Who Said Believing Is Seeing?

Key Takeaways:

  • The phrase “believing is seeing” originated from actor Tom Hanks, though the more common phrase is “seeing is believing.”
  • “Seeing is believing” dates back to the 17th century and was coined by English clergyman Thomas Fuller.
  • Thomas Fuller’s full quote is “Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth.”
  • “Seeing is believing” has been used in various contexts like movies and speeches to convey the idea that direct experience is more powerful than hearsay.
  • “Believing is seeing” flips the idea to suggest that belief shapes perception and interpretation of experiences.


The relationship between believing and seeing or direct experience is complex. The phrases “seeing is believing” and “believing is seeing” capture different perspectives on this relationship. But where did these thought-provoking expressions originate, and what do they really mean?

This comprehensive article will trace the history and usage of both phrases. Core questions include:

  • Who originally coined the phrases “seeing is believing” versus “believing is seeing”?
  • What was the full context and meaning behind each original quote?
  • How have the phrases been interpreted and used over time in various contexts?
  • What are the implications of “seeing is believing” versus “believing is seeing” on human perception and belief systems?

By exploring these key issues in depth, readers will gain valuable insight into the phrases’ nuanced meanings and how they relate to broader philosophical questions about the nature of truth, belief, and personal experience. The information provided aims to satisfy curiosity while also provoking deeper thought on the relationship between beliefs and perceptions.

The Origin of “Seeing Is Believing”

The more common phrase “seeing is believing” has a traceable origin in the 17th century. It is widely attributed to English clergyman Thomas Fuller, who used it in print in his theological work The Holy State and the Profane State, first published in 1642.

Thomas Fuller’s full quote using the phrase is:

“Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth.”

Here, Fuller suggests that while direct seeing may convince people that something is real or true, emotional and physical feeling captures an even deeper human truth.

The basic phrase seeing is believing thus emerged as part of Fuller’s broader point. It distills the idea that direct, firsthand observation is more powerful and convincing than hearsay or descriptions from others.

Early Usages of “Seeing Is Believing”

After Thomas Fuller’s initial recorded use, the succinct phrase “seeing is believing” gained traction on its own and became more widely used in the English language.

In 1686, English politician Edward Dering published a text containing the line:

“This Proverb is old, Seeing is believing.”

This suggests it was already an established saying by the late 17th century.

The phrase appeared in various literary works over the 18th and 19th centuries as well. For example, in 1837’s Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens wrote:

“‘Do you know where my wife is?’ resumed the matron. ‘She went upstairs half an hour ago, my dear,’ replied the handmaid. ‘I’ll call her down,’ said the wife. ‘No, no; I’ll go up to her.’ So, devising opportunities to see her, time after time, he ascended to the street door, and stole in unobserved whenever she came down; till she began to think, that if she would pass her life in quiet retirement, it would be necessary to descend and lock the street door when she came up, and to ascend and open it again when she chose to walk out.” And they do say he was seen walking with his own wife last Sunday. She sent him on an errand, and intercepted him on his return. But what they say is not evidence, and there’s no clerk and witness present to prove it. Is there?” ‘Not that I know of,’ said the bride-elect. ‘These shocking tales will be spread abroad after I am dead and buried, and I shall not be here to contradict them; so every good and charitable construction on my conduct shall be summoned to my aid while living.’ ‘Ah! that’s the most comfortable consolation of all,’ rejoined the husband-expectant. ‘SEEING IS BELIEVING, to be sure, and what more can we ask?’ “

Here Dickens uses “seeing is believing” to convey the idea that without visual proof or eyewitnesses, accounts of events cannot be fully believed.

By the early 20th century, the phrase was in wide idiomatic usage. In 1912, famed escape artist Harry Houdini published a book titled Seeing is Believing, recounting his life and famous illusions and escapes.

The book’s title played on the phrase to highlight how Houdini made audiences believe in his magical feats through direct observation.

The Meaning Behind “Seeing Is Believing”

The essence of “seeing is believing” is that direct, personal observation and experience provide the most credible evidence that something is real or true. Simply hearing about something from others does not impart the same degree of belief. As Thomas Fuller’s original quote highlights, seeing convinces the intellect while feeling convinces on a deeper emotional level.

Seeing something with one’s own eyes eliminates doubt, proves that something is physically real, and cements knowledge. Belief follows from the evidence provided by one’s senses. As such, the phrase recommends maintaining skepticism when only told about things indirectly. Passing this test of firsthand observation signifies truth.

The phrase aligns with philosophical empiricism, which holds that knowledge comes primarily from sensory experience rather than just reasoning or intuition alone. However, it is also connected historically to skepticism, as eyewitness testimony and direct observation can still be flawed or misinterpreted.

Ultimately, “seeing is believing” captures the human tendency to place greater trust in direct evidence and personal experience over descriptions, rumors, or hearsay from secondary sources—a tendency now confirmed by psychology and behavioral economics.

The Origin of “Believing Is Seeing”

The less common phrase “believing is seeing” has a different origin story. In modern usage, it is widely attributed to acclaimed American actor Tom Hanks.

In an interview, Hanks stated:

“Remember W.C. Fields’ old line: ‘It ain’t the jokes that’s funny, it’s the way I tell ’em’? In my work, it’s ‘Believing is seeing.’ You gotta believe before you can see.”

Though less precise than Thomas Fuller’s original documented use of “seeing is believing,” this quote from Tom Hanks appears to be the most direct early source of the “believing is seeing” version.

Hanks seems to suggest that belief comes first and shapes perception, rather than vice versa. The phrase flips “seeing is believing” on its head.

Meaning and Usage of “Believing Is Seeing”

Unlike the more common “seeing is believing,” the expression “believing is seeing” asserts that belief precedes and influences perception. What someone believes to be true will shape what they see and how they interpret experiences.

This notion suggests believing is a prerequisite to meaningful seeing. Beliefs prime people to perceive reality through a particular lens. Expectations imply an underlying framework that structures what people notice and how they ascribe meaning.

The phrase is often used to posit that faith can shape experience and perception. Those who believe in something spiritual may “see” evidence of it and ascribe meaning accordingly. Non-believers will fail to notice or dismiss the same phenomena.

More broadly, “believing is seeing” can signify how preconceived notions color interpretations of reality. People may see what they expect or want to see based on existing biases. This subjectivity of perception complicates the link between observing and believing.

While “seeing is believing” values objective evidence, “believing is seeing” emphasizes subjective perception. The latter suggests direct experience alone does not dictate belief in absolute terms.

Comparing and Contrasting the Two Phrases

The phrases “seeing is believing” and “believing is seeing” represent two different perspectives on the relationship between beliefs and observations:

Seeing Is Believing

  • Emphasizes objective, direct evidence from personal observation
  • Sees critical, skeptical viewing as key to belief
  • Suggests experience outweighs hearsay or rumor
  • Aligns with philosophical empiricism

Believing is Seeing

  • Emphasizes subjective perception shaped by existing beliefs
  • Sees interpretation of experiences as belief-dependent
  • Suggests preconceptions color what people notice and perceive
  • Aligns with notion of cognitive and cultural biases

While “seeing is believing” conveys the idea that empirical evidence should dictate belief, “believing is seeing” suggests pre-existing beliefs shape perceptions of experience. The phrases offer complementary perspectives on how perception relates to developing knowledge and beliefs.

In reality, human psychology involves complex interplay between evidence and beliefs. But these pithy phrases provide intellectual footholds for exploring that interplay from different angles.

Key Questions

What is the full quote and source of “seeing is believing”?

The full quote is “Seeing is believing, but feeling is the truth,” attributed to English clergyman Thomas Fuller in the 17th century. It appeared in his work The Holy State and the Profane State published in 1642.

Where does the phrase “believing is seeing” come from?

The phrase is widely credited to acclaimed American actor Tom Hanks, who stated it in an interview regarding his acting approach. This is the earliest known source of the less common “believing is seeing” version.

How were these phrases used in notable contexts over time?

“Seeing is believing” appeared in various literary works after Fuller, such as Charles Dickens’ 1837 novel Pickwick Papers. Harry Houdini used it as the title of his 1912 book chronicling his illusions.

“Believing is seeing” does not have the same long history, but conveys a similar sentiment about the role of beliefs in shaping perception.

What is the core difference between the two phrases?

“Seeing is believing” suggests evidence from observation should dictate belief, while “believing is seeing” suggests pre-existing beliefs shape the perception and interpretation of experiences.

Which provides a better model of human psychology – “seeing is believing” or “believing is seeing”?

Most psychologists agree that perception involves interplay between evidence and pre-existing beliefs. But “seeing is believing” represents a more empirical philosophy, while “believing is seeing” emphasizes the role of subjectivity.


The thought-provoking phrases “seeing is believing” and “believing is seeing” express different perspectives on the relationship between observation and belief. While “seeing is believing” has origins in 17th century English philosophy, “believing is seeing” appears attributed to 20th century actor Tom Hanks. Each succinct saying has been interpreted in various contexts over time. The contrast between emphasizing empirical evidence versus subjective beliefs continues to provide fodder for examining the nature of knowledge and human psychology. Understanding the origins and evolution of these phrases provides intellectual context for exploring the nuances of perception and belief.


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