Superstition vs Religion

There is no doubt that this comparison or question if you will is as old as humanity itself. Perhaps the basic idea of invisible forces driving human beings and everything around started to occupy human mind ever since it evolved beyond simple survival or in those prehistorical times when our ancestors started thinking about things not always related to eating, sleeping and populating the planet. It definitely originated way back in the time when people started to paint the cave walls. In the time when human mind started to use the most powerful feature other species still waiting to emerge. The power of imagination. The birth of superstition and religion didn't wait much longer after humans started daydreaming.

What did I do?*

I am always getting back and reading lots of articles out there trying to find the best explanation of what is the main difference between superstition and religion. There are lots of philosopher's, religious or even scientific thoughts trying to shed more light to the mystery but in the end maybe there are no big differences at all. There is no doubt what is older though. Superstition definitely came first as for any kind of religiosity you would need some sort of even a smallest society. Within Yahoo Answers!, today I stumbled to the definition that made me laugh because of its simplicity and truthfulness. User by the name "sparky_dy" said that the difference is in history of both. To the "resolved" question "What is the difference between religion and superstition?" she said exactly this: "Continuity. If superstitions were vignettes, then religions would be entire graphic novels." I can't find better explanation to agree more than with "sparky_dy".

However, one thing is for sure, even though there are different opinions about how these two "human activities" are different, or even those in religious realm who actively oppose significance of the other, still, they have one thing in common. The rituals. If we disregards the background story and why people do what they usually do when participating either superstition or religion, they always do it by performing certain rituals with or without help of assigned artifacts. Let me give you one example. I have that one friend who soon after replacing communist society with society with higher level of democracy, discovered the god and became truly religious person. Years ago he sent me a copy of a chain email, actively propagating the religion and its rituals. The letter was about healing properties of a prayer and how to boost it by using small golden cross, a piece of jewelry placed into consecrated or blessed, or whatever the term is, water, in front of you during prayer. I knew it was just a simple religious ritual, but my rational mind couldn't resist not to wonder that if religious artifacts are really that powerful, can we use all of them? I mean if we added little figurine of Buddha and Islam's "Star and Crescent" next to the Cross, along with "Star of David" of Judaism and even more artifacts from Hinduism in the water, would that intensify the prayer even more? Can we, like in "Life of Pi" practice multiple "compatible" religions? Or this is forbidden and we have to decide just one among them all and choose the best fit individually? Or religion chooses us instead by the place of our birth, our skin color, our ancestor's history or our national group? Well, at least in this post, there will be no answers regarding all religious questions. I am simply a person who doesn't understand how all this religious world works and why is so divided. Just from time to time I notice some absurdity when people with different religious background interact with each other. Take for instance, sports. For example there is a boxing match between two highly religious boxers practicing different religions. Both of them before the match say the prayer and ask for a help from the divine. I am always wondering how that works? Who wins? Perhaps their gods meet instantly and discuss the better candidate for the win? If the god is the same how exactly he decides who will be the winner? The one who recited the prayer better? The one who is more devoted to the cause in his life? Or simply wins the one who is better prepared for the match and after all there is no help from the heaven whatsoever.


Ok, let's switch the religion with superstition now but for a moment stay with sports a little bit more. I am sure that even the most valuable players out there are not immune from this behavior. How many times did you see the best players performing some rituals before the game? Touching grass, kissing the ball, wearing same socks and talismans on their wrists or whatever, touching their nose, ears or fixing the wardrobe before they hit the ball. In the world of tennis, Rafael Nadal is perfect example:

Of course in Rafa's case all the superstitions he performs is actually working extremely well as his game is one of the best in the world. Or perhaps he is just that good player and the result would be the same no matter what he does with bottles or socks. However, we should not underestimate human mind. Even though all superstitions look stupid and ridiculous if a person really believes the goal can't be achieved without it, it probably won't.

As for me.. I don't know. My father always says that he doesn't believe in god like the church preaches, but he is certain that there is something more out there. The nature still didn't unveil all the secrets needed for full understanding of our very existence and our place in the large network of life. My rational mind thinks the same and always looking for the proof, keep asking questions starting with "Why" and "How" and reading about new discoveries and researches every now and again. On the other side, my emotional self is keeping the "Lucky Penny" pendant in the pencil box and from time to time ritually performs couple of superstitions, especially in cases when I am not completely in full control and therefore have no full responsibilities in some event. But I have to say that when my rational mind is fully engaged into something, all the superstitions are fully suppressed and sunk bellow the surface.

Practicing Meditation**

In the history of the blog I had some thoughts about prayer and mystery of subconscious mind in regards to the scientific research called Neurotheology or the research of the human brain based on monitoring of neuronal activity within the prefrontal cortex during meditation and prayer. Additionally to this scientific approach there is one more idea called Noetic Science, probably get in focus with Dan Brown's 'The Lost Symbol" with noetic scientist Dr. Katherine Solomon in one of the leading roles side by side with Robert Langdon. Dan Brown did pretty good background research on the subject and the main idea of this new scientific research is described very well in the novel, but in short, comparing to typical scientific observation which is objective and always testing theories by using tools that observe the event or the object from outside the system, noetics is trying to scientifically test subjectively and internally from within the inside of the process. To better understand it, I will quote Cassandra Vieten, Director of Research, Institute of Noetic Sciences: "In other words, there are several ways we can know the world around us. Science focuses on external observation and is grounded in objective evaluation, measurement, and experimentation. This is useful in increasing objectivity and reducing bias and inaccuracy as we interpret what we observe. But another way of knowing is subjective -- or internal -- including gut feelings, intuition, hunches -- the way you know you love your children, for example, or experiences you have that cannot be explained or proven, but feel absolutely real nonetheless. This way of knowing is what we call noetic."

Institute of Noetic Sciences, being a leader in this area is founded back in 1973 by Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, the sixth person who walked on the Moon. Mitchell had an epiphany while returning to Earth and he was convinced that our planet is part of the networked life along with all living beings on its surface. From his biography page within IONS web presentation I quote: "He knew that the beautiful blue world to which he was returning is part of a living system, harmonious and whole—and that we all participate, as he expressed it later, 'in a universe of consciousness'."


I am sure if Carl Sagan were still with us, he would probably use his favorite phrase "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" as all the claims examined by noetics are definitely extraordinary. At the end, proving that we all are living in a universe where one single individual is only a single link in the big chain of one ultimate consciousness along with the claims that our mind is capable of interacting with other's and also with material world is going to be very hard with all we know today. For example, is not far from logic to assume that one mutual consciousness is stronger around our planet where seven billions of people breath every second and weaker with distance especially in the distant areas of the Solar system where no life exists. However, to prove or dismiss this idea, we need to put somebody in spacecraft and send him beyond the Oort cloud or even farther to the very edge of the Solar system and measure both subjective and objective consequences with astronaut so far away from the hive called Earth. Obviously we are still far away from performing experiments like this. Same goes with quantum world where any significant measurements among small objects and particles are nearly impossible with the fact that simple observer is way too influential to the monitoring system.

To conclude, I tend to think that until couple of more breakthrough discoveries, especially in the field of monitoring tools, we might wait little bit longer for scientific proof of the soul or final evidence for universal consciousness, not to mention finding the ultimate answer to the oldest question "What (the heck) is life?". Until then, superstition and religion will still be with us with more questions than answers floating our realm of life.

Image refs:
*http://miscellaneousz.tumblr.com/post/12751887011
**http://shakeoffthegrind.com/meditation/5-simple-steps-to-start-practicing-meditation

Refs:
http://www.noetic.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Institute_of_Noetic_Sciences
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cassandra-vieten/what-is-noetic-science_b_287779.html
http://www.scienceofthelostsymbol.com/Why-Are-the-Findings


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