Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Analogy

Imagine a baseball batter who believes for some reason or the other that every time he cracks his knuckles before stepping up to bat, he will get a hit. Perhaps this started because once when he was in a lean patch, he cracked his knuckles before batting and hit a double. Perhaps the reason for this strange belief is because as a kid, his coach, in whom he had tremendous faith, told him so. Whatever the reason for the belief may be, it is there.

So whenever our batter goes out to bat, he cracks his knuckles. Sometimes he gets a hit, sometimes he doesn't. Whenever he gets a hit, he is happy that his little trick has worked. When he doesn't get a hit, he tries to rationalize by thinking that he may perhaps have not cracked his knuckles properly or that maybe it is in some way better for his team for some reason that he get out instead of hitting. The next time he steps up to bat, however, he will once again crack his knuckles, firm in his belief that it will bring him a hit.

Somewhere down the line, our batter might strike rotten form. In spite of all the knuckle cracking, he won't be able to buy a hit. One of two things might happen -- he might give up on his belief or he may raise the level of his rationalizing and ride out the bad times until he strikes form again.

Now suppose we performed a little experiment with our batter. Before some at-bat's we allow him to crack his knuckles and before others we ask him to avoid doing so. After a fair number of games we look at his average for the times he cracked his knuckles and the times he didn't. What do you think we'll find? I believe his average for the times he cracked his knuckles will be higher than his average for the times he didn't crack them.

Now take another batter and subject him to the same experiment. If the number of games played is sufficiently large, you can expect this second batter to have roughly the same average for both the at-bat's where he cracked his knuckles and the ones where he didn't.

What do we conclude from this hypothetical experiment? That the reason the first batter did better when he cracked his knuckles was because he believed more in himself after cracking his knuckles. He knew "luck" was on his side and looking over his shoulder. He knew he was going to get a hit. And that self-belief helped him play better. When he didn't crack his knuckles, he knew something bad was going to happen. So the whole thing was in his mind. But, and I think this is an important point here, it did help him do better.

The knuckle cracking didn't affect the second batter in any way since he didn't believe in it and didn't really care either way. He just went up to the plate and batted.

This is one of the ways I view religion. Religion is useful in many ways to people who do believe in it. It gives them a sense of self-assurance because they feel Someone is looking out for them and this helps them perform better themselves. But at the end of the day, the improvement in their lives is because of their belief rather than what they believe in! It's all in the mind of the believer. Therefore, for those who don't believe in religion -- quite like the second batter -- it makes little difference to the way they perform.

I am, of course, like the second batter. Religion is of little use to me personally. My grandfather, an extremely devout man, was once telling me a story about a man who was drowning but had a big metal cross around his neck. Apparently, according to Pappy, his belief in that cross saved him. Call me Mr. Practical if you want, but if I'm drowning I'd prefer to have a life preserver around my neck to keep my afloat rather than a metal cross weighing me down. But then again, that's just me.


Kunal said...

What, another baseball analogy?!

Salil said...

You're confusing 'religion' with 'faith'. There are some religions, which are 'ways of life' rather than being 'faiths'.

KT said...

*clap clap*

Excellent post maccha. Not that its a new point, but very well said.

KT said...

Do you think that the person who believes performs better? I don't think so. A cool calculating person is equally probable to perform well (infact i think he will be better off).