Matthew Hutson is a science journalist and the author of The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane. Hutson is a former editor at Psychology Today, has a B.S. in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University and an M.S. in science writing from MIT. He has written for Wired, Discover, Popular Mechanics and The New York Times Magazine.
Matt Hutson: My technical definition of magical thinking is that it’s an attribution of mental properties to non-mental phenomena, or vice versa. So that means thinking of natural events outside in the world as having some element of mind or consciousness, or treating your own thoughts as if they have some sort of physical properties and maybe they can go out and influence the world directly.
One evolutionary reason for magical thinking is just our tendency to see patterns in the world and to read meaning into them. We’re so good at it that we often read meaning into patterns that really isn’t’ there. So we see faces in the clouds or we hear messages in records played backwards. We tend to see connections between our thoughts and things outside in the world and see correlation and even causation there. So for instance, if you think something and then it happens, you might think that your thought caused the thing to happen. Or maybe your thought was a premonition.
Many skeptics feel that they are immune to magical thinking and that this just doesn’t apply to them. I say they’re wrong. Magical thinking is based on very basic intuitions and emotions that we all have. Skepticism is just the tendency to question these intuitions, to use critical thinking to second guess these elements of magical thinking.
So, trying to get a job in this economy is obviously not the easiest thing in the world, and it’s easy to take that personally and think that maybe you just weren’t meant to succeed or maybe you weren’t meant to get a job and the universe is against you. There are a few ways that magical thinking can help you out.
So for instance, putting faith in the Law of Attraction will lead you to try to picture success, hoping to draw that to you. And picturing success will increase your optimism and increase your confidence.
Also, if you set a big goal for yourself, if you see it as your calling, if you feel like you were meant to be here in order to achieve this goal, it’ll give you an extra kick in the pants. You’ll see any roadblocks as just bumps in the road.
You could even use magical thinking to see it as a plus, to say, maybe you were meant to struggle in this way so that maybe when you eventually do succeed, it’ll – success will be much sweeter, or maybe the lessons that you’re learning by really struggling right now will come in handy later in your career.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
Sometimes we read meaning into patterns even when there is not inherent meaning. Yet it’s possible to use rationality and to use things that you know about the world to question your intuitions and to second guess...