The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane by Matthew Hutson
Not recommended. I put it down halfway through.
My first criticism is that he is vague and imprecise, to a degree that damages the book. He recounts charming bits of research revealing that human beings have irrational preferences based on magical thinking. For example, given the choice between identical sport coats, we prefer the one that has belonged to a loved one, as opposed to one owned by a serial killer. We think there is something inherently more valuable about the piano John Lennon used to write "Imagine" than an identical model that he did not own. Yet Hutson never tells us how strong these preferences are over all these research tidbits: We prefer A over B, and that's magical thinking, and he moves on.
Except that it matters. Enormous preferences for irrational reasons, whether they increase our risk or cost us money, are important for human interaction. Slight preferences are merely curiosities. Hutson often does not even give an approximation.
I understand that readers of popular nonfiction often don't like a lot of numbers (each equation in the text is supposed to cut sales in half), leaving the author with a difficult choice if he is to make a living. But that's not my problem.
Second, I expected that he wasn't going to like prayer and theism much, but that is a fairly minor annoyance. Nonbelievers generally get some important understanding simply wrong, but sometimes have valuable things to say nonetheless. They are outsiders, they have a different perspective. Hutson does something more problematic still: first he writes as if he considers prayer to be the same thing as having positive thoughts, or wishes, or sports fans' superstitions, and jinxes about events; then he explains quite clearly in a few sentences that prayer is actually something different, in that it is asking a supernatural agent to act, rather than relying on the power of the thoughts themselves; then he reverts to treating them the same as positive thoughts again, without explanation. So he gets it, but then refuses to deal with the difficult bit. I can follow an argument that finds many similarities between the two, and can accept that there are some who perceive no difference and give reason for that. They are wrong, but usually consistent and understandable. Hutson is too busy hurrying on to his main point that optimism and self-confidence can have positive effect, so go ahead and keep those magical thoughts.
I read about this somewhere else. John Lennon's piano is worth more, though not better, than an identical piano because somebody is willing to pay more for it. As for the rest...well, it doesn't speak to me.
I don't think I'd call the value "magical". Consider two hypothetical combs: one I bought when traveling as a replacement, and the other given as a birthday present by a 4-year-old. The "sentimental" value of the latter would be because it was an from an act of some sacrifice and love. It would be a symbol of that love, communicating a reminder of it. That increase in value is not "magical." It is not tangible--perhaps the author is confusing intangible with magical?
Mozart's harpsichord, because of its association with him, communicates a reminder of what great music can be, in a way that a history-less piano does not. It is that communication that gives it the extra value to the instrument, as wearing a mobster's jacket would communicate (to me, if no one else) what evils are possible.
Good point. Some aspects of the ownership might be magical, such as believing you can play more like John Lennon or can feel his spirit singing through you, or whatever, but "mere" sentiment has a value in and of itself. He is being too cute in his reductionism, for if one stretches that far, it is not only religion, superstition, and magic that he is eliminating, but all art, all emotion, all culture.
Once you have said that Seurat is "just dots," then all painting has to go with it.
I wear a simple gold band for a wedding ring. We've been married 29 years; over that period I've managed to lose the ring twice and had to have it resized as well. I just buy another one identical to the old one, which means the same to me as the original. Does that make me an unmagical thinker? I do know the difference between the object and its association. It's true, though, that I can be enormously sentimental about objects that aren't easy to replicate, like a single old stuffed animal from my infancy or a wooden puzzle that my father handmade.
I'm a big fan of acknowledging the irrational, anyway. Who said everything about us is rational? No one with any sense believes that. The trick is not to let either the rational or the irrational parts of us completely run away with the show all by itself. I take the Jane Austen view, which is like the more modern one about the rider and the horse. You don't pretend the horse isn't the larger and stronger of the two, but you also don't let the rider get his foot caught in the stirrup and be dragged around on the ground at a gallop.
Or... John Lennon's piano could be worth less to someone who cringes everytime "Imagine" is mentioned, much less played.
Imagine there's no Beatles...
AVI, you have to have big STONES to imagine there's no Beatles.
It isn't hard to do...
Thanks so much for the review.
I need to write a critique on the article the author wrote to promote this book and glad to hear all the opinions.
I like to think that I am pretty rational and try my best to think rationally. It's annoying how the author categorises the things we do into superstitions.
Post a Comment