Are Our Religious Rituals Just Placebos?

The way science is evolving, is quite interesting to have a look at. Many things, which we were told were useless, are again being proven to be correct. I am afraid to say, religious rituals are probably one of them. Before we actually dig into this stuff, we should first take out a minute to understand what placebo means and what it is all about.

Placebo reminds us of something which does not work, rather gives false hope. For instance, if the doctor is welcoming and not depressing, the chances and speed of recovery are much higher. We might doubt them, but placebos do work. It is also observed that if you give sugar pills to the patient, saying they are medicines, the chances of recovery are higher.

Just for an example, it is observed that making people wait for some time in que, before they actually enter the Disney Land improves the overall satisfaction that user gets out of visiting the Disney Land. So, I learn that Disney Land manipulates the wait times for optimum user satisfaction.

Another example is, wine tastes better in a costlier glass compared to an ordinary glass, and even expert wine tasters experienced this. The difference in taste could not be felt, when the tasters were blind folded.

When a set of people suffering from back pain were treated by acupuncture, all of them reported a drop in pain; whereas only half of them were treated with correct acupuncture.

Placebo means something does work, not because it is capable of doing so, but because we believe it will do the work. For past many days, I am reading a lot about placebo and work of many researchers around placebo.

As scientists discovered more and more ‘real’ medicines, placebo was looked upon as a sham. But, the scientific research shows that placebo does work. Most interestingly, it works even if you believe that it is a placebo.

We may deny it, but placebo is altering our everyday experiences. I would suggest the readers to go through this detailed article, which Seth Godin published on Medium. This will save me from repeating what he has already said and I can move on to the further part (you can also skip reading it, not reading won’t affect your experience of reading this article.).

The whole gist of the above mentioned article is,

  1. Placebos do work, they work more effectively as you move up in Maslow’s pyramid. That means, placebos show more effect when they are about something like self-realization or finding happiness in life than when they are about your basic needs like hunger, sleep, etc.
  2. Physical placebos are much stronger. This means, if you carry out some physical activity, the impact of the placebo will be more. Or as Seth has stated, fake acupuncture will be more effective than sugar pill as some physical activities, i.e. rituals are involved in it.

This pushed me to look at religious rituals in altogether different way.

Imagine, we are living in 10th century, without medicines, amidst of all the uncertainties of nature. And what we have at our rescue, is a placebo, a big placebo, that is, religion. Rituals make placebos even stronger; hence all the rituals i.e. karmakanda.

If after all the scientific experimentation, we agree that placebos work, then we will also have to agree that chanting some Mantra or Stotra can help you to cure fast from certain diseases or remain immune to them.

If you sing a Stotra as it is, the placebo might work; but if you put in some rituals (you wear amber clothes, take bath in the river early morning, eat Prasada etc.) the placebo effect doubles.

Seems our ancestors had much better understanding of how our psyche functions. Placebos not only alter emotions and feelings, but can also introduce actual physical changes, the latest research says.

It is good to practice some placebos on personal level, if they help you to lead a better life. But, one has to remember that a placebo is just a placebo.

I am not in favor of promoting Karmakanda because the benefits caused are little compared to the evil it creates. At the same time, the problem with us humans is, over the period, the placebo will become more important than the human beings for whom it is we will start killing each other to preserve the placebo. This happened with religions. Religions, as they say, are for human beings; over the ages, human beings are being killed over religion.

I certainly believe that on personal level, these placebos might help; only one has to remember that placebo is just a placebo; nothing more than that.










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