How shall I start…
Let’s start blasphemously
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.
I 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…..