How I got over and done with this ridiculous concept of karma

My post on karma created quite a stir amongst many of the readers of this blog. I am also aware that there is much anticipation for the post that describes how I transformed my belief system. Not to disappoint anyone of you but my explanation is not based on any grand theories. As you will find out, our manifestation of karma, as it is perceived largely amongst the society, is because of a simple folly of human nature – our tendency to be affected by biases….

There is some evidence that our brains may be wired in such a way that we can never avoid certain mistakes. No, I am not kidding. In such cases, there is no learning curve such that you may learn to avoid them. We are certain to make a few of the same mistakes, over and over again. Yes, welcome to the world of biases!

What is a bias? A bias is a non-rational factor that systematically pushes one’s beliefs in some domain in one direction or very simply put, a bias refers to a specific, predictable error pattern in the human mind. All human beings suffer from many types of biases all the time.

Do you think the car you own is the best in its class of cars? Well that is because of the choice-supportive bias.

How many times have you thought that you will finish something in a certain amount time but have repeatedly failed to do so? Yeah, I know you have been there. It is because of the optimism bias or the planning fallacy.

In the Google age have you searched for something and then realised that it did not really help you but you would do it again anyway? or you have done a particular medical test even though you were told that it will not really benefit your diagnosis? Well that is because of the information bias.

Do you think you are a more rational person and less susceptible to these biases? Well that is because of the bias blind spot.

Do you think I am wrong and that you truly are less susceptible to biases? Well that is because of the confirmation bias.

I can go on and on with examples. Each one of you will have suffered from more than one of these biases (I suspect, many times) in your life. I am pointing out these biases only to make you aware that it’s a combination of these biases which have lead me to have a continued belief in karma as it is portrayed in the Indian society.

To be able to change my belief system, I had to take a step back and observe myself. I had to look at my daily activities, observe my reactions to events and analyse them as carefully as possible. I had to put in special efforts to rid myself of biases and once I was able to do that it was not hard to see what was wrong with my assumptions in the first place.

From my previous post you will see that my concept of karma wasn’t taught to me by reading some religious text but was passed down to me as an ideology. This kind of bandwagon effect or more exposure effect, which is the same that leads us Indians to believe in cricket as a religion rather than baseball or like Amitabh Bachchan much more than Sean Connery or Harrison Ford.

Then somewhere along the way I transformed my views of karma to suit my needs. I made it in to something that agreed with the kind of efforts-lead-to-good-results theory that we have all been exposed to through out our school education. Remember the story of Mahatma Gandhi or Bhagat Singh? I am not saying that these stories gave us any wrong ideas. As a matter of fact I am proud to have grown up reading about these great men but you can see why I would equate effort with karma points. And I’d class this as the result of choice-supportive bias.

And as this ideology pervaded my being, I was under the illusion of control. I thought about all the injustice in our society and started believing that karma will prevail and that the culprits will be punished. It made me a passive observer of all that around me, and if at all I was enraged, karma doused the fire within.

My choice of friends, clearly a confirmation bias. My reasons to keep believing in the theory and ignoring events that did not conform with my ideology, a status quo bias. And just like before, I can go on giving examples of how different biases played a role in my belief of karma. I think I have made my point. I am not trying to say that I was being affected by all these biases all the time. But it isn’t very easy to defeat an ideology like that of karma when there are so many biases that are bent on defeating you on your way out.

10 thoughts on “How I got over and done with this ridiculous concept of karma”

  1. Now I’m concerned …. have I really spent the last few years dismissing the concept of karma ? Or was it hindsight bias ?

  2. HI Akshat

    Nice to read on this topic again, and you some how got to the point….the biased and the whole kinds of it and I call this free will. In fact your will is made up of your conditioning, your thinking..and the more closely you watch yourself and your actions the more you understand how you exercise your free will in all your actions. I would like you to go back to my comments and read them again…. what you wrote here is same I expressed in them… the only difference is I can’t write logically and planned like you though my blunt and spontaneous comments spoke the same thing.

  3. Akshat,

    I agree with you on most points. I think the most important lesson is that
    1) we should try to have an accurate portrait in our minds of how the world *actually is*, not how we would *like* it to be;
    2) we should apply the same rigour to testing beliefs like karma that we would apply in the lab. Using anecdotes or gut feelings to decide whether karma exists is no less absurd than using those methods to decide the strength of gravity, or whether the earth is flat; and
    3) as humans we should be alert to common human mistakes (biases, heuristics, etc) and in such cases proceed with extra special caution.

    The only point I disagree with you (perhaps it’s just with the wording) is that I think we can ultimately overcome heuristics and biases if we are alert to their presence and exercise extreme caution when we detect them at play.

  4. You can’t really define an idea like Karma in terms of science let alone English. Biases and heuristics are avenues of the mind that fit into an amalgam of consciousness stuffed into the word “karma”. You can’t defeat “karma” because there is nothing to be defeated, the word and the idea exist, and as long as they do you will be working under this system, “karma”, regardless of what term or set of terms you may use for it. The word is just a handy conscious placemarker for storing ideas related to the subject so that the understanding may unfold as you add more to it.

    1. No: karma predicts *real* *physical* phenomena, and the presence or absence of those phenomena can be tested using the same techniques we use to test whether the earth is flat or whether Santa Claus is real. (And of course when you do look to see whether these phenomena exist, the answer is NO.)

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