September 20, 2010

Superstition, Religion and Science

The Origin of Superstition, Magical Thinking, and Paranormal Beliefs
"...the majority of people accept as a given that an unseen world of paranormal powers exists, and all that remains is for us to discover the details of its workings."  ...  "Over 40% of Americans, for example, believe in devils, ghosts, and spiritual healing."  Why?

According to the authors of the link article, the "core knowledge", understandings of the physical, biological and mental world children acquire without learning, become combined and fused in some adults in such a way such that s/he believes the physical, biological and mental are causally connected.  For example, that the mind can control the physical world.  By extension such persons believe that mental content has the same abilities as physical and animate objects.

The authors define "superstitious, magical, and paranormal beliefs as category mistakes where the core attributes of mental, physical, and biological entities and processes are confused with each other."  They also note that this definition should be understood in the context of the two mental processing modes - logic and intuition:  “as children mature analytical processes and rational knowledge do not replace intuitive processes and contents,” rather “both types of processes and knowledge exist and develop throughout one’s life, and therefore two conflicting beliefs can coexist in an adult’s mind, one rational and justifiable (e.g., ‘Death is final’), the other operating more automatically and being more resistant to logical arguments (e.g., ‘The soul continues to exist though the body may die’).”

The authors found, through analyzing test responses of a sample comprised of self-professed skeptical and superstitious subjects, that for those who are superstitious “there is typically an interconnected cosmos, a fundamental relation between a part and a whole where, for example, individual humans are connected to the universe, and a single event is linked to the future.  Thus, we (the authors) suggest that confusion between the core properties of ontological (physical, biological and mental) categories implies a notion of a common essence between the categories, and this leads to thinking in terms of connections and undivided totalities. It is this core confusion that we believe leads to the belief in superstition, magic, and the paranormal.

Regrettably, the authors don't explain how this mistaken combining or fusing of core knowledge categories and their attributes comes about in some people and not in others.

Are religious adherents, especially fundamentalist or biblical text literalists, the same as the superstitious in that they confuse physical, biological and mental entities and processes with each other?  It could be that fundamentalist faith-based religious believers assert an individual’s connectedness to the cosmos and mistakenly combine physical, biological and mental categories.  Whereas secular evidence-based scientific believers draw strict limits on the cosmos-connectedness of individuals and keep the three core knowledge categories separate.

The authors believe that further research using their model may show that “superstitious individuals’ knowledge about the world is inaccurate in that their early (childhood), as yet undeveloped intuitive conceptions about psychological, biological, and physical phenomena have retained their power and co-exist with later acquired rational knowledge.”

I can’t help but wonder if this may be true for not only the superstitious, magical thinkers and paranormalists, but also for all who are devoutly religious.

No comments:

Archive for "Being Human"