The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane

The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane

4.8 6
by Matthew Hutson
     
 

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A provocative and entertaining look at the psychology of superstition and religion, how they make us human—and how we can use them to our advantage

What is so special about touching a piano John Lennon once owned? Why do we yell at our laptops? And why do people like to say, “Everything happens for a reason”? Drawing on cognitive science,

Overview

A provocative and entertaining look at the psychology of superstition and religion, how they make us human—and how we can use them to our advantage

What is so special about touching a piano John Lennon once owned? Why do we yell at our laptops? And why do people like to say, “Everything happens for a reason”? Drawing on cognitive science, anthropology, and neuroscience, Matthew Hutson shows us that magical thinking is not only hardwired into our brains—it’s been a factor in our evolutionary success. Magical thinking helps us believe that we have free will and an underlying purpose as it protects us from the paralyzing awareness of our own mortality. Interweaving entertaining stories, personal reflections, and sharp observations, The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking reveals just how this seemingly irrational process informs and improves the lives of even the most hardened skeptics.

Editorial Reviews

Paul Bloom
 “In this wickedly funny and deeply clever book, Matthew Hutson makes a radical claim: All of us, whether we accept it or not, believe in magic. Without these intuitions, he says, we would hardly be human. Through vivid examples and cutting-edge science, Hutson presents a provocative new theory of how we make sense of the world.”
Ori Brafman
 This is a book that you pick up, but can’t put down. Hutson, intelligently and entertainingly, gives us the best kind of book: one that gives us insight to our very core. Highly recommended!”
Sharon Begley
 “Matthew Hutson promises to convince the most hard-core skeptics and rationalists that they believe in magic, and he succeeds—with wit and clarity and scientific rigor.”
From the Publisher
 “In this wickedly funny and deeply clever book, Matthew Hutson makes a radical claim: All of us, whether we accept it or not, believe in magic. Without these intuitions, he says, we would hardly be human. Through vivid examples and cutting-edge science, Hutson presents a provocative new theory of how we make sense of the world.” — Paul Bloom, Ph.D. author of Descartes’ Baby and How Pleasure Works

 This is a book that you pick up, but can’t put down. Hutson, intelligently and entertainingly, gives us the best kind of book: one that gives us insight to our very core. Highly recommended!” — Ori Brafman, co-author of Sway and Click

 “Matthew Hutson promises to convince the most hard-core skeptics and rationalists that they believe in magic, and he succeeds—with wit and clarity and scientific rigor.” — Sharon Begley, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain

Publishers Weekly
In this sprightly pop-psychology treatise, Hutson roots our most pixilated notions in extensions and overgeneralizations of the same mental processes that cope with cold reality. The brain’s penchant for recognizing patterns, he contends, prompts us to discern God’s mysterious ways behind random misfortunes and correlate superstitious rituals with lucky happenstances. Our biologically programmed ideas about contagion invests inanimate objects with the auras of celebrities who touched them. Our socially adaptive attunement to human mental states makes us think nature is suffused with conscious intent, and imagine that our minds can telekinetically move the world. And our capacity for abstract thought lets even atheists have faith in a symbolic afterlife. Hutson’s lucid and entertaining treatment blends brain science, evolutionary theory, and cultural commentary on everything from spells and amulets to the rap duo Insane Clown Posse. He’s not exactly a believer, but he sees the psychological and social value in people believing themselves to be magically lucky, empowered, and connected to a caring and morally responsive universe. This illuminating exploration of the science of unscientific convictions by a former news editor at Psychology Today nicely balances bemused skepticism with warm appreciation for the mind’s fanciful, functional creativity. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
A breezy, middling work of pop psych, working an obvious thesis to obvious ends. Poor dumb humans. We cling to sentimental objects such as wedding rings, think we can beat the odds at Vegas and believe in justice and the karmic rule that what goes around comes around. Well, writes former Psychology Today news editor Hutson, that's the way we're wired, so just "chillax." There's nothing new in the observation that human thought is shot through with irrationality, that we tend to invest objects with magical properties, or that we harbor unreasonable beliefs. But what does it tell us about ourselves that companies can make a pretty penny selling packets of soil from Jerusalem? That we're a superstitious people, as superstitious as our forebears, who bought and sold holy relics for ages. And that we believe that actions have distant consequences? That's not quite so silly, given what we know of chaos theory, difficult science that evades analysis here. There is danger, of course, in thinking too symbolically, as Hutson notes; we have only to consider the figure of Don Quixote, who is himself a walking symbol. But how many of us live the life of Walter Mitty? There's some utility in the author's underlying program of skepticism, considering the flim-flam artists who work the fringes of the paranormal and New Age worlds, but it's not quite satisfactory to adduce the "law of truly large numbers" to explain the simple fact that there's a sucker born every minute. Given that no one can really escape from thinking magically, this book really should be called simply The 7 Laws of Thinking. No competition against meatier books on the mind from the likes of Sacks, Damasio, Hofstadter, Ariely and others.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780452298903
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/26/2013
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
739,745
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Paul Bloom
 “In this wickedly funny and deeply clever book, Matthew Hutson makes a radical claim: All of us, whether we accept it or not, believe in magic. Without these intuitions, he says, we would hardly be human. Through vivid examples and cutting-edge science, Hutson presents a provocative new theory of how we make sense of the world.”
Ori Brafman
 This is a book that you pick up, but can’t put down. Hutson, intelligently and entertainingly, gives us the best kind of book: one that gives us insight to our very core. Highly recommended!”
Alan Lightman
With wit and respect for both the rational and the irrational, Hutson reveals the pervasiveness of superstition and "magical thinking," even among people who consider themselves totally rational, and further makes a compelling argument that irrational beliefs are actually necessary for our mental accommodation to this strange universe we find ourselves in. (Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams)
Sharon Begley
Matthew Hutson promises to convince the most hard-core skeptics and rationalists that they believe in magic, and he succeeds—with wit and clarity and scientific rigor. You might think yourself immune to magical thinking, but if you treasure your grandmother's wedding ring (or any other item with 'sentimental value') more than an identical copy, if you have ever told yourself that an illness or setback was meant to be, if you think an item owned by a celebrity has more value than the same thing without the provenance, if you think the Yankees were right to dig up the David Ortiz jersey that a construction worker had secretly buried in their new stadium, or if you prefer to pick your own lottery numbers rather than taking what a machine chooses for you—then you, too, are guilty as charged. (Sharon Begley, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain)

Meet the Author

 Matthew Hutson has a BS in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University and an MS in science journalism from MIT. He lives in New York City.

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7 Laws of Magical Thinking 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This entertaining work explains (albeit superficially) how and why we behave in irrational ways, and shows how this "magical thinking" is both necessary and -- in endearing ways -- laudable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The blind dog walked around the streets. He didn't know wher to go because he wasn't welcome anywhere. Where his peaople had gone, he didn't know. But the one thing he did know was his name. <p> And his name was Squiggles, the blind German Shepard.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She rolled around, wiggling her legs in the leg braces on the dolley thingie. ~Vanellope
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He looked out the window at the dog vreaching his arm out* Doggy!