Monday, August 28, 2006

My Very Own Magical Thinking.

It would be pretty easy from reading this blog to form the assumption that I somehow hold myself at an ironic distance from religion, spirituality, and the mystical world. I want to be clear about just how wrong this assumption would be. While I am not currently associated with any church and/or cult, I do subscribe to some fairly unorthodox, nonscientific beliefs. Often I find myself engaging in what I would characterize as "magical thinking". (Thanks are due to Augusten Burroughs for reminding me of the existence of this concept)

This link
contains a fairly exhaustive study of what the concept of "magical thinking" entails. But in order to placate the time-constrained or lazy reader, I will here tersely define it as "nonscientific causal reasoning". Common superstitions are superb examples- such as the association between the number "13" and bad luck. There is nothing intrinsic in an arbitrary quantification that would determine the quality of future events- but just try and explain that to a gambler on a winning streak at the roulette table, or the millions of suckers who waste their money on the PA Lotto every single day.

You really don't have to dig too deep to discover magical thinking in others. Simply look at the stock market. Folks make speculations based upon all sorts of signifiers... sometimes they apply arcane formulas and sometimes they rely upon their intuition. That's why stock speculation is such risky business. The market follows some slippery combination of all the individual associations that participants act upon. There is no absolute "inherent logic" in the enterprise.

Or look at mating rituals. Everyone seems to have their own personal good luck charms that they believe will assist them in finding the "perfect mate", or at least someone to spend a night with. Almost every area of human activity involves the formation of personal connections that govern action. Many of these connections can be viewed from the outside as scientifically dubious. But that doesn't necessarily mean there is no value in it, or that these individuals are just plain ignorant. There are numerous testimonials to the value of visualization, and optimistic thinking. Just go into your nearest bookstore and ask for the self-help section.

Some scientists suggest that this type of thinking is a perfectly natural result of human neurological functioning. We are natural pattern-formers. We form expectations based upon our perceptions. Our brain circuitry is constantly being rewired by the associations we form. As we continue to make similar associations, neurological connections get reinforced. It really doesn't matter whether or not these connections have any "external reality"- our subjective perspectives define this process. If we believe that subsequent events jive with our preconceived notions, then we are going to maintain those particular notions. It explains the belief in the "the power of faith". It explains the "magic" of creativity.

I am constantly forming patterns out of seemingly unrelated events and signs. I truly believe that the use of words can directly affect ouside events. That surely cements my membership in the "magical thinking" cult. And you know what? I like thinking this way, and I am not ashamed to admit it. Perhaps it's merely commentary on my level of affinty with the rest of humanity.

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