Aaron CT Smith, a cognitive scientist from Melbourne, Australia, gives a brilliant account of what beliefs do for us. Flock Theory,

 “In my estimation…beliefs follow the same kinds of rules governing flocks of birds…First, successful beliefs fit the rule of separation. Like birds in the flock, it is best not to crowd neighbours. This is how beliefs help us navigate the belonging- distinction tension, where we need enough room to be different without separating ourselves so much that we no longer belong to the flock. In reality, we want to be special while also being in the group. Second, successful beliefs fit the rule of alignment. A bird within a flock steers toward the average heading of its closest compatriot. Similarly, beliefs tend to endure when the holder’s beliefs align with those of his or her most significant others, whether family, friends, or social network. Beliefs stick when groups cohere and all aim in the same direction. Third, successful beliefs follow the rule of cohesion. Birds steer towards the average position of their neighbours. In other words, they stick together irrespective of their flight direction. Beliefs that work together allow members to do more or less what each other do.” (257-258) 

Aaron C.T. Smith. Cognitive Mechanisms of Belief Change. Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.


I recommend reading my recent series, 5.1 through 5.5, with Smith’s Flock Theory in mind. Why? Much of what I’ve noted therein seems to underpin Smith’s theory. In my “5” series,

“I lay out some “bones” for thinking about the way — the why and the how — the people we depend on for our survival, delectation, and companionship (our peeps) help us navigate the world. And we them. You might pick up these bones, if you find them interesting, and bring them back to your peeps for inspection. The collection and inspection of information is one of the things we do as members of peepdoms, Hey, did you see/hear/know…what do you think, here’s what I think…you should read/listen to…oh, don’t listen to him…I wonder if…etc....” Pam Lindsay, 2019


For more information about Aaron CT Smith and a list of his publications, including Cognitive Mechanisms of Belief Change, visit his website at http://www.aaronctsmith.com.

For a review of Cognitive Mechanisms of Belief Change, see Diana Soeiro, Metapsychology Online Reviews, Volume 21, Issue 4, Jan 24, 2017. https://metapsychology.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=book&id=7806&cn=396

Note that by my wanting to hold on to Smith’s clear, interesting, original, and conceptually rich book, I exhausted the good graces of the university library. So now I am buying a copy of my own.

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