Realm Of Randomness

May 7, 2007

The Red pill or the Blue pill ?

Filed under: General — Randomizer @ 3:50 pm

Following a very lively discussion in my previous posts about the origins of life and the existence of God, I couldn’t resist posting about a very philosophical line in the movie, The Matrix, and try to relate it to the ongoing debate.

Morpheus, at Neo :

You take the blue pill and the story ends. You awake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe…. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember — all I am offering is the truth, nothing more. “

Some time ago, I was thinking to myself – What would I choose ? (a) The illusion of the Matrix where I live the life of a Prince without any knowledge of the existence of the Matrix, or (b) the real world which is True, but where the hardships in my life would be unimaginable. [ What would you choose ? ]

This is still quite a close call, with neither being an obvious choice. The difficulties in answering this question display how hard it is for one to let go of religion, and why Atheism as a way of life will hardly ever be a tempting option. Here are just a few of the compelling reasons why people will choose religion:

(i) Belief in God is comforting .

To believe that someone all-knowing is looking out for you in your darkest hours fills one with a sense of warmth that can only be compared to the feeling of security a child gets when he is with his parents. Like GTP mentioned earlier, God is at many times, a psychological need. Death is scary without Heaven, illness is hard without a sense of divine help, and times where you think ‘Why did this happen to me?’ need to be answered with ‘God has something good in store for you’.

Only the most convinced of Atheists would choose not to pray at their time of utmost desperation.

(ii) Religion answers the unanswered in the simplest way possible.

Whatever questions humans have had are answered with a religious confidence unrivaled in simplicity by their peers at Science. Questions that are hard to answer, or answers that are hard to understand , are very simply dealt with by religion:

– Who made Earth and the Universe ?
– What happens after you die ?
– Who am I ?

Answering these with a religious solution is the simplest response you can ever get.

(iii) Religious Festivals are amazing.

What do Atheists have that can compete with the spirit of Christmas, the festivities of Diwali, or the celebrations of Eid ?

(iv) Religious people seem happier.

I was happy when I believed in Santa Claus. I would dream of what I’d ask for myself and marvel at how he would always get me exactly what I wanted. God is no different. You ask, and sometimes you ‘get’. If you didn’t , you say ‘God works in mysterious ways’ … either ways, you are content, and your moment of desperation has past.

Regardless of whether Religion is the truth, or an illusion like the Matrix, there is no doubt that it’s perks are extremely tempting. But to truly be an analogy to the religions of the world and Atheism, Morpheus would have to do this instead:

” Here are a 100 blue pills – each one representing a different illusion. And here is a red pill . Which one do you choose ? “

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14 Comments »

  1. That analogy makes it so easy to get the picture, may be i should work on my analogies.

    Comment by GTP — May 8, 2007 @ 1:51 pm | Reply

  2. “Here are just a few of the compelling reasons why people will choose religion:” <br/><br/>People don’t choose religion, Randomizer. Infact, religiosity is a state of mind that is so deep that its harder to ask a god-fearing person to imagine the absence of god. Similarly, its harder for me to imagine that god existed. The entire world view has to change for that to be sincere and to induce the ‘other’ state of mind. This happens over long periods of time albeit stimulated by epochs in one’s life/experience. So its not that people choose to be atheists or otherwise. <br/><br/>What you mention are mostly observed effects, not motivating factors. <br/><br/>>>(i) Belief in God is comforting <br/><br/>To those who believe in such an entity. It makes no sense to those who are convinced otherwise. <br/>”Its like saying we should play football because people who play football enjoy/love the game.” That can’t football non-lovers/non-football lover to love the game, they just have something else (which may not even be a game) to do with their time. So this arguments does not help. <br/><br/>(ii) Religion answers the unanswered in the simplest way possible.<br/><br/>Yet again it varies with what you value more – simplicity ( which slides into different degress of over-simplification/incompleteness/untruth<br/>) or reason-able explanation. Maybe if my brain were operated to favor simple and simplistic hypotheses, then I might take the bait. But as of now, its not at all attractive.<br/><br/>(To be continued) :-)<br/><br/><br/><br/>As usual I will add to this as the discussion catches on.

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 9, 2007 @ 4:15 am | Reply

  3. >>Infact, religiosity is a state of mind that is so deep that its hard to ask a god-fearing person to imagine the absence of god. Similarly, its harder for me to imagine that god existed.

    To comment on my own comment, an important part of religion/god debate must involve talking to people who crossed over and consciously did so in the past few years. People who been believers/atheists for as long as they can remember cannot complete this debate. We need to talk to believers who were atheists a few months ago and vice-versa to see why that happened.

    At the same time I must remind you that our cognitive biases are so entrenched that I sometimes think that most of us are fooling ourselves and the world all the time. http://www.singinst.org/Biases.pdf

    Here is a related but not so related cartoon :
    http://www.xkcd.com/c258.html

    Here is a brilliant blog on bias.
    http://www.overcomingbias.com/

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 9, 2007 @ 4:23 am | Reply

  4. “People don’t choose religion , Randomizer.”<br/><br/>Well, I don’t entirely agree. Many people who learn about evolution realize that the Genesis is wrong. If they wanted, they would just need to pursue this reasoning to understand that many other parts if not all parts of religious text are illusionary as well. <br/><br/>Many extremely smart people are believers … why ? It is because they ‘choose’ to continue believing … they ‘choose’ to not question it . Not out of fear of questioning God , but because of the fear of leading a life of an Atheist, which they imagine to be one without hope/comfort. <br/><br/>Many, many people I’ve had a discussion with about this debate say – ‘I know this doesn’t make too much sense, but I choose to follow this’ . You might say it’s because of society ,etc, but most of the times, it is because they LIKE the feeling of comfort/faith … and many of the other points I have enumerated. <br/><br/>I am definitely not promoting simplicity over the truth, rather, I am explaining why simplicity is to many, much more appealing than the truth. <br/><br/>We are all biased… and there’s nothing we can do about it :) . Atheists who convert into Theism usually do not have compelling arguments. I know that is a broad statement, but from my experience most who make this jump usually do so after (a) a near-death experience (b) attending a retreat… and either ways they seem delusional.

    Comment by Randomizer — May 9, 2007 @ 4:38 am | Reply

  5. Firstly, merely because people say they choose something, does not mean they actually chose it. But even leaving that aside, when I say choose, I was talking about informed choices.

    As I later clarified, when its extremely difficult to simulate these conflicting positions in one’s mind ( infact we don’t even know if my atheism is same your atheism so to speak, but leaving that aside again ), how do we say we made the choice ?

    To my understanding, people don’t choose to continue to believe in it , they are just *unable* to make that change. For example, even if I were convinced as a part of the debate about god, it would be very hard for me to make that choice. I don’t know what it is to be like a believer, and what I should do to become one. Hence as you suggest something extraordinary has to happen. ( as you mention …near-death experience, attending a retreat…)

    Its akin to people converting to another religion. I don’t know how they do it – it yet again depends on what their idea of god was in the first place. But what changes when you change your religion. As an agnostic I can’t even venture to speculate on that question.

    Coming back, in the sense of informed, well-debated, conscious choice, I think its fair to say people don’t choose to believe in religion. And given the tenor of most religious texts, I would not underestimate the role of fear either. ( no matter how smart people in might be in some given sphere, if we agree that there are different kinds of smart people)

    Or maybe some smart people are taken in by pascal’s wager.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal's_Wager

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 9, 2007 @ 5:07 am | Reply

  6. > To my understanding, people don’t choose to continue to believe in it, they are just *unable* to make that change.<br/><br/>Ok I see your point. But it seems like you are making all religious ppl to sound the same – people who can’t think of anything beyond because they are constrained by the limits of religious thought.<br/><br/>I don’t think this is the case in reality. You will find tons of people varying in their degrees of belief – Evangelists, Moderates, Dont-care-types, etc. <br/><br/>I think only Evangelists are *unable* to think differently. Most moderates are the types who will pray only at times of distress .. other times they disregard God completely. <br/><br/>It is these moderates who I claim often ‘choose’ either by Pascal’s wager or otherwise, to stick on to religion, because they see no harm to it. The vast percentage of scientists who are theists, are also, in my opinion followers by ‘choice’, and probably not ‘inability’. <br/><br/>As for Conversion… conversion that happens by ‘religious rites’, is of course meaningless. But conversion that happens by a change of truths – like me realizing that my parents were Santa Claus – is not so difficult to understand, as I assume you went through the same ‘conversion’ from theist to atheist

    Comment by Randomizer — May 9, 2007 @ 7:43 pm | Reply

  7. BTW, I agree that ‘Belief in God is comforting’ only to those who already believe in it. <br/><br/>I guess my whole post is more about ‘why theists choose to remain so’ rather than an independent person choosing between theism and atheism and deciding to choose the former.

    Comment by Randomizer — May 9, 2007 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  8. >>Religious Festivals are amazing.

    No arguments. No doubt about that. As this article states :
    http://www.indianexpress.com/story/29682.html
    festivals of a non-secular nature are more exciting and better observed than those of a secular nature.

    This of course is true. But religious festivals have been around for thousands for years after all. So give us agnostics and atheists sometime (few centuries :D ) , we will come up with something interesting.

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 13, 2007 @ 2:56 am | Reply

  9. Brief criticism of Religion:

    Religion is deeply intertwined with politics. Give me one example of an organized religion where the topmost in the hierarchy are not allegedly corrupt.

    Religions take us for a ride.

    They restrict our natural thought process by making us adhere to an inflexible dogma.

    Abrahamic religions and their twisted concept of an overbearing, omnipotent God is seriously brain damaging stuff.

    Eastern religions, though philosphically advanced, are not far behind.

    Religions are just cults with a far greater number of adherents and a strong political backing.

    Yes, they can be comforting but what’s comforting about religions is the spirituality they offer; something which can be attained without being a religious person as well.

    Summary:

    To cut it short, the sin/guilt baggage, identity issues, and ideological/dogmatic clashes which arise from ‘following’ a religion outweigh its merits greatly.

    My own beliefs/views:

    Personally, I don’t adhere to any specific religious/non-religious group. I partake in certain cultural practices which can be called ‘Hindu'(what a shame it’s Persian. i don’t view it as a religion anyway. hinduism is more a way of life) while not having a firm belief in the existence of a God.

    I also do not like strong and overly-vocal atheists (like Richard Dawkins) as well because they make their own (non)belief system seem to be superior to all others.

    Beliefs/Faith is an irrational, deeply personal subject and to justify one’s faith as being superior/prosyletizing is like asserting that MY imaginary friend is the best. Sure it maybe comforting to pray/have the feeling of a supernatural being watching out for you. But that doesn’t mean everyone must feel the same, ya?

    A religious person can be good or bad, a non-religious person can also be good or bad. So it’s all very subjective indeed.

    The best point in defense of religion:

    It helps ‘answer’ questions such as:

    Who am I?
    What happens after death?
    What’s the purpose of it all?

    Science fails to answer such questions in a manner which is comforting to the average human being.

    And I don’t see why Science and Religion must compete. Both should stick to their own jurisdictions.

    @Sharath

    People DO choose their religion at times. Though 90% of the times, we gladly accept the relligion(s) of our parents.

    I wonder if non-believers happen to get caught in an inter-religious riot, would their lives be spared? Lol. Sadly, no.

    *Wow. What a long winded comment. Not in order, but I hope it makes an iota of sense.

    Comment by abhnv — May 13, 2007 @ 9:36 am | Reply

  10. @Abhinav:

    Hinduism used to be a way of life, but its getting more and more organized into a religion. I completely agree with this chap here –
    http://islamfortoday.com/islamisareligion.htm

    Just a thought :

    I imagine someone brought up without being educated in science/religion for first say 20 years of his life.

    And then you start giving him science/mathematical truths without telling him about accomplishments of the scientific way of life ( and all the technological progress).

    You also give him a few religious books but not tell him that there are 5.5 billion people out there who believe in stuff written in some of those books, what do you think he will come up with ?

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 13, 2007 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  11. When people talk of science taking on religion and vice versa, they are talking of two ways of approaching life’s problems.

    They are 2 different ways, so different that they often give completely contradictory descriptions and prescriptions. One of them is always verifiable as either right or wrong. The other cannot be verified as certainly wrong, but often can be verified as deviating from practical experience.

    Let me now invent a 3rd way of thinking which says – “The answer to any question is the first hypothesis you think of”. I call this third way as FTR (First thought Rightism). You will dismiss me as a quack. However, I ( or rather my handful of FTR ‘disciples’) then manage ( by preaching/war ) over a few 100 years to attract 10 million people to agree to this FTRism by claiming that afterall it goes give ‘answers’ to questions like :

    Who am I?
    What happens after death?
    What’s the purpose of it all?

    Infact, the way FTRism works it gives answers to any question you ask.

    When you point out that it does not explain electromagnetism FTR followers tell you that its not fair to compare science/religion/FTRism. That each have a role to play and are not at loggerheads.

    Will you buy my nonsense ?

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 13, 2007 @ 1:59 pm | Reply

  12. Abhinav :

    “I also do not like strong and overly-vocal atheists (like Richard Dawkins) as well because they make their own (non)belief system seem to be superior to all others.”

    Do you extend this sentiment to Einstein who indicated that relativistic mechanics is superior to Newtonian mechanics ?

    What the “average human being” thinks should have nothing to do with the pursuit of truths that explain how life works. That is why he is called “average” – they don’t matter in this regard.

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 13, 2007 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

  13. @Abhinav: <br/><br/>Your way of life seems to represent what most of us seem to be doing these days – following customs of a religion, but believing in nothing. I wonder if there is a term for people who do this … <br/><br/>As Sharath has mentioned, just because an unproven/irrational way of thought has been given a term ‘religion’ and the rational way of thought by means of experimentation/verification has been given a term ‘science’, it doesn’t mean the two are actually ‘Separable’ and can/should co-exist peacefully in a person’s mind.<br/><br/>These two represent opposites. And a person who compartmentatlizes his brain to pursue both is merely fooling himself. <br/><br/>And as for Richard Dawkins… when there are thousands and thousands of Evangelists in the world asserting their faith on TV, in mass rallies, etc … a vocal Atheist / Scientist who is as firm and articulate about the clarity of his scientific basis as himself, is a delight and an inspiration to watch.

    Comment by Randomizer — May 13, 2007 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

  14. @Randomizer: <br/><br/>Incisive, cudnt put it better.

    Comment by Sharath Rao — May 13, 2007 @ 2:44 pm | Reply


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