Monday, March 12, 2012


     My second entry is a day late—apologies if someone was paying attention!
     Since I’m just beginning this work, and have much to learn about how to do it well, I want to note that this will probably not be the place to come for facts.  In a way that’s a pity, because facts are much harder to come by, and opinions are a dime a dozen.  Nonetheless—not all opinions are created equal, and not all opinions are labeled as such.  What I will pledge is to keep my opinions 1) honestly labeled as what they are; 2) as sweet-spirited as possible (not nasty or attacking); 3) based on available facts as much as possible; and 4) the best insight I have to offer.  My experience suggests that there are those who will value these contributions, even with my limitations.
     A note:  I have no interest in hosting an “open debate,” in which every angry attack or uninformed knee-jerk rant is granted equal space. There are places where you can do that.  I do want to be welcoming to all who want to discuss these subjects--especially those who disagree with me.  If you want to contribute but find it difficult, please let me know.  That’s why I set up - to ensure that anyone who wants to get in touch on one of these subjects is able to do so.  If it seems to be wise to change the way access is set up here, I’ll do that.

     A place to start?  I want to start with “magic.”  I suspect that a significant majority of Americans would say they don’t believe in magic—but that a significant minority would admit that they do.  My central concern here:  there are far more Americans who believe in magic than would readily admit it.  It seems to be a very difficult addiction to kick.
     Follow me for a moment . . .
     --I don’t know what percentage of American newspapers (remember them?) still print a horoscope.  It looks to me to be very high.
     --I don’t know how many American buildings still don’t “have” a 13th story (for fear that renters won’t want space there).  Presto-chango, the 13th floor has now become the 14th.
     --The market for “lucky numbers” for lotto games, and for the numbers that previous winners played, may be small, but it’s always visible to those who look.
     --As I drive across America, the billboards advertising the service of “psychic readers” (or some variation on the theme) continue to flourish—so apparently some people are making money offering that service.
     Obviously I could go on at some length.  I think that’s enough.
     I once got a wake-up call on this subject in a workshop on gambling addiction presented by a specialist, for a group of United Way executives.  During the meeting she suddenly said, “How many of you are feeling lucky today?”  I thought it a bafflingly dumb question—till I looked around, and at least a third of my fellow executive directors had their hands in the air.  I was astonished—and as she played out the exercise, it became clear that (no surprise!) she knew her audience far better than I did.  She managed to whip up a small frenzy around who would be “lucky” enough to win the small prize she was offering.  And these were not uneducated people.  I won’t forget.
     My point is that there are many, many people who walk around, earn a living, and vote (!), who trust their decisions and some portion of their substance to magical forces around them for which there is not the slightest evidence, and who don’t see that as irrational.  My point is, further, that I think that’s important.  If I’m lucky, I’ll write next about some of the influences that help to create that situation. 


annie said...

I'll be interested in hearing more of what you have to say about this. I know I've been guilty of making irrationally informed choices.

PhilB said...

I think the great majority of humans (if not ALL of us) engage in magical thinking at least occasionally, and most people still run a good part of their lives by it.

I make my best effort to be as rational as possible about everything, but there are times when I might, for example, do some little thing to feel luckier before going out for a motorcycle ride.

I think this is natural for humans, due to (a) our hyperdeveloped pattern recognition skills as a species, and (b) that while people have been thinking for hundreds of thousands of years, actual rational thought as a developed process is *far* more recent (2500 years at best, and a good case can be made for only 500 years), so it is not at all surprising to me that it is not near universally practiced yet.

These things take time.

Ralph Milligan said...

Wow! Thanks, Phil! I'm with you--this addresses material I didn't try to address in this first blog on the subject, but I very much agree. Sheldon Kopp, one of favorite gurus has said, "Escape is not a dirty word. Nobody can face what's happening head-on all the time. The only danger lies in pretending that you're not pretending." But yes, as a species we're very new at this formal thought business . . .