Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Believing is Seeing

Dutch scientists compared Dutch Calvinists and atheists to see if belief influences the way one literally sees the world. The hypothesis is that since Calvinists tend to divide society into separate spheres of authority and responsibility, Calvinists would tend to see things as discrete bits and have difficulty seeing the big picture. According to January’s Scientific American, Calvinists did score slightly but significantly lower than atheists in this regard. Scientists are now planning to test the theory on peoples of other faiths. To help with their preparations I have devised the following set of tests:

1. Since Jews tend to notice subtle and not so subtle Jewish subtexts in news articles, we could test to see if they recognize the letters J-E-W more readily than people of other faith groups. The test would present Jews and Gentiles with “Word-Jumbles” with the word “Jew” hidden in various configurations throughout the puzzle. The expectation is that Jews would find those configurations faster than nonJews.

2. Since Christians are more prone than other people to seeing images of Jesus and Mary in foodstuffs, we could test to see if their ability to read the patterns of pepperoni in cheese pizzas exceeds that of nonChristians. The test would consist of presenting the same number of pepperoni pizzas to Christians and nonChristians and ask them to read what they can in the pattern. The expectation is that Christians would see Jesus and Mary where others would not.

3. Since Muslims are forbidden to make images of Muhammad (and Allah refuses to imprint the Prophet’s face on any food items), we could test to see if Muslims capacity for facial recognition is less than that of Christians, especially when looking for faces in pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, and other cheese items. The test would consist of presenting a variety of cheese-based foods to Muslims and Christians to see what happens. The expectation is that Muslims would eat the food while some of the Christians would turn them into shrines or sell them on e-bay.

4. Since Buddhists do not believe in any separate self, and see all things are aspects of the one thing, we could test to see if their preference for the forest makes it more difficult for them to see the trees. The test would place an equal number of Buddhists and nonBuddhists in a forest and ask them to count the trees. The expectation is that most Buddhists would not count past the number one.

5. Since Hindus believe that “Truth is one, but different people call it by different names” (Rig Veda), we could test to see if they have difficulty seeing the difference between religions. The test would consist of presenting Hindus with the sacred symbols of the world’s religions and see if they are moved by them all. The expectation is that, with the exception of Hindu extremists who would react negatively to the symbol for Islam, Hindus would respond equally to all religious symbols.

I am sure I could come up with many more ways to study the impact of belief on seeing, but a dozen fresh pizzas were just delivered to my house and I have to go check for images of God.

Happy New Year.

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