Wednesday, February 2, 2011


IMMUNIZING THE SUPERSTITIOUS: News and Events: "February 12th, 2011 is international Darwin day. Giving up a tremendous opportunity for social and environment change. Please send me ideas ..."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Building the Dames of Reason

   People will like water most often choose for themselves and their charges the path of least resistance. Superstition provides for them in all it's forms easy and direct answers to the difficult frustrations of day to day life. As an answer for the need of consolation and understanding in human beings superstition has grown in our society rapidly and thoroughly with no contest. People trust without question or any understanding the teaching of superstitions like the following.
  • Astrology in Newspapers
  • “Bless you” from a kind stranger after a sneeze
  • Knocking on wood to ward off fate
  • Being weary of a black cat crossing your path
  • Standing under a ladder
  • People wearing crosses around their necks
  • Avoiding opening an umbrella in a house for fear of bad luck

Superstition is easy but not a simple answer. It provides no logical explanation of why something is true. It merely asserts itself as benevolently correct. This is it's great power and I hope with some work be it's undoing. I believe that one of the most powerful tools we can use to immunize society against superstition is to hold people asserting these beliefs to an explanation. We should never attempt to explain why we don't believe something because non belief is not a field of proof. In this challenge we should hold firm and polite. I suggest a simple line of questioning, that any practitioner of science would follow when they themselves make any bend toward true or false.
  • How does it work?
  • Why does it work?
  • Have we tested it?
If someone believes something to be true. They must be able to reason through their belief. If they can't their belief is in question and more difficult to hold. In all honesty I don't expect a single person subjugated to these simple questions to capitulate their beliefs, they may even hold on more tightly for a time. The idea is to change the environment. If all “truths” are put to a challenge of reason, then reason will become the path of least resistance. Hard nosed believers will perhaps never change but those people who follow the path of least resistance will surely and steadily move toward higher ground. 

Please Review: The Psychology of Superstition


Humour as a Substitute

   I believe and I'm not the only one who does believe that humour plays a key role in social development and the way we relate to the world around us. Humour is a product of our intelligence and while laughter isn't, humour is unique to human society as far as we know. Throughout our social history humour has played an important role in expressing political opinion, winning verbal exchanges, providing consolation in difficult times and displaying dominance.These things, consolation, politics and dominance are familiar bedfellows and organized superstition has been both associated with and justified by the need of them. I put it to you that humour is not only a more gentle and humanistic option to fill these needs, it is a more natural one.

   Recommended Article: Getting A Laugh: Gender, Status, and Humor in Task Discussions
   Newspapers, Journals and Magazine have used cartoons to express political opinions for hundreds of years. The cartoon listed above was originally published in 1871 in ``The Hornet`` magazine. I used this as an example because I remembered it. I sought out this image because I am familiar with it. I'm not a historian and although I have a mild interest in historical events I`m by no means a connoisseur of political media. I wasn`t even born until more than a century after this publication, but I remember it. I found my own personal contact with this picture in an old text book that hadn`t been opened in 20 years. When I would have read this, I would have had not any appreciation of Darwin or any reason in particular to remember it. The only memory I have is that I laughed when I saw it. The image was funny to me and that laugh lasted 20 plus years. That is a powerful image and as far as icons go what could be more obvious. This image shows how a powerful political, social and ethical point can be expressed through humour.
   Consolatory humour is something I`m very familiar with. I grew up in a very close multi-generational British family. Characters from history were not only romanticized for but idolized by their use of humour. When I learned about the second world war and life in England shortly there after the many amazing events and people that dominate the memory of that terrible time were those of humour. They are the best stories primarily because they are the ones I remember but as a secondary effect they are the ones I will reference and pass on as this work continues. They are are memories which will survive.
 Humour is increasingly recognized as a source of consultation and has proven to positively impact psychiatric disorders and the general wellness of patients in numerous studies.

Please review: Europe’s Journal of Psychology August 2010 Issue

We can plainly see how the human need for consolation, order and even power and be addressed positively and completely by humour. If appropriately handled humour gives us a tool of self empowerment, a way to understand and interact with all of reality that is better and more human than any superstition.

The Pains of Superstition

   I use the term "pain" here in my title to describe an obstacle that causes either physical or emotional distress to the believer of the superstition, the people they come into contact with and/or the society housing them. Beliefs founded in non truths are dangerous. They interfere with our natural altruism and impact our fundamental decision making abilities. This is a harmful, unacceptable and dangerous fact.

   It is hard to see trouble in a child believing in fairies and romping happily in the garden with them. Most people would be hard pressed to sit that child down and explain not only that there are no fairies but that believing in them is harmful. It is seemingly difficult to draw a line representing the divide between harmless play and harmful superstition. Now, imagine that same delightful little child playing blissfully in back yard with their fairies. The child now has taken to bullying other children saying that the fairies don't like them. I do not believe any self respecting parent would hesitate at this point to take that child aside and explain that there are no fairies, and that the child’s behaviour is inappropriate. We may go as far as offering some punishment for the digression. Such an obvious example may seem unfair but I don't believe it is far fetched and it provides us with a clear line between harmless and dangerous, the line is simply the point in which a superstition is the catalyst or excuse of a behaviour. The question arises, does the child really believe the fairies are there and making her bully her peers or is it simply an excuse for her own actions? The answer is beyond most of us and for the sake of determining the pain of superstition it is meaningless. In this case a superstition caused a perfectly innocent human being to change their behaviours and impact an other.

    One may ask oneself if superstition acting as a causal effect is bad, can't an irrational belief guide someone in a positive behaviour toward altruism and compassion. Arguments against this point of view have been very clearly laid out, and brilliantly explained in the novel “God Delusion” by Professor Richard Dawkins and is not in the scope of this post. The profound and carefully proofs laid out by Professor Dawkins aside I believe there is something to be said for free will and I would certainly count the removal of free will as a distinct pain.