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Has Superstition Evolved To Help Mankind Survive?

samzenpus posted about 6 years ago | from the step-on-a-crack dept.

Science 621

Pickens writes "The tendency to falsely link cause to effect — a superstition — is occasionally beneficial, says Kevin Foster, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. For example, a prehistoric human might associate rustling grass with the approach of a predator and hide. Most of the time, the wind will have caused the sound, but 'if a group of lions is coming there's a huge benefit to not being around.' Foster worked with mathematical language and a simple definition for superstition to determine exactly when such potentially false connections pay off and found as long as the cost of believing a superstition is less than the cost of missing a real association, superstitious beliefs will be favored. In modern times, superstitions turn up as a belief in alternative and homeopathic remedies. 'The chances are that most of them don't do anything, but some of them do,' Foster says. Wolfgang Forstmeier argues that by linking cause and effect — often falsely — science is simply a dogmatic form of superstition. 'You have to find the trade off between being superstitious and being ignorant,' Forstmeier says. By ignoring building evidence that contradicts their long-held ideas, 'quite a lot of scientists tend to be ignorant quite often.'"

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First (5, Funny)

Philotic (957984) | about 6 years ago | (#24957247)

I heard getting first post increases your life expectancy.

Re:Fist (5, Funny)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | about 6 years ago | (#24957321)

Fist -- apply directly to your forehead!
Fist -- apply directly to your forehead!
Fist -- apply directly to your forehead!

Because homeopathy is superstition.

Re:First (5, Funny)

NoobixCube (1133473) | about 6 years ago | (#24957791)

Trolls are notoriously hard to kill, so I'd say you're right :P.

Religion (1, Insightful)

EmotionToilet (1083453) | about 6 years ago | (#24958043)

As far as I'm concerned the same thing can be said of religion. Thousands of years ago, before we scientifically understood everything, we had religion to give us an inaccurate but constructive understanding of our world and our existence. However now religion has become obsolete and more accurate and scientific things are taking its place. This is obvious to me. I don't understand why all the Republicans don't get it.

Tap dance first post (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957253)

Whenever I get onto my computer, I do a tap dance before checking slashdot. I have found a high success rate in getting first posts this way.

Re:Tap dance first post (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957711)

You fail, faggot...

Re:Tap dance first post (1)

eln (21727) | about 6 years ago | (#24957773)

Sure, most of the time tap dancing before posting will cause epic failure in first posting, but if he does happen to get first post, there's a huge benefit. Mathematically speaking, so long as the humiliation of failure doesn't outweigh the benefit of posting first, his superstition is evolutionarily favored.

yes. (0, Redundant)

partowel (469956) | about 6 years ago | (#24957259)

Yes it has.

Not so sure (5, Funny)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | about 6 years ago | (#24957299)

I hope they knocked three times on their desk and spun around in a circle before they did this study...
Otherwise the results are completely wrong.

Re:Not so sure (5, Funny)

BountyX (1227176) | about 6 years ago | (#24957399)

In ancient times, knocking on wood was essential to survival. Slaves would often "knock" on wood after moving large stockpiles of wood. The "knocking" would help shake off many bugs after each handled load. Since many died from ticks or suffered from fleas, knocking on wood quickly caught on and became a superstition. Haha, just kidding the above was all just bs.

Re:Not so sure (5, Funny)

JuzzFunky (796384) | about 6 years ago | (#24957459)

Probably not... it is bad luck to believe in superstition.

not the same (4, Insightful)

mapkinase (958129) | about 6 years ago | (#24957311)

Superstition is not as easily verifiable as scientific statements. I am not talking about money, science is more expensive that Mythbusters. I am talking about the design of scientific statements.

The director of the scientific institution I grew up in said once that good scientific paper should answer to one yes-or-no question.

Science is about analysis, superstition does not care. Science about cleaning up cause-effect relationship in nature to make a repeatable experiment in the lab, superstition just takes cause-effect pairs as they are - in a raw form mudded with all kind of unique circumstances.

Re:not the same (3, Insightful)

ramul (1103299) | about 6 years ago | (#24957357)

so science is an improved version of superstition in terms of its value to humankind - thats what he was trying to say i thought

Re:not the same (3, Insightful)

frieko (855745) | about 6 years ago | (#24957967)

But wasn't this all fairly obvious already? If you touch a fire and it burns you, you can either do science and test if it happens every time you touch it or just coincidence, or you can just be superstitious about not touching fire. Likewise wasn't it already suspected that vampire myths kept people away from rabid bats?

Re:not the same (3, Insightful)

squidfood (149212) | about 6 years ago | (#24958041)

qso science is an improved version of superstition in terms of its value to humankind

Indeed, the example of the lions and rustling grass isn't incorrectly correlating cause and effect, it's just a weak cause/effect relationship with a lot of noise in the data... still beneficial to act on depending on the risk analysis.

Re:not the same - phobias (3, Interesting)

Haoie (1277294) | about 6 years ago | (#24957743)

If anything, fear evolved to help mankind survive.

For example, fear of snakes or spiders due to their venom. Natural enough, right?

But go overboard, or be irrational, and you've got yourself a phobia.

Placebo effect (4, Insightful)

AoT (107216) | about 6 years ago | (#24957315)

Belief in Homeopathic medicine would also be beneficial because of the placebo effect.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

catbutt (469582) | about 6 years ago | (#24957443)

But why is the placebo effect beneficial?

Isn't that kind of stupid to have a brain evolve a feature just to counteract another arbitrary feature?

Re:Placebo effect (5, Interesting)

AoT (107216) | about 6 years ago | (#24957495)

The placebo effect is when you get the effects of having taken a medicine when you didn't really take it, so it would be beneficial because you could cure diseases, or maybe just symptoms, without actually needing an effective agent, just an agent that you believed to be effective.

Isn't that kind of stupid to have a brain evolve a feature just to counteract another arbitrary feature?

Maybe, but evolution can be pretty stupid sometimes. It works pretty much by brute force, sometimes literally, so it ends up taking strange routes. Remember, evolution is not guided, not stupid or smart, just a natural process.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

catbutt (469582) | about 6 years ago | (#24957519)

Ok, well why does it require you to believe it? If the body can just magically fix itself, why have conscious thought involved?

Re:Placebo effect (3, Interesting)

AoT (107216) | about 6 years ago | (#24957553)

I don't know. If I could explain the placebo effect I'd be a millionaire. Again, evolution, which is how the placebo effect came to be, doesn't work as we would like it to. It doesn't take the most direct route and it doesn't make sense. So don't ask me to explain why it doesn't make sense.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

catbutt (469582) | about 6 years ago | (#24957651)

Evolution *does* take the direct route, as it has no ability to anticipate. It never takes an indirect route to a goal.

And yes I understand that evolution is not "smart" in the sense of guided. But it does tend to drift toward beneficial features, and something that is deleterious tends to go away.

I'm just saying you didn't explain anything by saying something evolved to help cause people to take advantage of the placebo effect, that doesn't make sense.

Re:Placebo effect (3, Insightful)

AoT (107216) | about 6 years ago | (#24957685)

I was saying that homeopathic medicine of the sort that doesn't actually have medicinal effects is a superstition, and that said superstition would be beneficial to individuals thus increasing their evolutionary fitness.

It never takes an indirect route to a goal.

Correct, there is no goal to which evolution could take an indirect route.

I'm just saying you didn't explain anything by saying something evolved to help cause people to take advantage of the placebo effect, that doesn't make sense.

Why not? If I said that thumbs evolved because they allowed us to make better use of our hands it would explain something. Things evolve in the context of the whole organism and are beneficial or deleterious in that context, among others.

Re:Placebo effect (2, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 6 years ago | (#24957737)

And yes I understand that evolution is not "smart" in the sense of guided. But it does tend to drift toward beneficial features, and something that is deleterious tends to go away.

Of course, as far as evolution is concerned, "beneficial" means that you survive to have kids, "deletrious" means you don't. Or at least not as many as the rest of the population. A lot of changes are basically null signals evolutionarily speaking. Red hair? Who cares? (Well, Moslems tend to think it is unlucky, but other than them...) That gene that makes you pretty much immune to AIDS? Didn't matter a hill of beans through most of history, since there was no AIDS. And so on.

Re:Placebo effect (4, Informative)

eln (21727) | about 6 years ago | (#24957821)

It never takes an indirect route to a goal.

Evolution has a goal?

The placebo effect probably evolved. It may or may not be beneficial. Humans make the mistake of assuming that we are the pinnacle of evolution, and therefore every trait we possess must be of benefit for some reason. In fact, we are not the pinnacle of evolution, and we still possess many traits that make little sense from a "survival of the fittest" standpoint. The placebo effect may be evolutionarily advantageous, but it might also just be an evolutionary dead end.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

catbutt (469582) | about 6 years ago | (#24957953)

It never takes an indirect route to a goal.

Evolution has a goal?

Survival of one's genes into future generations?

Don't confuse "goal" with "conscious goal," or with any ability to anticipate future needs. But still, the word "goal" is a useful one in describing evolution.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

aglidden (1338797) | about 6 years ago | (#24957597)

It have yet to involve the hole way.

Re:Placebo effect (5, Insightful)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | about 6 years ago | (#24957753)

Ok, well why does it require you to believe it? If the body can just magically fix itself, why have conscious thought involved?

  • Your body is pretty good at repairing itself. Your immune system will successfully eliminate vast majority of illnesses you encounter in your life. (most problems will go away on their own no matter if you do anything or not)
  • stress is known to have numerous harmful effects, including decreased resistance to disease.
  • If you give someone a pill they they believe will cure them, this reduces anxiety (stress) and lets the body be more efficient at healing.

Re:Placebo effect (3, Informative)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | about 6 years ago | (#24957599)

The placebo effect is when you get the effects of having taken a medicine when you didn't really take it, so it would be beneficial because you could cure diseases, or maybe just symptoms, without actually needing an effective agent, just an agent that you believed to be effective.

If I understand correctly (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong), the placebo effect is all about subjective measures of benefit. For example, if you give subjects a placebo pill for their back pain, and tell them it's a pain reliever, there's a measurable reduction in reported pain. However, if you give a placebo to people with an objectively measurable problem X, and tell them it's a cure for X, then there's a much smaller effect, or no effect at all.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

AoT (107216) | about 6 years ago | (#24957623)

You are right, a placebo isn't going to cure cancer, but having a medicine that reduces pain would be a huge benefit to survival.

Re:Placebo effect (4, Interesting)

obeymydog (1243568) | about 6 years ago | (#24957677)

The placebo effect isn't really confined to subjective measures, at least not according to the results of modern neurophysiological investigation. The reason is that lots of the chemical activities involved with consciousness/thought have effects that extend beyond individual subjectivity, into immune and endocrine function, for instance (the field of psychoneuroimmunology is starting to identify some compelling examples).

Re:Placebo effect (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 6 years ago | (#24957891)

No dude, it's all in your head.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

omfgnosis (963606) | about 6 years ago | (#24958021)

Oh.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

DetpackJump (1219130) | about 6 years ago | (#24958029)

The placebo effect doesn't cure disease.

Re:Placebo effect (2, Informative)

Niten (201835) | about 6 years ago | (#24957823)

Isn't that kind of stupid to have a brain evolve a feature just to counteract another arbitrary feature?

Not necessarily. Check out Daniel Dennett's book Breaking the Spell for some interesting hypotheses as to why the placebo effect might be adaptive.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

iminplaya (723125) | about 6 years ago | (#24957919)

And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague. - Mark 5:34

Re:Placebo effect (1)

DetpackJump (1219130) | about 6 years ago | (#24958017)

Homeopathy was made up only around 200 years ago, so I'm not sure that its had much of an impact on human evolution.

Superstition is still here (1)

mikenator.L (1360425) | about 6 years ago | (#24957319)

Yes, superstition may have helped us survive, but it's still here today. Dangerous or threatening sounds or out of the ordinary sensory input will put us on alert. It seems odd that they're putting scientific correlation with superstition, it is sort of the same, yet quite different. Correlation is not causation, and correlation is neither superstition. Superstition is assuming that the correlated variables have causation from one another while only observing one variable and predicting the other variable. Correct me if I'm wrong here.

Superstition can also cause great harm. (4, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | about 6 years ago | (#24957329)

There are plenty of examples of flawed superstitious beliefs leading to an equally large disadvantage or equally great damage. For examples see what happens to people who join cults. For a really good extreme example much more elloquently stated than I possibly could take a look at Carl Sagan's "The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" and look for a persuasive argument why Nancy and Ronald Reagan consulting fortune tellers and horoscopes might not be a good thing when Ron's got his finger on the nuclear button. Wiping out most species on the planet has to qualify as an evolutionary step backwards.

Re:Superstition can also cause great harm. (1)

Standard User 79 (1209050) | about 6 years ago | (#24957543)

hmm, wouldn't the nuclear scenario would be more about the lack of fitness of non-superstitious types? e.g. physicists?

Re:Superstition can also cause great harm. (1)

Maelwryth (982896) | about 6 years ago | (#24957633)

"Wiping out most species on the planet has to qualify as an evolutionary step backwards."

Evolution doesn't take steps backwards. It just takes steps.

Re:Superstition can also cause great harm. (1)

guyminuslife (1349809) | about 6 years ago | (#24957809)

"Wiping out most species on the planet has to qualify as an evolutionary step backwards."

Evolution doesn't take steps backwards. It just takes steps.

And all the genetic mutations caused as a result of nuclear fallout might cause it to step faster.

Re:Superstition can also cause great harm. (5, Informative)

blahplusplus (757119) | about 6 years ago | (#24957675)

"There are plenty of examples of flawed superstitious beliefs leading to an equally large disadvantage or equally great damage. "

No doubt but knowing who has truth from who doesn't is a hard problem, science and peer review are are flawed because humans aren't good at detecting what is true from what is not in their own thought processes, concepts and philosophies.

If there were errors in how we think about things (ie. base concepts) then there are errors all the way down. I've been studying this, concepts are the lenses by which people see and interpret the world but few people understand the process by which concepts/knowledge are conceived by a person before they are passed down.

All people operate under tremendous amounts of ignorance, hence Socrates said "All I know is that I know nothing", he knew knowledge was endless.

Socrates often said his wisdom was limited to an awareness of his own ignorance. Socrates believed wrongdoing was a consequence of ignorance and those who did wrong knew no better. The one thing Socrates consistently claimed to have knowledge of was "the art of love" which he connected with the concept of "the love of wisdom", i.e., philosophy. He never actually claimed to be wise, only to understand the path a lover of wisdom must take in pursuing it. It is debatable whether Socrates believed humans (as opposed to gods like Apollo) could actually become wise. On the one hand, he drew a clear line between human ignorance and ideal knowledge; on the other, Plato's Symposium (Diotima's Speech) and Republic (Allegory of the Cave) describe a method for ascending to wisdom.

Socrates believed the best way for people to live was to focus on self-development rather than the pursuit of material wealth. He always invited others to try to concentrate more on friendships and a sense of true community, for Socrates felt this was the best way for people to grow together as a populace. His actions lived up to this: in the end, Socrates accepted his death sentence when most thought he would simply leave Athens, as he felt he could not run away from or go against the will of his community; as mentioned above, his reputation for valor on the battlefield was without reproach.

The idea that humans possessed certain virtues formed a common thread in Socrates' teachings. These virtues represented the most important qualities for a person to have, foremost of which were the philosophical or intellectual virtues. Socrates stressed that "virtue was the most valuable of all possessions; the ideal life was spent in search of the Good. Truth lies beneath the shadows of existence, and it is the job of the philosopher to show the rest how little they really know."

Re:Superstition can also cause great harm. (1)

DarthJohn (1160097) | about 6 years ago | (#24957715)

So the extremely superstitious eliminate competition and have an even better advantage in selection?

I'm just saying that's one way to look at some of your examples... the cultists committing suicide would probably be at a disadvantage though.

Re:Superstition can also cause great harm. (3, Interesting)

corbettw (214229) | about 6 years ago | (#24957775)

I love it when people use examples that not only don't prove their point, but actively work against it.

look for a persuasive argument why Nancy and Ronald Reagan consulting fortune tellers and horoscopes might not be a good thing when Ron's got his finger on the nuclear button.

Did Reagan launch any nukes during the 80's? No? Then your argument is completely flawed. In fact, since he didn't launch after consulting fortune tellers, it would appear that using fortune tellers actually helps prevent nuclear annihilation. Or maybe I'm just being superstitious in seeing that cause and effect.

Wiping out most species on the planet has to qualify as an evolutionary step backwards.

It's almost like you've never read any Darwin or Dawkins, whatsoever. As long your species thrives, you're an evolutionary success, regardless of what happens to other species. In fact, if you beat other species at the game of survival, you're an unqualified success. So, no, wiping out other species by theoretically "pushing the button" is not an evolutionary step backward.

Re:Superstition can also cause great harm. (2, Interesting)

tnk1 (899206) | about 6 years ago | (#24957841)

Nancy and Ronald Reagan consulting fortune tellers and horoscopes might not be a good thing when Ron's got his finger on the nuclear button.

I would like to point out that we made it through 8 years of Reagan and horoscopes and fortune tellers and whatever else he did, and not only are we all still here, but he's now gone.

Perhaps that's luck, but I know that Reagan himself mentioned that he woke up after 1982 and realized that there really could be a nuclear war by accident, and he moved forward from there. Maybe he had some good horoscopes.

Bear in mind, many of us are of the belief that fortune tellers and astrologers are entertainers at best, and more likely charlatans. But what imposter will find it in their own interests to start a nuclear war... or any war for that matter? Listening to someone else, even based on mumbo jumbo may be a way for someone to speak truth to someone who is otherwise too inclined to view himself as all-powerful.

As for cults, there's nothing inherently anti-survival about a cult, in general. One could argue that some people or whole cultures needed to operate under various religious cults to maintain order in times when the last remnants of secular authority was religious hierarchy. And if there is one thing a cult is good at... its keeping order within itself.

The case in point would be the Dark Ages. People may bristle at calling Christianity a cult, but it certainly mixed in with a lot of Celtic and Germanic superstitions in that time period. And yet we didn't face annihilation even though we were steeped in all sorts of superstition.

Anyway, I'm not sure that its useful to play up the similarities between superstition and science, because science has been most useful to humanity in removing certain superstitions and bogeymen from our path. While I believe that dogma and unproductive behavior can certainly affect the most dedicated of scientists, science is better viewed in regard to ways it differs from superstitious thought.

Playing the odds. (1, Informative)

Ostracus (1354233) | about 6 years ago | (#24957349)

"For example, a prehistoric human might associate rustling grass with the approach of a predator and hide. Most of the time, the wind will have caused the sound, but "if a group of lions is coming there's a huge benefit to not being around."

For a species that has a poor sense of smell compared to other species. It would be better to err on the side of caution most of the time than be bold and be dinner.

There are real benefits in believing in the FSM!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957371)

Science proved that!

RAmen!

Samzenpus is... (1)

oldhack (1037484) | about 6 years ago | (#24957383)

A Moron!!

Sorry, at my age, I shouldn't be so flamey. Samz, my man, stay off science stuff. I understand you're into literary stuff? Do that.

Re:Samzenpus is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957583)

A Moron!!

Sorry, at my age, I shouldn't be so flamey. Samz, my man, stay off science stuff. I understand you're into literary stuff? Do that.

Waiter! Check please!

quote (1)

bigdavex (155746) | about 6 years ago | (#24957385)

Don't be superstitious; it's bad luck.

-Finian McLonergan

Superstition prevents congitive failures (4, Interesting)

catbutt (469582) | about 6 years ago | (#24957405)

Our brains are made to continue to think about things until we figure them out....that's what curiousity is and it's key to intelligence.

Problem is, if our brain is unable to find the answer, it's best to have some sort of exception handler break it out of the loop. That's where superstition comes in. So we don't spend all day trying to answer questions about, say, how we came to be, as opposed to trying to figure out why our bow and arrow doesn't shoot as straight as we'd like.

That's my theory anyway.

Re:Superstition prevents congitive failures (2, Funny)

BountyX (1227176) | about 6 years ago | (#24957489)

hmmm, thats a very intresting take. it explains why i spend my entire work day pondering the meaning of my meek existence. If i was supersitious, I would have stopped procrastinating hours ago...

Re:Superstition prevents congitive failures (2, Interesting)

Maelwryth (982896) | about 6 years ago | (#24957713)

I would have thought it was a product of our society being unable to adequately explain (either through their ignorance or just a lack of language) why things were dangerous. Where does evolution come into it? Is the article saying that knocking on wood is hard wired into our brains? Being worried about rustling grass isn't a hard wired phenomena, it isn't even a superstition. It's the result of being told about bloody lions eating people. Fear is an evolutionary advantage. Superstition isn't.

Re:Superstition prevents congitive failures (2, Insightful)

guyminuslife (1349809) | about 6 years ago | (#24957885)

I would have thought it was a product of our society being unable to adequately explain (either through their ignorance or just a lack of language) why things were dangerous. Where does evolution come into it? Is the article saying that knocking on wood is hard wired into our brains? Being worried about rustling grass isn't a hard wired phenomena, it isn't even a superstition. It's the result of being told about bloody lions eating people. Fear is an evolutionary advantage. Superstition isn't.

I don't have a link, but at one point I heard of a study that tried to link dietary restrictions present in various religions with geography. For some reason (and again, I don't recall the details) not eating beef, in, say, India, actually turned out to be a more efficient way to produce calories for the entire society. (Something to do with fertilization from the dung, fats in the milk, and the use of otherwise un-arable land) And pigs were inefficient in the Middle East. Dietary restrictions have been enforced by superstitions (e.g., cows are sacred, pigs are unclean) rather than fear or anything else, and have proved to be useful in maintaining a population.

Superstition *IS* congitive failure (2, Interesting)

SpaceLifeForm (228190) | about 6 years ago | (#24957839)

Superstition is just one facet of a 'belief system'.

The 'belief system' exists so that the brain can cope with congitive dissonance. [wikipedia.org]

You can break the mind loop with other things besides having a superstition in your belief system.

Examples: Sleep, food, sex, drugs

Our brains are pattern processing engines (2, Insightful)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | about 6 years ago | (#24957847)

We are always trying to find patterns. Some of these might bear up against scrutiny and some might not. Some might have corner cases and some might not.

Kid drops lollipop and learns about gravity and slowly builds up an idea that if you drop something it falls. Hand the kid a hydrogen balloon and you'll see that "WTF!" look when it goes up when you let it go.

Kid learns that rocks sink when you throw them in water. I still remember that "WTF!" look on my 4 year old son's face when handed him a chunk of pumice to throw in the water and it floated!

When a pattern is beyond our ability to comprehend then it becomes a superstition: 6 is my lucky number and green is an unlucky color for me; if I dream about snakes then bad stuff is going to happen.

Perhaps these days pseudo-science has largely replaced straight-out superstition. People believe crap like cellphones can pop popcorn.

Zeus (5, Informative)

ShakaUVM (157947) | about 6 years ago | (#24957905)

The problem with this article and other stories is that it's not superstition they're dealing with.

I recall one study where they shocked cats or something if they walked too close to an object, and reported that the cats had developed a "superstitious" aversion to the object, obviously showing how gullible and stupid all of us carbon-based life forms are, and how religion is probably just a complex fraud.

Of course, the problem is that the cats weren't being superstitious. There WAS actually an invisible man in the sky throwing fucking lightning bolts at them, and they learned that correlation.

I know that if I got hit by a lightning bolt every time I climbed to the top of half-dome, I'd damn well stop climbing to the top of Half Dome. I don't need Zeus, or even a working understanding of electromagnetism, to come to that conclusion. I'd avoid it.

Not Exactly. (4, Informative)

BlueBoxSW.com (745855) | about 6 years ago | (#24957415)

What is described in the example is known as Partial Reinforcement, not Superstition.

Partial Reinforcement at it's finest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957709)

What is described in the example is known as Partial Reinforcement, not Superstition.

She turned me down this morning (again)
There is sunlight outside.

Clearly, women must be vampires!

[Who am I kidding. I'm a slashdot reader, of course I didn't ask a girl out]

The biggest superstition of all, of course ... (0, Flamebait)

johnlcallaway (165670) | about 6 years ago | (#24957419)

A belief in a being that created everything and cares about our insignificant little speck of dust in the entire universe.

A little bit of egotistical, self-centered belief tossed in with superstition, and you get a personal supreme being.

please tag (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957433)

tag "religion"

Homeopathy != alternative remedies (5, Insightful)

obeymydog (1243568) | about 6 years ago | (#24957473)

Ignoring the painfully vague inclusion criteria for "alternative" treatments, it's just plain wrong to lump every non-pharmaceutical/medical treatment in with a sham like homeopathy. There's solid biochemical/clinical research to support a number of therapeutically active plant compounds and conservative treatment strategies that would probably be considered alternatives to conventional medical protocols. This sort of arrogant badmouthing keeps patients from getting decent information about their treatment options.

I hear that ... (0, Redundant)

houbou (1097327) | about 6 years ago | (#24957477)

When your g/f or wife cries during a new baby born commercial, PMS is a-coming.

Ok, enough with the jokes, I believe that we have instincts, which is a form of sense, beyond our 5 known senses.

It could be the ability of one or more of our 5 senses to work together and provide info, faster than we can rationalize it, or maybe there are other senses at work, maybe we do possess a "radar like", which somehow, works for us, but which we aren't always aware consciously.

Stress often occurs when one doesn't follow their "gut" instinct, so to speak.

So, obviously, when it comes to this topic, we yet, lack any real scientific proof, but, that doesn't mean it's not there. 100 yrs ago, we didn't know atoms existed, but they where there for sure.

I believe that our biggest drawback is in the way we are educated from childhood, we do not develop any of our instincts and thus, in a way, suppress them, instead of acknowledging them. How many stories about very young children who can see ghosts, etc... Why so young? I say because they are more instinctive, their minds are more receptive.

Those who are more "sensitive" and/or more "instinctive" usually function very badly if/when they don't work with their gifts. It's almost like they are working against their nature, thus, causing themselves all kinds of health issues, including stress.

I say "More" in the previous paragraphs, because each and every one of us, is born with strengths and weaknesses. From having stronger bone structures to better eyesights, or weaker lungs, etc.. Well, our minds, and our abilities towards the instinctive knowledge, is also something which for some is stronger than others.

While this isn't a "proven" theory, I've seen enough of this around me to know it's right.

Bottom line, this type of knowledge, the powers of the mind, instinct, mind reader, clearvoyance, etc.. well, it cannot be dismissed, it does exist.

Yes, there are many charlatans and snake oil doctors out there, but there are quite a few who are truly gifted.

Even the law enforcement know of these individuals and will request their aid in helping them solve crimes, etc...

Like anything else, ignoring something which may not be explanable yet, but does exist, doesn't make it go away.

That's why for some people, ignoring their "instincts" may cause them stress, because, their bodies are telling them things which their minds are not acknowledging. That's why it would be nice if we would try and learn more about this and master it for what it is, perhaps just another sense we possess, but either used to be able to tap into, or have lost the knowledge to do so, and need to rekindle and relearn again.

Let's not forget how we only use about 5% to 10% of our brain, so, who knows what else we can do with the rest of it.

That's my opinion.

Ignorance pleaded - would have worked too (1, Insightful)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | about 6 years ago | (#24957479)

"The tendency to falsely link cause to effect a superstition is occasionally beneficial"

What a piece of unfortunate crap, but probably true. Anyhow. Ignorance pleaded - would have worked too and wouldn't have had all side effects.

But, people probably began telling the inquisitive children and adults made up stories.
"Don't swim in the deep water or the water monster/god/goblin will eat you. He and his family came from far away. Not all of them are bad, you see. One rules over the forest, etc."

Why not tell them right away: You may drown.

The sad thing is that these chain of innocent little lies got hold over people's mind and life, and became more elaborate, like religions.

Frankly, I have never seen anything good done by that part of reality.

If you don't know. Say so or keep shut! Avoid lies.

Re:Ignorance pleaded - would have worked too (5, Interesting)

Jason Levine (196982) | about 6 years ago | (#24957621)

Why not tell them right away: You may drown.

One day while driving, my five year old managed to unlock and open his car door. The door stayed mostly shut long enough for me to pull over and close it. I sternly warned him that if he did that again, he could fall out of the car and be seriously hurt. When he didn't seem phased by that, I told him that his toy could fall out of the open door and be lost. He got very frightened and promised not to do that again. (He hasn't.) Why the different reaction? I think that falling out of a car and being seriously hurt is an abstract concept to him. He just can't really imagine what it would feel like. But losing a toy that he likes, that he can easily imagine. Sometimes with kids the bigger threat isn't the one that they can wrap their minds around and thus isn't the scarier option.

Re:Ignorance pleaded - would have worked too (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24958007)

See, then your kid is dumb and should have fallen out of the car, eliminating him from the gene pool. Evolution at work.

Re:Ignorance pleaded - would have worked too (1)

Toonol (1057698) | about 6 years ago | (#24958033)

Right; small children are not rational creatures, and it can be very harmful to treat them like one.

This may be opening a can of worms to mention on Slashdot, but that's why physical punishment is sometimes important. A toddler's life can be saved by a light swat on the butt when they try to wander out in the street. They don't understand reason, but they very much understand the pain/pleasure motivation system that evolution equipped them with.

Re:Ignorance pleaded - would have worked too (1)

quantaman (517394) | about 6 years ago | (#24957703)

"The tendency to falsely link cause to effect a superstition is occasionally beneficial"

What a piece of unfortunate crap, but probably true. Anyhow. Ignorance pleaded - would have worked too and wouldn't have had all side effects.

But, people probably began telling the inquisitive children and adults made up stories.
"Don't swim in the deep water or the water monster/god/goblin will eat you. He and his family came from far away. Not all of them are bad, you see. One rules over the forest, etc."

Why not tell them right away: You may drown.

The sad thing is that these chain of innocent little lies got hold over people's mind and life, and became more elaborate, like religions.

Frankly, I have never seen anything good done by that part of reality.

If you don't know. Say so or keep shut! Avoid lies.

Evolution doesn't give us an optimal solution, it just gives us a better one than previous generations.

The explanation I've heard in the past is that we have a strong tendency to assume there's an agent behind every effect, ie. that rustling is a lion. This instinct is so strong that when we don't have an agent readily available we invent one, ie the leaves are rustling and making you nervous, some agent must be doing it, we don't know of lions flying through the leaves but something must be there.

Soon enough someone says a spirit is flying around, it would explain the leaves so why not!

Re:Ignorance pleaded - would have worked too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957805)

Evolutionarily talking, people that believe on superstitions are more effective than, let's say, us /.rs.
Evolution is all about effectiveness and nothing about "the smarter will survive". The most effective on reproduce and keep their offspring alive are the evolutionary winners.
So, any superstitious low wage worker leaving on any ghetto of our American cities got way more evolutionary effectiveness than any /.r.
They have plenty of kids, kids that are educated to rule the rest of the species by violence and to find the best methods to survive.
Meanwhile, if happens that any /.r finds a mating partner (unlikely to happen...), and if after finding this mate, happens that the /.r reproduces (a superstition on itself...), the /.r will try to teach some pathetic geeky mambo-jumbo to their offspring that way condemning the /.r's offspring to be ruled by the superstitious low wage's descendants.
That is why the humankind has evolved and survived, because usually smart people are not able to reproduce, and the dumb and physically stronger prevail...

Jumping to conclusions (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957481)

I believe humans are hardwired to jump to conclusions. Throughout the existence of man, you haven't had any chance of knowing the actual physical processes of many of the crucial functions of life (reproduction, illnesses, weather etc.). Also, you generally don't have enough personal experience to draw statistically significant conclusions. So you jump to them.

And among the wild guesses are a few valid ones and they might be life-savers. As for the rest, a few prayers a day won't kill you.

You have got to be kidding me. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957491)

This might be a fascinating bit of research, but the story posting isn't even particularly thinly-veiled cannon-fodder flaimbait. It's practically guaranteed to bring out religion apologists and armchair scientists alike in droves.

[Scientist argues that] science is simply a dogmatic form of superstition.

WTF!?
Science only works because it isn't superstitious ! The very fact that we can use the methods we call "science" to discover the nature of reality refutes this assertion in its entirety. That was the statement of a hack.

By ignoring building evidence that contradicts their long-held ideas, "quite a lot of scientists tend to be ignorant quite often."

(Emphasis mine.)

Again: WTF!?
The practitioners of science are the strongest bastion against this sort of dogmatic, superstitious thinking. It is disingenuous to say that "quite a lot of scientists [are superstitious and therefore inept at science]" because that fraction, and certainly that absolute number pale utterly in comparison to the number of people who live every moment of their daily lives, years on-end, in an opaque fog of superstitious belief that some particular list of claims about reality is inerrant while all similar ones are fallacious, and reality can just get bent because "huh, scientists sure are stoo-pid!".

Now we have to endure a flame war between religious zealots, crank science adherents, scientists, and rational non-scientists all seizing this story as a chance to advance their righteousness and deride their opponents, and perform damage control when they suffer affronts in kind.

My predictions (which might admittedly be partially self-fulfilling):
1)at least 850 comments before this story leaves the main page. (Page views galore! Screw enriching the readership; flamefests are more profitable.)
2) A dozen or so comments by the religious regulars who feel they are making the world a better place by spamming the same thoughtless garbage several times a thread, no matter how many times it's refuted. How some of these people have good karma is beyond me. (Please help fix this problem if you have mod points and don't feel like playing whack-a-religious-nutjob-a-mole.)

Re:You have got to be kidding me. (1)

Mesa MIke (1193721) | about 6 years ago | (#24957985)

> Science only works because it isn't superstitious !

Science is based on the superstition that the universal laws of logic can be trusted.
Likewise, mathematics is based on the superstition that the axioms hold.

Alternatives depend on where you are from (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957535)

Many things that are sold in America as "alternatives" are prescribed in Germany and have scientific studies behind them. So we may as well throw Doctor's and scientists into the mix as part of the superstition as modern day priests and wizards.

Murhpy's law? (3, Insightful)

Max Romantschuk (132276) | about 6 years ago | (#24957539)

As a programmer I constantly refer to Murhy's law. It helps me through the day by expecting the worst and being positively surprised when my code does what it's supposed to. ;)

Superstition? Why the hell not? It's not very rational is it... But it seems to work for me.

But those elaborate see-a-black-cat-throw-salt-and-spit-over-your-shoulder superstitions? Naah...

Re:Murhpy's law? (2, Interesting)

overzero (1358049) | about 6 years ago | (#24957665)

As a programmer I constantly refer to Murhy's law.

Are you sure it's not rational?

Re:Murhpy's law? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24958001)

Amusingly, as you made comment on "Murphy's Law", something actually *did* go wrong.

Discworld Beat Ya To It (2, Interesting)

coppro (1143801) | about 6 years ago | (#24957563)

Seriously. Read The Science of Discworld and, in particular, it's sequels (all co-authored Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart in addition to Pratchett). They (particularly #2) touch upon this subject.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no (4, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | about 6 years ago | (#24957565)

Superstitions, culture, religion has had its place in ensuring the safety of the believers. Take a look at the dietary restrictions of various religions. Often, they concocted supernatural explanations for diseases or parasites that we understand today. Like prohibitions against eating pork or shellfish. The cost of continuing to avoid such foods, even when we understand the science and can prepare them safely is minimal.

However, there are times when the refusal to understand explanations behind superstitions cost our ancestors dearly. Take cats. Cats coexisted with ancient man as efficient means to keeping rodents out of grain stores. After a time, some civilizations came to hold cats in high regard, even worship them. Ancient Egypt is one example. Enter Christianity. Rather than examine the basis of other religions and cultures reverence for the cat (understanding their practical utility shouldn't have been that hard, even in the middle ages), they associated cats with pagan religions and eventually witchcraft. Cats were feared, driven out of human habitations and killed en mass. Now, the bubonic plague arrives. Societies that didn't buy into the cat loathing of Christianity fared far better then those that did.

Re:Sometimes yes, sometimes no (1)

Derosian (943622) | about 6 years ago | (#24957947)

Enter Christianity. Rather than examine the basis of other religions and cultures reverence for the cat (understanding their practical utility shouldn't have been that hard, even in the middle ages), they associated cats with pagan religions and eventually witchcraft. Cats were feared, driven out of human habitations and killed en mass. Now, the bubonic plague arrives. Societies that didn't buy into the cat loathing of Christianity fared far better then those that did.

Well, to be frank most of the hate mongering came from the Roman Catholic Church and as other 'churches' were later formed also spread to them. Christianity in it's origins seems to much like Judaism sometimes helping sometimes harming in it's suggestions. Generally only in Christians who haven't fully read the Bible do you find the ignorance and prejudice.

Re:Sometimes yes, sometimes no (2, Insightful)

bigbird (40392) | about 6 years ago | (#24957955)

Cats carry fleas and the bubonic plague as well as rats. What makes you think having lots of cats around would have helped?

Also, I can't really find any evidence for your claim about Christianity causing cats to be driven away ...

Re:Sometimes yes, sometimes no (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 6 years ago | (#24957995)

Enter Christianity. Rather than examine the basis of other religions and cultures reverence for the cat (understanding their practical utility shouldn't have been that hard, even in the middle ages), they associated cats with pagan religions and eventually witchcraft. Cats were feared, driven out of human habitations and killed en mass. Now, the bubonic plague arrives. Societies that didn't buy into the cat loathing of Christianity fared far better then those that did.

Wherever did you get the idea that Christians had a problem with cats? Barnyard cats have been parts of farms in Christian lands for pretty much all of human history.

And which societies that "didn't buy into the cat loathing of Christianity" fared far better during the Black Plague? I've never read that Christian societies fared particularly worse (or better) than anyone else during the Plague.

I don't understand (1)

duckInferno (1275100) | about 6 years ago | (#24957653)

According to this guy

- Science is like superstition - Superstition is not ignoring things that are potentially false - Some scientists are ignorant - These ignorant scientists are ignoring mounting evidence, which makes them not-superstitious - Science needs to be more superstitious I've either missed something, or he's contradicting himself, or he's making a judgment on a profession based on the actions of small group of scientists who shame the profession by calling themselves such.

Re:I don't understand (2, Interesting)

duckInferno (1275100) | about 6 years ago | (#24957655)

According to this guy

- Science is like superstition
- Superstition is not ignoring things that are potentially false
- Some scientists are ignorant
- These ignorant scientists are ignoring mounting evidence, which makes them not-superstitious
- Science needs to be more superstitious

I've either missed something, or he's contradicting himself, or he's making a judgment on a profession based on the actions of small group of scientists who shame the profession by calling themselves such.

I fail at breaks.

Just a different term?? (2, Insightful)

rips123 (654488) | about 6 years ago | (#24957687)

The human mind generalizes. It forms patterns from its inputs and thats all it does. We use patterns from our past to predict our future from anything from moving a leg forward to take a step (done it a million times before - it should work the same this time) to deciding on the motivation of another human being witnessed performing some action.

Aside from labeling mis-generalization as superstition (where superstition is really only one possible category of mis-generalization), what has this guy really done? Shown that a mis-generalizaion that is based on some observation might occasionally pay off when that observation does occasionally represent itself? Big Suprise!

If we use our brains a little, this is a bit of a sad excuse for an article is it not?

Laughable (1)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | about 6 years ago | (#24957701)

"""
science is simply a dogmatic form of superstition
"""

This is a laughable statement that implies that this guy has no clue what science really is. Science is about creating a theory that produces predictions that are experimentally verifiable across time/space. So, no matter where you are, no matter when it is done, the experiment produces the same result which will either prove or disprove the prediction which will prove or disprove (at least part of) the theory.

Science, is thus something that can disprove something is is thought to be true. An example would be horoscopes. Science killed them long ago, yet some people (quite irrationally) still swear by them. Quantum Mechanics is strange and counter-intuitive, but none-the-less has mountains of experimental evidence to show its veracity.

Other than that, all I have to say is this: This so called "research" sounds more like that paper that that Mathematician put out a while ago to "prove" intelligent design than actual science. So, my review gives this paper two opposable thumbs down. For shame non-researcher. For shame.

Re:Laughable (2, Insightful)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | about 6 years ago | (#24957923)

Science, is thus something that can disprove something is is thought to be true. An example would be horoscopes. Science killed them long ago, yet some people (quite irrationally) still swear by them. Quantum Mechanics is strange and counter-intuitive, but none-the-less has mountains of experimental evidence to show its veracity.

Well, science has tried very hard to kill astrology, but after my years of studying the patterns of behavior in people with respect to their times of birth, I believe it is more accurate to say that many would simply really, really LIKE it if science would kill astrology, (for reasons I've never fully understood). --Especially these days. After all, the latter part of your statement above does much to throw into question the former.

There was another Slashdot article a few days ago wherein researchers were baffled to discover that certain radioactive particles decay at different rates depending on the time of year, (or as they assumed, the Earth's distance from the Sun). I wonder what force between the Earth and the Sun could affect the behavior of particles and if that force might not be related to the manner in which people's brains develop as they grow up? It would help to explain things.

Conventional wisdom is always growing for a reason; we don't know everything, and as such we should never be hasty to dismiss observable phenomenon just because we happen to find them objectionable for one reason or another.

-FL

It's not superstition that's beneficial (1)

FilterMapReduce (1296509) | about 6 years ago | (#24957705)

The tendency to falsely link cause to effect â" a superstition â" is occasionally beneficial, says Kevin Foster, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. For example, a prehistoric human might associate rustling grass with the approach of a predator and hide.

First, this hardly seems like a false link. A link based on a slim probability perhaps, but when the stakes are high enough (e.g., being eaten by a lion), that's probably perfectly reasonable. Second, it's not superstition that helped evolving humans survive, it's the propensity to link cause and effect at all; superstition just consists of cases where it's taken too far. Superstition arises because, even though correlation does not imply causality, "correlation does imply causality" is a close enough approximation to the truth when you're hunting, gathering, and dodging sabertooth tigers. (Or so I would think. IANAEB. (I am not an evolutionary biologist.))

Wolfgang Forstmeier argues that by linking cause and effect â" often falsely â" science is simply a dogmatic form of superstition.

Tsk tsk. Science is the pursuit of finding the true links between cause and effect. Anyone who insists dogmatically on false links is not doing science, and the fact that scientists, being humans, may occasionally dismiss homeopathic remedies or something with a bit of prejudice does not invert the meaning of science, nor does it necessarily mean they're wrong.

Re:It's not superstition that's beneficial (1, Funny)

Stormwatch (703920) | about 6 years ago | (#24957903)

and the fact that scientists may occasionally believe homeopathic quackery

Fix'd. Homeopathy is bullshit.

Re:It's not superstition that's beneficial (1)

FilterMapReduce (1296509) | about 6 years ago | (#24957969)

Indeed it is, but even quackery should be refuted by facts, not bias. How would we know it was quackery otherwise?

(Which is not to suggest that scientists ought to go out and disprove every homeopathic remedy some idiot comes up with. Any claim based on the so-called principles of homeopathic practice can be safely ignored—although guilt by association does not positively prove that it wouldn't work either.)

I feel ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957745)

..that if I see something posted on Slashdot that any hyperlink in the article will be dead within 5 minutes

Nope, we're all going to die (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957895)

Nope, the belief in Global Warming shows that superstition is alive and well, and trying to wreck economies. It's following in the footsteps of banning DDT and killing millions of Africans needlessly.

This sounds a lot like.. (1)

consonant (896763) | about 6 years ago | (#24957901)

Pascal's Wager [wikipedia.org] .

The Article Misses: (1)

AmericanInKiev (453362) | about 6 years ago | (#24957931)

I see a second benefit mechanism for stupid beliefs;
I see that "arbitrary" beliefs can form mutually exclusive groups, in which the cost of believing is the rejection from other groups, and the benefits are membership in the group with the same beliefs.

This need to demand exclusive loyalty better explains the outward expressions of belief.

How does this author explain the prevalence of outward expression, if there is no related benefits?

jason giambi (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24957935)

so the mustache and thong weren't just evidence of desperation and poor taste?

Scientists ARE often ignorant. That's their job. (1, Insightful)

WheelDweller (108946) | about 6 years ago | (#24957939)

To study a concept, follow it no matter where it goes. That's the job of a scientist. Keep our eyes open and prove every concept.

Well, unless it goes into the Bible; then we pretend there's no proven validity to it, call it quaint and decide our line of thinking no longer has value. The Bible is such a show-stopper.

Yeah, this is why I have such bad 'karma' on this site. Almost no one reads me, my input is disturbing.

Equally disturbing:

1. "Let there be light" identified the start of this reality.
2. "The Earth is suspended from nothing" tells us that unlike the other ancients, the Earth sits on nothing.
3, It talks about the "land being split" in the continental divides. (Is that Plate tectonics? I'm not a specialist.)
4. It was right about the lost Hittite capital.
5. It was right about the last Babylonian administration.
6. While it doesn't list all 5,000,000+ species of animal, it does call out the stages of plant development, and that matches the fossil record.

So why is it so absurd to believe that the rest of it's true? More than 100 civilizations have a 'great flood' mentioned in their history. Think that was just a really, really good rumor? YouTube viral video?

Meanwhile, the "Tree of Life" talks about all animals slowly evolving over time, starting at, let's say, amoebas and ending with man. Except the fossil record shows all life 'sprung' into existance (cosmologically speaking) in the Pre-Cambrian era: all the phylum, vertebrates and invertebrates.

The "Tree of Life" was simply a sketch in "Origin of Species". Flawed though it is, is it better to cling to that, and ignore the proven truths of the Bible? That's no longer ignorant, it's hiding from the truth.

Of course (1)

True Grit (739797) | about 6 years ago | (#24957943)

The main threats our ancesters faced were natural and largely beyond their control. Now the main threat we face is each other, i.e. the other 7 billion humans on this planet, each with their own superstitions.

Our rapid success as a species is turning this asset into a liability.

So the real question is: can it *devolve* quickly enough before it ends up destroying us?

Re: (1)

clint999 (1277046) | about 6 years ago | (#24957975)

It never takes an indirect route to a goal.

Black olives. (1)

suck_burners_rice (1258684) | about 6 years ago | (#24957977)

You should not eat black olives on the third Tuesday after the summer solstice, or if it has been raining for four consecutive days with lightning appearing on the second or the fourth days but not on the first and third.

Not Superstition (1)

rea1l1 (903073) | about 6 years ago | (#24958005)

It's not superstition. If he thinks its a pack of lions in the grass its logic and fear of chance. If he thinks its a demon its a superstition.
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