Magical Thinking

Someone was talking about why the Christians believe their bible or some such nonsense someplace? Why do they believe in a God or gods and I, being the demure, polite, individual I am, did not join in. I realized that what I wanted to say would just take up too much space and require too many citations to give everyone a valid foundation.

This is an interest of mine and I think there is something about the human condition that conditions us to think magically. (I started with causes but shifted to conditions. At the same time, I am not sure ‘conditions’ is the proper word because this may be a talent we are born with.) That is what makes it a good topic for discussion.

Why do people believe in Gods or their Bible? I honestly believe that our brains are somehow conditioned, or we are born with the ability to “Think Magically.” What’s little known is that Piaget agrees with me.

“In explaining how the child conceives of the world, Piaget borrows Lévy-Bruhl’s theory of mystic participation which is, in fact, a magical way of relating to the universe. He distinguishes (Piaget 1929, pp. 133-34) between four types of causal connections: 1) magic by participation between actions and things; 2) magic by participation between thought and things; 3) magic by participation between objects; and 4) magic by participation of purpose. In essence, his theory advances the position that, at a certain stage in their development, children connect phenomena, objects, people, and ideas that cannot be linked at all, unless recourse is had to magical notions.”

“Underlying Piaget’s thought is the assumption that the mental development of the individual and of the human race go through certain parallel stages. Piaget drew no conclusions on the state of mind of primitive people. He did have, however, some definite opinions on the child’s magical thinking that is animistic in character. «Magic and autism,» he writes, «are therefore two different sides of one and the same phenomenon that confusion between the self and the world which destroys both logical truth and objective existence» (Piaget 1930, p. 303). Magical thinking in children is thus a weakness that stems from the fact that their maturity has not yet reached its full potential.”

Le Défi magique, volume 1 - Magical thinking in contemporary western societies a psychological view - Presses universitaires de Lyon(Piaget%201929%2C%20pp,magic%20by%20participation%20of%20purpose.

In Piaget’s own paradigm, it seems to follow that magical thinking is the result of a “lack of maturity.” Not maturity of physical age but of cognitive functioning.

Maturity? I don’t like the word and have no idea how to quantify it. If I quantify it as a lack of magical thinking, I am creating a circular fallacy.

So, I must disagree with Piaget and the conclusion he didn’t actually make. But there is something about the human condition in which we all go through a phase, a life stage, of magical thinking. We have all done it. (Have we not? Does anyone not recall thinking magically in their life for some period of time?)

So, I have this idea that Magical Thinking an innate tendency of the human mind is at the core of religion and religious thinking. Our brains are made to think magically, at least for some portion of our life.

Why is this? I suspect this magical thinking has been essential to our evolution. It is magical thinking that has allowed us to form belief systems that held our clans together. Our imaginary gods helped us through the hard times and as long as everyone believed in the same thing, we were a group. There is something very profound and evolutionarily significant in our ability to use imagination and create gods through magical thinking.

So why do people believe in gods and believe in Bibles? It could honestly be that we are simply hard-wired to be that way. So, why do some of us break free of magical thinking? “We don’t need it anymore.”

Previously, magical thinking was essential to survival. It held our groups, clans, families, societies, and even countries together. But now, in the age of information, all of our myths are being destroyed and our cultures are beginning to merge. Our gods are becoming old stories, and the magical thinking that was once so important to us is under attack.

The question is, can we really eliminate magical thinking? Is the idea, “I am an American,” any different from the idea, “I am a Christian.” Both ideas set arbitrary cognitive boundaries. Is this not magical thinking as well? If I put 10 people in front of you, could you spot the American? Isn’t it just another delusion? (Yes, I understand it is useful. But isn’t it linked directly to magical thinking?)

Okay, back to the beginning before I get too far out on the limb. Magical thinking has been used to keep people together. This is how we survive and how we continue to survive today. One of my sociology professors once pointed out that it was more honest to have a war over territory than it was to have a war over ideology. At least when you have taken the territory you know the war is over.

So why do people believe in the bible and God? Perhaps they just can’t help it. Their brains have been conditioned that way. Their brains were conditioned, not only by natural inclinations but also by natural selection. If a person did not agree with the group, he or she would have been killed, shunned, or banished from the group.
A person who did not believe as the group believed, would not procreate. Evolutionarily we have cultivated others like us with the ability to think magically. We have done this throughout history, eliminated anyone unable or unwilling to go along with our illusions.

Not much has changed; however, things are beginning to change. Magical thinking is under attack all over the globe. People are looking to facts and reason. Whether or not this continues will be interesting. And what of the next magical thoughts humanity grabs onto? What do you imagine that will be. As I said above, “I’m an American,” is a magical thought. What magical thoughts will the future hold and can we free ourselves.

That’s my take on why people believe in their bibles and believe in Gods.


and, much as I hate to say it ( and agree with a chimp complete with anal kitchen tool) you are seemingly right in your conclusions.

The lack of cognitive ability and magical thinking despite the clear evidence can be equally levelled at the gun owners lobby in the US ( more guns of a more killing ability in more hands = less gun crime, what fucking nonsense. One word, DUNBLANE) . The “destroy capitalism” movements in many countries, the ""My country whatever " the "anti commie’ (and they don’t even know what one is) in redneck and white collar US, and of course the main latter day culprit the Q-Anon/Libertarian/Sovereign Citizen mobsters. The anti-vaxxers…I could go on.

The ability to ignore clear evidence to the contrary of a firmly held view is indicative of a cognitive disorder.

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Or, it’s just fucking human. It’s not so much a disorder as the way we are. Everyone in an out-group, a group that is not our own, looks insane. Perhaps our inability to sit down and honestly look at facts is just innate. It’s certainly prevalent and we have most certainly evolved in a way to not do it. What makes some of us able to break free? I suspect there have always been those who break free. They just never had their own community before. Now with the age of computers, atheists all over the world, those willing to think anyway, can communicate with one another and share ideas. When they no longer belong to their local groups, they find a place to express themselves online.

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When we group ourselves, out of necessity or fun, it can be beneficial. However, when the group becomes a core within the person’s identity :grimacing:….

Then there’s the whole “magical thinking” of it’s the “outside group/s” that are to blame (for everything :wink:).

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My first thought, That’s fucking nuts, who did the survey – Well: YouGov is a British international Internet-based market research and data analytics firm, headquartered in the UK, with operations in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Fuck me. I imagine these folks know how to do a survey. People are really that … why would I even ask the question. I know better,.

I could believe that the reason I’m the only hardline atheist in my family is because I’m so much different from my wife and kids, even my own sisters. I have very little in common with members of my own family. I also couldn’t care less about belonging to a certain “group”(except you guys of course).

Different? Hmmm… Two arms? “Check” Two legs? “Check” Ten toes? “Check” "Two eyes? “Check.” Two hands. “Check.” Ten fingers, “Check.” Hmmm. Reminds me of a joke about differences,
"Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over."

Seems to me, people find what they look for.


Wow, can I write that down and save it to share with any and every person I meet? That may be the most astute thing I have ever read. I’m pretty sure my IQ just went up a bit. Thank you oh great one for imparting this wisdom to us unworthy heathens. I will wait attentively for another of your wise elucidations.
Great true story though. I was there.

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Put it on a note and attach it to your shirt next to your name tag for all I care. Just don’t get the two confused with that new elevated IQ.

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Then “the way are” is fucked up and indicative of cognitive disorders.

“They way we are” is a cop out. I bet the dark ages of catholicism was greeted with, “hey man, don’t moan " its the way we are”…

I think that is the problem. I am constantly in a struggle to end magical thinking in myself. Believing shit without good reason. Not questioning. In fact the more I question and research, the more amazed, and happier I am. Lately I have been listening to Thomas Sowell. I would say about 70% of the shit he says was known to me. We know America had its little battle with slavery. I never knew the extremes we took to end slavery in the world. Some real interesting stuff there. Some nuanced stuff about the slave trade… The crews on the slave ships didn’t go hunting for slaves. The slave trade was alive and well. You just pulled into port, bought your slaves, and pulled out of port. No mess, no fuss. The slave trade had been going on for centuries before America ever got involves and it had nothing to do with race. Even the bible, " “`Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you ; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.” Liviticus 25. Just destroying some of the modern perceptions about slaves and slavery. Oh, cool information. The root of Ebonics is from West England. Poor black people copied poor white people. Sowell researches the hell out of the information he shares. All good stuff from what I can tell.
Destroying those myths, one page at a time. Facts about slavery never mentioned in school | Thomas Sowell - YouTube



One thing my studies of humans and history have taught me is that never ever ever take things at face value. Especially religious and political judgements.


Interesting thoughts there Cog. I honestly think part of my religion and magical thought was just mimicry. If I did what the larger humans did I got attention. It is a magical non contact form of communication. Especially when no language is used, sure there is some audible communication but it isn’t exactly defined or effective.

Why does sitting in silence in a large group elicit such a powerful almost trance like or highly emotional change in some people. Sure there are circumstances that usually create this situation in the first place, but what is it that mimicking others around someone causes this?

It seems deeply magical that we can interact on some level even as total strangers not interacting but existing in the same space. I think it’s a weird subliminal hardwired response, calling people together. Sure there is repulsion of other people for whatever characteristics but is that just a learned behavior of preference?

I think we believe in magic because we don’t exactly understand what connects us besides food, sex, and shelter.

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We are herd animals. It’s what has kept us alive. Those of us that stuck together and worked together survived. Those that didn’t, didn’t. But why should this herd behavior extend to magical thinking?

That leads us to a special pleading fallacy. "We are different than all the other animals. Somehow improved. We are smart and that is the only thing that counts. We have a magical soul that no other animal has. " More magical bullshit.


I think mimicry has more to it than just sticking together. It appears to do something for mental health, it isn’t just a survival tool, it’s amusement in some circumstances, even in animals. So is it just a mechanism of survival that has evolved over time into something else?

I certainly agree we are not what I would see as “unique” I think we are just the first to dodge natural selection and other cognitive stifling that might have occurred over time to allow us to get here.

I have to wonder what science hasn’t discovered yet? We can measure brainwaves from outside the body, what’s to say there isn’t something in our own minds that we are unaware of that senses something like that?

Any good studies on what brainwaves exactly are, and what they do? I’ll be honest I’m not completely well versed on them, I find it interesting though.

Brainwaves are just a measure of electrical activity in the brain. Understanding how they affect certain areas of the brain is the key, that is what matters.

Brains are amazing devices, and many of their functions are subconscious. How can a dog realize that it’s owner is stressed?

My personal theory is that the brain collects information and a lot of that information is processed subconsciously. My initial impression of a person may be “he’s stressed”, and initially I can not explain why I reached that conclusion. But if I break it down and carefully analyze each data point my brain collects, then I am not as obtuse as I think. He may be sweating, slightly trembling, his eyes may be dilated, he may not appear to the be usual chill dude I have known.

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I’ve always felt it was a coping mechanism for death or when someone felt their life was falling apart or they felt they could wish themselves to some kind of success by appealing to an “unseen supernatural high power” . I’m sure of it. Like 20 years ago, I couldn’t help but notice that with my mom after her motorcycle accident and severe injury. She had to have multiple surgeries on her back. Then her aunt passed away and she flipped shit. She really turned to religion when I was 15 or 16 years old. She made us go to church where she cried at the altar and everything. She went the whole 9 yards. She kicked me out several times in a span of 2 years down the road and I had to go live with my grandparents when she couldn’t get me to accept her and my step fathers new found religious views. She’d never forced religion on to me that bad. Honestly, I just wanted to be a teenage boy and do what teenagers did which is to have fun.

Spent twenty years on patrol in the worst neighborhoods of a large crime-filled city. Coming out of the academy, I was so “green” and naive it is amazing I survived my first couple of years on the streets. Could have walked right up in the middle of a bank robbery without realizing what was happening.

Over time and experience, though, I gradually developed a set of “extra-sensory” abilities that allowed me to “detect” when things were “not right”, even though everything on the surface appeared to be “normal”. For instance, drive or walk past dozens of people just going about their day and barely pay attention to them. Then, for some reason that could not be articulated, one person in the crowd would set off my “Spidey Senses”, causing me to start paying closer attention to that individual. Sometimes, naturally, it would end up being nothing of importance. More often than not, however, it would lead to catching that person in a criminal act, and/or preventing him/her from committing a crime.

Now, could I have provided any solid explanation as to why I focused on that individual? Nope. It was strictly a “feeling” that something wasn’t right. So, does that mean I have some type of “magical” powers? Ha! Not hardly. The only thing it means is that through extensive practice and experience, my mind and senses became much more finely tuned and sensitive than those of Average Joe Blow. We ALL have the potential to have that ability, but not everybody takes the time and effort to fully develop it. But when your life literally depends on having those skills, the learning curve becomes steep, or you do not survive long enough for it to matter.


I second this truth about Spidey Sense. ^^^

It was the same for us on military deployments to countries where some folks were, for whatever odd reason, not quite fans of U.S. citizens and willing to show it in potentially hazardous ways.