Reality and Fantasy
Years ago a friend, let's call him Pedro, an amateur magician
who really enjoyed his own shows, told me something that made me question his
sanity. In one of his performances, before a large audience, Pedro supposedly
executed a mind-blowing trick that earned him a standing ovation. I do not
remember the details of the ruse–what did it emerge, change or disappear–but the
final comment of his tale was odd: "I do not know how I did it." By
his expression and tone, Pedro was absolutely certain of possessing supernatural
Can magic cause harm? The obvious answer is negative: wizardry
shows are always entertaining but... Are supernatural powers real? No!
Levitation, divination, telepathy, telekinesis, energy healing and the similar
are quackery. Why do so many people believe in such stuff? They do because
distortions in their mental models have altered their perception of reality.
Pedro soon left sorcery behind but his story illustrates the
path that almost all the magical masters go through. Christopher French, a British
specialist in the study of the so called paranormal phenomena, argues that the
vast majority of people who claim to be psychics are convinced that they indeed
The passage from confusion to conviction is understandable for
the impostors that profit from their chatter, but how does the naivety of their
faithful followers originate? Deceiving large groups, when it goes beyond
entertainment, is a felony that would not spread if it were not for the naive
complicity–for the self-deception–of the credulous followers.
In somebody’s bewilderment, his or her reality is altered,
blurred or darkened, and they see things differently. "Nothing is true or
false: Everything seems to be the color of the crystal through which one
looks," wrote Ramón de Campoamor, the 19th century Spanish poet. Usually
‘our crystal’ is tinted from the outside, without us even realizing it. Our
inclination to prefer hassle-free beliefs, as opposed to the challenging
analysis demanded by reasoning, has been sown onto us since our childhood.
According to a study, carried out with 5-6 year old children and
published in Cognitive
Science journal in 2014, the religious stories, overloaded with
fantastic characters, we learned in our early years could reduce our ability to
differentiate between real people and illusory figures–between reality and
fantasy–in the everyday life. Although the study acknowledges the possibility
of additional factors that could have been unintentionally excluded from the
scope, we all are acquainted with 'degrees of naiveté' both in ourselves and
among our close friends. (I have an atheist friend who fears the ‘invocation of
spirits’ and refuses to play with Ouija boards).
If we wanted to amend our
mental models (and adjust the color of our glass) we should do it in three
steps: identification, observation and modification. Identification is the
recognition of the myths that were imprinted in our heads, without our consent,
by our parents, by our first teachers and, in general, by the environment where
we grew up.
Identification is followed by
vigilance, the impartial observation of the effects in our behavior of those
childhood beliefs that became irrefutable truths, whether metaphysical (saints,
angels, demons ...), folkloric (witches, elves, apparitions ...) or ideological
(dogmas, partisan, divisive attachments...). After identification and impartial
observation, the third stage, the modification or adjustment of the mental
models, should occur rather spontaneously.
In short, our beliefs of any
kind, our preconceived views, impossible to verify as true, cloud our reason
and deteriorate our capacity for analysis. It is not that we become stupid...
No! Talented individuals who are fanatics of religions, ideologies or divisive
attachments abound. It is the freedom to choose the premises on which we are
going to reflect–to ponder–that is knotted and restricted by our beliefs. We
continue to be clever but biased in our judgments and selective in what we
choose to consider.
'To reflect'–to express a
conclusion resulting from thinking–comes from 'reflection', the returning of
images that are sent back by shiny and smooth surfaces. Beliefs, as the
preconceived opinions that are, darken and taint our mental mirror which,
stained and contaminated, fails to reflect those truths that would otherwise be
clearly obvious. Furthermore those biased opinions also blur the glass through
which we are looking at the world.
Author of 'INNER
HARMONY through MINDFULNESS MEDITATION'