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When Does Believing Become Knowing?

Valerie Mackenzie pins down the difference with some examples.

What is the difference between believing and knowing? When do we know when we believe or know and do we know when believing becomes knowing? Every new challenge has its obstacles and when embarking on these challenges, we may either doubt our ability to cope or believe that we will be able to accomplish our task. However, it is not until the challenge has been attempted and won or lost that we know.

Therefore, believing is the state of mind where we can choose whether or not to accept what we hear or read. We have the choice to consider second-hand knowledge, e.g. we may read in the newspaper that a lion escaped from London Zoo yesterday or hear on the radio that there is a fivemile tailback on the M25. But, if we have not actually witnessed the escaped lion or the fivemile tailback, we cannot know the reports are true.

Knowing is the state of mind where we have first hand awareness of an event, something that we have personally experienced through any of our five senses or through our own accomplishments.

Context 2 – Legal

Inspector Collins was convinced Billy had done the garage job. Petty robbery was Billy’s hallmark. Impatiently he waited for the security video, knowing he could only hold Billy for another couple of hours before having to release him. Billy was a young offender and there were more important cases on the Inspector’s books but robbery was robbery no matter how paltry the rewards.

Inspector Collins studied the video as soon as it arrived but it only confirmed what the garage attendant had told them, that the robber had been wearing a mask and full length mac. Billy had neither when he was picked up not half a mile from the scene of the crime. The Inspector would have to let Billy go. As he picked up the telephone a constable came in with another video. The garage attendant had remembered that a camera had recently been installed at the back of the garage. Putting the video into the machine, a grin crept across the Inspector’s face as he saw the robber running towards the hidden camera, ripping off a mask. It was Billy. He’d got him.

Context 3 – Emotional

Sandy believed Peter was having an affair. He was going out more often, to the sports club, so he said; suddenly wearing aftershave regularly and he had become fashion conscious and particular about his clothes, whereas before he would just grab anything from his wardrobe. His hair had been cut short and styled; Sandy preferred the long, raffish look of before. She had asked him outright, was he having an affair? He said no, of course not, then looked away. In a way Sandy couldn’t really blame him if he was. She knew she had let herself go since Danny’s birth, but she was so tired all the time. Anyway, Danny was Peter’s responsibility as well, even if it didn’t suit his new image.

The next night Peter was due to go to the sports club Sandy arranged for her mother to babysit and she followed him. As Peter approached the entrance to the club a pretty, slim, long-legged blonde got out of a car and they kissed passionately, intimately, before getting into the car and driving off. Sandy just stood and watched the car disappear round the corner, tears rolling down her face. Now she knew, she didn’t want to know.

Context 4 – Medical

Marion believed herself to be pregnant. She didn’t want to be. Not yet, not now. There was too much to do, so many things still to see. And the money. How would they manage without her salary? They weren’t exactly rolling in it with two salaries coming in. Sam was delighted and said they’d manage. Marion could understand his excitement. He was older than her, had done all the things he wanted to do and now wanted to settle down and have a family.

The doctor told her the pregnancy test was positive. Maybe the test was wrong. But the weeks passed and her body grew. Sam went with her to have a scan. The nurse pointed out the baby to them on the screen and gave them a print-out to keep. Marion now knew for sure – and it didn’t seem so bad after all.

Context 5 – Religious

I have a choice of whether or not I believe there is a God. I choose to believe in a God but it is not necessarily the God that you or someone else believes in. I do believe that each one of us believes in a different God; a God that is in our minds and imaginations. A God that is unique to ourselves. I believe this is so even amongst those who belong to the same religion.

I know that I will never be able to prove there is a God, never be able to prove that God is, or is not, ‘the creator’. I believe that it is impossible to ‘know’ in the true sense of the word, anything about religion. Religion is ambiguous, abstract. I believe that in certain religions, believers/followers will abstain from alcohol, or certain types of food. When I started this I believed I could come up with a satisfactory conclusion. Now I know I can’t.

Context 6 – Financial

Bert was expecting a bonus. He had worked hard on the Simmings Project and the Company was doing well at the moment. He was not just assuming a bonus would come. He had been led to believe by listening carefully and reading between the lines. A bonus seemed imminent. “You’re a great asset to the Company”, “Mr. Fortescue is very pleased with the Simmings Project” and “As a Company we reward hard work”.

Every time the phone rang or the internal mail wallet landed on his desk Bert twitched nervously. Day after day passed. No call, no envelope, no bonus. Perhaps he had got it all wrong. The next day a Private & Confidential manila envelope was inside the large internal mail wallet on his desk. Bert was hesitant at first then his fingers eagerly tore at the envelope. He grinned broadly; inside was a nice fat cheque and a two line note from the Managing Director. Bert knew he hadn’t got it wrong.

© Valerie Mackenzie 1993

Valerie Mackenzie is studying philosophy on an adult education course at Epping Forest College.

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