Matthew Hutson – The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking

February 25, 2013

Even the hard-core skeptics believe in magic, says Matthew Hutson in his new book The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep us Happy, Healthy and Sane which has just been released in paperback.

Most of us have some sentimental objects that would seem to lose their importance if replaced by an exact copy. We imbue our pets with human personality traits. We are disgusted at the thought of eating a cake that looks like fecal matter. We expect that what goes around comes around. All of these are examples of magical thinking, Hutson argues. A skeptic and an atheist, Hutson claims that ‘our ongoing flirtation with supernaturalism is a relationship that we depend on for survival.’ I’m not convinced. In a lively discussion, we delve into magical thinking, its pitfalls and potential benefits.

Matthew Hutson
is a former editor at Psychology Today, and has a B.Sc. in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University and an M.S. in science writing from MIT. His work has appeared in Wired, Discover, Scientific American Mind, Popular Mechanics, The Boston Globe, The New York Times and the New York Times Magazine.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry from Monday, February 25th, 2013. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Indre Viskontas point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reasons, science and secular values and public affairs. And at the grassroots, even the hardcore skeptics believe in magic, says Matthew Hutson and his new book, The Seven Laws of Magical Thinking How Irrational Beliefs Keep US Happy, Healthy and Sane, which has just been released in paperback. Most of us have some sentimental objects that would seem to lose their importance if replaced by an exact copy. We imbue our pets with human personality traits. We are disgusted at the thought of eating cake that looks like fecal matter and we expect that what goes around comes around. All of these are examples of magical thinking, Hutson argues. He’s a skeptic and an atheist. And yet he claims that our ongoing flirtation with supernaturalism is a relationship that we depend on for survival. But I’m not convinced. In a lively discussion, we delve into magical thinking. Its pitfalls and potential benefits. Matthew Hutson is a former editor at Psychology Today. He has a BSEE in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University and a master’s degree in science writing from M.I.T.. His work has appeared in Wired, Discover, The Boston Globe and The New York Times, among other publications. We’ll take a short break and be back with the interview. 

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Welcome to Point of Inquiry, Matthew Hutson. Thanks for having me. 

It’s great to have you on our show. And as you know, I’ve just completed reading your book, The Seven Lies of Magical Thinking How Irrational Beliefs Keep US Happy, Healthy and Sane. And I have to say that there are a couple of times when I was really mad at you. 

There were times in this book where I completely disagreed. And so I hope we have a interesting conversation in the next half an hour. 

I’m up for it. I first want to start out with asking you to try to define as best you can what you mean by magical thinking. 

OK. Well, the concise, technical definition that I use in the book is that it’s the attribution of the mental properties to non mental phenomena or vice versa. So one example of attributing NetSol properties to non natural phenomena would be treating parts of the world as if they are alive or seeing natural events, as if they have some sort of inherent purpose in them, as if they were meant to be, for instance, and then treating mental phenomena as if they had non mental properties. Be seeing your thoughts as having some sort of direct influence on the world mind over matter, or seeing thoughts as being able to be passed along through contagion, as if someone’s essence’s could be contained in an object like a family heirloom, for instance. 

Mm hmm. But you do distinguish magical thinking from belief in the supernatural, or do you see an odd sort of large overlap between the two? 

I often use the two phrases interchangeably. 


But there is a sense most of the things that you cover in your book are not what many of us who are interested in the paranormal or the supernatural think of as the really big sort of beliefs. 

So, you know, UFOs or a truly, you know, deep miracles, things that things that people take as evidence for the supernatural. You don’t spend a lot of time in your book covering those. 

You talk more about sort of what are the everyday supernatural beliefs that many of us actually don’t know that we believe. 

Yes. So Silver saw the use of those sasquatches. I would not consider those magical games and those are completely consistent with physical laws as we know them. We just don’t have any evidence for it. But that I also put it. Yes, I tend to focus on these sort of small scale instances of magical thinking, things that you might not even consider magical thinking, like if there’s a family handed down that has some sort of special importance to you. A lot of people would say that that’s just natural to have some sentimentality for for an object. But I would say that that’s an example of magical thinking and that you’re treating this object as if it has some sort of non physical property tied to the personality of whoever gave it to you. Or the unique history of the object. And so I’m looking at these kind of everyday situations, quirky behaviors, and trying to understand why we behave this way. 

So I agree that there are certain definitely elements in my life, objects that have sentimental value to me. Sometimes I think, well, it’s just because that particular object reminds me of a particularly happy or important part or a person in my life. But it sounds like from your chapter that you’re talking about something that’s beyond just that. It’s not simply that something that my grandfather made reminds me of him and that’s why I hold onto it. It’s just that there’s some part of me inside that seems to believe that that object is imbued with the essence of my grandfather. 

Yeah. So it goes beyond mere placebo effect. So there’s one study in which subjects were asked to think about a sweater that Mr. Rogers had worn. You say this for those cozy sweaters. And they thought that someone who wore this sweater would become a nicer person even if that person didn’t know that the sweater had belonged to Mr. Rogers. So they see it as not just an object, such as a sweater, acting as a reminder of someone else and becoming sort of a placebo or were primed to behave a certain way or to feel a certain way. But it’s actually having some sort of causative powers on its own beyond the person’s awareness. 

So this this brings me to one of the things that I found quite frustrating and in that chapter in particular, is that sometimes you describe these situations in which someone has a belief or, you know, that they, for example, in this study that these people reacted this way to this punitive sweater. But certainly that doesn’t mean necessarily that once they are disavowed of that notion or made aware of it, that it’s still continues to be part of their life. So, for example, when I start thinking about, oh, yeah, it’s true that this particular object does not have the essence of my grandfather, it actually starts to be less. You know, I can I can sort of rationally see that and then I’m not going to be so torn if somehow I lose that object. But the implication in your chapter was that, in fact, that’s not the case, that, you know, it’s very hard for people to rationally argue themselves out of this. This object doesn’t have the essence. 

So I talk about a couple different levels of belief. So there’s an explicit, explicit belief in magic. And then there is this kind of intuitive belief to sort of a sense that things were broken in a certain way. And I think a lot of magical thinking. There’s this implicit kind of belief and that is harder to combat, even with rationality and education and critical thinking. You’re still often going to have these intuitions. And so, for instance, as a case study, I know that knocking on wood doesn’t have any kind of magical influence on anything, but it still brings me in relief to knock on wood. So I still do it. You know, a lot of biases and heuristics, even if you understand that you have a certain bias, that doesn’t mean that you can always recognize it and eliminate it. 

Absolutely. Absolutely. But I. I have found that since I’ve become less and less of a believer in the supernatural, as far as I know that that my superstitious behaviors. I do question them more. And I don’t engage in them because I actually see that they can have a harmful effect in the long run. If I really do start to imbue a particular routine or a particular action or even an object with something that isn’t real. Then I can make mistakes in my life and make, you know, bad decisions. But if I strive to really stick to reality, then I think I’m I’m better off. And that’s that’s my state of mind. And I think a lot of skeptics and people who are proponents of critical thinking feel that same way. 

But it sounds to me like you are less concerned about that kind of sort of adherence to reason and rationality in our behavior. 

No, I completely agree with you. That’s the value of skepticism, to recognize the errors in your thinking and to try to combat them, even if you can’t eliminate the underlying intuition. You can still try to recognize the kinds of mistakes that you make and try to counteract them. And find a better course of action. But then I also think that you can use the same rationality to recognize when your instincts may be helpful. And this is what I call the rational use of irrationality. So, for instance, to believe in a lucky charm. I would say it’s irrational, but there can be benefits to believing in a lucky charm. It can improve your performance and in certain situations. So you can analyze. OK. What does the cost benefit of relying on this lucky charm in this situation? It might in this case not be such a bad thing and it might help me a little bit. So I’m going to rationally decide to rely on my irrationality about this national lucky time. 

And do you know if any studies that show how effective that might be? So I have this instinct or, you know, this idea that if you don’t believe you’re really deep down that it’s a lucky charm, it’s not going to give you as big a benefit in self-confidence or whoever else it works, then if you believed, hey, you know, if I carry this rabbit’s foot around, I will be lucky. Is there any research that shows that there is a relationship between the degree to which you believe in the luck of an object and the benefit that you gain from it? 

Well, there is one study that I like to mention, which subjects were asked to make 10 golf putts and half the subjects were told that their golf ball was a lucky golf ball. And these subjects actually made 35 percent more successful golf putts. But that didn’t quite illuminate how strongly they believed. And it was just sort of two categories of people. So I would actually like to see more research on this. But there is some interesting research on the placebo effect showing that the placebo effect works, even if you are told that the pill is just a placebo. 

Right. Right. There is there is definitely some evidence that that, you know, there is there’s a part of you that still benefits, even if you know that rationally, there’s no reason for it to give you a benefit. 

So I’d like to try a little bit to the superstitious beliefs that you described in your chapter. And we’ve talked about superstitions in another previous point of inquiry show, particularly to do with baseball. And I I was delighted to read about some of those same superstitions in your chapter as well. But I wanted to talk to you a little bit about how superstitious beliefs give someone a sense of control over what are generally sort of things that have outcomes that are probabilistic or highly variable. 

Sure. So we rely on lucky rituals and lucky charms and superstitious actions more often in times of uncertainty when we don’t have control over the situation through typical means. So it comes up a lot in baseball, a batter has very little control over the situation. He’s lucky if he gets on base one in three times or. I also got to talk about commercial fishermen. This is by far the deadliest job in the nation. There’s a lot of uncertainty about, you know, a rogue wave hit me or a storm or am I going to catch any fish today? And so they’re fishermen rely on a lot of a lot of superstitions. And so, one, what ideas that it gives you an overall sound. Say you have some sort of control over the situation and it reduces anxiety and then you’re more confident and you couldn’t go out and actually exert real control through the means that you do have. And so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you feel lucky, then. And if you feel in control, then you actually attain real control and real positive outcomes that you might call lucky. 

So I liked the the the description that you gave of of batters and pitchers versus fielders in terms of their superstitions or their routines, et cetera. And of course, that, you know, batting and pitching are much more probabilistic, are more, I guess, uncertain, whereas most fielders actually do make the plays that they’re assigned to play. I think the number you threw out was 98 percent of the time. Correct me if I’m wrong. 

And so there are very few fielders then who have, I guess, superstitious routines associated with their fielding. And this is coincides with I think it was Malinovsky work on the tribal fishermen about how they they go out into the sea where things are much less predictable. They have more superstitions, but if they are fishing in a lagoon or that they know it’s everything seems. A little bit more consistent from day to day. They have fewer of these these rituals, but we also talk about the difference between routines which actually might help focus a person, focus a person’s attention or have some kind of safeguard. You know, we’ve talked to Gawande. You started talks a lot about how checklists are extremely important in surgery so that you don’t make these kinds of mistakes versus really superstitious beliefs, as I understand them, which are, you know, if if Wade Boggs eats chicken, he’s going to hit better. 

So what have you learned a little bit about, you know, the the second part of that question? So things that are not routines, but really purely superstitious. And how are those beliefs helpful? 

Well, sure, there are. There are routines like basketball players will often basketball a certain number of times before they shoot a free throw. And those help focus the attention and get you in to sort of this fluid motion that you’ve rehearsed over a superstition intensity, more symbolic. And they work not by focusing their attention on what you’re doing, but by increasing the sense of self efficacy. And so I mentioned that the one study with the golf ball. Another study conducted by the same researchers in the same paper. They had people perform various cognitive tasks like memory games, for instance. And people performed better on those if they had a lucky charm with them. So I think this is something that, you know, it’s a wide open area of research. And I think there’s there’s a little bit of evidence, but I wish there were more. 

And it sounds like there in a couple of parts in your book, you really talk about one of the positive aspects of these beliefs, even though they’re not necessarily grounded in reality and that, you know, the some of the positive actions are they they can focus your attention. They might give you more self-confidence, as you mentioned, the sense of self efficacy. But there is one counterexample that I wanted to ask you about and we hear your thoughts on is that, you know, there is a particular owner of a basketball team, the Dallas Mavericks named Mark Cuban. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the show Shark Tank. The reality TV show in which job, you know, people pitch ideas to potential advance investors and then, you know, they decide whether they’re going to invest. And he’s a really colorful character. And when he found out that those power balance bands really have no value, as they said they were, he actually went into his locker room or into the into I said that’s not a clubhouse in basketball, whatever it is where, you know, the players get ready. 

And he tossed all those bands out and he banned them from, you know, the the arena. And so I would think that a person who is motivated by, you know, wanting their team to win, wanting to, you know, get a return on their investment, since he’s the owner of this team, even if these bands didn’t do what they said they did, if they brought some kind of positive benefit to the team, surely he wouldn’t ban them from the arena. 

So that’s that’s sort of a gray area. And that even if they’re just a placebo, they may be helping the players, in which case, you know, by let him have it mean it’s not doing that much damage. But then you could also make an argument that this is, you know, going against the idea that that superstitions are beneficial, that a player might be relying on this energy band instead of trying other things, changing their diet or practicing more. There’s always a chance that if you rely on a particular script, this is superstitious ritual or lucky charm or whatever, that you’re going to neglect other ways that you could obtain control. So, for instance, if you try holistic healing or energy healing or alternative medicine, that’s fine as long as you don’t abandon traditional medicine, doctors and medicines. 

Exactly. And I think that’s one of the reasons a lot of us people who call ourselves skeptics really rail against this notion that it’s OK to believe something if it gives you a placebo effect. I actually I’m with Mark Cuban on this. I don’t think it’s okay. I think if if if it you know, these players need to know that that’s not going to help them. And what they need to do is spend more time on the court or they need to spend more time in the gym or, you know, doing other activities that are gonna make them better ballplayers. And so I see often I see these superstitious behaviors as a kind of a trial and error process. I think much less like B.F. Skinner originally thought. But, you know, his when he he had these pigeons and he noticed that they would do these superstitious behaviors, that they’re trying to figure out what it was that was causing, you know, the food pellet to calm or the light to turn on. And, you know, I think that that to some extent, that’s sort of the basis of a lot of these superstitious rituals. But we need to continue to weed out the things that are not beneficial in order to find the things that really do work. So I have to say that I’m not a big proponent of continuing to engage in superstitious beliefs once you know that they are simply superstitious. 

Although I should mention one study showing that people who feel more lucky are not more likely to sort of sit back and say, look, come to them. They are actually more proactive in their lives. So that sort of suggests that there even if you know that something is B.S. that, you know, might actually help you and lead you to rely on other means of. At your disposal, but yes, this is a gray area and no one is really measured overall. What are the benefits versus the drawbacks of relying on a particular line of superstitions in general? 

So I’d like to talk a little bit about that and the difference then between, say, positive thinking and magical thinking. There are a couple a couple times when I thought, OK, I can see the benefit of positive thinking. But that doesn’t necessarily have to be magical. 

Yeah. So I guess that the law of attraction, for instance, that sort of gets into this overlap between positive thinking and magical thinking. So the law of attraction, as described in the book, The Secret, as you may know, is the idea that if you picture an outcome than you attracted to you typically positive outcome or a negative outcome. There’s a lot of that is just positive thinking. And so I think the positive thing explains how the love of attraction actually can work, just not through quantum mechanics and not through not magic positive expectations. Those become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you picture yourself getting a job, then you might you might walk into the job interview with more confidence and then you’re more likely to actually get the job. And so there can be is a kind of feedback between feedback loop, between the magical thinking and the positive things. So if you think that you’re positive thinking and will magically help you, then that can encourage you to use more positive thinking. 

And if you just understand that positive thinking on its own has a benefit, do you think that that’s that that there is something that the magical thinking adds above and beyond simply thinking positively? 

Yeah, that’s that’s debatable. That’s one thing I sort of mentioned in the book, but I don’t have a clear answer for. So if you think that positive thinking does more than just affect your behavior, if you think that it actually sends vibes out, then you’re going to feel that positive thinking. It has all these great benefits and you’re going to have more faith that possibly. 

Yeah, I think, you know, I agree with you that I think the jury is still out on that. And that brings me to a related and similar concept, which occurred to me as I was reading your book, that sometimes I think what you describe as magical thinking, I would describe as wishful thinking. 

So although I don’t believe that the soul survives the death of the body, I wish that were true. And sometimes by you know, I get comfort in wishing, but I know that it’s not true, or at least I believe that it is not true. 

So I you know, there are times I felt like, you know, you would talk about the benefits of magical thinking, like in this case, the idea of there being life after death as being comforting and anxiety producing. 

And so I often had had trouble trying to decipher whether you really meant a true belief that that the soul does exist or that that it exists beyond the body or that it’s simple. We can see it as wishful thinking and it can be just as beneficial. Or do we actually have to have a belief that that is beyond simply a wish? 

Well, I don’t think wishful thinking about an afterlife would be of much comfort if there weren’t some elements of belief in there. If you just start with a really nice thing, I wish that were true, then I wouldn’t really explore you. That has to be something some element of. Oh, yeah. I wish that happened. I wish. You know, there’s an afterlife. Afterlife. I hope to live on and maybe I will. Who knows. And there are some studies show in Chile and I still believe it. And people who say that there is no afterlife, like there’s a once Jesse Burián or yes, people, their soul that lives on after death and even the market. He said no. It’s hard to ask them to imagine you died in a car accident. I said, okay, now if I have emotions, does he have thoughts? Does he have sensations? And one guy responded saying, of course, you know, there’s no afterlife. You see that? Now, that is that isn’t it? I didn’t even realize that he was still thinking about this dead person having thoughts. 

Ha. Yeah. 

Now, I guess one of the things that struck me towards the end of is this idea then that I’d like to ask your thoughts on this. Do you then believe that someone who is a true atheist in the sense that they really don’t believe that there is meaning that is assigned to the universe, that that, you know, there is the hand of God taking us along and everything? Happens for a reason. And that once we die, something else lives on. Do those people lead less meaningful lives than in your opinion? 

Oh, that’s a tough question. Well, there’s another aspect of belief in immortality. I get into service, leave in symbolic immortality, the idea that your identity or your legacy will live on after your dad, through it, through your symbolic identity, through the meaning you create in the world. And I think this is an official act to believe that you can leave a legacy because that will inspire you to do the most good that you can in their lifetime. And that can lead to a sense of meaning. 

Mm hmm. 

I was recently interviewed by a man named Christopher Johnson who’s creating a book where in which he is photographing and talking to atheists about meaning and joy in their lives. 

And so I was forced to answer this question for myself. You know, do I think that my life is less meaningful because I don’t believe in the existence of an afterlife or an existence of a God? And I have to say that even though rationally I can I can relate to your idea that it might seem as though a life has more meaning if you’re a part of a larger purpose. I don’t feel that way in my own life. I think my life has just as much meaning as it does of someone who is a fervent believer in God. And that is because, you know, I feel that, you know, my I have a sense of what is important and why I do things. And there are no less meaningful because there isn’t a God, in my humble opinion. That’s my world view. So I don’t think because because atheists don’t think of themselves as missing out on something that actually exists, that I don’t see why they’re we shouldn’t our lives shouldn’t feel just as meaningful as those of people who believe that there does exist a purpose. 

So I think a lot of a sense of meaning in their own life comes from this tendency to rely on narrative. So we tell a story out of our own lives. So it’s not just this is how this happened and then I’m going to die. 

It’s a story, the narrative. And so that precedent together. 

And that’s how we get a sense of meaning, even if we’re not thinking about, you know, God created me and I have this special purpose in the world that ended, I’d go to heaven, although it’s possible that those kinds of beliefs might add an additional additionally meaning, there is some research showing that when people feel like it, that event was caused by God, then they see it as more meaningful, or if they thought something was meant to happen and then they feel more meaning in their lives. But I don’t think that’s necessary. I think as long as you can appreciate what you have and be able to tell a story about it, then meaning kind of emerges from that. And then also at the end of the book, in the Epilog, I talk about the sense of sacredness and sense of miracles happening. And the Insane Clown Posse, that video a couple of years ago, the ever made fun of really listed all the miracles in the world like rainbows. And they just called everything male. But I think there’s a way to compete with it without seeing things as supernatural miracles. So, for instance, Feynman, the physicist, was, quote, something like a planet not near a glob of rock and gas. Nothing is near. So there’s kind of this middle ground between seeing things as near and in things as miracles, where things can be unique and special and kind of secret in their own phones. You can just appreciate the mere existence of things without seeing as near. 

Yeah, and I totally agree. 

I mean, I hosted a television show called Miracle Detectives in which we had to actually go around and investigate claims of miracles by people around the U.S. And, you know, I often would say, look, by some definitions, the birth of every healthy baby is a miracle because there are a million things that could go wrong. But we know step by step how all of these things happen. But that makes it no less inspiring. In a sense. Just because we know all the different steps doesn’t mean that it’s not amazing every single time it happens. But I think that’s quite different from saying, you know, it’s it’s a miracle with a capital M in the sense that, you know, there was some. 

Yeah, some destiny, some some hand of God involved. But I, I, I just want to talk to you a little bit about the potential costs of assigning meaning where maybe there isn’t any, especially in times of huge tragedy. I think the danger of doing that, of saying, you know, there’s let’s say a tragedy happens like Hurricane Katrina by saying, oh, there is some. 

Reason for it or, you know, this was purposeful in some sense, can be very dangerous because that leads people to think that maybe there is an element of of the people who were affected by Katrina have it deserving that. And, you know, there’s an assignment of blame to something that is blameless. And I think that that’s really one of the most nefarious things about some religious beliefs. 

Yeah, so there’s the whole blame, the victim effect. And there are a couple different, are there many different ways to handle the assignment of ultimate meaning and purpose to an event? So, for instance, a hurricane. You could say that. Well, some Christians said that Hurricane Katrina was caused by abortion clinics in New Orleans or in Louisiana. But then you could also say see it not as a punishment for people that just see the hurricane, for instance, as you know, as an opportunity for some sort of growth. A lot of tragedies can be spun that way. And the chapter on the sense of destiny. I talked about infertile couples, for instance, and a lot of infertile couples adopt. And it turns out that most adoptive parents see their adopted children as being destined to be theirs, as brought to them through divine intervention. And some of them even say that their infertility was a gift. So they they turn this trauma around. And I think that that might be a healthy way for some people to look at a situation like that. Now, if something bad happens to you, but then something good happens as a result, instead of seeing the dad dying is inherently bad, maybe it’s helpful to see it as a good thing that led to this other states in your life. 

Yes, I have trouble with that because I feel that in some ways you’re still assigning some kind of blame or purpose. It’s hard me to sort of articulate this to something that that maybe is just really random. And it then I feel like there. 

There is a danger to just proliferating that idea. You know, oftentimes I would talk to people who would say things like, well, you know, that that death was a as a gift to the suffering child and that that was a gift from God. And I want to ask them, what was the suffering also a gift from God? I mean, I you know, I understand that that, you know, created a person’s growth and you can learn from obstacles and trials, but some suffering really is just meaningless. And, you know, where do you draw the line once you start telling yourself a story about how things are happen for a reason? I guess that’s one of the things that I find difficult. And. 

And one of the reasons why I your chapter is sort of made me really sort of perk up and read and start questioning, because I do think that it’s a gray area and that and that it’s going to it’s hard to tell when a person has crossed the line from. 

Okay. You know, this happens for a reason to those people deserved that. And that’s why it happened. 

Yeah. I think that it is possible to avoid that. That’s actually I think that’s something that is worth that’s worth studying. How in practice, how welcome people rely on this happen, because there’s a silver lining. It lives had a silver lining versus discipled does as punishment. But my instinct is that it is possible to avoid the blame, the victim and the sort of fatalism that something bad happens. It’s easy to see the universe as holding you down and then you get the sense of helplessness and hopelessness and even depression sometimes. But I think it is possible to avoid that to some degree while still obtaining some of the positive benefits of seeing good things as meant to be. 

So how has writing this book changed your own views about destiny and fate? And so these other big questions? 

Well, I still don’t believe in any in any of it. I’m an atheist skeptic. I don’t even believe in free will. But I am more I think I’m more tolerant of the beliefs and other people. And even then myself, you know, if I if I have an instinct that something happened for a reason, I’m going to say that. Why are you thinking that? It’s like, oh, know, that’s that’s human nature. All right. We’re going to do with this. So I think I’m more accepting and understanding of this kind of human reversal of thinking logically. 

And I noticed as through reading your book that there really are a lot of nuances and a lot of different ways in which we can think about magical thinking, and it it led me to question whether I’m sort of talking about magical thinking as a construct is the right way to go or should we really be talking about specific magical thoughts. So let me unpack that for a second. Just like people say, you know, we shouldn’t we can’t study aggression because it’s so complicated, but we can study aggressive behaviors. That’s that’s something that we do a lot in psychology is we break down a complex topic into observable, measurable behaviors. So what do you think about dividing, taking away this idea? 

Magical thinking and really talking about specific magical thoughts and evaluating those on a one to one basis, try to figure out how useful or or how harmful they might be? 

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. 

So in the book, if I did, I get down to seven different types of magical thinking Leverenz chapter. But then within each chapter you can subdivided into more specific types of magical thinking or magical thoughts. And each of those could be studied individually. And then you can examine individual differences, people’s personalities and their life, his life stories, and know that all true alters when it’s a magical thought. It might be a good or a bad thing. There are all kinds of different factors. So I think the field of magical thinking and the psychology of magical thinking deserves a lot more fine grained attention. 

I completely agree. And hopefully that we’re embarking now on a ripe area of research into what exactly are the basis of these magical thoughts and how we can use them. I wanted to just question one more of your premises. That sometimes surprises me a little bit. You’ll forgive me for that. But sometimes you say that, you know, it’s natural and that’s how our brains are wired. But, you know, I react to that with just because it’s wired that way or even if it’s natural, doesn’t mean that it’s OK. So, you know, my brain is wired to search for a sugary and fatty foods, but too much of them is very unhealthy. 

So how do you what do you mean by you know, that’s that it’s okay to to sort of think these potentially irrational or unrealistic, untrue things? 

Well, I’m I’m careful not to make the is fallacy to assume that because a certain trait as it evolves is necessarily beneficial. It’s possible that all these forms of medical thinking are just those effects of other more beneficial types of thinking. Or it’s possible that there reverse is feel like the appendix. So I think they’re worth analyzing them on their own terms and saying, OK, looking at us today and in this situation, what did they do for us? And I take it as sort of their I believe they’re here to stay. And we can’t get rid of them, but we can try to pay attention to how they express themselves and how when it’s good and when it’s bad to take advantage of them. So it’s, you know, they’re here. And then we have to accept magical thinking, whether it’s good or bad. And then do what we can with it. 

OK. Well, on that note, I’d like to remind our listeners that Matthew Hutson’s book is available in paperback now, and it’s called The Seven Laws of Magical Thinking How Irrational Beliefs Keep US Happy, Healthy and Sane. 

And you can find it through our Web site Point of inquiry dot org. Matthew Hutson, thank you very much for being on point of inquiry. Thanks so much for having me. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion about today’s show on magical thinking visit point of inquiry, dawg. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry, dot org on Twitter, at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Wailin. I’m your host, Indre Viskontas. 

Indre Viskontas