The Belief in Magic in the Age of Science

Research

Published 30 January 2014

Written by Eugene Subbotsky

Abstract:

The widely spread view on magical beliefs in modern industrial cultures contends that magical beliefs are a bunch of curious phenomena that persist today as an unnecessary addition to a much more important set of rational beliefs. Contrary to this view, in this article, the view is presented, which suggests that the belief in magic is a fundamental property of the human mind. Individuals can consciously consider themselves to be completely rational people and deny that they believe in magic or God despite harboring a subconscious belief in the supernatural. Research also shows how engagement in magical thinking can enhance cognitive functioning, such as creative thinking, perception and memory. Moreover, this article suggests that certain forms of social compliance and obedience to authority historically evolved from magical practices of mind control and are still powered by the implicit belief in magic. Finally, the article outlines areas of life, such as education, religion, political influence, commerce, military and political terror, and entertainment, in which magical thinking and beliefs of modern people can find practical applications.

In [the] article, attempt is made to show that the belief in magic is a fundamental feature of the human mind (the “fundamentality hypothesis”). Even those who explicitly consider themselves to be completely rational individuals implicitly still harbor a belief in magical powers. It is also argued that magical thinking and magical beliefs are different psychological constructs. Whereas magical thinking might have important implications for learning, the belief in magic affects communication in modern societies. Finally, the areas of practice are outlined in which magical thinking and implicit or explicit magical beliefs can be engaged, such as education, political influence, commerce, military and political terror, and entertainment.

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