when such evidence is found lacking, to abandon or downgrade the binding power of their beliefs until such beliefs are warranted by evidence--because that way lies the path of unbelief.

Bad faith, on the other hand, presents itself in conscious form in which one acts inauthentically against one's own interest, against one's stated principles, or against one's conscience (and consciousness). It is the doctor who really wishes to be a pilot continuing to practice medicine because that is his currently chosen path. This is frequently a result of the denial of one's conscious freedom to determine one's course of action. Instead, one who operates out of bad faith disassociates oneself from one's actions, or claims to possess more limited choices than one actually does. For Sartre, there is nothing about human nature that is predetermined; there is no "true self" over which one possesses no power. We are human consciousness built over time by actions we freely choose--and too frequently according to roles, beliefs, characteristics, or modes of action others have given us.

In the 1976 documentary, Sartre by Himself, Sartre goes after intellectuals as specialists who apply human knowledge to questionable purposes determined by a political establishment. One of his examples is scientists who work on the atomic bomb. Another is professors who teach only a small group of wealthy or otherwise advantaged students. Such intellectuals may sign petitions, advocate for the working class, or engage in other kinds of actions to relieve their consciences, but never seriously question their own complicity in their own actions. They play their given role, telling themselves they can do nothing about it, and settle for having an unhappy conscience because it provides them something to denounce.

So, bad faith typically ignores the freedom and transcendence of consciousness, telling us we cannot be that which we are not. Those who lack a sense of the real in their lives might also exhibit bad faith by denying the facticity of life--asserting they can do anything by wishing it.

In contrast to belief in belief, those who are acting in bad faith would suggest they cannot believe otherwise, perhaps because that's just "who they are" and that they cannot do anything about it. But believers do not suggest such a conscious position. Instead, they reject any efforts that might diminish their belief in their beliefs, because maintaining belief is, for them, of the highest good. They are, to varying degrees of understanding, aware of evidence and claims that counter their beliefs and, were they to be persuaded by facts, might lead them to abandon the belief. But they cannot, not because they have chosen a factual position that has proven their beliefs, but because the act of believing in those beliefs provides the truer source of defense.

Ah, great explanation. Thanks!

No problem. Glad it helped.

I don't get it, why is it so important to separate our cognitive system into infinite units, one for everything we can feel?

Why can't we, as an alternative, not possess two believes at the same time? Composed by different parts of the cognitive system. One for example might go through the frontal lobe and be overwritten by "reason" (if there is such a thing), and the other might go through more rostral regions, and be overwritten by emotions (which, in fact, will manifest it self into muscle movments)?

Another alternative might be that the same stimuli manifests it self in different ways at the same time, after going through different coginitive systems (no a/believe construct required). So the fearfull ("irrational") behaviour ("the alive") gets manifested in the sympathetic nervous system (into muscle movements, hormonse, thermo-regualtion),while the vocal ("rational") behaviour ("the believe") gets manifested in cognitive systems responsable for speach-like cognitions, i.e. frontal regions.

> why is it so important to separate our cognitive system into infinite units

It isn't. It depends entirely on the specific school of psychology. For example the school of Behaviorism states that only observable behavior matters; cognitive stuff like this is unimportant.

I took a social contract theory class from Prof. Gendler. She was phenomenal. She enjoyed teaching the material so much that she seemed to smile for the duration of the class. When we would get frustrated as we struggled through some concept she was always patient and would joke that she had a bit of an advantage because Nozick was her phd advisor and "she learned Rawls from Rawls."

There is a video interview where she discusses aliefs here: http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/2115

In economics, this is the difference between stated preference and revealed preference.


Btw, I found out about this from her (Tamar's) Wikipedia page, after enjoying her Big Think lecture on the philosophy of politics and economics(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm8asJxdcds) I highly recommend the lecture.

So I alieve that my data on the internet is private but I believe the NSA is reading every word.

Or vice versa.

This is an interesting concept but I am wondering how alieving relates to both believing and knowing in general. Is an alieve just a type of belief that is unjustified but hard to ignore or get rid of ? In particular if we take some of the given examples:

>>> For example, a person standing on a transparent balcony may believe that they are safe, but alieve that they are in danger. A person watching a sad movie may believe that the characters are completely fictional, but their aliefs may lead them to cry nonetheless. A person who is hesitant to eat fudge that has been formed into the shape of feces, or who exhibits reluctance in drinking from a sterilized bedpan may believe that the substances are safe to eat and drink, but may alieve that they are not.

and we remove the verb 'alieve' and only work with the verbs 'to believe' and 'to know' :

For example, a person standing on a transparent balcony may know that they are safe, but believe that they are in danger. A person watching a sad movie may know that the characters are completely fictional, but their beliefs may lead them to cry nonetheless. A person who is hesitant to eat fudge that has been formed into the shape of feces, or who exhibits reluctance in drinking from a sterilized bedpan may know that the substances are safe to eat and drink, but may believe that they are not.

The meaning/sentiment appears to be largely unchanged in this case.

I guess this definition is more precise and broad: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_attitude

This concept is also well known in the practice of the occult. It is known as the Law of Contamination. The gist of this is 'once in contact, always in contact'.

This principle is also the basis of using bits of hair in a construction of a voodoo doll, as the hair touches the doll, so the person is the doll.

Even though this thought is prevalent in the occult, it does easily translate out of that limited area. The paper below also explains for similar things, like not wanting to wear shirts worn by a disliked person.

Homeopathy also has roots in this idea, where a drop of "cure" is diluted somewhere by 10^50 times, and still is considered a cure.


That doesn't seem quite right to me. If there's any occult notion that fits, I'd imagine it's more things like "true name" or "astral body" or a "weird" that reflect a more honest representation of the self than is consciously noted.

I think there could possibly be a problem with the definition of alief. I think it's being used too broadly.

As the wikipedia article says, it includes 5 sections of disjoint ideas. And law of contagion is directly reffered to with the feces shaped brownies or clean bedpan drinking.

It seems I could attach any reflexive-emotional response and call it alief. That doesn't seem correct in the language of psychology. Their terms are usually much more delineated.

So basically belief is conscious while alief is subconscious?

I don't think that captures it. If I read a story and cry for some character in it, that's not subconscious.

The first example reminds me of street training: when you're switched on, you make a threat assessment of everything around you. You don't actually expect a threat, but you check for one anyways.

> If I read a story and cry for some character in it, that's not subconscious.

Isn't it? If you know the story is fiction, you know that the character is not real and that there is no reason to cry. But yet, you cry.

Either your conscious mind contradicts itself or something other than your conscious mind must be at work.

I think this is a difficult case because the central purpose of a fictional story is to permit us to make believe that it is real. When I ask you, "What could you have done differently in that situation?" it's fictional and you're pretending that your decisions are meaningful.

Is that subconscious? I don't think that is. But I'm not sure that that is an alief, either? I'm not solid enough on that definition.

ETA: Apparently we disagree that the imagination is a domain of the subconscious. Eh.

I think this is a difficult thing because one of the two words being used is completely made-up and the distinction between their definitions is extremely fuzzy.

I realize that all words are made up at some point, but there are still a lot we end up calling synonyms. In the bedpan example given, I believe it's a bedpan but I have to trust that it's been sterilized. In this case, it's not alief that keeps me from drinking but rather distrust. The sad movie example is a classic example of "Suspension of Disbelief" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_of_disbelief).

As an aside, did anyone else notice that their spell checker marked the word alief? I guess my vote is that it shouldn't be a separate word.


One might argue that imagination is in the domain of the subconscious. (I probably would.)

Go ahead and argue it then... I won't be offended!

In many cases this does seem to be true.

Although....In some instances, when your conscious mind is in conflict with itself, it seems an "alief" could be based in consciousness.

Using Wikipedia's given example; I would argue that when you're trying to decide whether standing on a balcony is safe the decision is very much based on conscious thought.(e.g. what height am I at, is there a railing, do I have enemies here(lol(lolnestedparenthesis)), am I inebriated)

I think this term is particularly interesting when applied to issues based on morality.

When you're deciding whether a woman has the right to abort her child, is the small nagging doubt considered alief? I don't mean to bring politics into this; in fact I chose this point because I thought it wouldn't be a major point of contention(compared to some others).

I am just trying to say that almost every decision that we make in our lives has an alternate possibility, the merit(or perceived merit) for which is oftentimes enough for a seed of doubt to take root in our own decision on the matter.

I find it curious that so many people have such strict convictions on controversial issues, whereas I personally change my position on them reasonably frequently. Perhaps this lack of a constant viewpoint on controversial issues is because I haven't fully defined myself, in which case I hope to do so soon.

> Perhaps this lack of a constant viewpoint on controversial issues is because I haven't fully defined myself, in which case I hope to do so soon.

Don't hurry. Keeping an open mind is nothing to be ashamed of. You don't have to have an answer to everything, lest of all a fixed one.

My thought was that belief is rational and alief is emotional.

Except that so many beliefs are not rational.

I think that this would be a valid example: you believe that you're mad at someone (belief), but you nevertheless act professionally with them (alief). Except I suppose you may have a belief that you should act professionally despite being angry, so... pff. I know I don't have a good enough grasp when I can't come up with any decent examples.

Link to the paper from the Journal of Philosophy


I prefer the much easier System 1 and System 2 of Kahneman and Tversky.

She briefly discusses this on pg 7 of her paper: http://www.pgrim.org/philosophersannual/pa28articles/gendler...

i.e. someone is trying to force a new term for "gut feeling" with hopes that he/she will be academic relevant.


On July 1, 2010, she became Chair of the Yale University Department of Philosophy, becoming the first woman to hold that position in the department’s history and the first female graduate of Yale College to chair a Yale Department. [1]

Do you think she needs to worry about her academic relevance?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamar_Gendler

Full Disclosure: As mentioned elsewhere I took a class from her at Syracuse University at the beginning of her career. That being said I am not an academic and do not gain anything from her professional reputation.

if my merits laid on highlighting my gender, i'd be worried as well :)

I'm pretty sure i'm the first native american to do something of relevance, but I will be dammed if I write/let this be the opening paragraph of my Bio.

Its too bad that you focused on her gender and not the fact that she was now the chair of her department.

new terms help to aid discussion, yes?

related is pratchett's concept of "substition" (quote from 'jingo'):

71-hour Ahmed was not superstitious. He was substitious, which put him in a minority among humans. He didn’t believe in the things everyone believed in but which nevertheless weren’t true. He believed instead in the things that were true in which no one else believed. There are many such substitions, ranging from ‘It’ll get better if you don’t pick at it’ all the way up to ‘Sometimes things just happen.’

Alief: it's not just a neighborhood in Houston anymore.


urlief would be a much punchier name with a valid etymology.

Excellent, true.

When your heart betrays your mind.

Does anyone know the etymology of the word "Alief"?

Is it not simply just belief with an A in place of the B? It sounds to me like a self-consciously coined neologism, perhaps related to A's position before B in the alphabet, suggesting that aliefs come before beliefs in some sense.

EDIT: a brief look at the original paper[0] doesn't give any immediate answers, but it seems to confirm my guess:

"Alief is a more primitive state than either belief or imagination: it directly activates behavioral response patterns"

[0] http://www.pgrim.org/philosophersannual/pa28articles/gendler...

The article says it's an automatic belief like attitude. I would assume it's a contraction of automatic belief.

How does this relate to the suspension of disbelief?

Thanks, but I'll keep using the word "doubt".

I think the point of the concept is actually an antithesis to doubt. It basically says you can believe x is x, yet continue to treat x like y. You could say this is "doubt", but then you contradict your belief that x is x. Just like the sterilized bedpan example. If you truly believe that it is indeed sterilized, why are you hesitant to drink from it?

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