Saturday, May 17, 2014

Superstition

If there's one thing that truly irks me (oh, very well, it's one of many), it is when otherwise sane people -people of science at that- say something astonishingly ignorant. You've met them. They're the ones who discuss calculus and numerology (no, your lucky number plate does not make you a better driver) in the same breath. Ones who understand astrophysics, and then go ahead and use astrology to make important life decisions (have you heard of horoscope matching? No? Thank your lucky stars!)

And you're not really allowed to laugh in their faces, because that would be socially incorrect. Voicing your scientifically incorrect opinions in public, however, is absolutely fine.

So we have the apologists who say superstition is harmless. I (not so) respectfully disagree. What happens when you decide not to get your child treated in a hospital and instead try ineffective alternative "medicine"? Your child pays for your "harmless" decision. And just how long is the road between witch-doctors and witch-burning?

Then there's the pascal's wager form of superstitious folk. Here's an example:

"Someone said that if I change my name to X, that I'll be more successful in life. Now he could be wrong, but why risk it?"

Let us assume that a name could affect your success. Then it may well be that your current name, Y, was really your lucky name, and changing it would make you even more of a failure. So why risk it? (Isn't it fun when an argument defeats itself?) Even if there was a name, say Banana, which would make people successful, once everyone changed their name, we'd all still be just the same, except we'd go around calling each other bananas and that would simply defeat the purpose of having a name (not to mention, grocery shopping for your pet monkey would become far more challenging!).
Oh, and by the way, success is relative, so everybody becoming more successful by the same factor would essentially mean there would be no change whatsoever.

Now that we all agree (if you don't, feel free to get back to reading your daily horoscope) that no good comes from superstition, let's try and surmise reasons as to why people are superstitious. The usual suspects are fear and ignorance, but there could be more to it.

Ever notice how successful sportsmen and movie stars seem to be, as a population, more superstitious? This may well be because they are successful and famous which makes their beliefs and thoughts more well-known than those of the average person, but let us suppose that it is not. I have a theory which tries to explain why such people may be superstitious (no, it hasn't been proven, and yes I could be wrong, but conjectures can be fun sometimes). I think it may come from a sense of humility - the fact that they do not feel like they deserve their success because there are people out there doing far more important work, and so, there must be other forces at play. Let me know if you can come up with other reasons for superstitious thinking.

I once heard someone say that we are all superstitious and that what we call a fact today could well be disproved as superstition tomorrow. And that is true. But the difference is that once science proves a theory to be false, scientific minded people will discard it and accept the new truth. Superstition would be clinging on to that which has been proved wrong.

In summary, to not know is sad but can be corrected. However, to know better, and yet to choose to remain ignorant, that is the tragedy of humanity.

Besides, it's just dishonest (yet another thing that irks me, but that's another post).


Also check out this fascinating article on why astrology isn't harmless.

1 comment:

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Let me know what you think!