Consider the following belief

A human can survive if they don't drink water for 1000 days

We knew from biology that this is practically improbable as there are very few people who can survive for 18 days without water (Andreas Mihavecz in 1979).

However, there are also beliefs that are unreal/falsehoods

A fern has transparent leaves

But regardless of your position on that, you will not die from (dis)believing it.


  • It appears that reality is sufficiently objective enough to result in some false belief unable to survive without the holder of the belief to die, thereby restricting its ability to proliferate.

Therefore my question is:

What metaphysical criteria a false belief has to have in order to be susceptible to be eliminated by an objective reality?

  • 1
    Is there any chance you could narrow this down/simplify the question a bit? What exactly is the specific problem you're encountering in your study of philosophy (that you'd like someone here to explain to you briefly?) What hypotheses have you formed? What has your research uncovered so far?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Mar 6, 2017 at 14:01
  • I have cut off half of the question in this new edit. My specific problem is trying to understand how and why belief based on falsehoods can have real impact since the falsehoods claimed by such belief is unreal, hence logically it should not be able to cause real impact. Yet the evidence suggests the contrary, I then want to understand whether the real impact can only be brought out indirectly as a social phenonemon, but never directly as if a belief is some real entity
    – Secret
    Mar 6, 2017 at 14:51
  • other than that, I don't really understand how it is not a philosophy question as it is trying to probe the nature of belief, thus should be well within the domain of epistemology
    – Secret
    Mar 6, 2017 at 14:53
  • Er, is the question, why does objective reality buck against certain false beliefs but not others?
    – virmaior
    Mar 14, 2017 at 0:35
  • The newest edit have now splitted the question into two, so yes
    – Secret
    Mar 17, 2017 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


The answer here is evolutionary: if it is the case that a belief makes it (objectively) less likely the organism will survive to reproduce, that organism is less likely to pass along its genes. (i.e. The belief is maladaptive.) if maladaptive beliefs have a hereditary basis, then one would expect evolution to get rid of them over successive generations.

But note two things. First there isn't necessarily a direct line between genes and beliefs. Our beliefs are formed by experience and influenced by culture, so whatever evolutionary pressures there are on our beliefs are going to be indirect.

Second, adaptive does not necessarily mean true and maladaptive does not necessarily mean false. Perhaps it is adaptive behavior to have an inaccurately high opinion of oneself, for instance. Or perhaps the most adaptive way to form beliefs about dangerous situations is just to regard the slightest sign of danger as if it were stronger evidence than it actually is, because then you have erred on the side of caution even though your belief was inaccurate.

Still, for at least low level perceptual beliefs like the ones we get from vision or hearing, it is hard to imagine how those beliefs or the mechanisms that formed them could be adaptive without being at least usually accurate.

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