Thursday, April 27, 2006

The power of suggestion...

...I suggest looking into it.

Someone suggested that I read this book: The Case for Christ. So I did.

For this post I'll draw out a marginal topic from the book that is more of a side note in one chapter:
...Collins’ appeal to Jesus’ miracles opened the door to other objections. “Some people have tried to shoot down these miracles that supposedly help authenticate Jesus’ claim to being the Son of God,” I said, pulling out a book from my briefcase. I read him the words of skeptic Charles Templeton.
Many illnesses, then as now, were psychosomatic, and could be “cured” when the sufferer’s perception changed. Just as today a placebo prescribed by a physician in whom the patient has faith can effect an apparent cure, so, in an early time, faith in the healer could banish adverse symptoms. With each success the healer’s reputation would grow and his powers would, as a consequence, become more efficacious.
“Does this,” I demanded, “explain away the miracles that supposedly back up Jesus’ claim to being the Son of God?”
Collins’ reaction surprised me. “I wouldn’t have a whole lot of disagreement with what Templeton wrote,” Collins replied.
“You wouldn’t?”
“Not really. Might Jesus have sometimes healed by suggestion? I have no problem with that. Sometimes people can have a psychologically induced illness, and if they get a new purpose for living, a new direction, they don’t heed the illness anymore.
“The placebo effect? If you think you’re going to get better, you often do get better. That’s a well-established medical fact. And when people came to Jesus, they believed he could heal them, so he did. But the fact remains: regardless of how he did it, Jesus did heal them.
“Of course,” he quickly added, “that doesn’t explain all of Jesus’ healings. Often a psychosomatic healing takes time; Jesus’ healings were spontaneous. Many times people who are healed psychologically have their symptoms return a few days later, but we don’t see any evidence of this. And Jesus healed conditions like lifelong blindness and leprosy, for which a psychosomatic explanation isn’t very likely.”
(The Case for Christ: A
Journalist's Personal Investigation
of the Evidence for Jesus
by Lee Strobel :148-149)

I guess one would have to read through the Bible and keep an eye on where Jesus says something about "faith healing." The interesting thing is that the importance of beliefs has been verified empirically. In the aggregate it shows up in things that seem like small effects like the placebo, yet there are also individual cases in which doctors performed the wrong surgery and the patient got better and the like. So it is hard to say how many times something of this nature may be happening given that usually doctors both perform the correct surgery and so act as if the patient should be cured leading them to believe that they are. That may be combined with the brute fact that they have been physically cured, yet some cases indicate that may not be so. I would not be as radical as an anthropologist studying "ritual surgery" these days as if modern medicine is the same as the old shamans combining some physical herbs with mental beliefs, although some of it may well be. Rather, it seems to me that one could think about it this way, we already know that we think (and think that we know) with our brain cells, so perhaps our other cells are also a little more thinking and knowing than we yet know. E.g., if we feel stress then they seem to know it too. And so on.

Most of these types of effects are small yet significant enough to be noticed and studied in the aggregate while in some individual cases they may be life changing.

Interesting to note that once we admit to the paranormal or the anomalies that sometimes seem to occur even now, then it might make what was traditionally considered miraculous less significant in our minds. It's the matter of definition and what a miracle is defined by and how the sign is written against the background noise. I.e., if everyone could fly then it would not be significant or taken as much of a sign of anything about me or my knowledge/wit/witness if I could levitate and say, "Look at me, I'm levitatin' here! So here is what I have to say about things." And if the rules, patterns and laws by which things operate are perceived to be inclusive of what was previously considered significant or anomalous then people will not take a "miracle" as a sign and a wonder to be wondered at. Everything is already quite amazing if you actually look at it with an eye to see it, including a human being walking around keeping their balance in a way that a robot probably never will based on little more than tiny hairs in its ears, while its muscles run on little more than plants and meat, and so on and so forth.

If we could all fly around at will based on our mental powers or some such, then people would probably be wondering about and having dreams of instantaneous teleportation or some such.

Perhaps tomorrow I will do a post on the little anomalies of life that no one seems to notice that are similar to the placebo effect. A scientific heretic has published some books about such things so I bought his books because it has been suggested by the new Priests of Knowledge that they be burned. "Book burning?!" you might ask. Indeed, interesting how heresy has changed these days to be so scientific, is it not? The issue of heresy vs. orthodoxy seems to follow what people actually believe to be true. These days in the West the truth is what people think "science" is or what is scientific and so supposedly not theology/religion, as that can be separated as the realm of fiction or subjective faith at best. Since you usually can't be much of a heretic in the realm of fiction there are not many religious heretics these days. Or perhaps there are people suggesting that heretical books be burned and the like that I do not know about.

I'm a bit of a heretic myself in some ways when it comes to religion. I suppose that it is fortunate for me that in postmodernist times in which religion is not believed to be "true," no one cares enough to censor or burn over it!

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