Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | scientific method



Magical thinking watch: Housing crisis chapter

Religious goods stores have been doing a record business in St. Joseph statues.  Buried in the garden of a home for sale, the doll allegedly helps the house to find a buyer.  (We are not told where you put the icon if you live on the 30th floor of an apartment building–perhaps hidden in the dirty laundry hamper.)

Satisfied buyers testify to the statue’s efficacy:

Joe Becwar, an observant Catholic, said he sold his house in Southampton, N.Y., soon after his mother suggested the statue and his real estate agent told him to plant it head down, facing the house, by the “for sale” sign. His brother in Chicago had the same experience, he added.

And Cheryl Katz, who is Jewish . . . , said the statue helped her sell two houses as a real estate agent. Now that her own house is on the market, she’s using it for herself.

The only miracle here is that humanity somehow managed to claw its way up towards the scientific method, given the ubiquity of such arrested thinking.  The religious and superstitious are hardly the only ones oblivious to any elementary concept of a control group, of course.  How many times have you heard such confident assertions of causality as: “I fed my dog organic carob Power Bars, as his acupuncturist recommended, and the tumor on his leg shrunk.  The bars really work!”  I sometimes wonder whether any of us deserve the benefits of science, given how little we appreciate or seek to emulate its basic thought processes.  I recently heard of the following remedy for muscle pain recommended by a relative’s personal trainer: Put a bar of soap under your mattress at night.  Are we living in 15th century Russia?

The suckers who fall for mountebank health scams, such as fill the shelves of every health food store, presumably have some inchoate sense that their favored cure should in theory be explainable biologically.  But I’m not sure that this makes their knowledge or reasoning skills superior to someone who is satisfied with the black box of supernaturalism.  Better almost to believe in a miracle that leapfrogs over all biological pathways than to accept that Kinoki Detox Foot Pads, say, can cure insomnia.  Such gullibility stems as an initial matter from an unconscionable ignorance of human physiology.  But our epistemological problems, it seems to me, stem as well from the  fact that we are incessant conjurors of causality, seeing it everywhere, and from our child-like faith in the association between language and truth.  A wrinkle crème needs merely to assert on its label that it can reduce sagging jowls, without offering any plausible theory for how it can do so, and thousands of women will shell out $50 for 2 ounces. (more…)

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