Why do so many people put their faith in pseudo-scientific pursuits such as astrology, alternative medicine and psychics?
ABCNEWS John Stossel seeks to find out in his special report, The Power of Belief, airing this Thursday, June 3, at 10 p.m. ET.
Stossel walks on hot coals, visits New Age emporia, checks the accuracy of his horoscope, and invites a voodoo priest to place a curse on him.
He discovers people are attracted to belief often in defiance of evidence. It begins at a young age, with our capacity for imaginative play. Stossel talks to a group of children as they create and come to believe in an imaginary fox. There is a fox, there is a fox, I know it. We saw one, I know it!, says a child.
Never Mind the Evidence
Stossel meets professional skeptic James Randi, who has a standing offer of $1 million as yet unclaimed to anyone demonstrating real paranormal powers.
Randi explains the ease with which he and an actor accomplice duped Australian media. The actor pretended to channel a 2,000-year-old spirit and to possess magic crystals from the lost continent of Atlantis (crystals that were purchased in the airport gift shop). Randi later revealed the performance as a hoax, but some people still believed.
No amount of evidence, he says, is ever going to convince the true believer.
The power of suggestion can cause people to feel many different symptoms depending on what they are told to expect from a completely inactive pill. An ABC experiment shows how people given sugar pills and told either that the pill is a stimulant or that it is a sleep aid tend to experience symptoms that fit their expectations.
Religious beliefs can lead people to interpret tunnel vision and hallucinations during near-death experiences as a glimpse of heaven even though the same effects can be replicated by spinning pilots in a centrifuge.
Were in a battle all the time to survive. To move ahead, says Randi. And were going to lose that fight if we start trying to use magic and spells and incantations. Weve got to depend upon reality.
Stossels The Power of Belief originally aired Oct. 6, 1998.
S U M M A R Y|
Correspondent John Stossel looks at how the silliest of superstitions and strongest of faiths can have a big impact on our minds, bodies and even our wallets.