About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Matthew Hutson on The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking

You may think you're a skeptic, but are you really as free from superstition as you think you are? Matthew Hutson thinks not.

The author of "The Seven Laws of Magical Thinking" joins Massimo and Julia on this episode of Rationally Speaking to discuss some common, innate forms of superstition that affect even self-identified skeptics, and why the human brain is predisposed to magical thinking.

Along the way, the three debate: Overall, are our superstitions good for us?

Matthew's picks: "Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition,"
"SuperSense, " and "The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life."


  1. What if rationality makes fools of us? What if rationally deducing, inducing we make too primitive predictions (models of Reality)? Have you ever thought that we may be wrong?
    I'm not against rational thinking, I see too often limited thinking hidden behind.

    1. What if thinking rationality could make a fool of us actually makes a fool of us? What if ... blah blah blah! Nicely done. You too often see limited thinking but fail to show even one example. Critical and rational thinkers will only manage to think you full of shit... or maybe that is what you mean by limited thinking? Is it limited thinking to think your baseless view is that of someone making a fool of themselves?

  2. Thanks for sharing !!!

  3. I like this talk mainly because it might point to a fundamental issue with humans and perhaps other animals, monkeys in particular. The issue is confidence, which may be the factor at work in findings by economists who study humans who differ in choices when offered a gain or a loss. This is important for financial loss, as we tend to gamble on 'double or nothing' about a loss, but take the safe middle option of 'one' for a gain. Same for monkeys, as recently shown by Lauire Santos of Yale on you tube.

    Perhaps it is a matter of confidence. When confronted by loss we may panic into a gamble to avoid loss, which shows in the chaos of markets when that panic sets in. The talk provides an excuse for people to be confident, when playing golf or generally. When confident, we might maintain a steady course, rather than being subject to vacant gambling attitutdes. We stay on the ball, and might therefore call up more rational decisions or golf putts. We would be less distracted by 'off - point' gambling attitudes.

  4. I should say about 'beliefs' that a better definition of knowledge than Plato's (which is one of many) is that it is a level of satisfaction in reasoning about 'beliefs' that may have any bases. I mentioned in another post that our thoughts pop into awareness from unknown neuronal processing, and they can be nice and sequential or seem random at times.

    The idea is to attack the bases for thoughts as states of belief for refinement into knowledge (or something as close as possible to it). Vague memories might prompt a thought with unclear bases in sensations or past analyses of sensations, so we can try to analyze it and see the past connection to clear sensations or past thoughts as unfinished analyses or reliances upon clear sensations.

    We build an improving view of the world from clear or vague bases of sensations and our previous analyses about them. If magic exists in that context, it would need to withstand thorough analysis of observations and of prior analyses of observations. I am confident, personally, that I have attacked the most vague of my beliefs to dissolve any trace of magic in the world, but that's my situation.

    You don't need to be bright, but if you make an honest attempt, it's quite easy. Emphsize 'honesty' as where the attempt might break down for many people (personal view of most people).


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