2012-01-13

Silly Superstition

It is now 11:11 on Friday the 13th. Does that mean good luck or bad luck?

"Superstition" has existed since humans began asking questions about the Universe. Wikipedia defines superstition as "a belief in supernatural causality: that one event leads to the cause of another without any process in the physical world linking the two events" ["Superstition" - Wikipedia]. I'll give the word a more blunt definition: A superstition is something someone chooses to fabricate when they don't actually know a real explanation.

One can imagine some distraught ancient farmer approaching the local sage to ask the sage about the failure of his crops. The sage is familiar with some successful local farmers and knows that they all have beards. So, the sage -- knowing nothing of farming -- tells the distraught farmer that it is his lack of facial hair causing the crops to fail.

The sage's explanation is, of course, a fallacy [Wikipedia]. "Correlation does not imply causation", however his answer is still accepted because the distraught farmer either has trust in the sage or knows no other explanation. The story (and our growth as a society) would have gone a completely different direction had the sage simply told the farmer, "I don't know. Ask one of the successful farmers."

Remember the warning in my article on "A Hierarchy to Understanding"?
If Wisdom is the culmination of experiential Knowledge, then finding the sources of that knowledge becomes an important exercise in understanding. All too often people will spread information without considering its source, truth, or purpose. In such a networked world, that is a very dangerous thing. If we wish to consume so much information, then I suggest that we become connoisseurs of it; carefully sampling each tidbit and weighing its value for further consumption.

Most people are able to overrule superstition with the proper application of rational thought, but some superstitions have become culturally ingrained crutches, making them emotionally addictive for the naïve and/or vulnerable. When some people find themselves asking questions with explanations still unknown or -- perhaps due to difficult life circumstances -- receive answers they are unwilling to accept, they choose to hold to the superstition and not acknowledge the alternative. Like drug addicts of the irrational, only through caring support can the most ardent of the superstitious be guided into a life of free thought.

It can be humorous to ominously joke about "knocking on wood". Even I enjoy the foolishness of something as silly as Groundhog Day. So long as we recognize a superstition as silliness and not seriousness, we can continue on a path toward understanding. However, it is important to also acknowledge that the fear felt by those who hold tightly to superstition is very real and it might be rooted in very delicate emotional states. Finding humor is a good way to positively influence society to see the silliness of superstition, but critical thinking (asking "Why?") is the best way to stop superstitions before they start.

So, back to my original question. Is it good luck or bad luck that this post was published at 11:11 on Friday the 13th? I choose to see it like this: it's almost midday on a Friday; that is a happy thought for me and superstition has nothing to do with it.
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