Even scientists tend toward magical (teleological) thinking

April 21, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

In his new book, psychologist Matthew Hutson has documented many instances in which all of us latch onto what he terms “magical thinking.” Hutson argues that this is not necessarily a bad thing–we do it to keep our sanity in this crazy dangerous world, in which our final destiny is certain death.  Nor is magical thinking aways a good thing.  Hutson’s book is an excellent read full of intriguing and often counter-intuitive observations, many of them based on rigorous experiments.

Hutson is also authors a blog at Psychology Today.  In a recent post, he notes that even scientists are susceptible to “magical thinking,” which often takes the form of teleological thinking:

Over the years, a number of psychologists have suggested that we are promiscuously teleological. Telos is Greek for end or purpose, and teleology is the belief that an object was created or an event occurred to fulfill some purpose. You believe there’s not just a how but a why to its origin, that there’s a mind with intentions behind it. And when an event seems especially meaningful (such as a hurricane destroying your home) or an object seems especially complex (such as the human body) the prospect of a designer appears all the more likely. Some things really are designed—watches do come from watchmakers—but most of the universe isn’t.


Category: cognitive biases, Psychology Cognition, Science

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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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Speaking of teleological thinking, I just finished watching Michael Sandel’s outstanding Harvard course about justice, in which the topic of telos frequently appears. It’s a fantastic lecture series that can be watched online: http://www.justiceharvard.org/.

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