Ch1 L43: Beliefs – part XVII (On miracles)

  1. In the last post, we saw how some half-crazy people could persuade others that they were connected to a higher being and if they came along at the right time and place, some people would believe in them. In the case of epilepsy, the seizure could visually convince people that something extraordinary was going on. [1]
  1. The diagram above shows how we experience the world and the extraordinary things turn to the ordinary. There are two ways to consider an event ordinary. You can justify its existence or it regularly happens, so you’re used to it [2].
  2. For example, if you saw a zebra for the first time, you might feel surprised but you wouldn’t call it extraordinary because it looks like, horses or donkeys. So, you can use the concept [3] of “equine” to define or categorize it.
  3. To Tarzan [4], having the ape mom is very ordinary, because he’s used to it; but to us, the readers, it’s extraordinary.
  4. We can relate the realm of ordinary things to orders, as opposed to the realm of chaos. Learning or awareness is the process of defining or creating orders.
  5. The world of chaos (darkness) is filled with fear [5] because we can’t predict what would happen next [6]. As we discussed in the first post about beliefs [7], uncertainty induces fear. That’s why we need to create beliefs to lower the stress level.
  1. In the 18th post [8], we talked about the 4 basic feelings regarding an experience. Fear and desire are the two sides of the same coin and they’ll rise to the maximum level while experiencing the utmost uncertainty which means 50-50 situations.
  1. We used this diagram in the 26th post [9], and showed that the highest level of doubt is at the midpoint which can be correlated with the highest level of fear or excitement. Professor Sapolsky [10], told the story of an experiment in one of his lectures. Some scientists trained several groups of monkeys to pull a lever and get their reward (juice). They differentiated the experiment in a way that each group received the reward with a different probability. Some monkeys were sure that they’d get the reward (100%); Others had a different chance, say, 20 out of 100 times they got it. The scientists measured how much dopamine (the reward hormone which makes us excited about a desirable outcome) is released for each group. The monkeys who got it half the time (50% chance) had the highest level of excitement. [11]
  2. In parentheses, we can also use this study to explain why gambling is addictive. When you’re sure that you’ll win or lose, you won’t get excited. It’s predictable. However, if the chance is close to 50%, then you would feel euphorically excited. Earlier we discussed that pleasure and pain tell us whether we should repeat an action or avoid it [12]. Thus the pleasure of getting dopamine will be addictive.
  3. Another way, to convince people that you’re connected to a higher being would be performing magic/miracle. Magicians were the first scientists who discovered some relationships and brought them from the world of chaos to the ordinary world. Since people couldn’t justify their existence and they rarely happened, they called them extraordinary; thus they must be related to extraordinary power.
  4. When the chance of an event is 0, we call it impossible [13]. Now, imagine that something you’d considered impossible happened. Mathematically and theoretically speaking, the source of power must be infinite [14]. That’s the ultimate level of magic which we call a miracle. Later, the definition of miracle changed when religions called it a divine act because it couldn’t be possibly done by humankind.
  5. Once Avicenna, a Persian doctor, and polymath [15] saw a funeral procession. He asked one of the mourners about how the deceased had died. They said he’d been a butcher and he’d died at his butchery. Avicenna requested them to stop the coffin to examine him. He realized that the butcher who was very obese had had a heart attack. So, he brought him back to life. How did people react? We know that Death is a one-way experience and no one has ever come back. They thought that Avicenna performed a miracle.
  6. Avicenna didn’t abuse his power to manipulate others, but many did. It’s not difficult to surrender to the temptation that people would do anything for you as long as you promised to protect them. So, apart from a group of people who were mentally suffering, there was a group of charlatans who claimed to have the superpower.
  7. They could also threaten the poor people that they’d curse them which in my opinion was stronger leverage to bring people to their knees, destroying their confidence [16] by stimulating too much fear.
  8. We (the 21st-century people) also tend to call very rare incidents miracle. Because our brain rounds off very small chances to 0. We think that they shouldn’t have happened. For instance, imagine that you’re playing backgammon [17], and you got double sixes, five times in a row. The probability of this event is 1 in 60466176 times [18] which means it’s very unlikely but not impossible. Then at this moment, if you don’t leash your archetypal [19] thoughts, you might think or unfortunately believe that you witnessed a miracle, or you might feel like having a superpower.

Footnotes:

[1] Link to the previous post

[2] We still don’t know many things about the world around us but we’ve accepted them since they regularly happen.

[3] Link to the post about concepts

[4] Link to the Wiki Page about Tarzan

[5] We talked about fear and its dominant effect on our decisions in many posts, starting from the 3rd post. Link

[6] Predictability is the most important factor that alleviates stresses. That’s why natural disasters have been extremely frightening because they’re almost unpredictable. Science has also proven it with some experiments on animals. The rats who got electric shocks randomly showed a higher level of stress than those which could anticipate it [Link]. Therefore, the unpredictability of a disaster amplifies the stress.

[7] Link to the first post about beliefs

[8] Link to the 18th post

[9] Link to the 26th post

[10] I’ve used professor Sapolsky’s book and lectures many times throughout this journey. He is one of the most inspiring people I’ve seen. Link

[11] Link to professor Sapolsky’s first course on Behavioral biology at Stanford. Unfortunately, I didn’t bookmark the lecture to use the exact reference here but as far as I remember he talked about this experiment in one of the first lectures. I’ll recommend you to watch all the lectures.

[12] Again Link to the 18th post where we briefly talked about pleasure and pain

[13] In the 11th post, we discussed the possible and impossible things. Link

[14] We’ll discuss this situation in the chapter about probability

[15] Link to the Wiki page about Avicenna

[16] Again link to the first post about fear in which we studied confidence

[17] Link

[18] We will discuss this problem and calculate the chance in the chapter about probability

[19] Link to the Jungian definition of archetype

* The featured image is taken from the following link:

Link

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