RE: virus: Have a Coke and a Smile!

Richard Brodie (
Fri, 5 Mar 1999 13:45:10 -0800

Jake MemeLab wrote:

<< I think the concept of "self-fulfilling prophecy" might be the closest I
could get to something that would be meaningful to you with your worldview and still have value. Faith can move mountains, in other words.>>

<<What would be an example of this?>>

Men who believe they are more desirable than they really are, or that a women is more interested in him than she really is, are more successful at scoring than realists.

Salesmen listen to motivational tapes to improve their performance.

Someone who believes in himself gives off vibes that attract people.

Someone whose loyalties transcend reason wins loyal friends. Someone to whom ideas are more important than people rarely does.

<< Is something being a "self-fulfilling
prophecy" necessarily a good thing?>>

No, nothing is necessarily a good thing unless it brings about good. It's a tool, like reason.

<< Can you have a self-fulfilling prophecy
without faith? I would view this as goal setting.>>

Yes, you can have goal setting, of course. But the theory is that if you believe you are capable of achieving your goals, you have a better shot at it than if you don't. I'll quote some of what I wrote on the subject in GETTING PAST OK:

When his team is behind at half-time of a football game, does the coach sit down with the players and say, "Listen, fellas-we're down by a touchdown. Statistically speaking, we have only a 23% chance of coming from behind and winning the game"? No! He says, "Come on, men! We're better than this team, and every one of you knows it! And we're going to win! We're going to come out fighting, hit 'em left, right, left, right! Go! Go! Go!" This is known as "psyching up"-creating a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. The team is more likely to win, and if they lose, they probably enjoyed the second half all the more for trying harder.

The opposite of this is known as "psyching out"-creating a negative self-fulfilling prophecy in your opponent, as when a tennis player shows off a new, $900 racquet and mentions that he felt like he had to buy it since he was just named number-one seed at the club. His hope is that you will buy into his manipulative act and create a belief that he is better than you, which will sabotage your chances of winning.

<< Not all mountains should
be moved, however, and trying to move some mountains can be very detrimental.
If your commitment is irrational, it would be difficult to be able to appreciate that. Sinking all of a person's extra money in next week's lottery
based on their faith in fortune cookie numbers might be a self-fulfilling prophecy for SOMEONE, but does that mean that it is good that they do so? Does the outcome justify the decision?>>

I don't see how that could be a self-fulfilling prophecy since the outcome or a lottery would not be influenced by the gambler's belief -- in fact, gambling games have evolved to take advantage of the USEFUL optimism we have evolved to have around low-probability results (see Virus of the Mind for more details).

No one is claiming that irrational faith is good or useful in all or even most cases. What you may look back on this discussion as having changed your mind about, though, is the idea that reason is not good or useful in all cases. Does using it bring about good? Usually, yes. Always, no.

Richard Brodie Author, "Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme" Free newsletter! Visit Meme Central at