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

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In this witty and perceptive debut, a former editor at Psychology Today shows us how magical thinking makes life worth living.

Psychologists have documented a litany of cognitive biases- misperceptions of the world-and explained their positive functions. Now, Matthew Hutson shows us that even the most hardcore skeptic indulges in magical thinking all the time-and it's crucial to our survival.

Drawing on evolution, cognitive science, and ...

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

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Overview

In this witty and perceptive debut, a former editor at Psychology Today shows us how magical thinking makes life worth living.

Psychologists have documented a litany of cognitive biases- misperceptions of the world-and explained their positive functions. Now, Matthew Hutson shows us that even the most hardcore skeptic indulges in magical thinking all the time-and it's crucial to our survival.

Drawing on evolution, cognitive science, and neuroscience, Hutson shows us that magical thinking has been so useful to us that it's hardwired into our brains. It encourages us to think that we actually have free will. It helps make us believe that we have an underlying purpose in the world. It can even protect us from the paralyzing awareness of our own mortality. In other words, magical thinking is a completely irrational way of making our lives make rational sense.

With wonderfully entertaining stories, personal reflections, and sharp observations, Hutson reveals our deepest fears and longings. He also assures us that it is no accident his surname contains so many of the same letters as this imprint.

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Editorial Reviews

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.
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.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594630873
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/12/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.22 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

A former news editor at Psychology Today, Matthew Hutson has a BS in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University and an MS in science writing from MIT. He has written for Discover, Popular Mechanics, Scientific American Mind, and The New York Times Magazine. He lives in New York City. Visit magicalthinkingbook.com.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: We're All Believers 1

1 Objects Carry Essences: Cooties, Contagion, and Historicity 11

2 Symbols Have Power: Spells, Ceremonies, and the Law of Similarity 37

3 Actions Have Distant Consequences: Using Superstition to Make Luck Work for You 61

4 The Mind Knows No Bounds: Psychokinesis, ESP, and Transcendence 93

5 The Soul Lives On: Death Is Not the End of Us 125

6 The World Is Alive: Animals, Objects, and Gods Are People, Too 163

7 Everything Happens for a Reason: You've Got a Date with Destiny 195

Epilogue: The World Is Sacred: A Stab at a Secular Spirituality Spirituality 239

Acknowledgments 251

Notes 253

Further Reading and Selected Bibliography 283

Index 287

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2012

    This entertaining work explains (albeit superficially) how and w

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2013

    Squiggles

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2013

    Vanellope

    She rolled around, wiggling her legs in the leg braces on the dolley thingie. ~Vanellope

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2013

    Matt

    Sleeps

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2013

    Alex

    He looked out the window at the dog vreaching his arm out* Doggy!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 22, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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