In a recent conversation relating to something of a spiritual nature – someone made a quick, offhand comment: IS IT TRUE, THOUGH? OR IS IT JUST CONFIRMATION BIAS?
This reminded me that there are a few cognitive biases to be aware of as we evaluate things in our world, and these biases can also be used to explain away or dismiss intuition, spirituality, energy work – any of our beliefs.
I want to highlight three of these biases briefly and share my views on them in relation to intuition and spirituality.
CONFIRMATION BIAS: looking for – or giving more credence to – results or evidence that support one’s existing beliefs than to evidence that might refute those beliefs.
Here’s my take on it, via AN EXAMPLE:
If it helps you to seek out and find evidence and confirmation in your life and surroundings of the existence of a force greater than you – spirit, source, god(s), even the existence of guides, fairies, dragons, etc. (pick one or many or none that resonate for you) – perhaps it brings you joy, comfort, relief…
…meanwhile you dismiss evidence that seems to disprove such a thing(s)…
…AND you’re not trying to convince others of anything in an invasive or bothersome way, nor act or speak in a way that is harmful or hurtful to yourself or others, nor impeding their beliefs or daily life, I think there can be value in this confirmation bias.
BAADER-MEINHOF PHENOMENON, or FREQUENCY BIAS: the idea that after you learn something, or see something for the first time, you begin to see it everywhere, suggesting that it has increased frequency in your life now that you’ve heard of it – as though it were perhaps some sort of ‘sign.’ But the theory is that this thing might have been just as frequently in your surroundings before you learned it or saw it as after, but your attention is only now drawn to instances of it because you’ve recently heard about it.
Here’s my take on it, through AN EXAMPLE:
If you get a message or image through your intuition coming from what you perceive to be your spirit guide, and this message is of, say, a purple flower – and then you proceed to see purple flowers throughout your day (where you normally never see purple flowers at all)…
…AND if you choose to see all those instances of purple flowers as a sign that your spirit guide is with you, or a reminder of the specific message you feel the purple flower represents, and this brings you comfort, a sense of wonder, maybe excitement, joy…
…AND you’re not trying to convince others of it in an invasive or bothersome way, nor does the interpretation of the ‘sign’ result in you acting or speaking in a way that is harmful or hurtful to yourself or others, nor impeding others’ beliefs or daily lives, I think there can be great value in having a frequency bias.
CAUSATION VS. CORRELATION: assigning something as the cause of something else occurring – when it is only happening at the same time as something else, e.g. on sunny days ice cream sales go up, as do sunscreen sales, and from this info, deducing that eating ice-cream causes people to buy sunscreen (or vice versa) – which is actually just a correlation, or occurring at the same time but due to something else.
Here’s MY OWN EXAMPLE: a few summers ago (it’s happened since, but this is when I really noticed it for the first time) going out running in my neighbourhood, I was sure that I was connected to the butterflies and even the bumblebees, and that various ones were flying alongside me all along my runs. This happened a number of times. Certainly one could explain that the ‘cause’ of their flight as just going to from flower to flower (or whatever their physical needs were) – and that they only happened to be flying alongside me (correlation). But to me, it seemed as though they were following me (i.e. as though I was the ‘cause’ of their flight path) – and, it was a little magical. 🙂
I didn’t try to convince anyone that butterflies followed me on my runs that summer (in fact I’ve told few people about it until now) nor did it inspire me to follow the bees or butterflies off a cliff or into traffic. It’s just an example of where seeing causation instead of correlation offered me a little glimpse of magic and joy not felt when focusing on the scientific ‘cause’ of their path from flower to flower.
Of course, I can’t prove it either way – whether I am (we are) exactly connected to insects or even animals in a way such that this could be possible (though I choose to believe we are) – certainly not as we’re able to prove the sun/ice-cream/sunscreen example – but thought it was worth sharing.
When it comes to scientific studies and evaluating things that will impact our physical health and safety – individually or en masse — where rigourous testing and careful analysis is required, I don’t think anyone would dispute me that when doing such work these biases must be kept in check.
But they don’t need to explain away our belief systems and things that bring us joy. Knowing about them can help remind us that not everyone will see the magic in the butterflies that followed me on my runs those days, or find the value in the purple flower that gave someone else comfort.
After all, spirituality and other-worldly things – things we can’t see or experience with our five senses and don’t have tests for – they’ve been disputed for centuries – perhaps millennia – and I don’t see any of it having been fully proven or disproven.
So, I wish for you a day of finding unique value in the unusual things you notice today – without letting all the magic be dissolved by scientific explanations (unless, of course, science is your jam – in which case, you would likely prefer to explain away the magic by seeking the scientific explanation behind it, which is amazing as well!)
(Photo by Jennifer Murray, pexels(dot)com)