Theodore A. Hoppe


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Is prayer a form of placebo or is there evidence of divine intervention in the answering of prayers?

It was recently suggested to me that I conduct an experiment on whether prayer "works." The suggestion was that I keep a journal , direct my prayers to Jesus, and keep track of whether my prayers get answered. This is hardly qualities as an experiment in a scientific sense, but it does raise interesting questions.
My question, which prompted the suggestion, was "Which god would one pray to since every religion has (or has had) a god(s)." Clearly, people pray to all gods, and they might even claim their prayers get answered.
Considering this question further seems to indicate that there must be a mental aspect to prayer, irrespective of religions.

Therefore, this is not a debate about religion, rather it is a discuss about the brain and the mind, and whether a placebo effect is a part of praying.
Why does prayer "seem" to work?
Hopefully, this debate can explore praying in a scientific way.

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    Jan 21 2013: This debate is drawing to a close and I would like to thank all of those that have contributed comments and presented their various points of view. Aside far the religious aspects of prayer there appears to be evidence that supports the positive effects that the act of praying has on the body and the mind.

    a closing thought
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      Jan 21 2013: VERY FUN...That is my kind of prayer!!! Didn't I say something in the comment thread about people coming together, energy, mob mentality! LOL:>)
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    Jan 17 2013: If people could stop thinking of prayer as communicating "to Jesus" maybe we could find out if this is a human phenomena and what and how humans can facilitate health and well being with the use of prayer.

    Prayer can encompass everything from talking to Jesus on your knees with hands folded before bedtime with children, to indigenous and aboriginal dance and song to meditation to mind altering plants. Instinctively many of us know that there is a spiritual aspect to being human and we know that people access that spirituality in different ways. If prayer is some type of conduit, we need to study all the conduits that can be understood as prayer to figure out how it works.

    We don't know what is happening because everyone has such a narrow view of what prayer is. There is no way to determine a placebo effect because no one has defined prayer outside of the traditional Judeo-Christian concept.

    Like I always say, it's not about the answer, it's about asking the right question.
    • Jan 19 2013: There have been some experiments on the value of prayer, however they were attempting the measure the effect of prayer on another person being prayed for.
      I am not convinced of the controls for that study, but it showed no impact of prayer vs non prayer.
      The impact that prayer has as a placebo effect is on the person doing the prayer. That, I don't believe has been studied specifically, however a number of studies done on humor to assist in healing, etc have shown some positive results.
      One might have asked the question, does watching the three stooges present a placebo effect.
      That would stimulate fewer trolls and probably give you the same answer.
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      Jan 20 2013: To respond to something specific you said, this speaker mentioned how "allah" was chanted in ancient muslim cultures when they saw the sublime, undefinable inspiration in dancers. They would clap their hands and chant "allah, allah, allah" - "god, god, god." Later, that found its way into the muslim cultures in Spain, where, when fighting bulls, they would chant "ole, ole, ole" - a word rooted in 'Allah.'

      Video here:
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    Jan 17 2013: Dr. David B. Larson, president of the National Institute for Health Care Research in Rockville, MD, who co-authored the study, also says that prayer can lower high blood pressure. "The at-risk population of people with illnesses, such as the elderly seem to be helped if they have faith and religious commitment." Dr. Larson states: "Faith brings a calming state which helps decrease nervousness and anxiety with coping with day to day stress."
    "Noted atheist Dan Barker, a spokesperson for the Freedom from Religion Foundation says the findings of the research are no big surprise. Prayer and religious beliefs can have a placebo effect, just like a sugar pill. Barker, who was once a Christian Fundamentalist preacher before developing serious doubts about his religion, states that one of the strongest factors in recovery from an illness is a sense of connectedness with a community and people who care about you. Even if we mumble our prayers only when we are ill or if there is no God to hear them, the new research indicated that religious thoughts could help to heal.

    Dr. Larry Dossey, author of the book, "Be Careful What You Pray For," writes about the placebo effect mentioned earlier by Dan Barker and physicians who have looked at the tremendous amount of scientific studies on prayer. As Dr. Dossey states: "That is difficult to do considering that bacteria, fungi, and germinating seeds are not generally considered to be susceptible to suggestion." But what he never considers is that the mind is, and that quieting stress and other such inhibitors in the brain allows the immune system to function at a higher level.
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    Jan 15 2013: "there must be a mental aspect to prayer, irrespective of religions."
    "Why does prayer seem to work?"

    What you were asking for in the prayer determines what the answer will be..

    A Placebo is a psychological or theraputic change, so I don't believe that placebo is the right word in regards to prayer *unless* your prayers are directly related to changes of that nature and nothing else beyond it.
    Either way..

    From an evidential standpoint prayer doesn't work and has been known to be the case.
    This is also the case for any physical test that could be conducted to verify/refute the claim.
    Quite simply, prayer from an evidential standpoint has as much effect as not performing a prayer
    and the idea that it can influence external physical life is the result of faulty reasoning, hence why any religion can pray to anyone in any way and have a popluation that claims the prayers were answered.

    From a psychological standpoint,
    You could question how any kind of placebo works or why meditation seems to work, since its largely the same logic.
    Psychological changes that take place when performing a certain action that can extend into physical internal improvements in certain circumstances... I assume thats ultimately what the prayers in question are in relation to.

    Its speculated that the brain simply has more control of healing mechanisms than we're aware of or that the act of prayer/meditation dissipates the immediate thoughts of the issues that are causing negative emotions, which may explain it, but theres no peer reviewed paper that im aware of.
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    Jan 20 2013: Referencing Julian Jaynes' 'Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind,' I would say that prayer is a very helpful mechanism. Even though I understand why my brain believes in God - and that I can consciously understand there isn't one - I still love the prayer and worship of it because it satisfies a need in my brain, the same need that provoked religion in the pre-historic human mind. I still talk with my religious family about their interpretations of their bible because the lessons and insights are still important reflections of our cultural minds; sometimes I can even add to their conversation without obliterating their specific beliefs, putting my insights into terms they have power in (like the trinity, salvation, etc). Instead of the raving atheist in their company that I had become at 18, I am now an open book to their experiences - still deserving of my respect and consideration.

    All that personal mumbojumbo aside, and to answer your question (poorly), I think prayer is a kind of placebo. I know the reality is far more complex, made even more complex by our growing understanding of chaos and coincidence. Take, for example, the realization of the relative particle: that one particle can influence another regardless of distance. Imagine that particle being in another person, or thing, and its relative particle in you. When you make a conscious action to do something, it shifts particles. What's the chance that it affects a particle far away from you? What's the chance that those particles will gravitate toward each other? This world is a mysterious thing.
  • W T

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    Jan 17 2013: When children blow out birthday candles, they are told to make a wish.
    When someone sees a shooting star, they are told to make a wish.

    Humans are superstitious. We are told all kinds of things from the moment we can talk and undestand speech, and many times we believe it, and practice it.

    I think that your use of the word prayer is all about the "wishing" for something to happen, the hoping for something to happen. The same way people use god (omg)in their every day speech without believing in God. People use prayer without it really meaning "praying to God".

    That having been said, there is probably something therapeutic about saying prayers, having a conversation in your mind, or even out loud, with a being that can provide relief from your problems. Sometimes the prayer can be simply requesting endurance.......not the removal of the problem......but to endure it, or come to accept it.

    The science experiment mentioned below, involving plants, is very interesting.

    I don't know if I directly answered your debate question, but I hope (pray, wish) my thoughts were helpful in some way.
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    Jan 17 2013: Prayer is not a placebo, is it a frame of mind. If a person prays for help and they get it, it is because of human kindness or luck. To be put simply if you look for something hard you with eventually see it, even if it is not there.

    Meditative practice could be explained by the fact that Meditation causes the body produce DMT (a chemical in the brain)which is closely associated with spiritual experiences.

    Other then that is just your perspective of reality.
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    Jan 15 2013: G’day Theodore

    I think it’s both a placebo & of divine intervention when it works through manifestation, it’s all to do with changing one’s vibration to change another vibration as everything vibrates & can be influenced by another vibration obviously, one just needs to find the right frequency keeping in mind that brain waves are also a vibration as well.

    I couldn’t say for sure that by just praying one can genuinely see/meet Jesus or God or change events but who really knows but of course by changing one’s own vibrations your also changing your brain chemistry which can lead to delusions as well.

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      Jan 15 2013: The manifestation aspect is covered in a comment below by TED Lover and responded to by Faisel Butt.
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    Jan 15 2013: Hi Theodore.
    Prayer works for me, & many of my friends. I have tried in the past to give details to " Scientific Types", but met with such scepticism & derision, that I am not about to try again.

    Hebrews 11:6 (KJV)
    But without faith it is impossible to please him : for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

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      Jan 15 2013: Hi Peter

      If prayer works, it must mean that a deity manipulates probabilities or other peoples choices in order to grant your wish.

      Logically this must also mean that this deity can manipulate probabilities at your expense; and that this deity can manipulate your choices. Ergo free will does not exist.

      Let's say a person has applied for a job and prays to a deity that he will get it. If the person succeeds in this, he or she will claim that it is due to praying. So this means that a deity influences the employer in making the decision, and thus bypassing this employer's free will. Do you believe this to be the case?
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        Jan 15 2013: re: "Do you believe this to be the case?"
        Any answer still falls into the realm of belief. There is no evidence that it "works."
        The more telling question is a version of the one I originally posed, ""Which god would one pray to since every religion has (or has had) a god(s)."
        Do all gods grant answer prayers?
        There would certainly be no shortage to people from different faiths that would witness that their prayers were answered, and we would be forced to conclude that praying to one god is just as good as the praying to the next one. But scientifically, we would still need to determine if their prays were answered, or if they merely believed they were.
        This is why I'd prefer to avoid the thorny issue of religious beliefs.
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        Jan 16 2013: Hi Faisel,
        I can only deal with the God of the bible. He claims to be outwith time. This means he can view the whole of history as a single entity. We are trapped in the river of time. We make our decisions one at a time, but God knows them all beforehand. Given that he has infinite intelligence etc., it is logical that he can orchestrate things while still allowing us free choice. A bit of a mind-bender, but that's as close as I can get to understanding what's going on.

        Hi Theodore,
        Your scepticism is understandable. So many god's to chose from, they can't all be real. Only our creator could conceivably answer our prayers. For me it was a matter of deduction. List the available gods, & work through the evidence pro & con. For me there was only one possibility at the end of this exercise, so I put my faith in Him. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. If you have proof He doesn't exist, I will recalculate.

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    Gail .

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    Jan 15 2013: I don't "pray", where prayer is an act of supplication to a deity. I do regularly practice "manifesting", which is an altogether different thing.

    I can't now "prove" to you that the thousands of things and situations that I have intentionally brought into my life are actually self-created, but I can't explain it any other way.

    If I were a college professor, I would design an experiment (though because of the realities that have come to light through quantum physics - where the experimenter actually effects the experiment - I'm not certain that it could be seen as irrefutable proof. But here is what I would do.

    I would put together a course with a lab. The course would be Questioning the power of "mind". It would be about the principles of manifestation. The labs would be 20 minute daily visualizations following the rules that all deliberate manifestors use.

    On the first day of classes, I would ask all my students (every class) to answer a brief questionnaire about things that they wish they had. (Type of things you'd be looking for are car, new computer, love-life, job, spring break in ???, etc. Not mega lottery winner - for reasons that become clear later.) I would ask other professors to do the same as a favor to me. Then I would put my database together.

    The class learns the principles. Those in the lab will write down what they will be manifesting during lab for the next 30 days. Seal their desire in an envelope and turn it in. They are not to talk to anyone about the class or what they're learning. If they manifest their desire early, they choose another thing & turn in the envelope.

    On the 31st day. produce a 2nd questionnaire for the entire group. Begin with how many things on the last list were realized, then end with the same - what do you wish you had question.

    Compare the random group with the lab group. Did one group have statistically better results at having that which they wanted only 30 days before? Repeat at end of semester.
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      Jan 15 2013: Your experiment is deliberately set up so it leaves room for interpretation. All positive effects could easily be explained by psychological factors.

      In your theory about "manifestation" you state that consciously thinking about an object will somehow magically manipulate probabilities. An experiment to verify this could easily be conducted. For instance having people focusing on a random number generator with the purpose of manifesting statistical anomalies.

      Such an experiment has been conducted with claims of a positive outcome. But it turned out to be falsified. What does this tell you about your theory of "manifestation"?
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        Gail .

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        Jan 15 2013: Faisel, Faisel, Faisel. What am I to do with you. You keep stalking me and asking for more and more proof. As I have said repeatedly, I cannot "prove", nor can anyone do so because the experimenter is part of the experiment - per the quantum mechanics that you find so offensive.

        1. I NEVER said magically.

        2. In the other thread, I offered the Random Numbers Generator experiment that was conducted by PEAR at Princeton. It closed its doors because after tens of millions of trials, they had demonstrated that human intention can have a non-local effect on physical targets and further study was unnecessary. Some scientists are not convinced, but isn't that what science is about? There is no widespread disagreement.

        I offered other examples, which you objected to. I offered experiments that formed the foundation for the examples I offered. You don't like them either (though they are the core of QM) and universally accepted.

        You said (in the other thread) that you believe that I manifested Jesus, (which I never said) but nothing else. This reminds me of the man who asked a woman if she would sleep with him for a million dollars. She said yes. So he asked her if she would sleep with him for $10.00. "Certainly Not!" she exclaimed. "Well", he said. "Now that we have established that you have a price..."

        If, in your words, I manifested Jesus, then I can manifest (though to be honest, I did say that manifesting is not the accurate word, but it is more like changing directions and walking towards another probable reality, which, from my position as observer appears to be the same thing)

        Rather that follow me around aggressively trying to ridicule me, why don't you just offer as much evidence as I have offered for your differing position? What "evidence" do you have for your God?

        I understand that my views are not Christian, but I am NOT trying to push them on anyone. Please stop your aggressive attacks. That would be the Christian thing to do.
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          Jan 16 2013: These deviations from chance have failed to convince some mainstream scientists who feel that the effect is inconsistent and that relatively few negative studies would cancel it out.

          But it's my understanding that these numbers are not that far above a 50/50 chance. "The PEAR team concluded that people could alter the behavior of these machines very slightly, changing about 2 or 3 flips out of 10,000."
          Not actually the ringing endorsement of such concepts that your second point would have us believe.
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          Jan 19 2013: Hi TED Lover

          I will stop debating with you, as we obviously don't speak the same language (logic). But could you please stop misrepresenting facts.

          You are trying to make it look like I don't accept quantum mechanics. This is an outright lie. I have throughout the debate defended quantum mechanics against your pseudo scientific interpretation.

          You claim that I am a Christian. This is a pure fabrication. I am an atheist.

          My earlier comment regarding Jesus was a response to your claim that Jesus was talking about quantum mechanics.

          YOU WROTE: "I started reading the words of Jesus, excluding the rest, and in a flash, understood that he was talking about QM to a fearful people who were incapable of understanding how POWERFUL and PERFECT they are because of fundamental flaws in their culture."

          I have already commented on the PEAR experiment and Theodore A. Hoppe and Fritzie Reisner have provided excellent links that show that the experiment couldn't produce evidence for any of your claims. The fact that you still use this as an example shows your lack of critical thinking.
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        Jan 15 2013: Hi, Faisel. I have attached for you or anyone interested the New York Times article describing the closing of the privately funded ESP lab an engineering prof ran at Princeton. It's a true story.
        His publications never made it through peer review at any scientific journals or had credibility in the scientific community or among any Princeton faculty other than himself (you can read about the methodological irregularities online, including the finding that the ESP-suggesting results disappear when you remove a single experimental subject who just happened to be PEAR hired staff...), but he published through sites that publish that sort of material.
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        Jan 19 2013: Faisel, you have made clear that you are acquainted with and accept quantum mechanics in the way scholars/experts in that field use that term. (Not surprising, as you are educated in physics!) Further, your religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are entirely your own business unless you choose to make them public. No one else's labels for you count. [The world would be more peaceful if people didn't make unfounded assumptions about other people's beliefs, but we know this has been done throughout human history]
  • Jan 15 2013: If there is power in prayer then it is virtually impossible to pray without something happening.
    Prayer does not mean a belief in a God or in God.

    People do believe however, and for myriad reasons, many things and one thing most do believe in is that there is good and bad.
    So, prayer could mean a belief in good.
    Prayer in some ways, is just another form of hope and hope is by and large a false concept.
    Perhaps the most widely believed in false concept in the world.

    If one comes to "know" what they "believe in" then there might not be a reason for prayer.
    What one comes to know, is either trusted or not trusted, but why believe or supposedly come to know, if one then doesn't trust it?
    But if one trusts it, then there is no reason to worry, because that just signals that one doesn't really trust what they say they believe in or have supposedly come to know.

    Both faith and hope are about not knowing, not trusting, not really. They are false fronts for there is nothing to worry about.
    Don't worry, something good will happen.
    If it doesn't, don't worry. Something bad will happen.
    I prayed daily, throughout each day, for 24 straight years. Absolutely nothing happened.
    I no longer pray, believe in hope or have faith.
    I believe in what I know, without doubt.
    If there is power in prayer, then it is virtually impossible to pray without something happening.

    Soothing sounds like a lie. I don't want to be soothed.
    So, prayer is a placebo, hope is a placebo, faith is a placebo and the truth, which is supposed to set people free, is not wanted.
    The active misrepresentation of reality to ones own mind is known as self-deception and it is a highly practiced endeavor today.
    It also becomes cyclical so that the practitioner can become better at self-deception.
    A key to becoming better is to deceive others: the active misrepresentation of reality to anothers' mind.
    Also, highly practiced today.
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    Jan 15 2013: There is empirical evidence that optimism is correlated with creativity (I can find the citation if you want it). If someone who prays believes he has significant support for his efforts by his having engaged in prayer, that should increase optimism and a can-do attitude that should in turn increase the odds of accomplishing things that depend on creativity. While I am not aware of the research relating optimism to productivity, I would guess that relationship is positive as well, so someone who believes prayer helps will likely be helped to be more productive by prayer.

    Many people believe- and I think it is true- that a supportive atmosphere (that still retains high expectations) gives them more of a sense of wellbeing and helps them accomplish goals relative to an environment that is hostile. Prayer for someone who believes should provide that sense of support and high expectations.

    There is research on how religious activity affects health and a sense of wellbeing. The findings are inconsistent.
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      Jan 15 2013: Dr David Sacks writes about this in his blog at ACP Hospitalist. He says that he is no longer a "believer" but he can encourage his patients in their beliefs even though he doesn't share in them, because it has positive mental effects.
      "This in large part explains why I have no problem speaking to my patients as though I believe in God. It reassures them to think that in fact my hands are being guided. They like to think that my own prayer might enhance my ability as a healer. They might even believe that faith makes me a better individual, and this is the sort of doctor they want. And for me, I can't help but believe it helps them to deal with their illness or that of their loved one. And that is the essence of my thesis: prayer is at the very least a placebo, and placebos have been shown time and time again to be effective."
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        Jan 15 2013: Theodore, there are people who pray "just in case." I was only following out a research-based logic as to how prayer could work to enhance people's productivity or creativity even without effects being evidence one way or another for divine intervention.

        In terms of experiment, a principle researchers have long taken into account in designing experiments is called the Hawthorne effect. That is, people behave differently when they know they are part of an experiment, which can skew results. (Errors of measurement that come from Hawthorne effects or self-report have no connection to Heisenberg or to quantum physics)
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    Jan 15 2013: Lets have a discussion about prayer and not about religion. Interesting. I would have thought they were somewhat connected.
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    Jan 21 2013: I think that the question is scientifically unanswerable, given that there's no way, to date, to measure divine intervention, if it should exist.

    The best thing I suppose that can be done is to compare different beliefs and see which one has the better results compared to others or if are they all the same. Maybe if they are all the same, one can come to the conclusion that it is placebo indeed, giving that the 'wrong god' wouldn't be able to answer prayers.

    But in the end, it can always be thought as placebo variations amongst beliefs.

    Sorry to arrive so late in the debate...
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    Jan 17 2013: I have a question for the atheist.

    I know many fellows of some religions are fanatical about persuading none believers or scouring them.
    And I thought the reasoning for this was because the religion’s leaders told them to do so.

    BUT many atheist are also fanatical about persuading and scouring none believers and yet to my limit knowledge atheist has no leaders that are telling them to behave that way.

    To me if someone is being civil/good because they believe something that I don’t believe, I’m not going to try to have them stop believing.

    So way are many atheist fanatical about persuading and scouring none believers.
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      Jan 17 2013: Great question, why bring it here? You're free to start a different discussion on TED.

      Re: "In that prayers are not answered in that same manner as a placebo effect could account for."

      The confusion here seems to be about your understanding to the topic, so allow me to suggest that you Google "Prayer as placebo" and see what pops up.
      Irrespective of whether there is a god, or whether prays are answered, there may still be a measurable effect in the brain when a person engages in the act of praying.
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        Jan 17 2013: Besides my own natural desire for understanding, I thought you would find self-analyses helpful much like I have found in my own searches for understanding. In that the level of belief in a belief would affect the outcome, understanding the cause and effects of your own levels of belief could help your search for understanding.

        I know changing others’ beliefs is a common desire people have, that was and is not my desire.
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    Jan 17 2013: I was raised in a Catholic home. My parents both believed in purgatory. At the age of eight, I suffered second degree burns on both hands in an accident. It made the issue of purgatory all the more urgent. At the prompting of a nun that advised me to ask God the questions that I was inundating the Sunday school teachers with, I found a quiet place and meditated on God. I wanted God to reveal himself to me so that I could ask questions. I was nine years old at the time.

    What happened to me was the most profound experience I have had to date. I had a revelation of God that was not at all what I was expecting. It was completely in tune with nature and evolution. In fact, it was in tune with quantum physics, but I wouldn't come to know that until eleven years later when I formally studied the subject. It took away all preconceived notions of God and replaced it with a sense for the divine on a universal scale.

    I know that all names for God are manufactured to provide some sense of identity with the higher powers of the cosmos. There is only one God (or higher power) regardless of what name you give it. There are many misconceptions of who or what God is, which creates a dilemma when people are trying to pray. Prayer is meant to provide two way communication. You can tell God your problems all day long, but until you hear the answer, you might as well have prayed to the wall. God does not solve our problems for us. God tells us how to solve them when you are able to hear.

    When my first wife was presenting multiple personalities, I prayed to God for help. The help came in the form of a charismatic christian who was deeply into spiritual matters. She walked me through the whole process up to and including her death. She told me why God had put us together and why God was going to take her. When my wife died, I didn't have to ask God why because I already knew.

    There are few today who have that kind of communication, and our society is stripping away whatever is left.
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      Jan 17 2013: Re: God does not solve our problems for us. God tells us how to solve them when you are able to hear.

      Where is the evidence of the divinity? This is little more than a narrative that doesn't address the question that's posed, a question that directed respondents to be scientific.
      Let's break this down linguistically. What is being related is a narrative about a belief systems, one that was formed at a young, impressionable age. As such, the way the narrative is being related asks the listener to presuppose it is true. While we can accept the biographical parts at face value, the rest is conjecture. The problem is that it removes the qualifier, that which qualifies the statement in the sentence.
      It is not that God does this or that, but rather that, YOU BELIEVE God does such. "I" is the qualifying element in the statement. Another way to explain this is that you are externalizing your internal subjective process.
      Therefore the statement needs to read, "I believe God does not solve our problems for us."
      And even still, that is not this debate.

      The reason I say, " a young, impressionable age" is this. Just like in the cases of near death experiences mentioned in comments below, I've never heard of cases of NDE or people hearing God, or similar such things, without a religious background to provide a preconception that would make such an illusion possible.
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        Jan 17 2013: You are comparing apples to oranges. The evidence of faith comes from experience. If you negate experience as evidence, then there is little evidence. When one prays and experiences positive changes in one's life, that is perceived as evidence. When it keeps happening, it reinforces the notion that there may be a connection. You may call it a placebo effect, but that itself is pure conjecture. You are assuming that it may be nothing more. One cannot validate or measure experience for another as you have said.

        Science deals with the structure of matter. It can evaluate changes in structure. That is how it knows that something has happened. In spiritual transformation, there is a change in perception, but there may be no change in structure. Such a change is not measurable in a laboratory accept maybe in psychological studies. It is measurable to oneself in a sense of well being and increased awareness. But again, no one can validate that for another. One can argue that the individual was simply pretending to be less aware beforehand.

        In his series, "The Universe With Morgan Freeman", there was a segment entitled "Did We Invent God?". There were studies shown in MRI tests where changes in brain stimulation occurred during meditation. A later segment "Is the Universe Alive?" puts a whole different spin on the notion of a higher power. If the universe is alive, as the segment suggests, is it aware and can one communicate with it? Those experiencing a glimpse into cosmic consciousness say yes. If prayer can induce such an awareness, the only way to scientifically measure it is to see if changes occur in one's brain during the experience. But such a study cannot measure a change in one's perception. It can only validate that the brain is undergoing some sort of change. I doubt that any scientific study of prayer will yield any results that are more than mundane.
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          Jan 17 2013: Allow me to repeat, this discussion is not about religion, specifically your brand of religion.
          Your discussion is about a subjective experience we cannot measure. If your perception is that it "work" it is still just a perception.
          Ancient rituals such as a Native American "rain dance" appeared to work also. So did sacrificing virgins. Things did not become rituals if they did not SEEM to work.

          Allow me to ask, have you read the other comments here?
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          Jan 21 2013: I actually quite disagree with you that scientific observation would yield nothing about the mechanism of prayer, worship, and faith. Quite the contrary! Perhaps you may find something new by perusing Ted talks for talks on the relationships between the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
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        Jan 17 2013: You may be correct that people experiencing cosmic consciousness or NDE may all have had a previous notion of a higher power. What you didn't note is that most of these people have had a radical departure from what they were taught after the experience.

        After my experience, I became annoyed at what the church was teaching because I had a sense that much of it was conditioned or twisted. I did not validate my experience on the mere fact that I had it. What validated it in my mind was the fact that it was in agreement with nuclear physics. They weren't teaching nuclear physics in the third grade, so when I started seeing the same concepts eleven years later, it caught my attention.

        How did I know before I was taught? I see two possible answers; either I was preprogrammed with this information before I was born, which stretches the random mutations theory to the point of fantasy, or there is an intelligence in the universe that is above human intelligence, that humans are capable of tapping into. Einstein proposed this theory when he spoke of a cosmic religious feeling. The same is true for savants. How does one know how to compose a symphony without prior instruction? If you know another answer, I'm all ears.
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        Jan 17 2013: Theodore,
        I agree with your statement..."I've never heard of cases of NDE or people hearing God, or similar such things, without a religious background to provide a preconception that would make such an illusion possible".

        Based on my own NDE and research of hundreds of other reported incidents of NDE/OBEs, people often interpret the experience based on their previous accepted beliefs. I was indoctrinated in the catholic religion, abandoned that belief, and 20 years later had a NDE/OBE. I did not meet a god "out there", and still do not believe in a god.

        I do not agree Roy that "most of these people have had a radical departure from what they were taught after the experience". My experience seemed to reinforce the conclusion I had come to....that there is no god. Most of the cases I read about were interpreted by the participants to reinforce their previous established beliefs.

        My perception is that we are energy beings....all connected with energy. When there is a gathering of people, there is a gathering of energy, which may produce more "power". There have been scientific experiments with people meditating in groups, indicating that there is a rise in energy level. It is comparable to what we may call the "mob mentality"....a group of people/energy gathering together with a focus. The focus may be "good", or not so good.

        I believe that what we focus on expands, and "prayer" may be considered a "focus", which draws the energy we need to help make the prayer a reality.
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          Jan 17 2013: I have additional comments regarding NDE & OBE below in response to Ed Schulte.
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          Jan 19 2013: Colleen,
          I believe that the reason my comments seem contradictory is because I shift from right brain to left brain perception. The right brain sees the creative forces of nature as a creator whereas the left brain sees them in mathematical models. I see them as both, and I shift back and forth depending on how my mood was stimulated. Either/or, they are one and the same to me.

          I CAN trust that some of you are informed enough to make your own decisions. I believe that we all need to make our own decisions, but some would rather play follow the leader. So I say what I believe and why I believe it for their benefit knowing that others will read these comments besides the ones they were directed to. I believe that when others are ready, they will learn to follow their own path as well.
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        Jan 17 2013: Yes Theodore, I read those comments:>)
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          Jan 19 2013: Colleen,

          You have it backwards from the way I see it. "I prayed to God..." is my right brain seeing the forces of nature as a creator. The fact that I have had premonitions and visions that guided me, gives the impression that some form of communication is occurring between my mind and the cosmos. In that regard, my right brain sees the cosmos as an entity that I can talk to, quite removed however from how religions present it.

          My science background sees the forces of nature as mathematical models, and to see them collectively is to see the cosmos as a series of equations that pertain to everything. This is the analytical (left) part of my mind trying to align itself with how the forces of nature work.
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          Jan 19 2013: I call these forces of nature "him" only because that is what religious people are used to. I write in my book that God has no sexual gender.
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        Jan 17 2013: Yes, I have read the other comments. They cover a wide scope.

        You ask if prayer has a placebo effect or is there evidence of divine intervention, and then you imply in your comments that you don't believe that divine intervention is a reality. My idea of divine intervention may not be what you envision. I don't see a supreme being as a person who makes decisions, I see it as the underlying forces of nature collectively. They are everywhere and they are invisible. I also feel that I can communicate with it to an extent that allows me to make the right decisions in my life.

        I believe that prayer allows my mind to tune in (or align) to the workings of the cosmos so that I understand better why things happen.
        The Cosmos has an order to it. The less we are in harmony with that order, the more confounded our actions will be. I believe that prayer affects our ability to understand the workings of the cosmos, thus it has a calming effect in that it gives us a sense that we are a part of the greater whole. That is how it works in my life. If you call that a placebo effect, there may be some truth to it. But I believe that there is a lot more to it than that based on the experiences that I have had.

        I will review the other material you sent.
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          Jan 18 2013: Fair enough.
          But I still want to point out how language matters in these discussions.
          It is not a question of divine intervention being a reality as much as it is about what is evidence.

          I do not question your subjective experience.
          And thank you for participating in the discussion. I do accept your comments as sincere
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          Jan 18 2013: Roy,
          I respect your idea of divine intervention as YOUR idea, and I also agree more with your explanation in the above comment.

          You say you..."see it as the underlying forces of nature collectively". You also state..."that prayer allows my mind to tune in (or align) to the workings of the cosmos so that I understand better why things happen."

          That concept seems very different to me than your previous statement..."I prayed to God for help." "I wanted God to reveal himself to me so that I could ask questions."

          Whichever concept you embrace is ok, it's just that it seems contradictory to me.

          I totally agree that when we are in balance/harmony, things tend to be different in our life experience, and I agree that calming the mind and aligning with nature, helps facilitate balance and harmony in our lives. The idea of prayer may help to facilitate balance.

          If you need to believe that there is a god who is directing all this, that's ok. Many of us experience balance and harmony simply with the perception that we are part of the "nature collectively", as you insightfully say. Personally, I do not need the image of a god "helping" me, or "revealing himself" to me. I do believe that we are part of the whole....collective nature. I do not believe in a man/god directing the process.

          You write as if your perception and belief is the one and only....this is how it is....and that is NOT how it is for all of us. Your perception and beliefs are YOUR subjective perception and beliefs, I understand that you would like to teach your ideas to everyone, and some of us have done extensive exploration, research and had experiences which give us different information than you are preaching. Can you trust that some of us are intelligent and informed enough to make our own decisions?
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          Jan 19 2013: Hi Roy,
          This is a response to your comment which begins...

          I believe that the reason my comments seem contradictory is because I shift from right brain to left brain perception. The right brain sees the creative forces of nature as a creator whereas the left brain sees them in mathematical models"

          You write..."see it as the underlying forces of nature collectively". You also state..."that prayer allows my mind to tune in (or align) to the workings of the cosmos so that I understand better why things happen."

          I assume this is the right brain seeing the creative forces of nature? I agree with this.

          You also write..."I prayed to God for help." "I wanted God to reveal himself to me so that I could ask questions."

          Is this the information you perceive to be based on "mathematical models. "?

          I also LOVE using both the right brain AND left brain, and usually, they are working together with consistant information.
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          Jan 19 2013: Roy,
          Response to your comment beginning with...

          "You have it backwards from the way I see it. "I prayed to God..." is my right brain seeing the forces of nature as a creator"..."my right brain sees the cosmos as an entity that I can talk to..."

          Ok...your right brain sees the forces of nature as a creator, which you call god... communication is occurring between your mind and the cosmos. In that regard, your right brain sees the cosmos as an entity that you can talk perceive these forces of nature as mathematical models. Why do you call these "forces of nature and mathematical models "him"?
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        Jan 20 2013: Roy,
        Response to your comment...
        "I call these forces of nature "him" only because that is what religious people are used to. I write in my book that God has no sexual gender."

        And there lies the contradiction for me. You present the idea of "underlying forces of nature collectively", following a "mathematical model". You say..."I don't see a supreme being as a person who makes decisions, I see it as the underlying forces of nature collectively. They are everywhere and they are invisible."

        And you also reinforce the idea of a "supreme being" and connect it to religion..." because that is what religious people are used to".

        You are constantly preaching religion, and that is perhaps why Theodore has reminded you that this thread is not about religion.

        "Theodore A. Hoppe
        2 days ago: Allow me to repeat, this discussion is not about religion..."
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      Jan 17 2013: "Framing" This is important to grasp when considering religion
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    Jan 16 2013: In the christian realm Prayer takes a long time before one might notice some aspect of an "Answering". The Christian prays for thanks first and recognition of God and then supplication to God for others.

    There's no instant put the coin in and get the chocolate bar.

    How many of those parents at Sandy Hook dropped to their knees and screamed "Why!" and got an answer? How many were religious and prayed? How many attended a church service after the shootings? How many are now floating in the fog of loss and have turned to the new priests of this era?

    I know this is not about religion but then why use the word prayer?

    Is it a placebo? No, Why? You'll have to be in someone's mind right from the beginning of their prayer life to their eventual death to prove yay or nay and they would have to be unaware they are not in a study.
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      Jan 16 2013: Re: I know this is not about religion but then why use the word prayer?

      The premise here is that the act of prayer has an affect on one's brain, such as a placebo effect. apart from receiving an answer.

      But you raise an interesting point: The Purpose of Prayer in a Modern World
      "Is it not a leftover conception of God from an age in which people performed rites and rituals to please the gods who controlled what we now understand as natural occurrences -- the weather, illness and fertility? As our scientific understanding of the mechanics behind the universe has grown, the spaces in which God can act on the universe have shrunken. Scientific theories like quantum mechanics, chaos theory and evolution teach us that not only is the world unpredictable but the inherent chance and probability within the universe is necessary to its creative process."
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        Jan 17 2013: Theo is there any studies on prayer of a subject over a ten year period?

        That Huff post is great though i never see anyone state from any side that the Christian God set the universe up to be entropic which is in the book.

        I better state for those who are believers and might get uppity about it.

        Christian Prayer is for guidance as well but one does not hear a mighty voice up on high or will the guidance be what people hope it to be or will they notice it.
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          Jan 17 2013: Irrespective of whether there is a god, or whether prays are answered, there may still be a measurable effect in the brain when a person engages in the act of praying.
          And this is immediate. Agreed?
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        Jan 17 2013: Most people i know it's a one way sending whether it's negative or positive but the effect is short lived, one can deduce that this is a natural release valve but we lack important real time data.

        Can't wait til someone develops a non invasive small and wearable fmr type of device which will give researchers that valuable data they need but i have a feeling they won't find anything out of the ordinary when it comes to those who have prayed all their lives other than a healthy brain.
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        Jan 17 2013: A little off topic Theo.

        How does the west view Sanpaku?
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    Jan 16 2013: We knew our heart drive our body, our brain drives our thoughts and decisions.

    As humans being a curious creature we wanted to know what drives these both. As we the humans have the tendency to follow the breadcrumb believing it will lead us to something new. We used our imagination and gut feelings and assumed/ identified that it is the mind that drives our heart and brain.

    And again comes the curious creature wanting to know what drives the mind.

    So we came up with GOD so that we don't have to pursue this endless journey and convinced ourselves.

    We from humans perspective we see things in such bottom up fashion, But on the other side GOD who actually exists knows this from the Top Down approach, which is actually the original work. Others are only depictions of this original work in many forms.

    God is to Human being, what a Human is to an ant.

    An any point an ant will never know that something called human exist. All it will know is that there are threats at times and food some time. They might have assumed the human intervention to something else which we will only know if we are intelligent enough to understand its brain or they should be our creations which they are not.

    In the same way humans are not capable of understanding GOD, we have no idea in what proportion our assumptions and reality are laid in.
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    Jan 16 2013: Like many I’m spiritual and not religious; that is to say I believe in god, but not any one churches views on god their set a prayers. You have a false premise in your understanding of how prayers are answered, in that you’re assuming that the prayer had to be given and that the answer had to have been yes.

    I’ll give you an example from my life; 11.5 years ago I laid-off form a high stress, long hours, good paying job, and at that time I prayed to get that job back or find one equal to it. Well 6-months later I went with a low stress, easy hours, low pay job, and by your measurements that prayer would be considered as not answered. BUT a little over a year into that job, I had some weird muscle spasms and because I now had great health insurance I made an appointment neurologist. After making the appointment I had not more spasms, but keep the appointment anyway. 4-months later I went to it and two weeks after that I was diagnosed. And will just say that having a low stress, easy hours, good health insurance, job was an answer to a prayer that I had even ask for.

    If god wanted us to have proof, then we would have proof. So if you go with the premise god is real and that god does not want us to find proof, no matter how good you are you’re not going to be that good.
    And if god is not real and nothing comes after death, proving nothing happens is not possible ether.

    There is an eastern religion that teaches; that we should not think about god and just focus on our lives here, because spending time on the unknowable is a waste of time. Or something like that.
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      Jan 16 2013: re: "you’re assuming that the prayer....

      You're assuming there is a "higher power" No god equates to no one answering prayers.
      The suggestion here is that in the absence a god the brain creates the type of agency to cause and effect. This is the root of any discuss about the origin of religions.

      Neuroscientist would say that it is our unconsciousness that is a guiding influence, but since we are oriented around our consciousness we fail to recognize this.
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        Jan 17 2013: No, I was saying that your method of measuring is flawed.
        In that prayers are not answered in that same manner as a placebo effect could account for.
        I gave an example, and offered reasoning as why. Questioning as to what does or does not come after death is not provable.

        As I said in my last statement, spending time on the unknowable is a waste of time.
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        Jan 17 2013: Thank you, God is known by many names and has many faces with evolution being one of them.
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    Gail .

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    Jan 16 2013: I began my research into the power of intent many years ago, when my neighbor's daughter asked me for ideas for a unique project for her middle school's science fair. I suggested an experiment based on the power of thought using plants - an idea I'd heard about but not given study. Here is the experiment

    She began with alfalfa seeds, sowing them in 3 identical containers, setting them on the same window sill. Each day she was to water them with exactly the same amount of water - carefully measured. But when she watered them, she would do so one flat at a time, away from the window.

    The flat on the left was watered while she thought angry, hateful thoughts. The flat in the middle was simply watered. The flat on the right was watered with love and nurturing thoughts and thoughts of encouragement.

    On the morning of the science fair, she brought her experiment to show me. One flat had significantly less sprouting, and the bent & twisted seedlings were scrawny. The flat in the middle had growth and looked great. But when she pulled out her flat from the right, the results were stunning. The seedlings from the flat on the right were 40% taller. Stems were thicker, leaves were denser. More sprouted. It was only then that I took what I saw seriously and began looking for other evidence to support the ideas that this experiment suggested to me.

    I learned about the experiment with visuzalization & making free-throw baskets, where the visualizing group has = or greater improvement than the practicing group. (oft repeated). I also learned about a study where intent results were compared to size of group. (meaningful). I learned about others.

    Re PEAR: probability of statistical abnormalities is p =2x10-6 for up, 5x10-4 for down, and 10-8 for composite. Variance of success of individuals within the study is LARGE, as Dr. Bern (Cornell) found in his own not-overtly related study.

    Something's there. Study is necessary. All fields begin in infancy.
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        Gail .

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        Jan 16 2013: I was approaching the topic from the context of efficacy of thought as a method of change. If prayer can only be defined as supplication to a deity, then it IS off-topic. But if prayer is communication with spiritual - deity or not - then it remains on-topic - at least I think. But if I am in error, I do offer my apologies.
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          Jan 16 2013: I certainly see your views as applying to this debate.
          Thank you for contributing.
  • Jan 15 2013: The Harley Effect !!! is here.

    Harley is smiling right now I bet.

    Well OK ....first and for most , the rules of this debate are that "This is not a debate about religion"

    I would respectfully suggest that is gain any insight, intellectually (which seems to be the other set boundary here but not stated clearly) that the second criteria be, first and foremost. that each participant must state, as best they can ....Their Understanding of the "Nature and Structure of their Consciousness Itself"".....otherwise this "debate" will quickly become another TED dash to a bunch of "slash and bash" Opinions.

    So my perspective, if I do contribute here, ...will be referenced to these two current published sources ....both Medical Doctors,( one now very fluent in science ) and both very keen on sharing their Experiential Knowledge on "The Nature and Structure of Consciousness Itself." Again with out a clearly given statement of that by each participant, all input will be nothing but Opinions ...iow just another TED placebo!!!
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      Jan 15 2013: It would appear that Eternea is a recent effort of the former astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, who is also the founder of the Institute of Noetic Science. This institute conducts research into the parapsychology (also known as psi phenomena), which include or near death experiences, (NDE) At has provided little scientific evidence to date into any of these phenomena, including telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation and apparitional experiences. Eternea seems to have been created in support the life after death concepts or NDE.
      I've have heard both Neal and Alexander interviewed and there is a major flaw in their stories.
      What they do not explain is how their soul or spirit, some prefer the term "consciousness", records memories and then transfers these memories of their out of body experiences, (OBE) back into the brain. What creates the material memory in the brain?

      Skeptics will claim, as Sam Harris has, that their experience can be describes as a dream state memory that occurs as the brain emerges from out of a coma like state. It can also be noted that both Neal and Alexander were raised in religious homes and had a background of religious orientation. It would be more of a revelation to hear an NDE account from a person without such an orientation for obvious reasons.
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      Jan 15 2013: From a scientific standpoint any explanation of NDE and ODE will need to address some serious questions.
      On Alexander's website someone anonymously left the following questions that went unanswered.

      "Which interpretation of quantum theory do you believe is most representative of reality when considered in the context of NDE,OBE,etc. ?

      I've read most things on your reading list (among much in addition) but the Information Integration theory of Consciousness was new to me and particularly interesting.How might this theory explain novel information? And what of dream,OBE,and NDE content considering that normal sensory input channels are not adding information to the 'complexes?' Wouldn't this theory have to be extended beyond our conventional ideas of space-time and matter somehow?

      The theory also seems to depend on the objective existence of matter ;but as I understand,at least at the subatomic level, matter's dynamic properties of position and momentum do not exist indepenent of measurement. This seems problematic if quantum effects are present in the brain and crucial to neural transmission as some like Henry Stapp and Evan Harris Walker have theorized. It seems to have left out free choice and will-which both John Conway and Antoine Suarez have made an excellent case for the existence of."
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    Jan 15 2013: From "Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief," Gretta Vosper says: "Prayer is a contract for hope, not results. . . . When we enter into prayer, we become a participant in that story, a party to its contractual promise, and we can be deeply, powerfully, physically, and emotionally soothed as a result." With placebo we see some to these same changes in conditions.
    Vosper adds, "The whole idea of studying the efficacy of prayer is fundamentally flawed. I do think that what some experience as the positive effect of prayer can be understood as similar to a placebo effect: an inert substance is given to someone or he or she is led to believe a medical procedure has been performed and the condition that was being experienced is cured. The strength of our belief make positive results happen."
    You can read an interview where she discusses this further at