Magical thinking

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Trying to make a devil out of me

Magical thinking is a form of reasoning that learns causative relationships through correlation alone. 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. For example, coming to believe that a particular piece of jewelry is lucky because a few good things happened when it was worn.


[edit] The Lazy Way

In the 1950s Horace Mitchell Miner took the then popular method of looking at a "primitive" people and dismissing their ways as magical thinking and turned it on the then current United States. His darkly satirical "Body Ritual among the Nacirema"[1] showed how with this mindset even the most scientifically based technological advanced society could be portrayed as believers in magic:

  • Chlorination of water to prevent disease is reduced to "the Water Temple of the community, where the priests conduct elaborate ceremonies to make the liquid ritually pure."
  • The hospital with all it hard learned scientific advances is reduced to a temple "that is where you go to die" with the nurses now "vestal maidens" and the doctors now "medicine men".
  • Scientific medicine is reduced to "ceremonies" of "discomfort and torture" with "magic wands" (thermometers) and "magically treated needles" (antibiotics and medicines).

After this Horace Miner's fellow anthropologist got the hint and actually looked at magic they discovered the only real differences between the magical world view and science was that magic didn't have a self correcting mechanic nor a set procedure for determining which concept best fit what was being observed.

Miner showed that slapping the "magic" label on something was the lazy way to do things.

[edit] Alternative medicine

Another common example of magical thinking emerges in alternative medicine. Many diseases have a natural progression and will go away on their own. If someone gets a headache and swallows some water provided by a homeopath, when the headache goes away, they may assign the cause to the water rather than natural progression. This form of magical thinking combined with the placebo effect explains a large amount of supposedly positive anecdotal evidence.

[edit] Skinner

B.F. Skinner's studies of how pigeons reacted to stimuli shows a similar phenomenon, in that the birds frequently repeated the same actions they had been making at times when food was released, as if seeing a pattern, when in fact the food was released at random intervals. This suggests that superstition and behaviours often characterised as "magical thinking" may be more closely connected with blind instinct than with sapient thought.

[edit] Psychiatry

Patients diagnosed with Schizotypal personality disorder are said to have "magical thinking" as a common thought process.[2]

[edit] See also

Si vous voulez cet article en français, il peut être trouvé à Pensée magique.

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

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