Archive for November, 2011


Superstitions

The purpose of this blog is about trying to distinguish between what people believe to be true and what the actual truth is. Today, we are going to discuss superstition and the reasons behind so many people believing in it.

I have conducted a survey, which revealed that the vast majority of participants of the questionnaire conducted by myself in November 2011 do not believe in the popular superstitions listed below in the graph.

Preview of your graph

The results of the questionnaire clearly conclude that  the vast majority of participants do not believe in popular superstitions. I suppose a questionnaire like this one comes with its’ limitations. The limited number of superstitions doesn’t prove that people do not believe in other superstitions. There simply was no choice for them to express which superstitions they may believe in. A questionnaire certainly did show that a majority choose not to believe. Reasons behind choosing not to believe can differ. Whether all those who said they don’t believe really do not believe is a question which cannot be answered at this minute in time. Psychology students at UHI will all be taking the “Questions in Psychology module” and in one of the latest weeks we spoke about not believing in things such as superstitions. Perhaps this pushed some people into saying they don’t believe? There is no way of telling. I think most people spoke their mind and truly answered in the questionnaire, which then gives us some kind of an idea about popular perceptions on superstitions. A questionnaire is possibly the best way of getting direct answers quickly, to then be able to produce some kind of conclusions. The hypothesis was that believers and non-believers would be more or less balanced, so this questionnaire proved the hypothesis wrong. It showed in majority of cases over 3/4 of participants not believing in superstitions.

People who do believe in superstitions feel somewhat in control. If someone believes that walking under the ladder is unlucky, and will then choose not to walk under it, then he/she must feel as if they somehow saved themselves from bad luck. The same hapens when discussing about the opposite effect. If someone superstitious break a mirror, then he/she will believe they will have seven years bad luck. Now, is that justified in any way? Are people inflicting and causing ‘bad luck’to themselves,  if they prematurely believe they WILL have bad luck no matter what they do? People simply believe they will be exposed to bad luck if an ‘unlucky’ situation occurs.

“Recent research has shown superstitious behaviour and illusion of control in human subjects exposed to the negative reinforcement conditions that are traditionally assumed to lead to the opposite outcome (i.e. learned helplessness). The experiments reported in this paper test the generality of these effects in two different tasks and under different conditions of percentage (75% vs. 25%) and distribution (random vs. last-trials) of negative reinforcement (escape from uncontrollable noise). All three experiments obtained superstitious behaviour and illusion of control and question the generality of learned helplessness as a consequence of exposing humans to uncontrollable outcomes.” (“Human Reactions to Uncontrollable Outcomes: Further Evidence for Superstitions Rather Than Helplessness”, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section B   Volume 48, Issue 2, 1995).

If there is pressure from the society to be wary of certain situations and actions, then people who are exposed to such pressure will most likely have an unconsciuos reaction. This can be shown by comparing how parents teach children and superstitions. Parents teach kids not to do certain things. The same principle applies in adult life when people in society tell us about superstitions which will give us bad luck.

References:

Human Reactions to Uncontrollable Outcomes: Further Evidence for Superstitions Rather Than Helplessness”, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section B   Volume 48, Issue 2, 1995

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Today at work I was told by my colleague that her horoscope for this year said she would achieve new things she never thoought she could achieve. She then explained that at the age of (…) she finally decided to change a career, join night classes and persue a career she always wanted. She said that the horoscope prediction she read explained that she would succeed in everything she plans. She is a Scorpio. So am I. This made me think about how this year turned out for me. And to be quite honest everything I wanted to do, I am doing. I delayed starting university and I wanted to start this year, and I did. Other things come to mind too, but that is not the point of this discussion.

Later on that day I went on the internet and I searched for my horoscope for 2012. (I don’t believe in horoscopes, because I believe that everything we do is mostly up to us, unless something happens because of another human being). Reading how my year is going to turn out, I couldn’t help but smile. It told me that I will be successful in changing jobs, which I am planning to do, and I have been planning for a very long time. It told me and I quote “everything a Scorpio touches will turn to gold”… and so on…  For a cynic like me that burst of emotional happiness was very powerful. Suddenly I felt as if I can just do anything I want to do, and I WILL succeed. It was as if reading all these positive predictions gave me a moral boost, and made me realise I CAN do whatever I want to do. So, is this why people read horoscopes? Is it like a drug that helps them motivate themselves to try new things? It certainly made me feel a lot better at a time when I was feeling as if everything collapses.

Whenever I read a horoscope that says something negative I dismiss it. But when I read a positive horoscope it makes me feel better. Although I don’t believe in it, it gives a bit of hope that maybe it will happen.

I googled “why do people believe in horoscopes?” and YahooAnswers users mostly explained that people who read horoscopes are people who are afraid of the real world and need something out of this world to tell them what to do. I don’t think that’s the case. I think that some people read horoscopes just for fun, and to see what it’s going to say. Others read them for reassurance. Is it so unnatural to want a little reassurance sometimes?

When people read horoscopes and they come true, then is it because it was written in the stars and it would happen anyway, or is it because when people read positive and negative things about themselves they subconsciously make it happen? Like I said earlier, apparently I will succeed in changing jobs, well is it fate, or now that I read about it, will I pursue it?

 

 

 

Ibn Sina, also known by his Latin name Avicenna was born in 1980 in Central Asia, (what is now Uzbekistan). He is many would argue the most known Islamic philosopher.

Avicenna, imagined a fully grown man who just came into existence, falling. The man was falling with his limbs spread apart, and he was wrapped with material which would prevent him from feeling air flowing against him whilst falling. Avicenna said that this example proved the existence of the soul. The man couldn’t possible be aware of his being, so Avicenna compared this example with the way people perceive the world around us.  ““Flying Man” centres on the human soul’s awareness of itself”  (http://individual.utoronto.ca/dlblack/articles/blackselfknrev.pdf)

If none of us had any previous memory and no recollection of any previous experience then surely we shouldn’t know and be aware of any senses around us – we wouldn’t know smell, hearing, taste and so on. (http://individual.utoronto.ca/dlblack/articles/blackselfknrev.pdf)

Avicenna also talked about the Primitive Self Awareness. He spoke about self awareness being art of the human soul. This is contrary to what Aristotle believed – Aristotle ideas about self awareness were that self awareness is based on the previous knowledge we had and acquired through situations we were exposed to in the past. I suppose one can see both sides of the argument, and the decision to agree with one or the other philosopher mentioned above is entirely left to an individual.

So, what is self perception, and how is it explained by scientist? Self perception seems to be the reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Whether we are happy with who we are, whether we feel intelligent enough, good looking enough, funny enough etc., these very personal perceptions of self certainly mirror in our behaviour. (http://www.authentic-self.com/self-perception.html)

Going back to Avicenna’s flying man, I wonder how the flying man would feel about himself? Would he be conscious of any emotions? Would he be scared? Happy? Sad? Clearly, based on what Avicenna was trying to show is that he wouldn’t feel any of those. One cannot help but wonder, though, as we are so used to feeling different emotions in different situations at all times. Is it only the previous experiences and the knowledge we acquired through experience? There is no definite answer as no one was ever in a  position where he/she just came into existence and was suddenly falling.

Our knowledge of physics clearly tells us that it is not possible for a man to be sitting/lying on top of a cloud, which is of course made of water evaporate in a mixed temperature. Yet when we see religious paintings, some people tend to believe it might be the case. So what would happen to our believe system if somehow it came to be possible to sit on a cloud? The point is, we see, we compare what we see with the knowledge we already have, but still sometimes we tend to believe.

So, is the reality what we think it is? I suppose it depends on everyone’s individual perceptions of reality. Certainly through my own personal experience I can say that my perceptions about the (what I though was) truth, changed many times. The more we learn and the more knowledge we gain, the more our perceptions change.

References:

http://www.authentic-self.com/self-perception.html

http://individual.utoronto.ca/dlblack/articles/blackselfknrev.pdf