Sunday, January 31, 2016

Professor X's true believers

Out of all the people who normally examine a belief's level of verified support before relying on it, more than a few of them subscribe/submit to supernatural beliefs which fail that examination. They might be uninformed, by accident or choice, about the realistic status of those beliefs' support. Or, when their thinking drifts in the proximity of those beliefs they might briskly swap their normal mode of understanding for a flightier one; they're "modal students" who selectively sever their educated wariness from their manipulable hunches and wishes. They may flippantly pigeonhole their secondary mode of unguarded acceptance not as careless but childlike.

In a more creative albeit obscure direction, followers of alleged supernatural realities might narrow their examination of their beliefs' support to the area of souls. By this they sidestep awkward questions about the beliefs' physical signs. (They could make an exception for recasting life's occasional beneficial coincidences as supernatural puppetry; if they do they conspicuously neglect the instances when a beneficial coincidence was badly missed.) They spotlight uniquely immediate parts of pure personal experience, such as heady episodes they've had which were somehow related to the beliefs. Also, they narrow their requests to supernatural beings to changes they'd like to see within souls, though their requests would compromise free will. They might be no less earnest, even as they pare down the expected level of backing for their beliefs. They may be true believers in supernatural realities—perhaps called "spooks" for convenience—which are practically confined to affecting souls.

This interpretation evokes a nontraditional but fairly well-known cultural metaphor: Professor X, who is the wise and seasoned founder of the X-Men team of superheroes. He can't use his legs. His muscles aren't superhumanly strong. He can't easily move (material) objects. But he has immense abilities over others' consciousnesses. He can both read and modify thoughts. Directly steering his own body accomplishes less than indirectly steering the bodies of others. Speaking outwardly, with sound waves, is usefully supplemented by eerie remote communication over longer distances, in such a way that he need not appear in person nearby.

Analogously, supernatural beliefs in the "Professor X subset" constantly underscore spooks' intersections with human souls—while categorically omitting verifiable predictions about consequences on things. True believers tend to report the actions of people who were acting as the spook's "hands". They receive a message from beyond, but it was silently delivered to the interior of their soul...or in lieu of that they received nonverbal inspiration which led them to compose the message. They receive aid in their souls such as inner calm, solace, courage, not tangible aid such as different circumstances. (The reverse is hostile spooks manifesting lies, fear, distrust, temptations.) Learning about a spook occurs through the representation of true believers who are its de facto ambassadors on planet Earth. When it is said to be "on the move", the method it uses is their sacrificial toil. When it is said to be "here right now", the mark of its presence is the modified demeanors of a crowd. The common thread is habitually referring to the kind of feats which Professor X could do. Its imagined shape probably has little similarity to his, but its, uh, uncanny interactions with people do. Needless to say, the abilities attributed to it might exceed his.

The twist is that, like a fictional land motivating a MUSH, beliefs that sway people are by that very fact occupying a smidgen of realness. In a loose sense, when true believers psychologically condition one another to symbols, their brains could act as if supernatural Professor X powers are in operation. Conditioning could start at a young impressionable age, so it harnesses the instinct to imitate older people. It could be renewed regularly (weekly if not daily). The product is hardened certitude in both the performances of the powers and the identities of the spooks performing. Suggestibility is a factor, although the extent of it is often overrated. The pliable chaos of the brain is more than capable of synthesizing marvels for itself. And it's effortless to retrospectively assign blame after the train of thought passes through an odd switch to an unexplored destination.

Yet this smidgen of realness is its own counterargument. A belief's accuracy is separate from the possibility of humongous quantities of people acting as if it's assured. The boundary between error and socially approved "common sense" isn't thick and/or brightly colored. One person's faulty reasoning isn't repaired by merely setting another person's identical faulty reasoning next to theirs. The pattern of these spooks is to stay unseen except through the murkiness of true believers' souls. Doubters have no trouble leaping to the relevant question: what if spooks weren't responsible for any of the listed events in souls...implying that support for the spooks is nonexistent? What if Professor X and his mutant powers were made up, and people's brains weren't under continuous infiltration from outside forces?

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