Thursday, June 7, 2012

The world of a "magical thinker"


Raised in a religious home, I still remember a time when I saw signs of God everywhere. Now, I don't see them anywhere.

The world of the magical thinker is captured very well this poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries."
As a believer, I prided myself on being able to see what the nonbeliever was unable or unwilling to see.  It gave me a sense of importance.

Now, I suppose I am a blackberry plucker.  However, there are a great many believers who are far to quick to remove their shoes at every conceivable sign of divinity, be it finding lost keys or seeing an image in burnt toast.

The reason for this probably lies in the fact that human beings are programmed for "agenticity."  As explained by Michael Shermer, agenticity the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by intentional (frequently invisible) agents. 

At one point in our history, there was an evolutionary advantage for this type of thinking. For example, the cost of misinterpreting a random sound as a lion is less than the cost of failing to perceive the sound of an actual lion.  Now, the risk of encountering a lion is low.  However, the risk of being duped by prophet, priest, or missionary is very high.

I don't ridicule magical thinkers, because I used to be one of them.  They simply need to wake up to the amazing Magic of Reality.  In my case, the shift came abruptly.  One day I was a believer; the next day I was not.  However, whether it is a fast or slow process, the day will come when they see the world with new eyes, and the view is not any less magnificent.

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