Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
Interactive science series Part III
When we asked people visiting this network to send in their requests for topics that interest them, several people started asking us questions related to science and research. I posted some of these questions and my replies to them here in the group science simplified.
Recently one student sent me a mail asking me an interesting question. He wrote,"Ma'am, I tend to get very superstitious and pray a lot during my exams. I perform several rituals too. I get very tense. This is bothering me because it is interfering with my studies as I am getting addicted to them and wasting my time with them. I feel something is wrong with me. How can I overcome these problems?"
My reply: Smile!
If I tell you SR, this is somewhat a psychological universal tendency connected with high chaos and low confidence what would you think? :)
I read an absorbing research paper on this sometime back and wrote on it too. The study was done on fishermen.
When Trobriand (in South Pacific)Islanders went fishing their behavior changed, depending on where they fished. When they fished close to shore—where the waters were calm, the fishing was consistent, and the risk of disaster was low—superstitious behavior among them was nearly nonexistent. But when the fishermen sailed for open seas—where they were far more vulnerable and their prospects far less certain—their behavior shifted. They became very superstitious, often engaging in elaborate rituals to ensure success. In other words, a low sense of control had produced a high need for superstition. One, in effect, substituted for the other.
In the game of cricket, batsmen become more superstitious when they face good bowlers and therefore get very tense. The latter comparatively are less strained and resort to reduced ritualistic practices than batsmen!
Likewise, soldiers who are about to go to war zones to face danger and death grow to be more superstitious, religious and follow ceremonial ways.
In hospitals you frequently find people doing religious rites.
Superstitious beliefs of astronauts and space scientists are well known. They say they 're comforted in doing the same 'routine rituals' before these dangerous launches. NASA, Roscosmos, ISRO - no space agency is free from these beliefs. Human nature! All that matters from their perspective, is that there are 'some results'. If believing a superstition and following its rituals 'increases' the emotional support they get, that’s good enough reason to continue! Much like the argument behind Pascal’s Wager, better safe than sorry! But what about challenger disaster, columbia disaster, and many more you find here: List_of_spaceflight-related_accidents_and_incidents
Did the rituals stop these disasters from happening? NO! Then what is the rationale behind following these superstitions? NONE! Just getting some sort of 'emotional support' before going on a dangerous mission because you are not strong enough mentally to handle the pressure.
During hard times, when people think they don't have any control over the situation they are in, they again become more irrational and tend to see non-existent patterns in unrelated pictures.
Yes, throughout uncertain times, when stress, risk and death are involved, people tend to depend on external emotional strength and confidence boosters. And these are also the situations where people are highly vulnerable and get exploited by Godmen, religious zealots, cheats etc.
Recently I came across an amusing incident. One of the students in our neighbourhood had completed his B.Tech. and applied for MS courses in various US universities. He got selected by four universities. Then he applied for US visa. What caught my attention was the student who told me he was an atheist all of a sudden became a theist and started visiting temples and performing religious rituals because his friends had told him these things would definitely get him a visa to the US!
But although he got a visa, two of his friends who did the same as he did, failed to get visas. 'So?!' I asked him, 'What lesson did you learn from this?' He just shrugged and said, 'I don't know!'
Well, three had applied for visas, all performed same religious rituals in the same way to get them unhindered, while one got, two others didn't! Come to your conclusion!
The other two are cursing God now it seems!
One of my friends, whose father was about to undergo a bypass surgery in a hospital, prayed the whole night before the operation for her father's successful treatment and speedy recovery only to find that her father's heart beating stop at the dawn of the next day while the surgery was taking place. Crying inconsolably, she started accusing God of not helping her despite her deep and heart felt prayers.
My heart sinks when I see such situations. People pray to God but blame Him if their wishes are not granted! People who get positive outcomes praise Him! What an irony!
BUT, Science and its universal rules don't work like people want them to. And these rules will not be bent in any way for anybody or anything. Even if you pray perfectly and practice priest-prescribed procedures. Your unrealistic wishes of bending Scientific rules with magical powers will never come true! Science will surrender to only science. Nothing else!
A heart beats only if it has the right conditions and sustainable bio-chemical reactions and electric pulses. A doctor's duty is just to see that these correct conditions are maintained. He will do everything that his knowledge in this regard tells him to do. But if things don't fit exactly into the rules of Science, the heart must stop working. Nothing can change it. No matter what you do outside can make it work!
Similarly a living body that has all the wrong working conditions cannot sustain for long. It has to cease to exist unless intervention takes place following scientific rules. Medical practitioners and their scientific training will have the role to do it in the way it should be done. Still if things don't fall in exact places, a body following biological rules, will stick to its predetermined course. Realize this and stay calm. Don't get emotional, become angry on doctors, attack them, or blame God.
A ball's course in the game of cricket depends on wind and other atmospheric conditions, its surface, the pitch and the way a bowler releases it. A batsman has to fit all these into his mind while analyzing its movement and use his practiced technique and experience to tackle it. All this depends on science. And everything has to follow its commandments. Your superstitious rituals before the game starts, the shirt you are wearing, the black/red thread the pundit tied to your hand cannot bend the natural laws and change anything in the situation. Period.
When several factors decide outcomes, they follow the interplay of scientific rules and routes and exactly fit into the reaction realities. You have to register this in your mind to come out of the misery you are in. Watch it coolly and try to understand it. How a person survives a health condition or a catastrophe or a bad situation depends on the sum total outcomes of scientific factors occurring simultaneously. Other outside things have no effect whatsoever on it. Any connections you make between rituals/superstitions and the outcomes depend on your perceptions and experiences. A positive outcome either to you or others makes you stick with them. A negative result will make you attack them. But the net result doesn't depend on anything that is not related to it! And these unrelated factors are your beliefs, rituals, superstitions and myths.
Failures might occur in life. When they do, you should revisit your problem, analyse it thoroughly in an enlightened way and think you haven't found a proper solution to it yet and that's why you couldn't overcome it, then try to get one, increase your efficiency of the effort, plug the loopholes and go after it with all your might to defeat it.
And how did I study and got my top ranks without following any rituals? This is my secret...of success...and I still follow it...
I read/study with very high concentration. I remove all the clutter both inside and outside. I try to grasp the entire subject without leaving anything - not even a small or unimportant portion. Everything I read will have to be stored in my mind in such a way that it should appear before my mind's eye in the exam hall or when the circumstance demands the knowledge I acquired. This gives me full confidence about the situation. No matter how tough the exam is and how many unanticipated questions I get, what conditions I face, I will still be in a position to tackle them because of the full knowledge I have in the subject. I leave nothing to chance or what people call 'luck'.
Now where do low confidence or uncertainty or hardness of test papers or fate fit in all this? Nowhere!
Then do superstitious rituals, prayer to supernaturals, stress/tension get a place in all this? No, never!
And this is how I handled every test, tragedy, circumstance, state in my life without any irrational external help. By gaining control over full situations.
Only scientific scrutiny, reasoning, rational and realistic thoughts helped me in all this. Follow this method and you will definitely come out of the problems you are facing.
Good luck...err... good realistic scientific rationale!