Believing in the supernatural is easy: our brains lead us down the belief road without our knowledge. So there's good reason to be skeptical of religious, mystical, or spiritual experiences.
Much, most, or all of the time (depending on your level of skepticism) your brain is fooling you.
Such is the fascinating message of Sharon Begley's "Why We Believe" in a recent issue of Newsweek. I read her piece the day after my wife and I believed we were at the right election night party place, but really weren't.
We weren't in a supernatural frame of mind, but some of Begley's believing findings sure seemed to apply to us. Such as:
If we really want something to be true (like being an elevator ride away from an Obama victory party), our perceptions and thoughts likely are going to be tilted in the direction of our feelings and emotions.
Ambiguous evidence will be construed as Yes, we're on the right track! In the same way, religious believers see what they want to see in a holy book, holy person, or holy place. If your mind is deeply attached to a religious symbol, it may conjure up sensations that seem real, but actually aren't.
I'm reminded of stories told by disciples about gurus to whom they're devoted.
After being told by the guru that it is possible to be in touch with his astral (or "radiant") form, and spending many hours in meditation visualizing the guru's presence, one day the guru appears and talks to them. Well, maybe. Or, not.
Believing that there is more to life than what is apparent here on Earth can be comforting. I certainly got a lot of satisfaction from my true believing days. It was wonderful to feel so special, so cared for, so clearly guaranteed a better life after this one ended.
I'd still like this to be true. However, I've reached a point where truth is more important to me than feeling wonderful. Sure, I want both.
However, I also want my reality to be as real as possible.
Well, that may be. However, I'm still optimisic that people -- me included -- can find meaning and purpose in attuning themselves to how the world is, in contrast to how they'd wish it to be.