Statistics, the Human Brain, and Miracles

The everyday, average, human being, knows little to nothing, about how the human brain works. Most people, outside of neuroscientists, brain surgeons, psychiatrists, and psychologists, know nothing of what is really going on inside their heads. Most people are not aware of the fact that our brains can, and do, at times deceive us. Even completely sane and rational people sometimes see, hear, or even smell things that are not really there.
Our eyes, for example, do not take in everything we think we see in the world around us. If they did we would experience sensory overload. We only see the things that our brain deems relevant. Have you ever done a double take ? Have you ever been fooled by an illusionist ? Also, because of the way humans evolved, we are pattern seekers. It helped us to survive. It was better for us to see what we thought was a large predator and be wrong than to see an actual predator but mistake it for something else, or we wouldn't be here today. Anyone can look up at the clouds and soon begin to see familiar shapes in them. Some people can see what appears to be faces in particular combinations of shadow and shape in tree foliage, or in any number of other things. We continually and unconsciously search for patterns everywhere.
Sometimes people catch a fleeting odor of smoke when there is nothing burning, or maybe a fleeting smell of brownies baking. This has happened to us all at times. Sometimes our ears plays tricks on us. We might hear our name being called by our mother or father, or someone else familiar to us, only to find out when we ask them if they called us that they hadn't.
What does all this have to do with to do with statistics and miracles ? Simply this: There are seven billion people on earth. That is an unimaginably large number of people. Considering that many people, it would be strange if nothing seemingly unexplainable ever happened just by mere chance, plain old coincidence, something that might be deemed a miracle by the person who experienced it, even though no god were really responsible for it.
According to Guy P. Harrison, award winning journalist and author of several books on beliefs people hold, if only one person out of a million experienced some unexplainable event every day, then strange, seemingly miraculous things would occur seven thousand times every day, and two million, five hundred, and fifty-five thousand times every year in a world of seven billion people, and all by mere chance with no divine intervention. And if these seeming miracles happened by mere chance to one person in a billion every day, then these strange events would happen to someone in the world seven times every day, and two thousand, five hundred, and fifty-five every year, no god required.

These seeming miracles would also include seemingly prophetic dreams that happened to correctly portend future events. After all, every person dreams thousands of dreams over the course of a lifetime, and there are seven billion of us dreaming. It would be strange if out of all those dreams, even if there were no God, if no one's dreams just coincidentally happened to predict some future event. The same is also true of prayer. It would be strange, even if there is no God, if out of seven billion people, no prayers ever coincidentally seemed to be answered.

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Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on September 15, 2013 at 10:50pm

BTW: I've had very odd experiences like laying on a couch in a house by myself and suddenly had many friends I hadn't seen for years around me, laughing and telling me jokes I've never heard before.  It all seemed so very, very real. 

But, Alas, it was all due to drinking an entire bottle of cough mixture.

It's amazing how some chemicals can influence the chemistry in the brain.

Definitely a very convincing illusion.

Such a tricky, deceptive brain I indeed have!

Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on September 15, 2013 at 10:45pm

So true: Something I've been saying for decades now is: "The human brain is most likely the most deceptive organ in the Universe."

Though: Buddhism has basically been making a similar statement for thousands of years.

Much of what we perceive is not real.

The entire basis of science is to sort out genuine reality from perceived reality through combining collaboration of perceptions and verification by testing against confirmed empirical evidence.

Comment by Michael Penn on September 9, 2013 at 8:58am

Your explanation is well put, Anthony. In the past I heard my name called and there was nobody there. (This is totally possible.) Also, in the past I have been in church services where the minister was preaching that you are nobody until you have heard God call your name. The crying and blubbering congregation just ate that up!

It's all a setup for "miracles" which will certainly come next. Now your "experiences" will match your "belief."

Comment by Anthony Jordan on September 9, 2013 at 12:40am

Of course God belief has evolutionary roots. But that was not the point of my post. God belief served a purpose in our early history that probably had some survival value, or it could have been a by-product of some other evolutionary trait that had survival value. God belief no longer really serves any purpose that aids in our survival. Theists simply cannot give up on what is now the mental eqivalent of a vestigial organ.

Today God beliefs do more harm than good, and have done more harm than good for at least the last three thousand years. The point I was making is not to deal with the broader reasons for God beliefs, such as the evolutionary genesis of God beliefs, but the true nature of what God believers consider to be miracles in a world with seven billion people living on it, and how in a world with that many people it would be strange if nothing strange and ostensibly unexplainable ever happened just by mere chance with no divine being being the necessary explanation.

Comment by Vasanth Ra on September 8, 2013 at 6:27pm

The reason why religions work and peoples belief in god sustains is obviously broader than what you have mentioned.It could even have an evolutionary explanation for its existence.Coming to your point on miracles and the way our brain works,I sometimes wonder if it actually works and we are yet to find an explanation for that.Obviously believing in something like feeding the five thousand or changing water into wine is nonsense but I'm still dubious when it comes to something like the 'placebo effect'.Even though it is psychological,nevertheless it may work,so it could be real.

Comment by Ted Foureagles on September 8, 2013 at 11:15am

To experience a 'miracle' you have to want it, at least unconsciously.  Very seldom do these experiences stray beyond the cultural context of the experiencer.  I know of no stories of Christians who have seen Shiva on a piece of toast.  Perceiving seemingly meaningful patterns in random data (known as pareidolia) is probably as old as sense cells, and persists simply because it has worked, more or less.  One seemingly meaningful pattern that I perceive is that this is likely what generates the many wild conspiracy theories to which our species seems so prone.  That's not to say that any perception of a conspiracy is necessarily delusional.  If they were, no selection pressure could have perpetuated the tendency.  Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that the bastards aren't out to get you!

Relativism purports that all perceptions are equal, which is nonsense.  Absolute (hint: absolutes probably don't exist in nature) relativity is stasis, and the fact that their is life implies non-stasis.




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