Ghost in the Machine

Today, The Revealer points to this article over at the Guardian where Oxford scientists have received substantial funding to search for the "ghost in the machine." The machine in this case is us.

The scientists will apply a chilli-based gel to the skin of volunteers and ask them to try different strategies to lessen the burning sensation, including asking people with strong religious beliefs to draw on their faith to cope with the pain.

I don’t really understand what they hope to find. Some people may market religion as a way to escape from, ameliorate, or in some way "deal with" pain. But this hardly means that true religion can really provide it. Religion, at least Christianity, provides an answer, but not an escape hatch. On the contrary, a Christian understanding of pain might very well make the pain less and not more bearable. At any rate, the "pain" of having chili paste spread on your skin hardly rises to the level of pain at all–at least of the sort that religion purports to "deals with." Instead, I’d suggest that the researchers subject the volunteers to watching children be subjected to abuse, friends dragged out to sea by tsunamis, loved ones dying lengthy, "pointless" deaths. Then maybe we’ll get some useful data.