Strength of Faith is not Evidence/Proof

One rather frustrating psychological condition all people have is the mistaken belief that simply by believing something you can make it true (The Tinkerbell Effect). This is further extended to the notion that the harder you believe, the more true something is.

The truth is that you can not commit a belief to reality through will of conviction–how hard you believe in something doesn’t have any bearing whatsoever on the truth of the matter. Believing you’ll win the lottery, knowing for certain you’ll win, doesn’t change your odds (as every compulsive gambler will tell you right before they gamble the house away). Facts are unaffected by belief.

"A Casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything" - Friedrich Nietzsche
“A Casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything” – Friedrich Nietzsche

We don’t like the sound of that–it’s discordant. Can’t positive thinking create positive outcomes? Over things that you control, of course. Placebos work–if you think you’re getting medicine, you may get better despite the reality you’re getting a sugar pill. But that only works where your mind, consciously or unconsciously, has a say in the matter. A positive attitude can help you run a bit faster or longer, do better on a test, impress a girl. But those are all things to which your attitude contributes. Your attitude doesn’t contribute to whether it will rain or not. It doesn’t influence the laws of physics, the speed of light, or the pull of gravity. People who thought they could fly have hurled themselves from buildings convinced that with enough faith they could make it true… they’ve all been wrong. Vikings who died in the name of Odin didn’t ensure his existence by giving to him their last measure of devotion. Whether or not Odin exists is an independent fact, and no amount of belief will change it.

On the mild side this idea makes people unwilling to challenge their beliefs, to engage in rational dialogue (if I talk about it, I’m admiting doubt, and then it won’t be true) even when their actions are damaging to themselves, or worse, other people. At the far end it breeds fanatics, people willing to fly plains into buildings. Indeed, to those who think that the strength of your belief has a bearing on reality, I remind you that I doubt your faith was stronger than any of the hijackers. If the streingth of your convictions commits belief to reality, they fair well indeed.

 

There are many psychological reasons why people believe that strength of conviction correlates with reality. But the truth is that no amount of wanting something to be true will make it true

This is not to say that a positive outlook isn’t important. Indeed, thinking that you are getting better can make you get better – certainly the placebo effect has an impact. But positive thinking does not change the weather, or your likelihood of winning the lottery (but the lottery could not exist without this mistaken beliefs – everybody who plays secretly things that if they believe they can win hard enough, they will make themselves win. But this seems to have no impact on who wins times in fact it’s just as well from someone who forgot they actually bought a ticket)

Wish thinking is a common psychological phenomina in which people think that the more they believe something, the more likely it is to be true. It’s common and easily identifiable in children, but the truth is nobody ever really grows out of it, and all of us, even the most rational and reasoned adult, sometimes engages in wish thinking.
My first exposure to the phenomina was on trips to visit my grandmother when she would take me to the beach in Rockport. If clouds threatened the sky she would inisit that I believe that it would be a sunny day, and said that the harder I believed it, the more likely it would come to pass. As a child this horrified me. I was quite sure that what I wanted or believed the sun or clouds would do really had no impact on them whatsoever (and I was, of course, correct). I also found the notion selfish–for there must be people, farmers and such, equily praying for rain which I was supposed to deny them. Lastly I was well aware that such a notion would put the burdon of good weather on me–if the sun didn’t come out, it was my fault for not believing enough. Whether my grandmother actualy believed that wishing could influence things (certainly a possibility) or she was just trying to brighten her grandson’s spirits, I always found this kind of talk irreprehensable (and never failed to voice that opinion).
It’s clear that the brain can affect certain physical things. Plaseebos, for example, can often work as well as medication. When battling a life threatening illness, maintaining a positive outlook is absolutly critical. And believing that you can be successfull is the first step in actualy being successfull. Clearly a positive attitude affects many things.
But all of those things are things that are within your controll, either conciously or subconciously. Many a gambler has tried to wish-think a natural seven, but no amount of faith has ever made it so (and as proof of their faith, gamblers will often literaly bet their house on a roll of the dice, convinced that such a risky bet is proof of faith in the roll, and that faith itself will pay off. Yet no mater how strong the faith, the ods of victory are always the same. You simply can not wish clouds away, a 21 in blackjack, or for a childs cancer to go into remission).
What makes wish-thinking so dangerious is the belief that the stronger the faith, the more likely event of a positive outcome. It’s explicitly what allows people to turn a blind eye to atrocities and to commit them themselves. Every suicide bomber is utterly convinced that his act shows a faith strong enough that it will be rewarded. Further it requires the thinker explicitly to denounce logic and reason, and even allows him to harden his belief under such assaults.

 

Wish thinking is a common psychological phenomina in which people think that the more they believe something, the more likely it is to be true. It’s common and easily identifiable in children, but the truth is nobody ever really grows out of it, and all of us, even the most rational and reasoned adult, sometimes engages in wish thinking.
My first exposure to the phenomina was on trips to visit my grandmother when she would take me to the beach in Rockport. If clouds threatened the sky she would inisit that I believe that it would be a sunny day, and said that the harder I believed it, the more likely it would come to pass. As a child this horrified me. I was quite sure that what I wanted or believed the sun or clouds would do really had no impact on them whatsoever (and I was, of course, correct). I also found the notion selfish–for there must be people, farmers and such, equily praying for rain which I was supposed to deny them. Lastly I was well aware that such a notion would put the burdon of good weather on me–if the sun didn’t come out, it was my fault for not believing enough. Whether my grandmother actualy believed that wishing could influence things (certainly a possibility) or she was just trying to brighten her grandson’s spirits, I always found this kind of talk irreprehensable (and never failed to voice that opinion).
It’s clear that the brain can affect certain physical things. Plaseebos, for example, can often work as well as medication. When battling a life threatening illness, maintaining a positive outlook is absolutly critical. And believing that you can be successfull is the first step in actualy being successfull. Clearly a positive attitude affects many things.
But all of those things are things that are within your controll, either conciously or subconciously. Many a gambler has tried to wish-think a natural seven, but no amount of faith has ever made it so (and as proof of their faith, gamblers will often literaly bet their house on a roll of the dice, convinced that such a risky bet is proof of faith in the roll, and that faith itself will pay off. Yet no mater how strong the faith, the ods of victory are always the same. You simply can not wish clouds away, a 21 in blackjack, or for a childs cancer to go into remission).
What makes wish-thinking so dangerious is the belief that the stronger the faith, the more likely event of a positive outcome. It’s explicitly what allows people to turn a blind eye to atrocities and to commit them themselves. Every suicide bomber is utterly convinced that his act shows a faith strong enough that it will be rewarded. Further it requires the thinker explicitly to denounce logic and reason, and even allows him to harden his belief under such assaults.

 

 

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