I was watching an interesting interview the other day between Richard Dawkins and illusionist Derren Brown about the techniques of cold reading and how charlatans posing as psychics, astrologists and spiritualists use them to fool people.
An interesting part of the interview was when one of these charlatans was caught and subsequently exposed as a fraud when the audio stream that was being broadcast into his earpiece from one of his assistants – clearly revealing him to be a cheat and a fraud – was intercepted, recorded and made public.
One might reasonably suspect that such a faux-pas on a colossal scale would be completely ruinous and catastrophic and that it brought his career as a claimed psychic to an immediate halt.
Oddly enough it did not. He was able to continue to his career and the fuss all quickly blew over.
This brings us to an interesting point about the human psyche. Not just that people would much rather accept a comforting lie that an unpleasant truth…
…but something far more interesting and less obvious and that is this.
Beliefs, in order for people to be able to maintain them, have to be backed up by one of two things.
• Facts or
In other words, if an idea is presented to you and there is no factual proof of it being true, the only way that you can accept it and maintain it as a belief is to invest your ego in it.
I am not sure if there is a name for this psychological effect (if you know of one, let me know) but its essentially a form of attentional bias in which the emotionally dominant stimuli is the ego itself and, in order to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of cognitive dissonance, people’s reaction can be quite predictable:
Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize,ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.
― Frantz Fanon
Recipe For A Religion
Anybody who is not religious will have had a conversation with a religious person who will question why they don’t believe in god.
It’s an odd question for a number of reasons. Firstly, people do not need a reason to NOT believe in something.
I don’t believe in god but I don’t believe in unicorns or that the universe is run by the flying spaghetti monster either.
People’s default state is to NOT believe in something unless there is a reason to believe in it.
Otherwise people could be taken advantage of in ridiculous ways. I could turn up on Mark Zuckerberg’s doorstep and tell him that I am his long long son and heir to his fortune. He won’t believe me because there is no factual reason to do so (I am actually older than him) and no reason to invest his ego into maintaining a belief that cannot be backed up by fact.
In other words people need a reason to believe in something, the existence of god or anything else, people do not need a reason not to believe in something.
Another reason that it is an odd question is that it is an inversion of Russel’s Teapot – the assertion that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon a person making scientifically unfalsifiable claims rather than shifting the burden of proof to others.
However,if you say to a religious person when they ask you this question something like “Well I don’t believe in existence of an invisible sky god because there it seems like a odd thing to believe” they not only will not accept your reply they will feel like you have insulted their religion even though you said nothing even remotely insulting.
Why will they feel insulted when you have not insulted them? Well, because such a statement will be seen as a challenge to their ego investment even though it is nothing of the sort and is simply the statement of an opposing belief based on rational appraisal.
In other words, the person holding the religious belief has done all the work of feeling bad all by themselves by choosing to accept an axiom that cannot be proven to be true and then investing their ego in it.
They are then choosing to blame the other party for these bad feeling because to accept that they themselves are the cause of own their bad feeling would force them to confront their ego invested beliefs in such an uncertain axiom and their egos could not possibly allow that.
Axioms, axioms, axioms
By the way when I said axiom, I simply mean the premise or starting point of reasoning.
All schools of thought have an axiom and, as axioms are the starting points for entire schools of though or reasoning , axioms almost always are premises so self-evident as to be accepted as true without any controversy at all.
The Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) however are exceptions to this rule as they all share a controversial axiom which is the notion that the universe was created and is run by an invisible sky god.
As this cannot possible be proven to be either true or false it is self-evidently controversial and as it is an axiom that cannot possibly be proven to be true it absolutely requires an ego investment in order to maintain the belief.
The funny paradox that this produces is that the most successful religions are the ones that require the greatest sacrifices. Islam for example is tremendously difficult to follow in that it requires you to pray 5 times a day, only eat halal food, give up alcohol and observe fasting practices for an entire month.
So what do all these difficulties and greater sacrifices mean? Greater ego investment of course.
And so we arrive at the recipe for creating a successful religion. Form it on the basis of an axiom that can neither be proven true or false and ensure that anybody following the religion must invest a great deal of their ego into it.
All religious wars and the deaths of millions of people in the past several thousand years are caused by this model of investing ego into axioms that can neither be proven true or false.
This is not the unsolvable problem that many people think it is but the solution does require that we as a species accept the nature of the human ego and the nature of axiomatic beliefs.
What’s This Got To Do With Sex?
Well, Sex 3.0 is based on an axiom too. However, like most axioms it is not controversial at all and that axiom is the following statement:
Women get pregnant and give birth to babies and men don’t.
In part two of this blog post I will comment on how and why this model of ego investment into controversial axioms causes such a fuss in the sexual area too and what we can do about it.
In the meantime, if you would like to watch part one of the Richard Dawkins / Derren Brown interview I mentioned at the beginning, then you can do so below.