Ya gotta believe?
By Mickey Z.
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Oct 15, 2007, 00:58
�The human brain is a complex organ
with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to
believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.� --Voltaire
According to some polls, many Americans believe the Bible is
literally true, Saddam Hussein helped plan the 9/11 attacks, and Britney Spears
is not suited to raise her own children. (No data at the moment about how many
Americans believe polls about what Americans believe.)
Can you believe it?
Humans behave in accordance with how they perceive their
surroundings. They perceive their surroundings in accordance with how they�ve
been taught. How they�ve been taught helps to cultivate beliefs. Like many
aspects of human psychology and neurology, however, the origin of our beliefs
is a topic up for grabs.
In his book, The
Biology of Belief, cell biologist Bruce H. Lipton states that thoughts
�directly influence how the physical brain controls the body�s physiology . . .
The fact is that harnessing the power of your mind can be more effective than
the drugs you have been programmed to believe you need.�
Perhaps the most common proof of Lipton�s hypothesis is what
we call the placebo effect. �The
critical factor,� says Irving Kirsch, a psychologist at the University of
Connecticut, �is our beliefs about what's going to happen to us. You don't have
to rely on drugs to see profound transformation.� Current research seems to
support the claim that a person's beliefs, sensory experience and thoughts can
affect neurochemistry and, thus, impact outcomes.
Consider the concept of hypnosis. Neuro-psychologists point
to alterations in brain activity to explain this phenomenon. EEG research shows
a shift in the location of brain activity during the hypnotic process. Hence,
the neurological changes just may help facilitate the power of suggestion.
While not exactly an accepted scientific term, the �power of
suggestion� is a confirmed psychological mechanism. Our subconscious can accept
or reject input. From repressed childhood memories to self-help mantras, the
input varies widely but what the subconscious accepts is what it responds to
and thus acts on.
What all this suggests is that despite the ballyhoo
surrounding genetic research and the mapping of the human genome, we humans are
made up of much more than our DNA. �We are not
the expression of our genes,� declares Ruth Hubbard, professor emeritus of
biology at Harvard, �and knowing their location on the chromosomes, or their composition,
does not enable someone to predict what we will look or be like. . . . It is a
mistake to put too much weight on genes or DNA.�
�I can believe anything provided it is
incredible.� --Oscar Wilde
One thing I believe
is that most humans very much want to
be fooled. We want to believe in
magic. Why else do we marvel at card tricks, sleight of hand, the two-party
system, and other illusions? An existence in which every single act has been
logically explained runs contrary to the typical human spirit and, thus, many
of us are ripe for the fooling. As Exhibit A, consider the cautionary tale of
marauding Martians landing in New Jersey.
On Oct. 30, 1938 -- the night before Halloween -- Orson
Welles and his radio troupe, the Mercury Theater of the Air, put on a radio
adaptation of the H.G. Wells science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds. Presented as if it were a newscast, the
story of a deadly Martian invasion (beginning in Grovers Mill, New Jersey) was
mistaken by many listeners to be true. Despite the fact that Welles interjected
periodic explanations that this was only a radio play, the result was mass
hysteria. Americans, mostly in the Northeast, armed themselves, hit the road,
hid in basements, and essentially panicked.
�All unwittingly, Mr. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater
of the Air have made one of the most fascinating and important demonstrations
of all time,� Dorothy Thompson later wrote in the New York Tribune. �They have proved that a few effective voices,
accompanied by sound effects, can convince masses of people of a totally
unreasonable, completely fantastic proposition as to create a nationwide panic.
They have demonstrated more potently than any argument, demonstrated beyond a
question of a doubt, the appalling dangers and enormous effectiveness of
popular and theatrical demagoguery.�
�There�s no doubt that there�s a rich, complex human
nature,� says Noam Chomsky. �When you get to cultural patterns, belief systems,
and the like, the guess of the next guy you meet at the bus stop is about as
good as that of the best scientist. Nobody knows anything.�
As they say in South Florida: Bingo.
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at www.mickeyz.net.
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