On Subjective Reality II: the Belief Community Model

As I noted in my previous post, believing in subjective reality as Steve Pavlina defines it requires struggling with some strange and thorny questions, including to what extent you can trust your own memory, how the “rules” of physical reality are learned, and whether you can use the Law of Attraction to generate other conscious beings with true free will. In this post, I’m going to lay out an alternative model that addresses these issues.

wheredoideascomefromAny model that tries to explain the Law of Attraction consistently runs into the following core paradox: how can a community of people have a set of conflicting beliefs (or intentions, or desires), yet ALL of them be right? That is, how can the Law be true for everyone, even when your beliefs and intentions conflict with your neighbor’s?

Steve’s answer is: there are no neighbors.

My answer is: your neighbor’s beliefs and intentions don’t conflict with yours — or at least, they don’t conflict much. A group of people whose beliefs are compatible form a belief community. The shared beliefs of these people create a shared reality for them. If someone’s beliefs change enough, then they move out of one belief community and into another.

Language as Metaphor

Let’s use language as a metaphor here. (I am a linguist, after all.) Some quick definitions:


In modern theoretical linguistics, a grammar is actually a mental model of a language. If you “know English”, that means no more and no less than this: you have a mental model of a formal system called “English” in your brain. This mental model allows you to generate new utterances of English, understand English utterances, and judge whether something is an English utterance. This grammar was developed by you as you learned the language (either as a young child or as an adult, depending on when you learned it). You built this model in your head based on examples of English in the environment around you. Your model is your own, and it’s probably extremely similar to the English models of people around you — but it could be slightly different, and you could still communicate. See below.


An idiolect is one person’s grammar (model of a language). I have an idiolect of English, my wife has one, my children have their own, you have yours, and so forth. As long as the idiolects are close enough, everyone can communicate just fine. In fact, you may know someone for years before you realize that their idiolect is different from yours. For example, when I was younger, I read the word “Neanderthal” dozens of times without ever hearing anyone say it. In my head, I thought it was pronounced “nee-an-DER-thal”. The first time I said that out loud, I got laughed at. I quickly changed my idiolect.


A group of individuals whose idiolects are close enough that they can communicate. If you’re outside the speech community, your idiolect is different enough that communication is extremely hard or impossible. For example, English speakers, broadly speaking, make a speech community. However, there are sub-communities within the larger community — speakers of the Scots brogue, speakers of Southern American English, etc. — where people’s idiolects vary slightly and systematically from many in the larger community. In the South, everyone’s models of grammar are slightly different from the models of folks in Wisconsin.

Now, let’s do the presto-chango. Instead of *model of language* let’s substitute *model of reality*.

You have a model of reality, a model that you developed when you were a child, a model based on your experiences. It’s your own model. It may or may not be similar to the models of other people. The model is your belief system.

The Belief Community

Suppose your belief system is very similar to someone else’s. Then we could say that the two of you belong to the same belief-community. As long as your beliefs are similar enough, the two of you can interact and communicate, just like sharing the same language. But suppose your beliefs start to change, so that your belief system is no longer similar to this person’s. In fact, suppose the belief systems are in conflict. Then what? It’s like you’ve started speaking Chinese instead of English. You’re no longer in the same belief community. You can no longer communicate or interact.

Let’s look at this in a little more detail.

How to Fly

Suppose you decide to try to use the Law of Attraction to fly — to fly without using mechanical devices or anything, just rise up and fly around using your mind. Now, this conflicts with your present beliefs, and the beliefs of that everyone you know. But you begin working on this belief in your mind, imagining it, dreaming about it, thinking about it. It will take some time to get that belief rooted properly, just like learning a new language. As you do this, you may find that you meet other people who are trying to believe the same thing; you may learn about people, or meet people, who have other mind powers, or who fly frequently in their dreams. You may meet shamans who do spirit flights. You will find yourself associating more and more often with people who believe in mind powers and flying without machines, and fewer and fewer people who have a more materialistic, objective view of reality. Eventually, in time, you may meet someone who can fly without assistance, and who can teach you to do the same. You have left one belief community and joined another.

Of course, you can keep your ties to the old community if you want, just as you can continue to speak any language you learned in the past, if you wish. But trying to get someone in your old belief community to accept your new beliefs will be like trying to get an English speaker to immediately start speaking Chinese. They won’t understand you, and they’ll think you’re talking nonsense.

How to Get Promoted

Such huge shifts in belief community are not very common. Much more common, I imagine, are cases where minor beliefs conflict slightly. Take an example from Steve’s podcast. Suppose you are an employee, and you have your heart set on a certain position in the company. You work daily with the Law of Attraction, imagining yourself in the position, indending to be there, convincing yourself you’re getting closer all the time. But there’s another employee, Evil Employee X, who wants the same position! Evil Employee X also uses the Law of Attraction, and does the same things you do. What happens then?

The situation is a very interesting one; because not only are two people using the Law at cross-purposes, they’re also trying to affect the free will of another individual (the boss who will make the decision). Can you really use the Law to affect the decision-making of another conscious being? (Is it even right to do so?…)

Let’s go back briefly to our language analogy. Suppose you have someone who has a similar idiolect to your own, but it’s slightly different — and noticeably so. It would be like someone is speaking with an accent, or a speech impediment. You can still understand them, at least most of the time, but you have to accommodate their idiosyncrasies. You’ve got to adjust, or broaden, your model of English, to accept the way this person speaks.

In a similar way, it may be that the universe tries to accommodate everyone’s beliefs. Let me give a good example drawn from real life.

The Weather Goddesses

My mother-in-law can control the weather. She is a weather godess. Unfortunately, her powers only manifest when she goes camping; and the only power she has is to bring rain. It rains EVERY SINGLE TIME she goes camping. This has happened her whole life. She knows this, and she jokes about it, because she’s an objectivist. But deep down he really does believe it. She believes it the extent that she always, regardless of the weather forcast, always brings extra rain gear for any camping trip. She was a Girl Scout leader for years, went on dozens of camping trips, and got rained on every single time.

The other Girl Scout troop in town was led by another weather goddess, as luck would have it. This weather goddess always brought sunshine. For all the years that she was a Girl Scout leader, every time her girls went camping, the weather was beautiful. I’m not making this up!

You can see where this is going. There came a time when the two Girl Scout leaders, the two weather goddesses, went on a joint camping trip. My mother-in-law, the Rain Goddess, brought her girls camping on the trip with the troop led by the Sunshine Goddess. What happened?

Well, it was a two-day camping trip. One day, it was gorgeous and sunny. The next day, it rained cats and dogs.

The Accommodating Universe

It’s as if the universe searched among all the possibilities for weather during the camping trip, and found the one option that would match up with the powerful intentions and beliefs of these weather goddesses. It found a way to accommodate the intentions put out by both women — just like you, a speaker of English, can accommodate someone with a speech impediment or a different dialect then your own.

Let’s go back to the employee example. The universe, I’m guessing, will weasel its way out of the paradox. Your boss may decide to create an additional position just like to the one you are vying for, so that both of you can be promoted. Or perhaps one of you will be transferred to an equivalent position in another part of the company. Or maybe only one of you will get the position, but the other one will quit in disgust, start her own business, and end up doing precisely the desired work for precisely the desired income that the desired position represented. The universe will find a way to accommodate everyone’s intentions and beliefs.

Incidentally, this explains why the Law of Attraction so rarely gives you exactly what you expect. People who work a lot with the Law warn that intentions often manifest in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. The manifestation needs to happen in its own way — it will fail if you put a time limit on it, or hasten the process, or try to control how it manifests. It may be that this flexibility is necessary so that the universe can organize matters such than everyone’s intentions are manifested.

Memories of Childhood

Now it’s go back and look at some of the strange questions in my last post, and see how the “belief community” model of reality deals with them.

What about memories? In the “belief community” model, your memories are real — or, at least, as real as anything in the past can be. But, just like Steve’s model, holding on to negative memories is counterproductive because of the way the Law of Attraction works.

What about babies? How do you learn the “rules” of reality? The subjective model of reality can’t explain why things like gravity seemed to work consistently, even for those — such as babies — who don’t know how gravity works. For an adult observing a baby, there’s no problem: the adult observes the law of gravity working properly when a child drops food onto the floor, because that’s what the adult expects to see. But some of us, no doubt, have memories of being a baby with no idea of how gravity is supposed to work, dropping bananas again and again in order to test the matter.

In the “belief community” framework, gravity will work the way the people in the room expect it to work. So if the baby, who presumably has no intentions regarding the final resting place of her mashed banana, drops her food when there are adults present, the universe obligingly smears the banana on the carpet. However, in the middle of the night, when no adults are around to enforce Newton’s laws, the child can toss her toys from the crib, and they may end up anywhere (as you know if you’ve had children). No wonder children have to test gravity so frequently.

This may also explain why children are more likely to see fairies, ghosts, and the like. My eldest daughter , who is nearly 8, has seen four fairies (most recently just two weeks ago), and she describes them in considerable detail. She’s never seen one when a grown-up was around, of course. But maybe, if I can shift my beliefs enough, she and I may go out fairy-watching one day.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, this is all just empty theorizing. As Steve Pavlina has said again and again, the way to find out if something is true is not necessarily to lie in bed and think about it. That can give you some valuable insights, but it doesn’t compare to personal experience. In the final analysis, the best model of reality is the one that leads to the greatest empowerment, joy, and love in your own life. Regardless of how the Law of Attraction works, once you accept its reality, the choice, and the responsibility, is yours.

Update. Adam has a wonderful and intriguing post on the purpose of evil here.

5 responses to “On Subjective Reality II: the Belief Community Model”

  1. I’ve gotta say, I like your model better… 😉 I’m working on my take of it, but I suppose that it would be cheating a little bit if I added belief domains into the equation.


  2. Hey, I’m impressed you waded through it. It’s not a simple thing. Glad you liked it!
    I can’t wait to read your thoughts. Go ahead and use belief communities / domains, if you like that idea. I’m interested in truth, not movie rights. 🙂


  3. Regarding Steve Pavlina’s model of reality. I really appreciated his thinking and attempts to describe why the Law of Attraction works, however, like you, I had some issues with Steve’s model, but greatly appreciated his thinking nonetheless.

    If I understood his model correctly, there would be no way ever to prove the existence of another separate consciousness. If that is true, then it seems that the only conclusion you would be left with is that YOU are the only consciousness that did, does, or ever will exist. Sounds kinda lonely to me.

    Also, if YOU are the only consciousness and have created this subjective reality, just why did YOU create a subjective reality that YOU don’t know more about. It appears to be a rather complicated reality with all sorts of rules and you would think that you would know how you came about creating it. If YOU are the only consciousness, then this has to be an original creation, (not based on any other’s creation). You would think that you would know how you “programmed” this reality. Well, what if you did remember programming the game – but wait, you can’t trust your memories so you can’t be sure that the memory is valid and so are left with the conclusion that YOU must have done the programming since you are the only thing that exists, but for some reason you don’t know how or why. Kinda scary or schizoid to me.

    The model I am “working” with is more along the lines you have expressed. However, it does start that “in the beginning” there was only one consciousness that became self-aware and recognized itself as ME. It then came up with the concept of NOT-ME – and like having children – developed the rest of us out of its own consciousness. So maybe there is just a single consciousness with a multiple personality “disorder”, or, in this case, its not a disorder, but something that would keep it from going “crazy”. The “universe/reality” is our “playground” and how would it do anything other than humor us. Since we are all equal creations, it tries to please us all and accomodate us however it can.

    This was my first visit to your website which I linked to from Steve Pavlina’s, but I will most certainly be back.


  4. Hi Bill, thanks for dropping by.

    As Lao Tzu said:

    “Tao produced the One.
    The One produced the two.
    The two produced the three.
    And the three produced the ten thousand things.”

    You can see this sequence in the Tarot as well:
    The Fool = Tao. The Fool is the void from which everything springs.
    One = Major Arcanum I, the Magician. The Magician is the One, the primal mover, the power of the Will.
    Two = … II, the High Priestess. The High Priestess represents the opposing forces that come into being as soon as the One is differentiated.
    Three = … III, the Empress. The Empress is a resolution of the tension in the High Priestess; the tension between the Two is resolved via the addition of a third that incorporates elements of both. This is why some analysts believe that the Empress is pregnant.
    10,000 = … IV, The Emperor. The Emperor represents dominion over the material world. In some cards he is shown sitting on a block of stone, representing the four corners of the world.

    I don’t know if I agree with this idea or not. It is mathematically and intuitively satisfying, but it doesn’t seem to be the way nature works. After all, you didn’t start with one star, which created another one, and then a third… or one homo sapiens, who created another one out of nothing, and then a third… instead, you had a large mass of some OTHER thing — superheated hydrogen gas, homo habilis, whatever — which undergoes some kind of phase shift via the introduction or loss of energy or a changing environment, creating a whole bunch of a brand new kind of thing.

    I don’t know if I’m making any sense. I apologize for rambling!

    I suspect there’s going to be a lot of discussion on this topic at Steve’s forums, as soon as they go live. It should be great!


  5. […] wrote about this at length some time ago, when I talked about belief communities. In that model, your belief system is kind of like a language that you speak. You share your […]


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