While taking their daily stroll around the lake, Alice and Bob encounter a mysterious box. There is a note written on it:


These shoes will allow you to walk on water if you follow these 3 simple steps:

  1. Believe that you can do it.
  2. Say 'Aqua Esto Terra!' 3 times to activate the shoes.
  3. Step forward towards the water without any hesitation.

Alice is excited by this encounter, because she has recently been into the Law of Attraction, and manifesting a miracle in her life. Thinking that this is a sign from the universe, she hastily grabs the box and begins to put on the shoes. They seem like normal sneakers, and nothing feels out of the ordinary.

Bob watches Alice disapprovingly as she puts on the shoes. "You'll start to believe in anything anyone tells you at this rate", he says.

Ignoring Bob, Alice approaches the waterside, getting ready to take the first step. She closes her eyes, repeats the magic words 3 times as instructed, and takes a leap of faith.

To Alice's and mostly Bob's surprise, it works. Alice feels as if standing on rigid ground as hard as clean-cut stone. It appears that the waves dampen gradually as they come closer to her feet, and level completely approximately 2 inches away from the soles. The shoes adapt to the depth of the underlying water column by moving vertically but are otherwise horizontally stable. She reaches down to see if she is standing on a platform, but her hand passes through.

While Alice takes a few steps around, Bob remains in shock. He just saw his close friend perform a miracle out of a holy book, and as a result, is experiencing a complex stream of emotions. The part of him which has been a lifelong skeptic is trying to make sense of the situation.

Alice tries to walk in different directions, to run, to jump up and down, and to tapdance. After a few minutes of experimentation, she comes back to the shore and finds that Bob has regained the ability to talk. "How... the... hell...?" he says. Alice shrugs. "Magic. I was manifesting it."

"What do you mean, magic? Let me see." He helps her get back on land, and she then takes off the shoes. Bob examines the shoes closely for a few minutes, and cries "There is nothing here to see!". He puts on the shoes himself, says the magic words 3 times, and slowly lowers his left foot into the water. However, his foot passes through the water, and he recoils due to the wet feeling. He tries lowering his other foot—it doesn't work either. Confused, he asks "Why doesn't it work with me?"

Alice replies "Because you don't believe in it." and gestures to Bob to hand the shoes over "Let me try again". She puts them on again, says the magic words, and voilà—she is standing on the water again.

Bob looks confused "Why? How?".

Sure of herself, Alice goes: "Exactly. That's why..."

Unknown to Alice and Bob, the shoes have been manufactured by the ████ division of ████ ██████ ████ to demonstrate the mechanics of belief to trainees. While they appear as ordinary sneakers, they are in reality fitted with advanced neurotech which syncs with the wearer's nervous system and activate only when the wearer is in a state of faith. Once activated, the invisible circuitry hidden inside the soles adaptively increases the surface tension of the underlying water column up to a degree that can counteract the weight of the wearer. The magic words have no function other than self-reassurance for the wearer. The shoes deactivate if the wearer is in a state of doubt.

Alice and Bob have been selected carefully for a field study, and the shoes were planted on their path intentionally for recording and examining their reaction. As two close friends that hang out regularly, one being a believer and the other one a skeptic, they were deemed ideal for such a demonstration.

The goal in this post was to introduce a fictional device that symbolizes self-fulfilling prophecies, similar to Tinkerbell Effect. Those who wear the shoes can walk on water if and only if they believe that they can do it.

Besides providing an analogy, it demonstrates 2 useful points at once:

  • Changing beliefs can feel very counter-intuitive, similar to how Bob cannot accept the existence of magic. If Bob were willing to accept the new reality, he would need to let go of his preconceptions of how the world works. This is known as cognitive dissonance.
  • One does not have to have a full or even accurate picture of reality to harness the power of belief and make something come true. Alice had a completely false picture of how the shoes allowed her to walk on water; nevertheless, she was able to do it. This symbolizes how beliefs can be self-serving despite being unrealistic, unreasonable, or irrational.


New Comment

New to LessWrong?