Presentation on theme: "Superstition as Science"— Presentation transcript:
1Superstition as Science Konrad Talmont-KaminskiUMCS & KLI
2First-footingIt is lucky when a tall man walks into a house first in the New YearIs this a scientific hypothesis?Why not?Is it something about the hypothesis?Is it something about our attitudes?Is it something about how it was reached?
3Outline Elements of superstitions Superstition, magic & religion 3 different views of superstitionSuperstition as scienceWhat is the difference?Empirical limitsConclusions
4Elements of superstitions Superstitious beliefsSuperstitious practicesThe link between them
5Elements of a superstition Superstitious belief‘Action’Crossing fingersCan be just an event – Friday 13th‘Effect’Potentially desirable or undesirable eventConnectionCausation/conjuration or prediction/divinationExplanationLuckNo natural explanationSupernatural explanation
6Elements of a superstition Superstitious practiceTaking or avoiding the ‘action’Avoiding black catsSuccess uncertainFunctionManifestTo avoid or bring about the ‘effect’LatentCan be very differentFirst-footing againPredicting or causing?
7Elements of a superstition The link between beliefs and practicesGenerally problematicFocussing on practicesSkinner’s behaviourismBeliefs secondaryFocussing on beliefsSuperstition satisfying internal needsPractices secondary
9Superstition, magic & religion E. Durkheim 1912Sacred vs. profaneReligionSocial functionMagicIndividual functionD. S. Wilson 2002Evolutionary explanation of religionSocial function as group-selection
10Superstition, magic & religion Magic & superstitionMagicTraditional societiesSuperstitionModern societyRelation?Different phenomenaSame phenomenon / different contextsEducation and superstition (Jahoda 1969)Jumper example
11Superstition, magic & religion Religion & superstitionDeisidaimoniaMisplaced fear of daimonsTheophrastus, circa 300 BCSuperstition is false religionWorship of demonsAquinas, circa 1250 ADAtheist generalisationAll religion is falseTherefore, superstition is all religionCan differentiate religion & superstitionSome religious practices superstitiousIntercessory prayer
123 views of superstition Superstition as fantasy Superstition as rhetoricSuperstition as science
133 views of superstition Superstition as fantasy Attempted retreat from threatening/ uncontrollable realityAnxiety-reduction (Malinowski 1925)Retaining feeling of control (Case et all 2004)“The man under the sway of impotent fury or dominated by thwarted hate spontaneously clenches his fists and carries out imaginary thrusts at his enemy, muttering imprecations, casting words of hatred and anger against him.” – Malinowski “Magic, Science, and Religion”
143 views of superstition Superstition as rhetoric Attempted communicationUse of language to induce motion in things (Burke 1969)Costly signalling (Tambiah 1990)Accepting authority (Palmer 1989)“By communicating acceptance of a supernatural claim one is communicating a willingness to accept the speaker’s influence unskeptically.” - Palmer “The ritual taboos of fishermen”
153 views of superstition Superstition as science Attempt to understand/control the worldPrimitive science (Frazer 1890)Adventitious reinforcement (Skinner 1947)Biased cognitive heuristics (Rozin & Nemeroff 1980)“Magic is a spurious system of natural law as well as a fallacious guide of conduct; it is a false science as well as an abortive art.” - Frazer, Golden Bough
16Superstition as science? Question of focusPrimitive scienceAdventitious reinforcementBiased cognitive heuristics
17Superstition as science? Question of focusSuperstitious beliefs vs. scientific beliefsSuperstitious methods vs. scientific methodsBoth options incompleteWould ‘superstitious’ beliefs be scientific if arrived at scientifically?Could they be arrived at scientifically?Is there such a thing as ‘magical thinking’?Or is it that thinking sometimes leads to magical beliefs?
18Superstition as science? Primitive scienceTylor 1871, Frazer 1890, Levy-Bruhl 1910Superstition identified with primitive societies/mindsScience identified with modern societies/mindsProgress seen as directed ‘evolution’Enlightenment / Intellectualist positionRationality expels superstition
19Superstition as science? Adventitious reinforcementB.F. Skinner 1947, S. Vyse 1997Superstition in a pigeonSkinner boxOperant conditioningIndependent reinforcement schedule‘Superstitious behaviour’“Operant conditioning is not just for rats and pigeons” - Vyse
20Superstition as science? Adventitious reinforcementMatrix task4 x 4 matrixMove dot from top left to bottom rightTask: Find out when points are gainedPoints awarded randomlyNumerous theories put forwardSimilar situationsMalfunctioning light switchConditioning as basis for understanding science?
21Superstition as science? Biased cognitive heuristicsDomain-specificGenerally effectiveSystematically biasedHeuristics and biases (Kahneman & Tversky 1974)Bounded rationality (H. Simon 1972)Scientific methods as heuristics (W. Wimsatt 2007)Contagion heuristicRozin & Nemeroff 1980
22What is the difference? Truth & empirical adequacy Natural vs. supernaturalSacred vs. profane
23What is the difference? Truth & empirical adequacy Superstitions as false causal beliefsOften used definitionMany false causal beliefs, some scientificSuperstitions not just false but (known to be) empirically inadequateScientific beliefs rejected due to empirical inadequacyCan not equate Newton’s physics with his astrologyIs ‘onto something’But superstitious beliefs ‘look different’
24What is the difference? Natural vs. supernatural Superstitions as supernatural claimsProblemsVague conceptCircularity?Distinction much later than categoryCorrelation between superstitious and pseudoscientific beliefsSuccubi become aliensPost hoc explanationsIs ‘onto something’
25What is the difference? Sacred vs. profane Durkheim Explaining a cognitive category in terms of a social phenomenon?Is ‘onto something’But, again, superstitions ‘look different’
26Empirical limits van Fraassen Observability & superstitions Observability & functionsAgnosticism about explanations
27Empirical limits B. van Fraassen The Scientific Image 1980 Limits of observabilityActual empirical limitationsAbility to discern small objectsLimits change over timeAgnosticism about unobservable claimsChallenging scientific attitudesObservable/detectable distinctionDistinction generally rejectedIs anything unobservable?Significance of social attitudes
28Empirical limits Observability & superstitions How observable are superstitious claims?Connections between ‘actions’ and ‘events’Observable as correlationsExplanations for the connectionsThe claims hard to observeAttitudes object to observationRender superstitious explanations effectively unobservable‘Superempirical’ rather than supernatural
29Empirical limits Observability and functions Manifest and latent functionManifest function requires observabilityReligious connections unobservableLatent (social) function more importantIn superstitions only explanations unobservableScientists aim to make explanations observableA vital difference
30Empirical limits Agnosticism about explanations Scientific explanations?Scientists take realist view of explanationsPursue evidence for their truthAgnosticism not justifiedSuperstitious explanationsExplanations in practically untestable termsTesting of explanations discouragedAgnosticism is not enoughAgnosticism about explanations is not scientific
31Conclusions Similarities Differences Methods: Use of heuristics Beliefs: Often hard to test explanations put forwardDifferencesMethods: Development of new heuristicsBeliefs: A realist attitude to explanations leading to pursuit of testing
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