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Posted by: eddie ( )
Date: September 25, 2010 08:15AM

There are some very good reasons why people tend to think that prayer and living "righteously" might influence how things turn out that are actually beyond their control.

"Illusion of control is the tendency for human beings to believe they can control, or at least influence, outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over. It has been demonstrated in a succession of different experiments, and is thought to influence gambling behavior and belief in the paranormal.

One kind of demonstration involves a set-up with two lights marked "Score" and "No Score". Subjects have to try to control which one switches on. Jenkins & Ward presented subjects with two buttons to press. Allan & Jenkins had one button, which subjects decided on each trial to press or not press. The connections could be arranged so that each action switches on one light with a given probability, so subjects had zero control over which light is on, or a variable amount of control. Subjects were told that there might be no relation between their actions and the lights.

Subjects were asked to estimate how much control they had over the lights. Their estimates bore no relation to how much control they actually had, but was related to how often the "Score" light lit up. Even when it made no difference what they chose, subjects confidently reported exerting some control over the lights."

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Posted by: dangermouse ( )
Date: September 25, 2010 10:11AM

I'm guessing you're familiar with B.F. Skinner's pigeon superstition experiments: hungry pigeons associating whatever action they were performing when food was delivered with that delivery, despite the feeding schedule being totally beyond the influence of the pigeon. If a certain pigeon was, say, spinning clockwise when dinner arrived, that pigeon would continue to spin clockwise later, ritual-like, possibly hoping to make more food appear.

Also, I've read recently about "depressive realism". Depressed people in similar experiments to the ones you have mentioned are far less likely to think that they have any influence over the lights going on or off, and they're right about their powerlessness. However, they are also depressed. Perhaps religion, prayer, and certain stereotypical behaviours exhibited by pigeons in captivity are elements of a "bluff yourself happy" mindset. It may be crap, but perhaps an illusion of control is preferable to admitting to having none at all. Depression may be realistic, but it also leads to things like "learned helplessness": the illusion that you have no control when you actually DO have some.

It's not accurate to equate "unrealistic happiness" with a belief in the power of prayer, but nor do I think the phenomena are entirely unrelated. Perhaps living righteously and praying in the hopes of possible recompense isn't all that stupid. It may be irrational, but it could be some sort of spiritual survival mechanism.

PS I love pigeons. Awesome birds.

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Posted by: catnip ( )
Date: September 26, 2010 12:32AM


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Posted by: Stray Mutt ( )
Date: September 25, 2010 10:16AM

...sometimes prayer is about surrendering control -- putting it in God's hands, as they say. But, from my experience, that seems to be an uncommon behavior in Mormonism. I think it started with the Smith family view that there was a secret way to make God bless you, or to at least increase your odds. So it's natural that LDS prayer and ritual has become about trying to get something, trying to control something. Otherwise, what's the point of going through all the crap of Mormonism if there's no payoff, right? If you're just going to "let go and let God" you don't even need the church.

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Posted by: NormaRae ( )
Date: September 25, 2010 11:02AM

I think that's so true. There is so little demonstratable payoff for all the work and sacrifice required by the mormon corporation. Most of the "reward" comes in the fictitious mormon afterlife. So people need to believe that there is a present payoff for being mormon. They not only have prayer but they have priesthood blessings--a supernatural connection that other churches don't have.

If you run over your kid with your SUV and they survive because you gave them a priesthood blessing, wow, what better payoff for being mormon is there? I certainly can't think of one (but doesn't it mean that non-mormon people who run over their kids who survive without a priesthood blessing, are more favored by God?) The people who run over their kids and kill them still have the payoff of being able to raise them in the next life, which probably keeps them more ingrained in the church. Even if they start figuring things out--that one in a bazillion chance that the mormon church could be right and it's the only way they will get to be with that child in the hereafter, is enough to keep them in line. It also helps ease their pain becuase they can believe almightygawd had good reasons to take their child and it wasn't really because it was a horrible accident.

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Posted by: djb ( )
Date: September 25, 2010 12:14PM

Pfffft. I once prayed for a flash flood and got it. Why would I pray for a flood? Because I was curious about what a flash flood would be like. So that's why I don't pray for anything anymore. Because I might just get what I pray for..

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Posted by: forestpal ( )
Date: September 25, 2010 04:59PM

Think about it. That is the ultimate control.

Think about Priesthood blessings, the bishop being set apart to be "God's judge in Zion," Joseph Smith claiming that he'll be on the right hand of God on Judgment Day, JS saying that God will destroy Emma if she doesn't comply with the law of polygamy, latter-day prophets saying their words and the BOM are more current and should be taken above The Word of God and Christ in the Bible--down to personal things, such as bishops threatening apostates that they will fail, and that God will withdraw His blessings from them. Men telling God what to do.

Mormon men keep records for God, telling God which spirits on Earth and Heaven have been baptized, which have had their temple ordinances performed.

God needs the Mormons' help in running things in His Heaven? How arrogant!

How arrogant for Mormon men to think that they themselves will become as God someday! Why? They COMMAND God to promote them from the ranks. They have records of tithes paid, meetings attended, ordinances performed, callings magnified, toilets cleaned, new members they helped convert, geneology completed, babies popped-out--ad nauseum. God had BETTER bless them!

Mormons preach that, if they are obedient, GOD IS BOUND to bless them.

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Posted by: dangermouse ( )
Date: September 25, 2010 06:53PM

"Mormons preach that, if they are obedient, GOD IS BOUND to bless them."

This has always smacked of blackmail to me. "God: if I behave in X fashion, you have to do what I say and give me what I want". Feh.

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