Friday, February 22, 2013

Not Blessed, Lucky

Flip a coin. Call heads. It’s heads! Congrats, you are on the winning side of what was a 50% probability. This means that your guess of a random, binary outcome was correct. Few would say it was because the god of loose change smiled upon you. However, the few become many when the odds become increasing hard to overcome. Take the long-shot win of a lottery for example. It is understandable that one would conclude that reality is playing favorites. Since the universe can’t make choices, an agent with control over the universe is invented to explain the great fortune of some and the misfortune of others. I would guess this is one of the many reasons that contributes to the origin of religious belief in almost every culture.

It’s not all simply a numbers game of financial gain either. Say, you meet the right person and fall in love. It can feel like a supernatural force brought you two together to fulfill an ultimate destiny. Humans are romantic like that. In reality it means that you were open to sharing your life, found someone compatible of the pool of hundreds of people you come across weekly, and had your feelings reciprocated. There are many such seemingly serendipitous events in our everyday life.

My favorite microcosm of luck confirmation bias is finding the bright side of a calamity. Consider that you are spared the full consequence of some misstep of tragedy. We’ve all heard someone say how blessed someone was for surviving a car accident. “You must have a guardian angel,” they say, “God was watching out for you.”

This combination of optimism and superstition is at the heart of faith. We can see the silver linings of such dark clouds and dress them as a deity who didn’t cause the accident, but rather rescued someone from the jaws of death. It's not only mistaking angelic intervention for human ingenuity in the form of seat belts, airbags and crumple zones; it's not acknowledging that shit happens, both good and bad. Belief in magic informed our past, but moving into the future we should all keep in mind...we’re never blessed or cursed, just lucky or not.

11 comments:

  1. The lottery thing is interesting, if you win the lottery and only think of your own personal role in it, it seems like a miracle. But if you think of everyone who is playing it doesn't seem like magic any more. Granted, there is a 1 in several million chance that you would win, but if several million people are playing, the chance that someone somewhere would win is almost a certainty. It's still awesome that it is you, but it doesn't have to be some deity pulling string, it had to be someone.

    Reminds me of a post I wrote about coin flips a while ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember the coin flip post. As a poker player, I keep probability content in memory for a while. :-)

      Delete
  2. If you refuse to even look at the other side of the coin...you will never understand why some folks know for certain there are two sides to it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like that a lot! So many theists refuse to even acknowledge that there are two sides to the "coin".

      Delete
  3. Well, unless you were playing the game with a fix coin (same face in both sides) the other side of the 50/50 wager in this case is, obviuosly, Tails. There is nothing more to it, no matter how you want to look at it (except in the quantum sense, but that is beyond the point). That is why is call a binary game. That is how things work in planet Earth.

    ReplyDelete
  4. One of the problems that I see with this whole concept is something that you alluded to. It is also why I get so frustrated when I see/hear things like "What are atheists thankful for if they don't believe in god?"

    That is an absurd question. The fact of the matter is, that while winning things like the lottery is complete luck, many things in our lives that the faithful would say are "blessings" are not. There are many people in our lives who have tremendous impact (or the potential to do so) that deserve that credit. From family and friends to doctors and fire-fighters. So no, I'm not "thankful" to god that I can "move normally" after my hip surgery. I am thankful to my Doctor, his team, the countless people around the world who have researched and perfected such procedures. Thanking god, is just doing a disservice to those people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, worse then giving glory to a fictional character for random events, is giving glory to a fictional character for things other people do.

      Delete
  5. I have a friend who claims to be one of the luckiest people in the world, but the problem was that he got both good and bad kinds of it. :-)

    Those blessed calamities are hilarious to me too.

    I think that people who count these lucky "blessings" have already convinced themselves of the mindset that all "good" things come from God. So it's like flipping a coin with God on one side and "just regular life" on the other for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On the micro, I feel lucky sometimes and feel horrible unlucky others, but I know on the macro scale, it all evens out.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, I think we all get lured into thinking things like this on the micro scale. At least I know I do. :-)

      I wonder if that may be part of how the religious mindset gets nurtured. You know, I am feeling very lucky, i.e. God is happy with me or is blessing me. And visa-versa. There's that part in our brain that's always trying to figure out the reason for what's happening (why am I so lucky, or so unlucky), and sometimes an invisible, omniscient, omnipotent friend seems to fit in there as a reasonable micro-cause, even if it falls apart on the macro level. ;-)

      Delete
    3. Yes, in fact, this post was originally going to be part of a series on why I think most every culture makes a religion.

      Delete