(This question is splited from another question as suggested by moderators)

Ever since reading this NewScientist issue on how even if for some beliefs that despite being based on falsehoods, can have actual impacts to the world via cultural influences, I started to wonder about the nature of belief, and by extension, unreal entities or concepts that have real impacts.

For example let's take the belief

Santa Claus is real

Research however, shown that believing in it have real impacts on children's moral compass

Next, while the jury on whether we have freewill is still out, a belief in freewill can reduce ethnical prejudice compared to a denial of it.. Therefore, regardless on whether freewill is real hence the belief "freewill is real" is true, there are real, measurable impacts no matter you deny or accept said belief.


  • The above also suggests false beliefs or even more generally unreal entities can have real impacts, at least indirectly
  1. What is a possible metaphysical explanation on why beliefs seemed to only ever act indirectly on other entities, that is, only via emergent or collective phenomenon like social phenomenon, why is it unable to act directly (such as physically, or via changing the perspective of an entity) except for the personal/subjective level?

  2. Are false beliefs physical, given how they exert their casual power (at least) indirectly via social influences, or just abstract objects (they have the truth value of being false for almost all worldviews or does not corresponds to what is observed in an objective reality) which we can refer to but does not have any casual powers by itself?

NB: A psychological explanation can only explain why a belief can act indirectly and brought out the effects via the collective action of a community, but it said nothing about the (non)existence of beliefs that act directly and beyond the subjective level. This is why I suspect answering this later half of this question requires looking at belief as a metaphysical object with all its intrinsic properties being analysed, in particular whether it is abstract or physical as we could have said that the believer to be the one responsible for the causal power, and not the belief itself if belief is abstract.

  • Why is a metaphysical explanation needed and not, say, a psychological one?
    – E...
    Mar 17, 2017 at 12:53
  • If I recall, a psychological explanation can explain why a belief can act indirectly such as the effects of religion, and the two examples I mentioned above, as the collective action of the community brought out the effects. However it said nothing about why it is impossible (we strongly suspect that is the case based on social science research data) for belief that act directly to beyond the personal level exists. I suspect that requires analysing the intrinsic nature of belief as a metaphysical object to answer
    – Secret
    Mar 17, 2017 at 12:57
  • Ideas have consequences
    – Rushi
    Apr 27 at 17:29

3 Answers 3


I believe you are confusing "belief" with "believer." Belief itself, is just an abstract, not a physical object, therefore impossible to act directly (or indirectly). It is the believer that acts!


Karl Popper concluded that we act according to our beliefs. This is really very obvious since what else do we have to go on? This is not a social phenomenon but personal. Our beliefs colour every perception we make and every thought we have. And usually most of these beliefs will be wrong.


Yes, it is possible for beliefs, falsehoods, delusions etc., to act directly onto the physical.

You can't find a direct connector because you may believe in a strict mind-brain duality instead of mind emerging from the brain.

All these beliefs have a physical representation in your brain. Using this, representative neurons may create new neurons, connections or reinforce existing ones.

This is one possible explanation. The esoteric department, who like to separate their mind and conscious from the brain into a standalone entity, and who like to dwell on things being unknown and not well understood, probably will not agree.

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