Systems of Belief More than Reality in Socio-economic Evolution


  • Brian John Hilton Nottingham University Business School


Evolution Socio-Economics knowledge systems decision theory



Systems of Belief More than  Reality in Socio-economic Evolution


This paper examines the interaction between two versions of human reality, the perceived one and the evidentially unobserved one. Choice is made on the basis of how we perceive reality and this is not necessarily co-incident with what we might accept as reality if our rationality were truly unbounded by our ignorance. Many things we purchase, consume, cover come to own etc have a subjective value far in access of their objective value. That is nowhere more evident in stock markets.


Here the value of a share is what people believe it to be worth rather than any objectively measurable means of valuing it. The physical assets and current realisable assets of a corporation can be far below the market value puts on its shares in the stock market. This depends as much on the worth of the IPR the company is seen to own, the brands it owns, the perceived competence or not of its senior leadership, even fashion as much as it is on its measurable assets.


This is most evident with respect to money which only has value if we believe it does. In recent history it is no longer backed by a real commodity gold but by government debt and its deposit levels but as all good banking students know the bank keeps only a small amount of cash to allow those normally wishing to realise their deposits supplied. If confidence in the bank is lost and all its depositors come at the same time to realise their deposits, a run on the bank, it is impossible for nay bank to satisfy its creditors and it must collapse. Banking and money more than anything else depend on people’s belief in value not actual realisable value. As long as belief can be maintained value can be maintained. When confidence collapses value collapses so given the value we get out of our social belief in the value of money we all work hard to maintain general confidence in such value for without it all is lost.


All the above holds true in social, political and cultural systems belief is most everything most of the time and if we cannot sustain it that it supports crumbles to dust.


Belief is so powerfully useful consider the converse of the above. The sustainment and endorsement of each other’s beliefs and of all beliefs the value and significance of different parts of knowledge that drive our modern social technological system is pivotal. It seems if we as human being can envisage something it comes to be. In my life space travel, colour movies, flat-screen televisions  computers, mobile phones global TV stations were all impossible now they are our everyday lives.


Fundamental to our knowledge in the 20th Century is a dilemma as yet unresolved. Light is corpuscular and light is a wave form. Two inconveniently inconsistent beliefs which we have resolved short term, in the absence of a General Theory of Relativity though candidates do now exist, by managing to believe inconsistently in both of them at the same time as it suited our convenience.


Where lies truth knowledge and evolution in an age where value is more and more determined by belief. The material, production and logistic cost of a Nike shoe selling for $150 is around $10 $70 goes to the retailer for the ambiance of his store and the remaining  $70 goes to the person that conceived the design and marketing campaign that created its value.


In an age of triple bottom line accounting what are the implications of this as in a sense knowledge creation and distribution is virtually costless and consumes hardly any real physical resources at all only the food to sustain the creators and thinkers so employed.

Author Biography

Brian John Hilton, Nottingham University Business School

Associate Professor of International Business and Strategy



How to Cite

Hilton, B. J. (2010). Systems of Belief More than Reality in Socio-economic Evolution. Proceedings of the 54th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2010, Waterloo, Canada, 54(1). Retrieved from