The Power of Belief
Legions Put Their Faith in Superstition and Pseudo-Science
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.
     “We’re in a battle all the time to survive. To move ahead,” says Randi. “And we’re going to lose that fight if we start trying to use magic and spells and incantations. We’ve got to depend upon reality.”
     Stossel’s “The Power of Belief” originally aired Oct. 6, 1998.

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.

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