Magical thinking as a sometimes useful crutch

April 20, 2013 | By | Reply More

I’m almost finished reading Matthew Hutson’s new book, 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane.  I’m feeling fully engaged, in that Hutson addresses many of the issues that I’ve been grappling with at this website, and does it insightfully in a book that is easy to understand. There’s no jargon in Hutson’s book, and his main idea is the explosive one often addressed by Friedrich Nietzsche: our understanding of the world is dominated by false ideas that are sometimes useful. Hutson takes this idea to a new level, incorporating modern cognitive science and evolution, as well as many of his own observations:  In Hutson’s words,

Most of the world is religious, and millions more are openly superstitious, spiritual, or credulous of the paranormal. But I argue that we all believe in magic—luck, mind over matter, destiny, jinxes, life after death, evil, and heavenly helpers—even when we say we don’t.

I draw on cognitive science, neuroscience, social and evolutionary psychology, and cultural observation to show that we engage in magical thinking all the time—and that it’s not all bad. Supernaturalism leads us to think that we actually have free will. It makes us believe that we have an underlying purpose in the world. It can even protect us from the paralyzing awareness of our own mortality. Irrationality makes our lives make sense.

I’m going to be repeatedly referring to 7 Laws of Magical Thinking in the coming months from a variety of angles. In the meantime, I recommend this video interview of Hutson.


Category: Psychology Cognition, Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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