I was browsing around the other day and came across this book by Matthew Hutson, The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane. Here is a quote from the Amazon blurb:
"Magical thinking helps us believe that we have free will and an underlying purpose as it protects us from the paralyzing awareness of our own mortality."
As soon as I read the paralyzing awareness of our own mortality I got an image of Woody Allen in my head. In his younger years, he was always talking about his fear and anxiety over death, in his movies, even though they were very funny. I remember watching them years ago and thinking, why is he so scared of death?
Without having read the Magical Thinking book, I am happy to see that it's not a New York Times bestseller. It's basically saying, it seems to me, that people who don't engage in Magical Thinking are superior to those of us idiots who have faith in God.
The RationalWiki page is even more insulting. "Science and the scientific method are designed to elucidate causal relationships through careful controlled experiments; magical thinking, given a correlation with an observed effect, pulls a causation out of thin air."
Even Scholastic has jumped on the Magical Thinking bandwagon, equating Magical Thinking to being childlike and ignorant, as explained in Ages and Stages: How Children Use Magical Thinking.
From my reading of all of these sources, it seems to me that one can divide the world into two camps:
1. Those who refuse to believe anything not scientifically proven - I'll call them Science Worshippers.
2. Those of us Magical Thinkers who believe in God, and have faith.
[Now, logically I know there are plenty of people who fall into a middle area, not fully trusting science, but not fully trusting God either. For my purposes, I am not going to address this unfortunate group here. I am going to say a prayer they will come to have faith in Magical Thinking one day.]
I have a friend who is completely convinced that anyone who goes to church and believes in God is not only delusional, but dangerous. He is a big Science Worshipper. That belief has little basis in reality. He is basing it on his experiences with his mother, who is a bit of a religious fanatic. His negativity is so strong, and so crippling, that he has a lot of issues with depression.
I have a cousin who cannot handle death at all, because he believes it's the complete extinguishment of a life. He doesn't believe in any afterlife at all. He can't even fathom the possibility. I feel intensely sorry for him. He's a good man, a loving, kind man. He pities me for my Magical Thinking, my ignorant belief in a loving God.I pity him more.
Even President Obama, in 2008, famously said that anyone frustrated with the economy and opposing his views on immigration or trade was prone to "cling to guns or religion". The implication was that anyone who owned a gun or went to church was delusional. So I would reluctantly have to classify him as a Science Worshipper too. Clearly, his lack of church attendance would tend to suggest that I am correct. You may utterly disagree with me and that's OK, but in my mind, a little more Magical Thinking out of Washington would probably be a good thing.
I looked up Matthew Hutson, the author of the Magical Thinking book I linked to above. This is territory he has explored before, in a 2008 Psychology Today article. In that article, as I read it, he is basically saying that any sort of Magical Thinking is simply delusional, because it's un-scientific and irrational, but that it's ultimately beneficial.
"To be totally 'unmagical' is very unhealthy," says Peter Brugger, head of neuropsychology at University Hospital Zurich. He has data, for example, strongly linking lack of magical ideation to anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure. "Students who are 'not magical' don't typically enjoy going to parties and so on," he says."
I would imagine Mr. Spock to be the poster child for anhedonia...
In trying to read between the lines, I get the impression that Hutson envies us Magical Thinkers. He is a Science Worshipper who is jealous of Magical Thinkers.
Hutson ends the article by saying some forms of Magical Thinking are ultimately proved scientifically accurate:
"Germ theory has shown that we have reason to fear that something invisible and negative can be transmitted by contact. Bacteria are the new curses."
If you time traveled back to the 19th century, when my great grandparents were alive, and showed them an iPad, they would view it as magical. It would be that far away from their experience. Go back even further, and showing someone an iPad or a computer might get you burned at the stake for being a witch.
So who's to say that Magical Thinking is delusion, and Science Worshippers are the only sane, intelligent folks around?
Here's my very un-scientific observation, based on my life experiences: those of us with a strong faith in God are more happy than Science Worshippers. I cannot control the universe, or what happens to me. I can't even explain it. It's way too complex for me, even with my advanced degree and high IQ. So I have two choices: try to control everything around me, based on my scientific observations, or trust in God to see me through everything.
Now, does that mean I don't do everything possible to improve my life? Of course not. But instead of basing my actions on precedent, or the advice of someone I think is smarter, I listen to a voice inside me that tells me what's the best course of action. You might call this small voice "instinct" or "intuition." You might even call it "God." So be it. My experience has been when I listen to that small voice, things go much better for me. When I try to override it, and exert an iron, scientific control over it all, I get burned.
Am I stupid, because I rely on what some would consider silly, irrational Magical Thinking? I don't think so. I don't think I am delusional. I try very hard not to "overthink" things. I try to remember [in the words of a very true cliche] to "let go and let God." As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, Surrender, this is so important.
I am not afraid to read my horoscope, or watch Ghost Adventures, or talk to my friends about times in my life that defy logic, like the fact that I knew the moment my father died.
You can call me delusional. You can call me irrational. I don't care. I like to keep my mind open to possibilties. Who's to say that a hundred years from now we won't all embrace Magical ThInking, because we've seen it proven to be true over and over? I like to think human beings CAN advance to that level.
Today's Magical Thinking is tomorrow's Scientific Fact.
I think this is a fascinating area, and I encourage anyone reading this to keep researching and exploring it.