If Birds Do It, Is It Wrong?
An interesting post titled An exploration into the Psychology of Belief by Skeptical Monique states something that I find somewhat odd:
- The scientific study of the human mind and its functions, esp. those affecting behavior in a given context.
- The mental characteristics or attitude of a person or group.
It strikes me as somewhat odd. All human behavior is psychologically motivated yet Monique gives us this little bit of confusing logic:
Superstition is psychologically motivated – it gives us a false sense of control about our lives. Whitson and Galinsky (2008) found that people with a lower sense of control were significantly more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock market information, perceiving conspiracies, and developing superstitions.
Perhaps she means that it is a behavior executed only through the conscious mind. That would beg the question of behaviors executed in the non-conscious part, or did I just throw up a straw man? This seems to say that superstition is bad but then she goes on to say:
Belief and superstition are not necessarily bad things – they go hand in hand with human nature and can be beneficial at times. We may like to regard ourselves as rational minds, but we are all irrational beings. As atheists and skeptics we must remain ever critical in the way we think and interpret things.
Am I just seeing patterns? Superstition is, to me, a result of simulation rule set failure. When there is not enough knowledge to assign cause or non-cause, if the rules allow for assigning the cause of things to imaginary causes or allowing assignment of cause to anything which pops up without checking if it is true, then using confirmation bias to validate the original bad conclusion. EG your favorite teams seems to win every time you wear team colored socks. You assume the two are linked and then with each re-test of this theory it is either confirmed or the failure is assigned to the fact that you wore a shirt that is the other team’s colors. No matter what people tell you, you still have built that rule in your simulation that links socks to winning and will require a good bit of retraining of the rules to no longer see a link in your simulation. This operates completely independent of the rest of the world and ‘feels’ true to the believer.
We see superstitious behavior in animals, so I would hesitate to say that it is a bad behavior. It is simply one that becomes less useful the more information that you know. Well, assigning cause to random things becomes less useful. It would seem to be no more than a failure to understand and use critical thinking and available knowledge in our modern world. Something that we should strive to eradicate like small pox.