MichaelEmeryArt

THE VAGARIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

By Daniel Gilbert [9.28.05]

                                   "Is God is nothing more than an attempt to explain order and good fortune by those who do not understand the mathematics of chance, the principles of self-organizing systems, or the psychology of the human mind? When the study I just described was accepted for publication, I recall asking one of my collaborators, who is a deeply religious man, how he felt about having demonstrated that people can misattribute the products of their own minds to powerful external agents. He said, "I feel fine. After all, God doesn't want us to confuse our miracles with his."

Some religious people regard scientists as foul heathens, which is terribly unfair. We aren't all that foul. On the other hand, we do tend to be heathens. The most fundamental principle of science is that beliefs must be predicated on empirical evidence — things that everyone can see, touch, taste, and measure — and in more than two thousand years of recorded history, no one has yet produced a shred of empirical evidence for the existence of God. That hasn't kept most people from believing. For as long as pollsters have been asking the question, roughly 90% of Americans have been claiming to believe in God, and a sizeable majority believes that God takes a personal interest in their lives and intervenes to help them. When President Bush said, "God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did," most Americans were not alarmed to learn that their leader was receiving orders that no one else could hear. America is an unusually religious nation, but even in the world's least religious nations the majority of people claim to believe in God.

   Scientists understand all this piety and faith by assuming that belief in God is one of the many primitive superstitions that human beings are in the process of shedding. God is a myth that has been handed down from one generation of innocents to the next, and science is slowly teaching them to cultivate their skepticism and shed their credulity. As Albert Einstein wrote:
        
 "[I had] a deep religiosity, which, however, found an abrupt ending at the age of 12. Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies. It was a crushing impression. Suspicion against every kind of authority grew out of this experience, a skeptical attitude towards the convictions which were alive in any specific social environment — an attitude which has never again left me"  (Autobiographical Notes, 1949).




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Illusion of external agency-Wikipedia

        

The illusion of external agency is a set of attributional biases consisting of illusions of influence, insight and benevolence, proposed by Daniel Gilbert, Timothy D. Wilson, Ryan Brown and Elizabeth Pinel.[1][2]

In a series of experiments, experimenters induced participants to rationalize a choice or experience (called the "optimizing" condition) after which they were more likely to make certain attributions of an external agent, as follows:

  • illusion of influence. Subjects who had been induced to rationalize liking for a teammate were more likely to attribute this liking to the influence of "subliminal messages" which experimenters claimed to have attempted to influence them to the best outcome. In this experiment the experimenters were presumed to have "insight" into the problem and "benevolence" towards participants.
  • illusion of insight. Subjects listened to a song chosen for them by a "SmartRadio" that they were told was benevolent and effective. Some subjects were informed of and rated the song before listening, and these subjects rated the song more highly and were more likely to continue using it, attributing their liking to the device's "insight".
  • illusion of benevolence. Subjects were given a gift; some rated it before receiving it and some rated it afterwards. Those in the afterwards condition rated it more highly (endowment effect). All participants were told that they were given the gift by another (unseen) participant as the best gift for them based on a questionnaire; those in the afterwards condition were more likely to believe that their liking was due to the benevolence of the gift-giver.

Gilbert et al. argued that "participants confused their own optimization of subjective reality with an external agents' optimizing of objective reality. Simply speaking, participants mistook 'the magic in here' for 'the magic out there.'"[1]