Thought-Action Fusion

After a terrible flight over China, I had horrible flying phobia for years. To calm myself on flights, I felt that if I were to forcibly visualize (imagine) the future scene of me de-boarding at the airport to which we planned on arriving, then such visualizations would drastically improve, if not guarantee, the chance of my safe arrival.  It was almost like I felt that I wouldn’t be able to imagine my arrival it if it weren’t going to actually happen.  Additionally, I felt that I had the magic power to make it happen by the brute force of imagining it. Part of me knew this was ridiculous nonsense but another part of me fully believed it. So of course I did it.  What did I have to loose?  In fact, I still kind of do it on flights to this day.  And look, to-date I have always arrived safely. 🙂

Tom Reese at Epiphenoma describes a study that explores what sort of people, like me, actually believe that their thoughts can make an event happen.   In cognitive science this is called “Thought-Action Fusion”.   The studies compares Protestants with Atheist/Agnostics and shows that Protestants are much more prone to this cognitive bias.

Tom concludes his fine article by saying, “I suspect that the reason I am an atheist is that this way of thinking about the world just seems downright alien to me.”

But I am an Atheist and I have this strong cognitive bias.  In fact, I have a whole bunch of posts describing my superstitious tendencies.  But though I do agree with Tom that such a bias can be a risk factor to becoming a believer, it may only be a risk factor toward being a certain type of believer.  When I was a believer, I noticed many believers had no such magical thinking.   And, as my story shows, even some atheists have this tendency.  But I would suspect that “Natural born” atheists may be much less inclined toward “Though-Action Fusion”.  Tom Rees may be a Natural-Born Atheist.


  • Thought-Action Fusion is a cognitive bias available to Theists and Atheists alike.
  • Just because you have Though-Action Fusion tendencies doesn’t mean you have to indulge them!
  • So, you don’t have to cure a Christian of their superstitions in order for them to become an Atheist, they just have to be a significantly unattached to their superstitious tendencies .  This concept will be part of my developing series on “How to Cure a Christian“.

Question to Readers:  Do any of you do “Thought-Action Fusion”?  (please read Tom’s article for examples)

Related Post of mine:



Filed under Events, Philosophy & Religion

8 responses to “Thought-Action Fusion

  1. Hi Sabio. Yes it’s interesting. Everyone of course is susceptible to cognitive biases. Key to overcoming them is realising that you have them in the first place. And of course, defining what is a ‘bias’ is also a bit tricky. I mean, the brain works in peculiar ways. In certain circumstances, the shortcuts it takes leads it (you!) to getting caught out. But in other circumstances, these same shortcuts might be useful or even essential (then cognitive scientists would label them ‘heuristics’!).

    I think it’s clear, given that religion (and non-religion) is mostly learned, that people can learn to react (or use) their cognitive biases in different ways. So what kinds of biases we are genetically predisposed to matters less than how we are taught (or learn) to understand what’s going on inside our own heads!

  2. Hey Tom,
    Thanks for stopping in!
    (1) Indeed, these heuristics cut both ways. I am also saying, “Hey, if you know it is an illusion, it is still OK to use it to calm yourself or make life happy if their are not bad trade-offs.” In Buddhism this is called Skillful-Means.

    (2) Perhaps “religion” is largely learned, but I am not sure all these cognitive biases have learning playing such a large role. Instead, religion gathers the biases into large heuristics and gives them tribal labels. Does that make any sense or seem reasonable?

  3. Coming out of the building and seeing a freestyle skier with her eyes closed and looking like she’s in a deep meditation was easily accepted by me as I have prepared giving speeches by visualizing them in my head. There is much evidence that these visualizations contribute to success and in many cases are just as good as physically practicing. I am confident in it’s potential.

    However when I think about this idea of visualizations applied to outside entities beyond which I have no control, I have to say I am not so convinced. The flight, my compact disk player malfunctioning, and recieving unexpected money in the mail all are situations which depend very little on what I believe or think. Some are coincidence and some are dependent on weather, skilled pilots, and generous or dieing relatives.

    Your entry is good and thought provoking. It really is a mesh of buddhist dilemmas to real life situations.

  4. @ gord
    Agreed. I do not believe you can effect airplane landings just by thinking. Or at least a huge part of me does not believe that ! 🙂
    Thanx for stopping in.

  5. The moment Darth Vader choked a guy half-way across the boardroom without touching him, I believed in Thought-Action Fusion.

    I think the airplane example is a case of a time problem. If you had the time (or inclination, I guess) to learn everything you could learn about airplane landings, you could certainly effect the landing of a plane (by thought/communication/action/what-have-you). Superstitions are just temporary attitude solutions to those things we cannot control/manage/understand in the time given.

  6. Temaskian

    “So, you don’t have to cure a Christian of their superstitions in order for them to become an Atheist, they just have to be a significantly unattached to their superstitious tendencies”

    Great conclusion! 🙂 Looking forward to you explaining how to achieve that.

  7. @ Temaskian
    Thank you. Yours is the first comment that have focused on the main point of this post. Recently I have been a bit busy but plan to get to those other posts in the future. Thanks again.

  8. Temaskian


    You’re welcome! Can’t help responding when you keep these great posts coming. I had even more substantial stuff to say :-p but was distracted. Now I can’t remember what it was.

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