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Science

Magical Thinking Is Good For You 467

Posted by Soulskill
from the grow-out-those-playoff-beards dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Natalie Wolchover says even the most die-hard skeptics among us believe in magic. Humans can't help it: though we try to be logical, irrational beliefs — many of which we aren't even conscious of — are hardwired in our psyches. 'The unavoidable habits of mind that make us think luck and supernatural forces are real, that objects and symbols have power, and that humans have souls and destinies are part of what has made our species so evolutionarily successful,' writes Wolchover. 'Believing in magic is good for us.' For example, what do religion, anthropomorphism, mysticism and the widespread notion that each of us has a destiny to fulfill have in common? According to research by Matthew Hutson, underlying all these forms of magical thinking is the innate sense that everything happens for a reason. And that stems from paranoia, which is a safety mechanism that protects us. 'We have a bias to see events as intentional, and to see objects as intentionally designed,' says Hutson. 'If we don't see any biological agent, like a person or animal, then we might assume that there's some sort of invisible agent: God or the universe in general with a mind of its own.' According to anthropologists, the reason we have a bias to assume things are intentional is that typically it's safer to spot another agent in your environment than to miss another agent. 'It's better to mistake a boulder for a bear than a bear for a boulder,' says Stewart Guthrie. In a recent Gallup poll, three in four Americans admitted to believing in at least one paranormal phenomenon. 'But even for those few of us who claim to be complete skeptics, belief quietly sneaks in. Maybe you feel anxious on Friday the 13th. Maybe the idea of a heart transplant from a convicted killer weirds you out. ... If so, on some level you believe in magic.'"
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Magical Thinking Is Good For You

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  • Baloney (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dtmos (447842) * on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:42PM (#39680519)

    But even for those few of us who claim to be complete skeptics, belief quietly sneaks in.

    Nope. Not a bit of it. In my experience, only believers believe that everyone else must secretly be a believer. The rest of us live a fact-based life.

    • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chrisq (894406) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:49PM (#39680583)

      But even for those few of us who claim to be complete skeptics, belief quietly sneaks in.

      Nope. Not a bit of it. In my experience, only believers believe that everyone else must secretly be a believer. The rest of us live a fact-based life.

      I think you are thinking of a complete belief in magical thinking, whereas this is talking about the "magical" type of thought that "this car does not like you to use full throttle until its warmed up", or feeling anger at a beer bottle with a top thet "doesn't want to come off". If you stop and reflect of course you know its nonsense, but I bet you sometimes have those thoughts anyway.

      • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Funny)

        by Hatta (162192) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:51PM (#39680603) Journal

        I say "Oh God" when I'm having sex, doesn't mean I believe in god one bit.

        • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Funny)

          by NeverSuchBefore (2613927) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:52PM (#39680611)

          I say "Oh God" when I'm having sex

          So... never?

        • Re:Baloney (Score:4, Insightful)

          by PopeRatzo (965947) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:42PM (#39682327) Homepage Journal

          I say "Oh God" when I'm having sex, doesn't mean I believe in god one bit.

          I don't bother saying "Oh God" when I have sex any more. I mean, it's not like the Real Doll can hear, anyway.

          And I turn my stuffed animals to face the wall because they can be so judgmental.

          But seriously, there is no one who can completely eliminate the kind of non-fact based thoughts known as "magical thinking" from their lives. At least not anyone psychologically healthy. There well may be some mental pathologies that create purely rational people, but I don't think they'd be people you would want to be around much. Optimism is my favorite example of "magical thinking" that is very healthy. It is every bit as irrational as believing that touching a door frame as you leave a room will protect you from harm. Another favorite type of magical thinking is empathy. I think this is why people who make a big deal out of being "skeptics" are usually so incredibly unpleasant. Especially the pop skeptics like Randi. No great scientist can be a pop skeptic, because it starves the brain.

          Being human requires imagination and if you don't invest that imagination with the force of at least some level of belief, then it's too weak to be useful.

          Don't fear irrational beliefs. They are a feature, not a bug. Don't put all your money on a lottery ticket because you saw "1:11" on your clock radio, but it's OK to let the mind go where it wants to go sometimes. Dreams are real. They really happen. Inspiration is real. It really happens. There is a lot of room between wearing your thoughts and impulses like a pair of comfortable baggy pants and becoming a superstitious fool or a Scientologist.

          • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Insightful)

            by BasilBrush (643681) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:17PM (#39682805)

            You don't seem to understand the boundaries of "magical thinking". Optimism, empathy and dreams are not magical thinking.

      • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Algae_94 (2017070) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:59PM (#39680693) Journal
        That's just language. Saying a bottle top "doesn't want to come off" doesn't imply that the speaker truly believes the bottle top is sentient and wants to stay capped to the bottle. Likewise saying "this car does not like you to use full throttle until its warmed up" would be a way to communicate to someone that the engine doesn't function properly at cold temps and full throttle. I don't see how those types of sayings equate to someone believing in "magic".
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It's just language, it's just your brain, but the concept, even if you KNOW it isn't true, still defines your thought processes.

          Now you can be an obstinate little bitch and insist "not at all," but here's your chance to have some insight to your own mind and not resist the implication and consider it, at least. Believing you are infallible and immune to this IS magical thinking.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Believing you are infallible and immune to this IS magical thinking.

            Is believing you can read minds magical thinking? You know, if you just define everything to be X, then it's pretty difficult to get away from X. Your conclusion will be pretty difficult to disprove. This is the case here. Absolutely everything is being defined as "magical thinking." Including ridiculous things like figures of speech.

            I don't know if I'm "infallible" to "magical thinking," but I don't like the "I can read your mind" vibe I'm getting from some comments here.

      • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Insightful)

        by laughingcoyote (762272) <barghesthowl@nOspaM.excite.com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:01PM (#39680729) Journal

        I don't think using an occasional anthropomorphic expression in jest reflects "magical thinking." If you really believe that the car consciously dislikes going full throttle before getting warm, or the bottle has made a choice to hang onto the cap, that's magical thinking. But I don't think most who use those expressions mean them literally.

        • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Funny)

          by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:14PM (#39680861)

          Well, I'll admit to this. I'm a Secular Humanist, I don't think that there are any forces out there that are caused by magical critters and that we could explain it all with some simple science. I know that we don't have all the answers, but I don't think any of the answers are "ghosts", "a wizard did it" or "it was the Hand of God!"

          Yet, for some reason, computers and electronics will start working better when I get close to them. It's almost like they know that I am ready, willing, and eager to take them apart and that I'm carrying a screwdriver. It's even the machines that I haven't seen before.

        • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Funny)

          by Cylix (55374) on Friday April 13, 2012 @07:36PM (#39681497) Homepage Journal

          I asked my car very nicely to start in the morning.

          Unfortunately, it doesn't always work and it the vehicle tells me to go f' myself. Repeatedly hitting the car can coax some much needed respect, but I've stopped doing that now. The other day I was about to strike the dashboard and it said, "Maybe today your breaks fail when you exit the intersection. Maybe they work just fine. I dunno, I'm not really an expert on brakes. I do know that seat belt has been real finicky lately. Just sayin."

          Anyhow, that is the last time I buy a used car from an Italian stereotype.

        • Re:Baloney (Score:4, Insightful)

          by TapeCutter (624760) on Friday April 13, 2012 @11:34PM (#39682877) Journal
          I think people are confusing magical thinking with magical belief.

          In the context of TFA.
          Magical thinking - all of us have evolved wetware that automatically assigns personalities to inanimate objects.
          Magical belief - some of us believe those personalities are real.
      • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:02PM (#39680731)

        "does not like you to use full throttle until its warmed up" with "a top thet 'doesn't want to come off'"

        That's not magic, that's my wife.

      • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Interesting)

        by chadenright (1344231) <chadenright@NOsPAm.hotmail.com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:04PM (#39680755) Journal

        But even for those few of us who claim to be complete skeptics, belief quietly sneaks in.

        Nope. Not a bit of it. In my experience, only believers believe that everyone else must secretly be a believer. The rest of us live a fact-based life.

        I think you are thinking of a complete belief in magical thinking, whereas this is talking about the "magical" type of thought that "this car does not like you to use full throttle until its warmed up", or feeling anger at a beer bottle with a top thet "doesn't want to come off". If you stop and reflect of course you know its nonsense, but I bet you sometimes have those thoughts anyway.

        I've found that that kind of anthropomorphization is useful as placeholders for other, complex causations. Perhaps the car has a mechanical or design flaw that makes full throttle when it's cold problematic. Perhaps the beer bottle has a manufacturer defect making it extra-hard to open. In either case, anthropomorphizing it can be a useful placeholder for the exact cause of your difficulties.

        • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Jonner (189691) on Friday April 13, 2012 @07:45PM (#39681547)

          I've found that that kind of anthropomorphization is useful as placeholders for other, complex causations. Perhaps the car has a mechanical or design flaw that makes full throttle when it's cold problematic. Perhaps the beer bottle has a manufacturer defect making it extra-hard to open. In either case, anthropomorphizing it can be a useful placeholder for the exact cause of your difficulties.

          I think that's a very good distillation of TFA. I would go a little farther and question the inherent difference between something you can't explain and magic. I think of the supernatural as things that we can't yet understand rather than things that no one can ever understand. As Arthur C. Clarke said, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. [wikipedia.org]

          So much of what happens around us is far to complex for to understand in every detail. So to make up for what we don't understand, everyday life requires operating on many assumptions and intuitions that can't be tested scientifically. Just because I believe that there exists a rational explanation for everything that happens, it doesn't follow that I do or ever will know all those explanations. Indeed, without omnipotence, how can anyone be sure that there is a rational explanation for everything? Operating on that unprovable assumption is what enables scientific discovery.

          • by steelfood (895457)

            how can anyone be sure that there is a rational explanation for everything?

            You can't, because it is factually untrue.

            Proof: women.

      • You may be confusing belief in imaginary nonsense with the figure of speech known as apostrophe:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostrophe_(figure_of_speech) [wikipedia.org]

        Can't recall ever thinking that an inanimate bottle cap is somehow venting some sort of rage against me by magically altering its physical properties such as hardness and tensile strength just so lucky ol' me has a hard time removing it from the bottle to which it is affixed. Can't say I've ever understood this primitive "instinct" that inorganic ma
      • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:18PM (#39680897)

        Those aren't quite the same things. In the case of warming up the car, that's not magical thinking, it is thinking something wrong. Not everyone knows everything, so all of us are going to think things that are false if they are about topics beyond our knowledge, but being wrong isn't the same as magical thinking. I don't know how cars work that well. For all I know, doing that could be problematic for a valid, scientifically explainable reason. I could tell a skeptic, as a random example, that putting nitrogen on their lawn will improve its ability to stay green in the middle of summer, and since a lot of people wouldn't know one way or the other about that, it would be easy to accept that as fact and assume there's a biological explanation they simply don't know, when it is not. That does not indicate magical thinking, just that it is not humanely possible to investigate every single thing you hear, so some untrue things are going to slip past the ol' BS detector. The second example is just emotion, and everyone gets irrational emotions every now and again. Again, it isn't the same as magical thinking. The examples the article mentions (fear of Friday 13th, thinking your pants will summon friends, and the organ transplant thing) on the other hand are pretty clear examples of magical thinking. Believing in connections that aren't there and make no sense is what magical thinking is about, not simply being wrong or having an irrational moment.

      • by CCarrot (1562079)

        But even for those few of us who claim to be complete skeptics, belief quietly sneaks in.

        Nope. Not a bit of it. In my experience, only believers believe that everyone else must secretly be a believer. The rest of us live a fact-based life.

        I think you are thinking of a complete belief in magical thinking, whereas this is talking about the "magical" type of thought that "this car does not like you to use full throttle until its warmed up", or feeling anger at a beer bottle with a top thet "doesn't want to come off". If you stop and reflect of course you know its nonsense, but I bet you sometimes have those thoughts anyway.

        I think the word your are seeking is 'anthropomorphism'. And yes, that is a common illogical flight of fancy for most people, especially when it comes to their pets and too-young-to-communicate-yet children...'Oooh, look, she just smiled at you! How cuuute!'

      • by poity (465672)

        I think you're on the right track, but maybe it needs to be a little more well defined. Magic/religion/superstition is about skipping steps in logic and jumping to unfounded conclusions. One way in which we all suffer from this fault is perhaps during social interaction. For example, when we perceive judgmental behavior or unkindness from another person, do we think "well, maybe he/she had a bad day, maybe he/she is dealing with some frustrating burden at work/school/home, I can't make assumptions about thi

      • by Artifakt (700173)

        Anyone who uses the sentence "It is raining.", when asked about the weather is accepting the existence of some nebulous magical "it" that creates the rain. If somebody was really, consistently avoiding all magical thinking acts, they would carefully correct themselves and say "There is rain." instead. On learning that the days of the week or months are named after supernatural beings, they would consistantly attempt to correct that fact. People who really rejected all magical thinking would take a copy of C

        • I'm on board with the spirit of your comment, but I can't help but pick nits anyway. In a way I want to sharpen the argument you're trying to make, but I guess it can also serve as a caricature of the purely rational.

          Anyone who uses the sentence "It is raining.", when asked about the weather is accepting the existence of some nebulous magical "it" that creates the rain. If somebody was really, consistently avoiding all magical thinking acts, they would carefully correct themselves and say "There is rain." instead.

          A lot of the figures of speech used as examples in the comments here can fairly be considered "magical thinking", but I think this one misses the mark. "It" is always shorthand; in this case "it" is shorthand for "the weather", which in turn is shorthand for "the observable climactic events in

      • I look for a pretty girl to rub the dice on her ass before throwing them. Plus, I talk to the ornery little motherfuckers.

        Otherwise, I don't believe in spirts, I don't believe in Spiderman, and I don't believe in God.

      • by tqk (413719)

        If you stop and reflect of course you know its nonsense, but I bet you sometimes have those thoughts anyway.

        No, and it's pretty insulting that you would think that of me. Chutzpah.

        Don't project your prejudices on the rest of us. Deal with your faults on your own. Your goofiness has nothing to do with me or the way I think.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Yes, and no.
      The underling evidences she is basing her op science article on is that it is instinctual to believe; which is is. However we can learn skill to deal with thinking about things rationally.

      I hope the sentence you quoted really means that people make assumptions about things and trust that assumption in little ways.
      When that assumption is brought to light I, and presumably you, apply rational critical thought to it and then dispens with it, or accept it, which ever is correct.

      • by jimshatt (1002452)

        However we can learn skill to deal with thinking about things rationally.

        But is that a useful thing to do? In most cases, probably yes. But sometimes it's better to run away from something 'scary' for the wrong reasons. It's not a 'mistake' evolution made, it's actually useful.

    • Re:Baloney (Score:4, Interesting)

      by foobsr (693224) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:52PM (#39680609) Homepage Journal

      fact-based

      Good luck evaluating all those 'objective' facts coming in via your senses.

      Recommended: Some WITTGENSTEIN.

      CC.

      • Conundrum... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by anubi (640541) on Friday April 13, 2012 @07:46PM (#39681563) Journal
        Well, here's the puzzle I face...

        Its my senses...and what mathematical and physics I take to be true.

        I observe the complexity of biochemistry. The physics of life astounds me..

        A reading of "Darwin's Black Box" by Michael Behe cemented my beliefs. Francis Collins' "The Language of God: a Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief" gave me what I consider undeniable evidence for belief in a creation - and a creator ( God ).

        The "Big Bang Theory" reeks of "let there be light" to me. My knowledge of thermodynamics - especially the concept of entropy - tells me the Universe, left to its own, should run down.

        In short, everything I see seems to demand a creator.

        Whatever this is... its big... and nothing like me - I have way too many constraints and way too little intelligence - I can barely scrape up enough stuff to even have a belief, much less explain just how this stuff around me came to be.

        Now, here's the rub... I have taken much flak for this.

        The most compelling evidence I have, by far, that God is nothing more than a figment of the imagination.. superstition.. a "palm reader" for the gullible. A moneymaking plan.... comes from people who profess to know God!

        As a scientist type, insanely curious, it drives me up the wall to see the wonders I do, then communicate to what I consider superstitious palm reader types whose prime function seems to be erecting toll booths on the "highway to heaven" to collect tithes. They get to rocking back and forth in the pulpit, one hand wagging in the air like some Hitler scene, and the other gripping the microphone so he can just about swallow the thing - and that forced pious look on their faces,. and I am supposed to take them seriously?

        This is worshipping God? It looks more like a bunko scheme to me. They get a bunch of people worked up in a fervent frenzy reminiscent of a pyramid meeting, then pass the plate. If they could not hide behind "freedom of religion", I am sure they would all be facing bunko charges of defrauding the public like a bunch of gypsy fortunetellers.

        Their favorite chant seems to center on whether I place my belief in science or God. I tell them there is no difference. God is Truth, and the whole purpose of science is to reveal/discover that which is true.

        My tagline for years has displayed my belief. Its THEM I have little confidence in.

        Maybe I worship the God of truth through study of his work ( scientifically ) and they worship Him by throwing parties in his name at someone else's expense,

        I am one confused puppy.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by SomeKDEUser (1243392)

          Perhaps I can help you. Beauty exists in structure and order. The universe is amazing and beautiful because it has a structure of which we can catch glimpses. The reason why there is no god is that the most parsimonious structure is the most beautiful. The most economical explanation is the most satisfactory (and due to information-theoretical considerations the most likely).

          Intelligent Design quacks are onto something when they give the example if the aboriginal finding a watch and figuring out it has a de

        • Re:Conundrum... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:31PM (#39682267)

          In short, everything I see seems to demand a creator.

          I don't think this is an indefensible belief on your part, necessarily... although you should read some Dawkins, perhaps, to balance the Behe.

          Collins is an interesting case, as a prominent scientist who doesn't feel compelled to hide his religion the way most of the rest of us non-scientists have to hide our atheism. He's told the story of his own epiphany [wordpress.com]... but what he's never explained is why it led him to the specific god of Abraham, rather than to simple Deism. He encountered a frozen tripartite waterfall, and he somehow instantly connected enough dots to draw the Holy Trinity. Is this the act of a rational human being, much less a scientist responsible for helping us understand the way life works? It seems that Francis Collins trusts his own perceptions far more than any scientist should.

          Maybe I worship the God of truth through study of his work ( scientifically ) and they worship Him by throwing parties in his name at someone else's expense

          It's one thing to carry a Deist's admiration for the architect of all creation, even if that architect can be described as a God of the Gaps. The Universe does not owe us an accounting of itself, and it's safe to say that there are weirder things out there than our observations will ever reveal to us. One could potentially consider the existence of the Universe to be the result of a conscious act of creation, and apply the term "god" to the creator. At no point will science ever be able to contradict such an outlook.

          But buying into the specifics of the Judeo-Christian faith? Buying into hundreds of pages of demonstrable bullshit written by a Bronze Age tribe of nomadic goat-herders? Buying into the idea that the god of creation, omniscient and infinite, who dwells outside all space and time, was disappointed because somebody once rejected him in favor of a talking snake, and wants me to vote Republican?

          I can't see that as anything other than wishful thinking at best, and psychosis at worst. Religion as we know it today is arguably a mental illness that threatens all of civilization. It seems clear that a lot of smart people are going to have to waste a lot of valuable time figuring out how to stop it. Ultimately, what side of the line do you want to stand on?

        • by Raenex (947668)

          The "Big Bang Theory" reeks of "let there be light" to me.

          Why stop there? What about Adam, Eve, and the theory of evolution? What about the Noah and the Great Flood? There's a big difference between being vaguely right about one particular aspect of a creation myth versus credible knowledge. You might as well take your horoscopes seriously.

          This is worshipping God? It looks more like a bunko scheme to me.

          That's because it is bunk, and all around the world different people have made up different bunk. Seems strange that would happen if there was an omnipotent creator that actually wanted us to believe a particular version of even

    • Re:Baloney (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:53PM (#39680627)

      Well, someone's being a real Capricorn!

    • Also, bullshit. (Score:5, Informative)

      by denzacar (181829) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:53PM (#39680633) Journal

      Thus speaketh Matthew Hutson:

      And in nearly every country around the world, the percentage of self-described atheists is only in the single digits.

      Which is bullshit. [google.com] And lies. [wikipedia.org]

      And to top that off, he is using the current date (at the time) to peddle this nonsense and his book through the "article" above.

    • Heh. I think that a person is allowed two irrational beliefs per lifetime, if only because it makes them more interesting.

    • Indeed.

      After reading that summary I thought about it for a little while... Trying to come up with instances of magical thinking in my own life. Not to prove anyone wrong, but out of curiosity.

      Do we really all think magically?

      But I really couldn't come up with anything.

      Oh, sure... Maybe I'll get spooked and dash up the stairs in the middle of the night after watching a horror movie... But I don't actually believe anything is going to jump out at me - I'm just unsettled from the movie.

      If I see something n

    • Re:Baloney (Score:4, Funny)

      by slew (2918) on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:02PM (#39680733)

      Of course in my experience, some people believe that everything which is written in a slashdot comment is true.
      The rest of us live a fact-based life.

    • Have you never, ever, thought that computers have a mind of their own, especially when trying to fix a stubborn bug? Have you never, ever, experienced a heisenbug and thought for a second that there's someone (let's call them PC elves) flipping randomly an obscure boolean variable and enjoying your misfortune? Not even a hint of that feeling? If that's the case, either you've never programmed or you aren't human.

    • by CCarrot (1562079)

      But even for those few of us who claim to be complete skeptics, belief quietly sneaks in.

      Nope. Not a bit of it. In my experience, only believers believe that everyone else must secretly be a believer. The rest of us live a fact-based life.

      Really? Never crossed your fingers while hitting 'compile'? Never knocked on wood (hur hur) or tossed salt over your shoulder? Never had a rabbit's foot, or avoided stepping on a crack in the sidewalk, even as a kid? Never stood on your head and drank a cup of water to 'cure' hiccups? (Okay, maybe that was just my family...)

      It's these little superstitions that the author is referring to, although for most of them I would argue that they are simply passed on with our mother's milk, nothing to do with an

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Unfortunately, skeptics also have a belief system with a problem:
      1. By Godel Incompleteness Theorems [wikipedia.org], no matter what axioms you start with, there are unprovable but true statements to be made about mathematical systems.
      2. Science can demonstrate that the universe follows laws which can be defined and understood mathematically.
      3. By (1) and (2), there are true laws of the universe that can be defined mathematically but are not derivable from any mathematical understanding of the universe.
      4. Ergo, believing o

      • You're confusing not having a belief with having a belief in the inverse.

        For example, I'm an atheist, but I don't have a belief that gods don't exist. I just don't believe in any.

        Therefore, if you only believe in what sciences says, you don't necessarily have some wrong beliefs, you just lack some beliefs that would be true.

      • by narcc (412956)

        Your argument is a bit off. You've missed a good bit of Godel, which unfortunately just weakens it further.

        Your point one is an odd mix of Godels two theorems - mostly the second - that you can't prove that a system is self-consistent from within the system itself; closely related to the first - that there are undecidable statements in any self-consistent mathematical system. (It looks like you got your take from reading Hofstadter? Correct me if I'm wrong there.)

        In the end, of course, we get to - there

    • But even for those few of us who claim to be complete skeptics, belief quietly sneaks in.

      Nope. Not a bit of it. In my experience, only believers believe that everyone else must secretly be a believer. The rest of us live a fact-based life.

      I agree with you 100%.

      I'm a rationalist, I've convinced myself that organized religions are man-made for the enrichment of their power-brokers, I know that there is no evidence for an interventionist god in the modern world, and I'm am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that astrology, crystology, pyramidism, and their ilk are without basis in fact.

      Having said that, I will move heaven (ha!) and earth to ensure that I wear my lucky jockstrap when i suit up for the game on Sunday mornings.

  • by Hatta (162192)

    Just because it's adaptive doesn't mean that it is correct.

    • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:51PM (#39680607) Homepage Journal
      Indeed not—but it does mean we need to change our rhetoric towards the unenlightened. "This whole 'god' thing was nice for all those thousands years and all that we kept re-inventing religion, but it's time to move on from old instincts; you're smart enough to grow beyond that system of social control" comes across a lot more pleasantly than "you're stupid and you should reject everything that you believe because it's all made-up trash."
      • Re:So? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Alex Belits (437) * on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:17PM (#39680889) Homepage

        It's impossible to persuade most of religious people no matter what you do. The only realistic way to get rid of religion is to prevent religious people from infecting the next generation and waiting for the current one to die off.

        • Not true. Religion is in sharp decline in many first-world countries. A cultural attitude that prevalently paints religion as an outdated custom has had enormous success; the Church of Sweden claimed to have 82.9% of the country's population as followers in 2000 and 72.9% in 2008. The US is pretty remarkable in its capacity to continually invent tribal shamans.
  • by siddesu (698447) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:47PM (#39680557)
    I believe that sufficiently advanced technology exists that will manifest itself on time to help me. So, I'm, like, totally rational.
  • I disagree with that claim, but it certainly is real hard to keep your brain in rational mode.

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      I disagree with that claim, but it certainly is real hard to keep your brain in rational mode.

      Indeed. I think it's important for people who value rationality to realize that it's just a trick our brains have learned, not their inherent method of operation. I think more often than "magical thinking", simple emotion gets in the way of rational thought.

      And I don't care who you are or how rational you think you are, your emotions affect -- or even effect -- your thoughts. Emotions are how evolution got us to go after the things we need for survival. We eat and screw not to sustain ourselves and the

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:48PM (#39680571) Homepage Journal

    IT says the people have a natural predisposition toward accepting the unknown and putting it into a little box, and confusing Correlation with causality.

    But you can develop skills to ward against it

    • IT says the people have a natural predisposition toward accepting the unknown and putting it into a little box, and confusing Correlation with causality.

      But you can develop beliefs to ward against it

      FTFY.

      It amazes me when very rational people exempt a belief system from the category "a belief system" so long as it carries two criteria:

      a) It's based on interpretations of "empirical" sense data (and the interpretations, as well as which data to use, are based on their present context), and

      b) It's a non-trivially complex system, and more or less adheres to an internally-consistent set of principles and rules.

      Christianity? A belief system. Psychology? An empirical, scientifically-established model. See

  • by Greg Merchan (64308) on Friday April 13, 2012 @05:53PM (#39680629)

    People also prefer people like themselves. Unchecked this can turn into an unrecognized racism, a common bias. Bolstered it can become the ideological racism most people abhor.

    • by mutube (981006)

      This is exactly it.

      Even if you agree with the premise being pushed here it doesn't mean "religion is good for us". All that is proved is that religion is a side effect of other behaviours that are "good for us" and that on balance religion is not deleterious enough to counterbalance the good that is done.

      As in your bias/racism point our ability to identify this means that we now have the ability to have one without the other. We have no obligation to pander to evolutionary hangovers.

  • Stupidity. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alex Belits (437) * on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:06PM (#39680777) Homepage

    A day doesn't pass on this site without some asshole presenting a debunked, discredited and obsolete idea (hardware virtualization, non-network-transparent graphics environment, free market, now religion and superstition) as something new and useful, without even presenting an evidence that he is familiar with the reason why it is considered debunked, discredited and obsolete. Leave alone, making an argument against those reasons.

    • by Jonner (189691)

      A day doesn't pass on this site without some asshole presenting a debunked, discredited and obsolete idea (hardware virtualization, non-network-transparent graphics environment, free market, now religion and superstition) as something new and useful, without even presenting an evidence that he is familiar with the reason why it is considered debunked, discredited and obsolete. Leave alone, making an argument against those reasons.

      It must be nice to be so secure in your well-supported arguments.

  • The arrogance of this line of thinking always gets me. "I believe in things I have inadequate or no evidence for, so everyone else must too!"

    It doesn't work like that, at least not for me. I got married on Friday the 13th and it didn't bother me a bit (and it went off perfectly), and while I do have some objects I like for no other reason than the memories they call to mind, I certainly do not think they are "lucky" or have any especial significance other than to me. Nor do I have any other beliefs based upon anything other than sufficient evidence to support them.

    Not all of us are superstitious, just because far too many are.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by narcc (412956)

      It's arrogant to assume that you don't believe in things that you have inadequate or no evidence for -- you just refuse to acknowledge those beliefs or assume that you have adequate evidence, even if that's not the case.

      Go on, take a minute and you'll find that you have a ridiculous number of beliefs that have inadequate or no evidence. It's difficult to function day-to-day otherwise!

      Take something as simple as the belief that the mind is a product of the brain. Even if you're a credentialed neuroscientis

      • The idea that the mind is a product of the brain is based on a very large set of empirical evidence. None of this evidence is in any way metaphysical. There has been no case, ever, of a person without a brain having a mind. Physical damage to one's brain almost always causes change or damage to that person's mind.

        The evidence is very strong for the mind being a product of the brain. I wouldn't call it absolute, but it is very strong.

  • I would posit: no. Consider, today it is considered magic to say a killer's heart transplanted into your body will cause ill effects. However, this will not always be strictly magical thinking, along with most anything you can think of as magic. It would take me a much longer post to explain, but if you assume nanobots and Artificial intelligence are possible, then an entity with these technologies could actually apply an ill effect to your life because you have a killer's heart transplanted into your che

  • That doesn't mean they are good for us.

  • While it is true that people are hard-wired to see agency in almost anything, it is a giant leap to then claim "magical thinking is good for you". A bit of caution when in a new situation is a good thing. To believe, fervently, fairly tales and then base your actions and morals on those fairy tales often leads to bad things. We now know enough about how the universe really works that we can discard the fairy tales of ancient history. We now have GOOD reasons to believe what we believe. We now have good reasons for our morality. A person that needs a rational reason to act is very unlikely to want to kill their neighbours for wearing the wrong clothes which is exactly the sort of thing "magical thinking" leads to.

    • We now know enough about how the universe really works that we can discard the fairy tales of ancient history. We now have GOOD reasons to believe what we believe.

      The flaw in this theory is that humans have always believed that, and that belief often causes people to think themselves superior and then do very nasty things indeed.

  • I'm not sure if this qualifies, but some of the consequences of quantum mechanics are pretty much just "magic" if you think about them at the classical level.

    Take quantum-entanglement for example, If you "observe" something, a non-newtonian, special-relativity violating consequence occurs somewhere else? But even if it does, it somehow can't violate causality? So if you believe all this stuff happens at the quantum level, but not at the classical level, are you a believer in magic? Especially if (like mos

  • by Guppy (12314) on Friday April 13, 2012 @06:47PM (#39681141)

    Forgive me for posting anonymously. I have some comments I'd like to make, but for practical reasons I'd rather not attach my name.

    I am a graduate-level student who has been a life-long agnostic, pretty close to an atheist. Last year, I began hanging out with a Christian religious group. At first it was for the free food (which is excellent, much better in quality and quantity than any other organization on campus I've tried. Apparently they get funding from Christian donors), but over time I've come to enjoy the companionship and philosophical discussions -- I just have to sit through the occasional anti-abortion presentation and such. I make no effort to hide my religious stance, and to them, I have become something of the "token disbeliever" in the group.

    To me, religion is irrational, verging on madness. But what I have come to realize is that their "madness" is stronger than our rationality. Compared to their peers, they are more likely to form relationships and to marry -- it's how eHarmony manages such high levels of marriage out of their dating arrangements (try signing up for their service and identify yourself as an agnostic or atheist, and see how far you get through the vetting process). Their strong bonds allow them to coordinate effectively and gather/distribute resources (like the donor network that funds their free food), allowing them to host events and bring in speakers at a much more often than that of other student organizations, including some really big-shot speakers on non-religious topics that have drawn quite a few listeners from outside their group. They network very effectively, forming relationships with Christians they bring on-campus, including some rather highly accomplished individuals (think CEO-level) who serve as mentors.

    It would offend them for me to say that Religion was invented (or worse, to say it memetically evolved), but increasingly I can see the benefits for why it would have been so. I still can't force myself to Believe, but at this point, I am seriously considering converting sheer practical benefits (hence why I'm posting anonymously).

    • by Alex Belits (437) *

      Conformity works, news at 11!

    • by sixtyeight (844265) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:04PM (#39682131)

      what I have come to realize is that their "madness" is stronger than our rationality. ... Compared to their peers, they are more likely to form relationships and to marry. ... Their strong bonds allow them to coordinate effectively and gather/distribute resources. ... They network very effectively.

      Worker ants have been very successful for similar reasons. Would you want to be one, though?

      No, I'm not assaulting Christians there. But adopting the lifestyle of a group to which you consider yourself a non-member does seem a little insincere and amoral if you're doing it for material benefits. At that point, it becomes only a matter of how low you're willing to go. I understand there are some very satisfied people out there who's lifestyle is based on performing oral sex acts in exchange for freebase cocaine. What I'm suggesting is that if the method you've described is really how you see yourself, go ahead and do so - but know that it is, and know why it is, too. If you do something that isn't who you really are, the results are only going to be disappointing for you - it's a sort of hidden cost involved in the choice. And if it is who you really are, understanding why it is - and to what extent - can enable you to maximize the choice and increase your degree of satisfaction. There's no sense in stopping at mere free food for instance, when there are plenty of motivated drug dealers near you with whom you could form mutually-satisfying relationships.

    • by Tom (822)

      Interesting point.

      What makes you believe the causality you imply is this direction, though? It could well be the other way around, that these people who are good at networking and social skills just happen to gather around religion as their shared interest, but any other interest would do?

      I'm not just talking about the small group you attend, but the religion as a whole. Humans are social creatures and like to gather with like-minded others. Religion is a strong focus point because of its claim to speak abo

  • by hpa (7948) on Friday April 13, 2012 @07:38PM (#39681509) Homepage
    "Maybe the idea of a heart transplant from a convicted killer weirds you out. ... If so, on some level you believe in magic." Either that or I believe that the death penalty will over time be seen as a source of harvestable organs.
  • Magical thinking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Translation Error (1176675) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:06PM (#39681707)
    You know what--I realized magical thinking really can help people. No, I'm not talking about the contents of the article, but the headline made me think of the often-dismissed placebo. A person takes something with absolutely no medicinal value and his condition actually improves simply because he thinks it should! Just by thinking a certain way, someone can improve his health, and not solely within the limits of feeling less pain.

    All the time, I hear 'oh, it's only the placebo effect', but have people considered how incredible that effect really is? Personally, I have to say, if there's anything that might make me consider that there is such a thing as 'magic' in the world, the placebo effect just might be it.
  • by Cazekiel (1417893) on Friday April 13, 2012 @08:45PM (#39681995)

    I love Harry Potter to a breaking point. The magic described, elaborate plots and characters make for a fantastic read (and movie-watching). If Hogsmeade was real, I'd be there everyday, sticking my head in a cotton candy machine at Honeyduke's, slurping butterbeer and buying magical-pranks from Zonko's.

    But here's the kicker: it's NOT real. I'm not expecting a letter from Hogwarts, or magical candy. I'll never be able to clean my house with a mere wand-wave. And I won't have to deal with Voldemort, either. Kind of a fair trade.

    I used to have unrealistic fears involving everything from bogeymen and supernatural beings. I'd have constant nightmares, ones that would ruin my entire day after waking up. That was when I was religious. When I began questioning religion, I started thinking logically instead of being irrationally afraid of nothing. One important realization/turning-point was when I sifted through too many pictures, vids and documents related to JFK's death, which included autopsy pics. Late in the night when my mind went into overdrive thinking of zombified former presidents, I stopped everything and thought, "It's more likely that Arnold Schwarzenegger will bust in and make a political speech in my bedroom than Kennedy's corpse wandering in."

    So no, there's no magic in my life. Pretending, imagination? Always. Delusion? Nope, and I'm better for it.

  • by Jmc23 (2353706) on Friday April 13, 2012 @09:38PM (#39682307) Journal
    things do happen for a reason and overtime people started noticing that. Our societies are way to myopic nowadays.

    But belief exists everywhere, most people believe in science now even if the majority doesn't know how science works. We are so specialized in our individual fields that we have to believe that the other fields arre doing their part properly.

  • by painehope (580569) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @12:27AM (#39683095)

    Sure, I believe in a God that both created human beings with free will and the ability to use science and other tools to better our lives, and also sent his only begotten son to die for our sins so that even the worst among us may ask forgiveness and enter into the kingdom of Heaven. Do I know what Heaven is? No. Do I think I have the right to tell you what to believe or do (as long as it isn't messing with my life)? No. So obviously I have some sorts of "magical" beliefs in my life, or I wouldn't bother praying or reading my Bible. And I've studied almost every major religion before having a serious spiritual experience (one that saved my life and completely changed the way I view the world - literally saved my life, not just "saved me from myself" or whatever...I was looking at spending the next 40-50 years in prison for something that I did do, but was taken completely out of context [it was self-defense, but race and all kinds of other bullshit was thrown into it and the DA wanted to nail my ass to the wall]).

    On the other hand, I have nights like tonight, where no amount of prayer or whatever can lift my spirits or do much more than keeping me from going completely off the deep end. I just got turned down for a job that I had invested a lot of time and effort into pursuing (including a nightmarish trip across the U.S. on a shitty airline that made my life hell by completely screwing up every flight, changeover, and whatnot - and then making me pay for a hotel stay overnight, and having to find another way home from Philly because they overbooked a flight and then left me and about a dozen people stranded), my on-and-off girlfriend (who just got out of prison for a drug charge) pulled another disappearing act despite knowing that tonight is about the worst time she can just wander off to get high for a few hours and then expect me to come pick her up, and a variety of other things have my spirits so low that the only thing that's keeping me from doing something that would ultimately lead to my death (as well as quite a few other peoples') is the fact that I don't want to give any satisfaction to all those fucks in high school or my asshole family who all said that I would never amount to anything and be a complete failure. I know it has to get better as some point, since it can't really get any worse (or not by much), but the struggle to keep going is hellish right now.

    So I live in a world with magical characteristics but a very realistic set of beliefs and consequences. And I'm venting. Feel free to ignore this bit of bullshit.

  • What I'm hearing is "Paranoia is good for you, and magical thinking is a symptom of paranoia." But then, the magical thinking itself isn't good for you, but a symptom of paranoia. If you can be sufficiently paranoid without having weird beliefs other than the paranoia itself, you should be able to get all the benefits without all the bullshit.

    Even this is a stronger statement than the article claims -- it's saying paranoia was *once* good for you. It seems very possible that this whole mechanism of religion, ultimately founded on paraonia, may be a vestigial construct.

  • confused (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:01AM (#39683879) Homepage Journal

    Author seems confused about evolutionary history vs. present usefulness.

    Most who research these topics are well aware of why the known human shortcomings have developed - namely that they were evolutionary useful under specific circumstances. Our preference of false positives over false negatives is certainly a survival trait if the price of a false positive is a short moment of fear while the price of a false negative is being eaten by a lion.

    But that doesn't mean these traits are still of advantage today, in the context of a modern world.

"Pascal is Pascal is Pascal is dog meat." -- M. Devine and P. Larson, Computer Science 340

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