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The Power of Belief

Our beliefs can manipulate our response to the environment, and our response to the environment is one of the most important factors of our well-being. We are all interconnected to everything and everyone and can thus influence and be influenced, perhaps in ways we have not yet grasped scientifically.

Once someone questioned Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) about why he did not rise up against the oppressive regime of that time. The Imam told him to sit in a nearby furnace of fire, but the man was hesitant to do so. Then a companion of the Imam entered the room and the Imam told him to sit in the furnace. The companion did so without hesitation, much to the shock and worry of the questioner. After a time, the furnace was opened, and the man was found sitting in the fire completely unhurt. The questioner then realized that he did not have the belief necessary to do what the companion had done, and neither did most people – and that was why the Imam would not rise.

Modern scientific research in epigenetics, quantum physics, and pharmaceutical development is showing that the power of belief is indeed a great power. Many scientists and much of the public have come to believe over time that it is our DNA that determines much about us. But epigenetics tells us that DNA is only a blueprint and not the brain of a cell. It turns out that the real brain of a cell is the cellular membrane, which “senses” what is going on internally and externally to the cell, and determines how the cell will respond to its environment. Among others, this process determines which parts of the DNA are read – that is, which parts of the blueprint are activated and which are not.

Amazingly, science is showing that it isn’t just your current living environment that has influence; but it is also the environment of your parents when you were conceived and carried in the womb, and even the environment of previous generations in your family that can influence what genes are turned on or off in you. What your mother was doing before you were even thought of can influence whether you end up with certain cancers or other health problems. On a similar note, stress in your environment and how you respond to that stress can also influence the activation of genes. In other words, how you live and how you respond to stress trumps your genetic destiny in many cases. The stronger your belief and positivity, the lower your risk will be for harmful gene expressions.

Scientific studies have shown that much of an individual’s personality is not limited to the brain alone, but is actually in all the cells in the body. For example, emotions involve total body chemistry – in essence, all of your body’s cells, and not just your brain, can be said to “feel” or chemically respond in some way to what we call an emotion. This is partly why people suffering from depression often report physical aches and pains as some of their symptoms. It may also be why some cases of organ transplantation have been shown to influence the personalities of the recipients.

Quantum physics tells us that even without touching each other, everything is interconnected – every cell and every atom is all just waving energy of the same nothingness, and the waves all interact with each other to varying degrees. What happens in one part of your body can affect another part in unexpected ways, and what happens to you can affect someone else, and so on. We all are essentially part of the same energy, and our energy is not confined to our bodies. If a person can influence that energy, (s)he can influence his/her biology.

Most pharmaceuticals, unlike the “drugs” the body makes for itself in response to an injury, act all over the body and not only in the injured place. Most of the side effects of drugs occur because of this phenomenon of acting all over the body rather than in localized regions where they are needed. Sometimes, however, just the belief of being helped is enough to cure. Drugs for treating depression (and for all other conditions) go through clinical trials before being approved for the general public. In these trials, some patients typically receive a placebo – a pill that contains no medicine – while others receive the medicine. In every trial, some of the people receiving the placebo get better even though they received no medicine. For depression drugs, about half the studies have shown that the placebos actually performed as well as the drugs, in terms of people reporting feeling better!

The placebo effect works in non-pharmaceutical interventions as well. One study on knee surgery for osteoarthritis found that patients who believed they had material cut out of the knee, but actually did not, performed as well as those who had the full surgery. People who were immobile before the surgery were playing basketball and going skiing a year later, when all that had been done to them were a few incisions made on the side of the knee to simulate that a surgery was going to take place.

It is believed that the placebo effect draws on the body’s ability to heal itself. People’s beliefs and expectations can be as important as actual treatment, but by no means negate the need for medicine and doctors altogether. If a person believes a procedure will cure him, in some cases that incontrovertible belief actually causes the cure. Similarly, studies have shown that the doctor’s expectations can matter more than the actual treatment.

As we can see from the above, our beliefs can manipulate our response to the environment, and our response to the environment is one of the most important factors of our well-being. We are all interconnected to everything and everyone and can thus influence and be influenced, perhaps in ways we have not yet grasped scientifically. A living body is just a manifestation of energy in a particular form, but is not necessarily the seat of consciousness or soul itself. At the heart of quantum mechanics and cellular biology, some people see incontrovertible evidence of God and some form of life after death. In the incident related at the beginning of this article, the companion’s power of belief that he would not be harmed or that he should trust his Imam is perhaps what protected him, just as some people are cured by belief in medical procedures that should do nothing for them. Or, perhaps if someone truly could understand and manipulate the energy that constitutes all of us at a quantum level, he could make the fire harmless. While science does not suggest to us how such things can be accomplished, it does suggest that they may be possible through mechanisms obeying the “natural laws.” If you are interested in this topic, you might enjoy The Biology of Belief by Dr. Bruce Lipton, but if you are a true scientist you will do better reading actual scientific research in these areas instead of the pop-science book.

About Masooma Beatty

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  • sammar

    Well done Masooma, this is an excellent article! It made me think for the very first time about God and our Imams in a very different light. I wish we have more artricles of the kind. Thank you so much!