Superstitions from the point of view of science: why we believe in the supernatural?


2019-12-19 18:40:21




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Superstitions from the point of view of science: why we believe in the supernatural?

If you are crossing the road a black cat, nothing bad will happen

Contrary to the facts, logic and common sense people around the world believe in the incredible and . Many are convinced that he is able to violate the known laws of physics, to perform miracles, heal the sick by the power of thought and the imposition of hands. But if all kinds of “miracles” is actually a figment of our imagination, why millions of people around the world believe in their existence? Are they all mistaken? The first answered this question in 1890, a British anthropologist and religious scholar James Fraser. In his 12-volume work “the Golden bough” (The Golden Bough) scientist systematized material on the primitive magic, totemism, mythology, taboos, religious beliefs, etc. Based on an impressive amount of comparative and historical data Fraser brought the principles of magical thinking that is behind our tendency to believe in the supernatural.

Anthropologists and religious scholars are familiar with numerous cults and traditions of ancient peoples. However, the most interesting is not the presence of cults and religious beliefs, and how they spread and why there were in different parts of the world. The proliferation of myths, magical practices, and in many cases occurred due to the interaction between people and borrowing the customs of one people from another. But science knows a large number of cults and practices that may occur in different parts of the world among the Nations, which do not interact with each other. This suggests that human thinking, especially under the influence of similar circumstances, works in a similar way. Despite the fact that the customs and rituals of various peoples differ from one another.

One of the most vivid examples of how to form and develop religious and magical practice is (from the English. cargo — the goods). This term refers to a group of religious movements in Melanesia. The appearance of the first cargo cults, the researchers recorded at the end of XIX early XX centuries. However, the classic cargo cults became widespread during the Second world war and after its end. The reason was the Pacific campaign against Japan, during which a huge number of weapons, clothing, canned food and other useful items to support American military were taken to the Islands. The islanders were quite welcoming and willing to help in the military. Watching the actions of the soldiers, sailors and airmen during the delivery, the islanders decided that these actions are the cause of useful things. After the Second world war the military left the island and the delivery of goods was suspended.

Followers of cargo cult mimic the actions of the us military

What was the surprise of the public, when islanders began to exactly mimic the actions of the military: they were applied to the ears the halves of a coconut, sitting in wooden structures, strongly reminiscent of the dispatch booth. Of was also built runways. In anticipation of the arrival of the aircraft or ship, the islanders lit torches, imitating the signals of the landing and the light from the lighthouse. It later turned out that the adherents of a cargo cult believed that aliens had a special spiritual connection with their ancestors who gave them all kinds of wealth. In General, a cargo cult is illustrative of the principles of magical thinking, which is characteristic of our species.

Two laws of sympathetic magic


the Law of similarity (or imitation)

Armed with a massive amount of data, James Fraser brought the principles that underlie magical thinking — two laws of sympathetic magic. Sympathetic magic — is a form under which all objects similar in appearance or had been in contact with each other, form a strong magic bond. Fraser called the first principle of the law of similarity or imitation. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The basis of the cargo cult, like voodoo originates from the principle of sympathetic magic — those necessary to cause such. Want to hurt people? Make a voodoo doll, stick it with needles and people will die. Want to have on your island brought clothes, supplies and tents — imitate the actions of the military and you will be happy. It is not surprising that the similarity law is firmly established in modern culture. One of the most striking examples is the famous work of Oscar Wilde “the picture of Dorian gray”, in which instead of the hero of ages similar to his own portrait.

Now faced with the voodoo magic, you will know how to resist it (spoiler — way)


Law of contagion (magic touch)

The Main principle of the law of contagion States — once in contact, always in contact. Fraser cites the example of Malaysia , the main weapons which are bow and arrows. So, shoot the enemy, but not killing him, the natives put a bow and arrows closer to the fire, believing that “burning” a fire will go to the boom and then to a wounded enemy, causing him terrible pain. However, the best magic contact illustrates popular treatment is the so-called gun wounds with the ointment composed of the fat of wild boars or other animals. Ointment not a wound and the weapon which the woundstruck. From such treatment many were delighted, relating it to his own recovery. It may surprise you, but the law of contagion works fine today, so as to replace the Armory ointment came . The same principle of “once in contact — always in contact”, explains how the active substance remains active after repeated dilution in water. And if for some reason you didn't know that homeopathy — it's pseudoscience, we recommend you to read the Memorandum of the Commission to combat pseudoscience of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences, “ ” detailing the evidence that to cure any disease with the help of the sweet balls is impossible, because they have no active substance.

the next time the doctor will prescribe you homeopathic medicine, remember that if a person received a medical education, that does not mean that he took

Breach of disgust and OCD

Fraser suggested that the popularity of magical thinking lies not in the fact that people think like something is not right. On the contrary, the scientist was sure that the reasoning was correct, but the action — no. Thus, Hippocrates believed that are passed from person to person, invisible living creatures, which tried to not share them with anyone. Today, we know that Hippocrates was right, as the existence of a large number of microorganisms that cannot be seen with the naked eye, proven by science. Moreover, it is known that our sense of disgust, which protects us from infections and and from eating dirty foods. So, you are unlikely to eat up leftover food from the plates of strangers, or to exchange kisses with someone with the flu.

Nevertheless, even here there are exceptions: in some cases, the sense of not working, and his place is magical thinking. For example, most Europeans will not come to mind to drink water from the Ganges river and especially to swim in it, unlike the locals, who consider the river sacred. People bathe in the Ganges river and drink from her water in the hope of receiving healing while in the water was discovered pathogens in large quantities, such as cholera. Another example of violations of disgust is obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. People who suffer from OCD may perform a wide variety of rituals, believing that the rituals have a significant impact on their lives. Remember the movie “the Aviator”, the main role in which played Leonardo DiCaprio? The picture tells the story about the engineer and the pioneer of American aviation Howard Hughes, whose life turned into hell, since he believed that all objects and even the people around him is infected with dangerous germs.

a Man bathes in the river Ganges early in the morning. Photos: .

However, this is not the only connection between OCD and religious practices. Professor at Stanford University neuroendocrinology in lectures “” told about the connection between OCD and religiosity. And really, if you look closely at the magical and ritual ceremonies of different Nations, you will notice that they perform certain steps in a strict order, and use sacred objects. For example, such Christian rituals as baptism and communion or the ritual of the Muslim prayer require compliance with the many rigorous rules, the slightest violation of which is fraught with the ineffectiveness of prayers and rituals. The use of ritual objects — icons, candles and a censer helps to perform the ritual that makes them sacred. In all such actions there is a link not only with OCD but also with the two principles of sympathetic magic.

Who is susceptible to magical thinking?

And yet, even if you do not belong to any of the existing religions, this does not mean that you are not susceptible to magical thinking. Professor of the University of Pennsylvania, a psychologist decided to see how magical thinking affects our everyday life. In one of his early , the Rosina team asked test subjects to drink the juice, which had previously been dipped completely disinfected cockroach. Most refused to drink the juice, knowing that no dangerous pathogens in it. Other subjects, the researchers had to eat soup into which they have spat, but this soup no one wanted to eat. Also, the subjects chose not to wear clean clothes that they do not like and do not like to eat chocolate in the form of faeces, although the chocolate in the usual manner refused.

However, the situation becomes even more interesting when it comes to marketing techniques. In one of the held , in the grocery basket put a biscuit and a pack of sanitary pads. It turned out that when a box of biscuits in contact with the packing strips buyers with less pleasure eating biscuits. Moreover, the greater the disgust people felt for sanitary pads, the less he liked eating cookies. Absurd, isn't it? However, in the experiment suggested marketers add to cart another Department to avoid such contact.
Not devoid of absurd and opponents of GMOs. For example, 71% admitted that they do not understand what it is and still have a negative attitude towards genetically modified products. Seems strange? In fact, this position — another example of magical thinking. According to the law of similarity, derivedFraser, the man thinks that if he eats GMO, and he will be .

In fact, examples of magical thinking in everyday life a huge amount. As for its causes, then James Fraser believed that man has always sought something in common in the laws of nature to benefit. And in this long search for a large number of ideas were correct, and others are not. Right ideas of the British anthropologist called science, incorrect — magic. Do you agree with the statement frazers? Share your opinion in the comments and participants .

Superstitions and pigeons

In the early 1940-ies the American psychologist, a behaviorist Berres Skinner studied animal behavior. When he studied pigeons, then put the hungry birds in your lab drawer — which subsequently received the name “” — and encouraging food every time they pecked a key in the apparatus of power.

the Pigeon in the Skinner box pecking a button in hopes of getting food.

Then Skinner set up the device so that he were given food at random. All that was required of the pigeon — just sit back and wait, but birds did not. Instead, the main part of the pigeons have developed what Skinner called superstitious behavior. When one of the pigeons accidentally looked over his left shoulder, and the mechanism of delivery of food is triggered at this moment, the dove came up with the idea that if you look over your left shoulder, you can get food and he did so again. If it was that the mechanism was again triggered when the pigeon looked over his left shoulder, the bird began a manic look over your left shoulder, as if making sure that this action is the appearance of food.

And we are no better than pigeons. By creating an erroneous causal connection, we conclude that if a man's head dropped brick after the road ran over a black cat, and then blame the cat (though the poor animal has absolutely nothing to do with it). Similarly, he created the famous “rain dance” — who once danced, and then the rain came, but people decided that it rained because of its special dance. The same incorrect causal relationships based on the principles of magic , we build in the case of recovery after the call to the healers, the homeopaths, or the priests. The fact that many illnesses tend to take place over time by themselves, but the person to contact the healer is convinced that his recovery — the merit of the healer.

But not so simple as it seems at first glance. We are the result of millions of years of evolution, during which perfected every skill, every area of the body and human brain. As a result, we knock on wood, we see the face on the grilled cheese sandwich and trying to look into the future looking at the tea leaves, doing it because they want to create meaning. We desperately want to feel that in this amazingly complex world we live in works as a kind of organizing force. It turns out, today many call themselves spiritual and believers and/or superstitious people are not even aware of the fact that due to magical thinking, typical of our species and numerous cognitive distortions, impose themselves on the reality of the supernatural images.


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