Much has been discovered in recent times about how beliefs are formed, what conditions the process – especially through neurological studies. This applies in all respects to Sai Baba devotees’ beliefs, for, having myself learned all about it the hard way – by believing in most of it, and gradually finding the basis for the belief breaking down until I took the step of a full critical examination (and deconstruction) of the Sathya Sai Baba belief system. I recommend the study of these matters, and ‘The Believing Brain’ is an excellent place to start.
The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. By Michael Shermer. Times Books; 2011 400 pages;
“Michael Shermer’s comprehensive and provocative theory on how beliefs are born, formed, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished. The book “presents the evidence for Mr Shermer’s central claim: that, instead of shaping belief around painstakingly gathered, soberly judged evidence, people most often decide upon their beliefs first, and then use an impressive range of cognitive tricks to bend whatever evidence they do discover into support for those pre-decided acts of faith.”
“In this work synthesizing thirty years of research, psychologist, historian of science, and the world’s best-known skeptic Michael Shermer upends the traditional thinking about how humans form beliefs about the world. Simply put, beliefs come first and explanations for beliefs follow. The brain, Shermer argues, is a belief engine. From sensory data flowing in through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. Our brains connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen, and these patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop of belief confirmation. Shermer outlines the numerous cognitive tools our brains engage to reinforce our beliefs as truths.”
“Interlaced with his theory of belief, Shermer provides countless real-world examples of how this process operates, from politics, economics, and religion to conspiracy theories, the supernatural, and the paranormal. Ultimately, he demonstrates why science is the best tool ever devised to determine whether or not a belief matches reality.”
There is also a “useful definition of a sceptic, as Mr Shermer understands the term: one who is aware of the fallibility of intuitions, and willing to take steps to minimize them. It remains, sadly, an uncommon combination.”
A strongly held-belief often gives a certain kind of strength to the believer. By managing to exclude all doubts and by never seeing that any question has more sides than one. and by avoiding hearing contrary views, the ‘true believer’ – who suffers from a form of fanaticism – obtains a certain form of strength of purpose from it. This strength, because it rests upon a doubtful basis – absurd to others and to science – is therefore brittle and liable to crack when put to the real test – either of experience or crisis.