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Superstition

via The Skeptic s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

“The superstitious man is to the rogue what the slave is to the tyrant.” —Voltaire

superstition 140_300pxA superstition is a false belief based on ignorance (e.g., if we don’t beat the drums during an eclipse, the evil demon won’t return the sun to the sky), fear of the unknown (e.g., if we don’t chop up this chicken in just the right way and burn it according to tradition while uttering just the right incantations then the rain won’t come and our crops won’t grow and we’ll starve), trust in magic (e.g., if I put spit or dirt on my beautiful child who has been praised, the effects of the evil eye will be averted), trust in chance (if I open this book randomly and let my finger fall to any word that word will guide my future actions), or some other false conception of causation (e.g.,  homeopathy, therapeutic touch, vitalism, creationism, or that I’ll have good luck if I carry a rabbit’s foot or bad luck if a black cat crosses my path).

black cat03_250px_02The indiscriminate power of nature is obvious. For as long as humans have been making sounds and instruments, magical methods have been created in the attempt to control the forces of nature and the life and death matters of daily existence. Good and evil befall us without rhyme or reason. We imagine spirits or intelligible forces causing our good and bad fortune. We invent ways to placate them or direct them. Many of the superstitions we developed seemed to work because we didn’t know how to properly evaluate them. There are many instances of selective thinking that might lead to a superstitious belief that something is good or bad luck, for example. The “curse of Pele” exemplifies this kind of superstition. According to one website devoted to the legend of the Hawaiian goddess Pele:

It is well known to locals on the island of Hawaii, that there is a curse upon those who take one of Pele’s lava rocks. It is said that he who takes a lava rock, is taking something from Pele and shall receive bad luck because of it. In the old days people were said to die from the curse, but now you only receive bad luck.

Every day, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park receives several rocks from people who took them home from the park and are returning them because of the bad luck they’ve had since taking the rocks. Many of these people think there is a causal connection between their taking the rocks and their perceived bad luck because their bad luck came after they took the rocks. Of course, their perceived bad luck may have happened even if they hadn’t taken any rocks from the park. Or they may not have paid much attention to the “bad luck” had they not heard there was a curse associated with taking the rocks. Such people may . . .

MORE . . .

Indian rope trick

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

This alleged trick, reportedly witnessed by thousands of people, involves an Indian fakir who throws a rope to the sky, but the rope does not fall back to the ground. Instead it mysteriously rises until the top of it disappears into thin air, the darkness, the mist, whatever. Now, that would be trick enough for most people, but this one allegedly goes on. A young boy climbs the unsupported rope, which miraculously supports him until he disappears into thin air, the mist, the darkness, whatever. That, too, would be trick enough for most of us, but this one continues. The fakir then pulls out a knife, sword, scimitar, whatever and climbs the rope until he, too, disappears into thin air, mist, darkness, whatever. Again, this would a great trick even if it stopped here. But, no. It continues.

Body parts fall from the sky onto the ground, into a basket next to the base of the rope, whatever. Now, that’s quite common in some neighborhoods and would not count as much of a trick. But the fakir allegedly then slides down the rope and empties the basket, throws a cloth over the scattered body parts, whatever, and the boy miraculously reappears with all his parts in the right places. That would be a great trick, especially since it must be done in the open without the use of engineers, technicians, electronics, satellite feeds, television cameras, whatever.

Actually, the only thing needed for this trick is human gullibility. According to Peter Lamont, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and a former president of the Magic Circle in Edinburgh, the Indian rope trick

Read More: Indian rope trick – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

Experimenter Effect

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com

The experimenter effect is a term used to describe any of a number of subtle cues or signals from an experimenter that affect the performance or response of subjects in the experiment. The cues may be unconscious nonverbal cues, such as muscular tension or gestures. They may be vocal cues, such as tone of voice. Research has demonstrated that the expectations and biases of an experimenter can be communicated to experimental subjects in subtle, unintentional ways, and that these cues can significantly affect the outcome of the experiment (Rosenthal 1998).

Robert Rosenthal has found that even slight differences in instructions given to control and experimental groups can affect the outcome of an experiment. Different vocal intonations, subtle gestures, even slight changes in posture, might influence the subjects.

[…]

The experimenter effect may explain why many experiments can be conducted successfully only by one person or one group of persons, while others repeatedly fail in their attempts to replicate the results. Of course, there are other reasons why studies cannot be replicated. The original experimenter may have committed errors in design, controls, or calculations. Or he may have committed fraud.

Keep Reading: experimenter effect – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

magical thinking – The Skeptic’s Dictionary word of the day

“…magical thinking is “a fundamental dimension of a child’s thinking.” –Zusne and Jones

According to anthropologist Dr. Phillips Stevens Jr., magical thinking involves several elements, including a belief in the interconnectedness of all things through forces and powers that transcend both physical and spiritual connections. Magical thinking invests special powers and forces in many things that are seen as symbols. According to Stevens, “the vast majority of the world’s peoples … believe that there are real connections between the symbol and its referent, and that some real and potentially measurable power flows between them.” He believes there is a neurobiological basis for this, though the specific content of any symbol is culturally determined. (Not that some symbols aren’t universal, e.g., the egg, fire, water. Not that the egg, fire, or water symbolize the same things in all cultures.)

One of the driving principles of magical thinking is the notion that things that resemble each other are causally connected in some way that defies scientific testing (the law of similarity). Another driving principle is the belief that “things that have been either in physical contact or in spatial or temporal association with other things retain a connection after they are separated” (the law of contagion) (Frazer; Stevens).

Keep Reading: magical thinking – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

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