Tuesday, April 29, 2008


here is a final overview of superstition.


Superstition, no matter how silly it may seem, has always been present in human culture. We recognize it through rituals and phrases we pick up in our everyday life. There are countless symbols that trigger instinctual reactions from a vast amount of people throughout the world, but why? Why do we fear black cats and broken mirrors? Why do we associate rabbits feet and horseshoes with good luck? The average person could tell you that these things have no physical relation with each other and yet we continue to react to these symbols as if they do in fact control other aspects of our lives. Superstition is here to stay; we can however try to understand why we believe what we do.
The specific rituals of superstition are undoubtedly learned. A child does not automatically associate black cats with bad luck, it is through old wives tales and traditions which have been passed on from one generation to the next that we come to recognize these symbols. The question that arises is why we believe this. To try and get an answer we have to look at how our mind works. The law of contagion states that things that have come in contact with each other will continue to effect each other once they have been separated. The law of similarity states that things that have superficial resemblance, such as a visual resemblance, will have a deep resemblance, meaning that their purpose is similar when in fact it may not be. These laws are not in regards to physical properties, but to how our minds perceive relationships between physical objects with each other as well as with mental properties. This means that a person can construct beliefs at an early age about the relations of properties, which may have nothing to do with each other aside from an irrelevant resemblance or common feeling that someone gets from the pair. So, for a child who is slowly beginning to make sense of the world, creating associations between objects can help them create an understanding of similarities, however this may create false assumptions that carry over into later life. The reason why these beliefs carry over even when we become rational adults has to do with how our mind works. We process information in two ways: through intuition and through logic. When we learn things and create rational knowledge later in life, it does not replace the intuition that we have established early on in life. This allows both to coexist and create superstitious beliefs in a rational intelligent human being.
Another way in which superstitions can arise has been demonstrated through
B.F. Skinners experiments entitled “Superstition” In The Pigeon. The experiment took numerous pigeons, which have been deprived of food. They were then placed into a cage and fed at certain pre-set time intervals, which were completely unrelated to any of the pigeon’s actions. The study found that the pigeon eventually would become convinced that whatever action the bird was in the process of doing when the food was served was in fact what triggered the event. The pigeon then repeats these actions until the food is served again. The pigeon can often become convinced that the trigger changes based on whatever the bird was doing at the time of the next feeding. Because of this, the pigeon can change rituals several times until it convinces itself that the ritual triggers the feeding. This experiment shows how pigeons as well as human beings can assume connections between behavioral “triggers” and unrelated positive outcomes even though the two things may have no connection at all. “There are many analogies in human behavior. Rituals for changing one's luck at cards are good examples. A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances.” (Skinner, 172)
These two examples provide us with some insight into why rituals and superstitions are as prevalent as they are in modern society, and how they may never be escaped.

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