Thursday, July 14, 2011

Believing in Magic: Book Review

Believing in Magic is a good read on superstitions and why people believe in them. This book has an introduction to some Psychology content. Stuart A Vyse describes baseball players and their superstitions to start off the first chapter which really caught my attention. Vyse also described are what types of superstitions different people believe across cultures, how they learned these beliefs, the maintenance of superstition, mental disorders that can justify superstitions, and what all people can do to teach critical and irrational thinking to change such beliefs. Personal superstitions are lucky clothes, hats, numbers, colors, objects, and routines.

This book goes on to describe superstitions in sports, college students, gamblers, politics, and so many other highly intelligent people who think quite irrationally. ESP and ghosts, which are prevalent in our class text book, are also found in this book. Vyse lets his reader know that coincidence is psychologically powerful. Coincidence can be seen by many as magical but he assures you that occurrences in life are merely random. As an Associate Professor of Psychology, Vyse also explains superstition through psychological perspectives. Because superstitions are such a common part of modern society, this book relates to everyone around the world which is what makes it such a great read. Believing in Magic is full of wonderful information that can also become controversial depending on a person’s own belief in superstition.

I really enjoyed almost all aspects this book but one of my favorite parts was in Chapter 6, "Is Superstition Abnormal, Irrational, or Neither?". I really enjoyed how Vyse explained the relationship between superstitions and mental disorders. He detailed "magical thinking" with regards to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Psychosis and Schizophrenia. I never thought that there was a link between mental health and superstitious beliefs. Mental health always seemed to me as purely science related, not something that could be made up. What I thought was an amazing example of superstition and OCD was avoiding stepping on cracks while walking down the street. I remember as a child the saying "Step on a crack, break your mother's back", but I never thought how this old superstition could also be a belief of people suffering from OCD. It’s funny thinking about this claim because I remember growing up and having friends who would never step on cracks and if they did it would completely throw them off for awhile and they would almost have to run backwards a little and start walking all over. I thought it was all fun and games at the time but now looking back I can see the connection between that and OCD.

This Chapter about mental disorders relates to Chapter 9.1 of our class book, Scientific Perspectives on Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Timothy Lawson does not talk about OCD but he does correlate superstition with another mental disorder called Multiple Personality Disorder so both books touch on aspects of superstition and how they can occur with people suffering from mental illness.

Vyse argues that we must provide alternative method of coping with life uncertainties by teaching decision analysis, promoting science education, and challenging ourselves to critically evaluate the source of our beliefs. Although I do believe that we should not deal with all the obstacles life throws us with superstition, I also believe there is no real harm in some superstition either. Yes, a person cannot always live in a fantasy world where all life’s problems are justified or overcome by superstition because that would not be healthy. But if a baseball player feels like he plays better by eating chicken before every game, even though he may know it is foolish and probably is not the case, I must then ask what really the harm in that is?

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