Supertition in Media


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

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.

Please Review the following from the December Bulletin for
Yikes! - Reckless Supernatural Thinking

From James (Michigan, USA): “As a surgeon I know supernatural thinking deeply affects our medical decisions and practice. Doctors more often than not make decisions based on belief and then actually delude themselves about the consequences, even training others to follow suit.”

Please Review: Why Superstition Works in Business


  1. This appears to be the only place to comment. Firstly I would like to say, great posts, very thought provoking and well written. I'm still reading the link to the humour study, lol.

    I must say, I do not feel that superstition must be abolished completely, or that doing so is a necessity for us to move forward. Obviously, I cannot have an insight into the matter as Dawkins can, or even you, but the evils of superstition are also balanced with the need for it. Maybe "need" is the wrong word here. But does superstition not provide us with some sort of defense and/or coping mechanism? Yes, as you said, humour can provide these things - in much better ways. However, that does not mean that humour trumps all, leaving all other mechanisms worthless. Am I making any sense at all?? lol

  2. You absolutely make sense. I am by no means an expert and my aim here is to gather insight and I'm hoping the future robustness of the site is more founded in the experience, experimentation and insight of others collected and laid out in a reasonable manner.
    To get back to your question. I believe humour by no means trumps all. I don't feel that all consolation is derived from superstition. In fact I think it's the need for consolation that makes us cling on to it. I do believe that any consolation derived from a false belief would be at best superficial, otherwise no religious person believing in a life after death would cry at a funeral. If the consolation was real wouldn't they be overjoyed? As for defense, no I don't think that superstition provides us with any sort of defense against anything real. I would go so far as to say it weakens us against the observation and reason that is our best defense. Superstition throughout history has caused people to react rashly in times of trouble, burning the rats in the great plague and witches during the inquisition. Both burnings severely undermined civility of our civilization and put in harms way it's very existence.

  3. I agree with you that the need for consolation makes us cling to superstition, as the overwhelming majority of human beings would much rather think of rainbows and gumdrops on the horizon than the glum reality of everyday life. Or that they have a bad life because of mysterious external influences to which they have no control over, which defers the responsibility they hold for their actions and decisions. I think a lot of superstition is so no one can be held accountable - at least accountable to themselves.
    And no, superstition does not provide us any sort of defense over anything real. But would it not have held some important notch in evolutionary history? You explained that it has had some very dire consequences - this is true; but us being superstitious as a species for whichever reason must hold some sort of purpose, does it not?

  4. No, evolution isn't a purposeful process. Things survive because of small variations in their genetics allowing them to survive slightly better than their peers. These changes hold purpose at a time but are not necessarily washed away if the effect is no longer necessary. The "purpose" of sex is reproduction but the desire for sex isn't subjugated by condoms. I believe also that a look at the future that holds possibilities, exploration, experimentation and the ever more in depth study the real world is a better, grander and happier view