Amy Thinks Deep

philosophy for the curious soul 

Applying the Placebo Effect to Spirituality and Beyond

As most educated people know by now, science has discovered something called the “placebo effect.” The placebo effect is usually demonstrated best with researching the healing potentiality of pills. Research has confirmed that if a person believes the healing potency is in the anecdote he takes, then there is better chance that the problem will be cured. This instates a theory that beliefs are more powerful than objective facts.

Testimonies of near-death experiences, trauma and/or addiction recovery, telekinesis and cognitive-behavioral theory (a popular school of thought for counseling psychology) can all vouch for one thing: beliefs constitute much of what we make reality. Time and time again, recorded throughout the gospel records, Jesus proclaimed the importance of belief. Essentially, belief aids in contributing to reality, at least the reality that is directly influentially linked to the believer.

If a believer believes X, then his whole world follows henceforth. Life and growth are made up of gathering and learning facts, because how can one function and be a successful survivor of a reality which he has not mastered? From a psychological perspective, cognitive theory has demonstrated that belief is a foundational premise for emotional and behavioral purposes. A classic example of self-esteem (a belief of value of self):

A young girl is told by her family, in one way or another, that she is unattractive. After a while of hearing this, she starts to believe it, which leads to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, depreciated value, fear of peer rejection, etc. (The list is endless however, depending on how the young girl interprets the message.) Because of her negative self-image and self-esteem, she tries to compensate and better her image to match what she perceives others may find attractive. The unwanted feelings (listed above) have plummeted to compensating behaviors of losing weight, self-abuse, etc. (Again, the list is endless.)

From this example, it is clear how beliefs can be learned; also it is clear that beliefs can influence emotions, which influence behaviors (the equivalent metaphor for reality). Beliefs can be acquired and added to one’s mental supposition just as facts from scientific discovery can be added. But guess the one thing science has not yet discovered even the capability of exploring and measuring. Yes, the afterlife. What we know of the afterlife is only regarded on the honor system, by testimonies of near-death experiences or age-old religious revelations. As it is, the body dies, but even during life on earth, spiritual explorers become aware of the spirit apart from the body. Those who believe in the afterlife usually find that the spirit is still active.

Here was my reasonable hypothesis: As the placebo effect assumes that the power of the mind can alter physical aspects, such as healing, so the placebo effect can apply so that the power of the mind can alter spiritual reality. It would make sense to suppose the spirit can be altered by the mind, as if emotions can be altered by the mind. Though we can’t quantify data for spiritual reality, we only have subjective witnessing. The placebo effect is totally balanced on the basis of subjectivity. If one perceives the anecdote to be real, it will indeed be used as its assignment as the anecdote.

If belief does determine the outcome in the afterlife, then there is a paradox within this system. Assuming that placeboes can exist for spiritual phenomena, let’s utilize two examples of the eastern belief of reincarnation. 1) Tell a person who believes in reincarnation presently, that in his past life, he did not believe in reincarnation. 2) Tell a person who does not believe in reincarnation presently, that in his past life, he did believe in reincarnation. So what really happens in the afterlife? Is there some flexibility in regards to the placebo effect having influence over the afterlife?

This raises the question about how much control earthly beings have over their afterlife. Beliefs have an unconscious and shocking control value over emotions and behavior, as demonstrated in the self-esteem example above. Beliefs can also adapt things normally outside the influence of the mind, and use that control of belief to alter normal reality into something not objectively expected, such as telekinesis or placebo sugar pills. Why wouldn’t it follow that the afterlife is determined by one’s beliefs as well? Surely it is subjective beliefs manipulating objective reality.

Side thought: If science (an objective method/source) proves that subjectivity is superior to objectivity, then how can science remain valid and worthy? All scientific method is, at least for soft (psychological) sciences, is gathering subjective data in a bell curve fashion, in order to say what is normal and what can be expected, according to the popular subjective views.

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