There are two well-known psychology concepts that have an important impact on our spiritual-religious lives.
Observation bias, also known as the observer expectancy effect is a phenomenon that can occur when a person conducting a research experiment has beliefs or expectation and that belief or expectation causes them to unconsciously see trends that might not in fact be there; in other words, they end up finding what they are looking for, not necessarily what is in the data.
This happens outside the research lab, as well. For example, if you have a friend and you have this notion in your head that that person is stubborn, you’re going to notice when that person is stubborn. Observation bias causes you to see what you’re looking for.
Inattention blindness, also known as change blindness, is the other psychology notion I want us to look at. Inattention blindness keeps you from observing an important object because you are focused on something else. As people can only take in so many bits of data at a time, we end up missing a lot. Perhaps the best example of this is the famous gorilla in a basketball court study, where more than half the people watching the video – focusing on the basketball being passed – fail to notice a person in a gorilla suit sauntering across the screen. (I wonder how much we miss when we are looking at our electronic devices?)
I’d like to put these two psychological phenomena together in the religious-area. If you’ve decided this is the kind of world where God doesn’t make contact with you, well you’re not going to see God making contact with you (observation bias). Moreover, inattention blindness is going to keep you from seeing the holy and/or God. You’re going to be looking for life to be one way and as a result, you’re going to miss the subtleties
Now here’s a hypothetical, hubristic, and huge notion to ponder:
- If you were God, how would you be able to get your attention?
- If you were God how would you get yourself to see that the world is an okay place, that things are fine and that you can sit back and relax.
- If you were God and you wanted to spread a message, do you think you could get through to people?
- How can God get through to you if you are filled with observation bias and inattention blindness?
There’s no easy answer to these questions.
Not surprisingly, there are varying opinions among some of the world’s great thinkers on this. The writer Samuel Beckett had the notion that God simply isn’t coming. And, on the other hand, Abraham Joshua Heschel, a famous Polish-born American rabbi believed the opposite: he felt that this is what God wants. That God wants a relationship with you.
(While feel like I live in Beckett’s world, my beliefs fall more in line with Heschel’s.)
Heschel’s view is intriguing and one I’d like you to entertain, this idea that God is playing this hide and seek game harder than you are.
This week’s spiritual advice?
Keep your eyes open and have an open mind. You’ll be surprised at what you can see.