Religion, Superstition and pigeons

28 04 2009


How shall I start…
Let’s start blasphemously :mrgreen:
Superstition is, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

1- a: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation
-b: an irrational abject attitude of mind toward the supernatural, nature, or God resulting from superstition
2: a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary

Interesting, makes you think…. what is superstition, and what is religion? One religious belief is another’s superstition. It gets worse as religions mature and split up in different sects, then one sects’ ”believes” are the other sects’ ”superstitions” and they start wars about it and then  kill each other, and feel really good about it as well.

virgen-de-la-soledadI was raised christian but at a protestant christian school, where they would regularly give us examples of the weird stuff which went on with catholics, and how supersticious that was, and how bad therefore Roman Catholics were, and they were all going to hell, and how much better protestants were. Which I always thought was very unfriendly (and un-christian), and anyway those Roman catholic churches were at least much more fun as the dreary, bare and boring protestant churches.

Of course for an atheist, and lets be really blasphemous now: éverybody who believes in ”religion” is suffering from superstitous delusions!
Actually, religion itself can beconsidered as a supersticious system. (yeah, blasphemy here) (let’s see if I get struck down by lightning now)


Which makes me think about my cats.

My cats have been treated to a catflap which only opens to cats who have a small magnet attached to their collars.

Problem is, to get the catflap to open they have to stick their head in, so the small magnet lifts up a small hook, allowing the catflap to swing open. Now my cats didn’t get it. So I decided to train them: I grabbed a cat and pushed their heads through the flap, and let them drop. While they did go through the catflap this way they still really didn’t get it. So I threw them out, filled the catbowls with enticing food, and left them to it.

Uuuuhm, some time later, they had somehow managed to get through the catflap, but while figuring it out, they seem to have become supersticious about the new cat-flap: They are now convinced that to enter they have to peform a certain ritual. Which goes as follows: They paw the flap, going pam-pam-pam-pam-pam, short pauze, pam-pam-pam-pam-pam, after which they stick their heads through the entrance thereby letting the magnet finally release the small hook, and they can enter.
Now, apart from the new cat-flap, Simsalabim is so pleased with this new power that he is convinced that this ritual will open other closed doors and cupboards as well, and it trying it everywhere. As sometimes a door will open at this persistend pawing he is reinforced in his belief that he has discovered a magical way to open forbidden spaces! Perhaps he’s even praying…
(just to add some more blasphemism)

So can even animals get superstious or am I imagining stuff? Interestingly enough there has been some serious research done, this scientific bloke,  B.F. Skinner, an American psychologist, conduted (amongst other things) a really interesting experiment with pigeons (mega-intelligent birds).


Pigeons and Superstition.

Skinner placed a series of hungry pigeons in a cage attached to an automatic mechanism that delivered food to the pigeon “at regular intervals with no reference whatsoever to the bird’s behavior.” He discovered that the pigeons associated the delivery of the food with whatever chance actions they had been performing as it was delivered, and that they subsequently continued to perform these same actions.

One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a ‘tossing’ response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return.

Skinner suggested that the pigeons behaved as if they were influencing the automatic mechanism with their “rituals” and that this experiment shed light on human behavior:

The experiment might be said to demonstrate a sort of superstition. The bird behaves as if there were a causal relation between its behavior and the presentation of food, although such a relation is lacking. There are many analogies in human behavior. Rituals for changing one’s fortune at cards are good examples. A few accidental connections between a ritual and favorable consequences suffice to set up and maintain the behavior in spite of many unreinforced instances. The bowler who has released a ball down the alley but continues to behave as if she were controlling it by twisting and turning her arm and shoulder is another case in point. These behaviors have, of course, no real effect upon one’s luck or upon a ball half way down an alley, just as in the present case the food would appear as often if the pigeon did nothing—or, more strictly speaking, did something else.

Modern behavioral psychologists have disputed Skinner’s “superstition” explanation for the behaviors he recorded. Subsequent research (for instance, by Staddon and Simmelhag in 1971) while finding similar behavior failed to find support for Skinner’s “adventitious reinforcement” explanation for it. By looking at the timing of different behaviors within the interval, Staddon and Simmelhag were able to distinguish two classes of behavior: the terminal response, which occurred in anticipation of food, and interim responses, that occurred earlier in the interfood interval and were rarely contiguous with food. Terminal responses seem to reflect classical (rather than operant) conditioning, rather than adventitious reinforcement, guided by a process like that observed in 1968 by Brown and Jenkins in their “autoshaping” procedures. The causation of interim activities (such as the schedule-induced polydipsia seen in a similar situation with rats) also cannot be traced to adventitious reinforcement and its details are still obscure (Staddon, 1977).

Makes one think though…
Makes me think…
How superstitious am I?
To keep to the theme of blasphemy, you do see a lot of humans expressing supersticious behavior, combined with ”Intellectual Acrobatics”, and then claiming some occurence to be the ”Will of God”…

We will further explore this in my next blasphemous musings, on ”Religion and Intellectual Acrobatics”

If I am still around, and not struck down by the Hand of God of course. That can happen anytime…..



23 responses

28 04 2009

Oh Im looking forward to this one…but will wait and see what others have to say before…lol :mrgreen:

28 04 2009

I love your cat story–my dad was very proud of an electric eyebeam door he designed for my mother’s cats-the cat crossed the beam, the door opened, and the cat took off in the opposite direction, terrified, and never went near that door again! which is hard to explain because giant humans are always opening doors for cats. I wonder if your cats will become even more ritualistic or less as time goes by.
In temporal lobe epilepsy people often have “religious/spiritual” experiences and people with disorder can become hyperreligious. Dostoevsky suffered from this epilepsy. Also delusions of being God or Jesus or some kind of prophet are common in bipolar mania. Nowadays we lock ’em up. So take one bipolar person in a state of mania add a bit of temporal epilepsy and voila you have a saint or a prophet! Add opium and you have Edgar Allen Poe!
But sometimes instead of religiosity women get orgasms apparently.

28 04 2009

Sounds like we’re headed for a slippery slope here. How far along shall we slide…?

This morning’s local newspaper carried an article stating that more than 40% of Americans have changed their faith at least once. The primary motivator was nothing more than a drifting away from one’s original faith because it did not meet one’s needs.

What does that say about religion?

Regarding temporal lobe epislepsy, I read that Karen Armstrong is afflicted with it. One doesn’t get more hyperreligious than she.

28 04 2009

“But sometimes instead of religiosity women get orgasms apparently….”

I know which one I would pick :mrgreen:

28 04 2009

coolred, that was what I was going to say to Sirius!
”Which would you rather have???”
:mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

28 04 2009

You heathen woman! You!

You posted that blasphemous post on p*gs when you know that p*gs are haraam/not kosher. You hurt the sentiments of Muslims and their Jewish brothers and sisters and that is why there is now the “Mexican” Flu epidemic ( Do you still call me superstitious??

PS: Love the post and especially your catflap story 😀 *Back to ranting*

28 04 2009

My canine niece has a ferocious bark, and intimidating presence which she uses to drive away golfers coming within 30 feet of “her” property. They always give up, and move along, some after taking a couple of extra strokes, some taking a water trap penalty, but all eventually moving along as she instructs. After that, she and all 12 lbs of her fluffy white self do a few victory laps, until some other golfing fool comes into range.

Now I know dogs are a debatable subject, but don’t you feel guilty for causing swine flu with your porcine posting?

:mrgreen: :mrgreen:

29 04 2009

Maybe because what people are seeking is not to be found in organized religion?
Some people seem to have a need to be told what to think.

29 04 2009

I really think you’re on to something here, Aafke. Religions do seem to have some superstitious traits. I guess that explains my aversion to religions, since I’m not at all superstitious!!!
And now I finally understand about all those awkward movements pigeons make – makes perfect sense!

29 04 2009

I’m sure Dixie is superstitious about having a bath. She does everything she can to avoid staying in the laundry tub. I never heard of a superstitious pidgeon before, I wonder if you could train one to break a mirror or walk under a ladder????

30 04 2009

An interesting superstitious post! There’re so many in my culture that I can’t remember one right now! 😀 Esp liked the bowler example,twisting and turning shoulders! One would wonder if she has epilepsy! 😀
Eagerly waiting for your next musing!

30 04 2009

Interesting post Aafke, now you have to come to india with me and then you’ll see real superstition, we have an abundance of them permeating everyday life.
Ahhh now i see the cause of swine flu !!!! you’ve made the gods angry. seriously this swine flu is a pain to deal with. We’ve posted hand washing instructions all over the hosp here. Any one presenting flu like symptoms the first response is not to make them comfortable but to ask them where they have been 🙂 this swine flu is getting to everyone especially since it’s the hot topic @ work. F’s been barking at the kids to wash hands and being a general pain in the ass.

so please please try not to upset the gods too much 🙂 🙂

30 04 2009

Radha–my dad was in the military and my mother often referred to him as General Painin Therear. (She did not like to say ass in front of the children.) 🙂

And please no more angry gods–Saudi is banning flights and installing cameras– no good can come of this. Why did it have to be “swine” flu!–don’t just as many people die of plain old flu flu?

1 05 2009
always in the kitchen

Wait a minute……We all know I’m kinda slow……Are you all saying Aafke has angered the gods,which explains the swine -flu epidemic-isn’t that um sort of superstitious?

1 05 2009

Radha–my primary swine flu grief is from pseudo-calm, overly anxious non-medical friends and colleagues who have forced me to know more about this than I want or need to, and the media who are scare-mongering, hysteria- inducing, market-share-seeking liars liars pants on fires (all technical terms of course LOL 😀 )

Sirius– the WHO prefers to call it Influenza A (H1N1)– good luck to them! And yes, flu flu kills more than the aforementioned H1N1. Also the “pandemic scale” is a scale to PREVENT pandemics, and the famous phase 5 is for institution of collective mitigating strategies once 2 countries in the same WHO region show “substantive numbers” of cases of human to human transmission (ie same transmission as flu flu). See what I mean about knowing more than I care to and hysteria! 😀

Always–I can’t speak for others but I am stating epidemiological fact, that Aafke’s post is causally related to the swine flu pandemic! 😛 😛

2 05 2009

You haven’t updated your blog in 4 days. You don’t write to me. Please blog otherwise I’ll be forced to believe you were struck down by a bolt of lightening! 😀

2 05 2009

Aafke, just remembered the knocking on wood- seen people of all religions do it…a common superstition…slope slips a tad more on the decline… :mrgreen:

2 05 2009

missed the greenysmile. darn!

2 05 2009

My dear Achelois, I have been very busy, My trip to houston is on for next week, and I’ve been to a (great) wedding yesterday, and I’ve put up a new post 🙂
So, no, not struck by lightening.

And the Mexican (or swine) flu is not my responsibillity!!!!!!

6 08 2009

these pegeon are GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!

10 04 2010

Interesting article. Just happened upon on.
I think your right about some respects; Religion is man’s ideal of how to worship God. Anytime you get man’s ideas involved in anything you get varied results. It’s best to stick to what God said, that’s what we will be judged by. I don’t think God will strike down any human being blasphemous( as you state), I think he will show mercy and judge them on the judgment day along with everyone else. I’d be careful though, eternity is a long to to have to sit and think about ones deeds!!!!
Romans 14:11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.

10 04 2010

But ”Romans” isn’t written by God, it is written by Paul who decided to put it in the bible, and then called the bible ”the Word of God”.
It still isn’t and never was, and could never be proven to be, the word of God, As verse 1:1 makes clear is the the letters Paul wrote to his churches. It is what some Paul thought might be the word of God.
Or it something Paul wanted to push through and therefore put it in the bible. It still isn’t the word of god.
And to believe so is superstition.

27 08 2011

As the bible was written by humans 2000 years ago there is always the possibility that they did so for entirely human reasons also, that within the course of 2000 years the contents may well have been changed for human reasons.

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