Sunday, October 12, 2014

Do you believe in coincidence or Godwinks?

I've had some pretty remarkable so-called "coincidences" in my life. About half of them I attribute to "Godwinks," those little clues in life that remind us not to rule out significance of the spiritual. But scientists, and I've known this for a long time, say coincidences are just that, coincidence. They are not "mystical but mathematical," chance following rules of probability.

Then psychologists join in and say humans tend to only pay attention to information that supports what they already believe. I agree with that up to a point. For instance, people who want to believe that in general a particular group is inferior or dangerous will ignore or rationalize away any evidence that contradicts that belief.

But what do scientists do with events and phenomena they can't explain? How do they explain people suddenly having insight into a situation they know nothing about? For instance, once I awakened from a dream in which I found a specific object that didn't belong to me but I needed to know about for my own safety. When I woke up, I left the bed and went straight to the place I'd seen in my dream and found the object.

A science-oriented friend of mine said, "That was your subconscious. You were aware of the object on some level and that's how you found it. He said this even though the object I found had been hidden inside a toilet tank, and I am one who rarely lifts the lid on a toilet tank. When I found the object that may have been only the second time in my life I'd ever seen the inside of a toilet tank. He, however, was determined to believe that there was nothing mystical about that moment. Was that a case of him ignoring information that challenged his ideology?

Or how is it that sometimes you have a very specific thought not to do a specific thing, and you listen to that thought, so you don't do whatever it is or go wherever you'd been headed. Then you find out later that the decision saved your life? If this happens to you more than once, it's hard to chalk it up to coincidence. (These expereinces probably don't count if you're a couch potato or afraid of most things.) Science, however, demands that you reject your own interpretation of your personal experiences and accept whatever it is science says is true at the moment.

Notice I say at the moment. All it takes is a study of how science has shaped racist propaganda and how scientists, after consuming the very propaganda science helped create, then go on to misinterpret the word around them and you'll see that science itself should also be given the side-eye sometimes.

Since scientists discuss the human tendency to cling to information that only supports what a human already believes, what beliefs do most scientists hold that influence how they interpret phenomena such as coincidence? I mean, they're human, too. What are the ideologies that propel scientists?

In general, I support science, proven facts, and numbers, but I do not automatically rule out "God" or the mystical. I make room in my life for the possibility of miracles. I have to because I am not a natural optimist. Life's difficulties have stripped me of idealism and my earlier leanings toward the romantic, I think.

And I don't care that some people I otherwise respect think that believing in the mystical and spiritual is for cowards who can't accept what athiests call "the fact that there is no God." It's impossible for a living person to know whether God exists, which is why belief in God requires faith. However, it's not unreasonable to say that old concepts of God, such as the image of a white man in a robe and long beard sitting somewhere in the sky is hard to swallow and highly improbable. On the other hand, theories in theoretical physics open the door to believing almost anything is possible in terms of alternate dimensions.

I recognize that it's a choice to believe in the spiritual just as it is a choice to accept a specific system of ethics, but as long as such beliefs are not putting me and my family's lives in jeopardy--for example causing me to refuse medical help or to not take action to solve problems or assume agency in my own life--how does it harm me?

Actually, when scientists and atheists ask us to reject belief in the unseen and ignore perceived patterns or that strange sense of presence we sometime feel (which can be explained by causes other than God), they are asking us to work against our own evolutionary survival instinct. That doesn't mean we should believe all kinds of superstition. It simply means that perhaps we should not, in our effort to prove how intellectually sophisticated we are, rule out the possibility that some aspects of the mystical may be valid. Until we fully understand everything about the human brain or disprove string theory with irrefutable evidence, those of us who prefer to believe in God are not as nutty as those who don't would have us think we are.

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