Has evolution made us superstitious?


An intruiging notion for anyone with an interest in matters fortean, paranormal and otherwise downright odd. A piece in the London Times claims that superstitions (and we can only assume, other ‘irrational beliefs’) are a unavoidable part of the human condition – because we’re hard-wired to have them.

‘Religion and other forms of magical thinking continue to thrive — despite the lack of evidence and advance of science — because people are naturally biased to accept a role for the irrational, said Bruce Hood, Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol.
This evolved credulity suggests that it would be impossible to root out belief in ideas such as creationism and paranormal phenomena, even though they have been countered by evidence and are held as a matter of faith alone.’


‘Evolution keeps us superstitious. Now that’s lucky.’ from the Times

Damien DeBarra was born in the late 20th century and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. He now lives in London, England where he shares a house with four laptops, three bikes and a large collection of chairs.


  1. And, we should note, equally impossible to root out the obessive compulsion of rationalism, also now known to be a quirk of the animal, an innate propensity to discredit data without good grounds in order that the imagined “order” be kept clean and pretty.
    Mark Leary has a wonderful book on this subject of subjective vs objective reality, a seasoned and serious Oxford U Press publication called “the Curse of the Self”
    What the rationalists don’t grasp, if you ask me, and you didn’t but nonetheless, is that the Objectivists’ Reality may exist, but even if it does, we can never have any direct cognitive interaction with it, we are only able to view the world as seen in our inner neurocognitive world-model composed of learned and innate associative pairings of other neurocognitive states. The inner world, the world of dreams and myth and magic, is the only world that we CAN know. QED.

  2. And that may be a Good Thing.

    Another angle to note is the abject corruptness of the practioners of the rational view, best exemplified by the immediate leap to funding-rich fame off what is most often a single study or even just an idle speculation on the “meaning” of their research. Consider …

    for example, if in principle researchers find that “the brain is designed to perceive and generate patterns,” are educators justified in concluding that “thematic teaching, integration of the curriculum, and life-relevant approaches to learning” (what-ever those terms mean specifically) are now scientifically credible or justified because they somehow involve pattern recognition


    In this case, it is the educators who are keen to leverage science for the rhetoric of applying for their own budgets, but note also how it is also the scientific community who are silently complicit or even overtly exploiting the ‘superstitious’ readiness of their target markets, peppering the most tenuous results with “this may mean …” and “could be applied in …” faith leaps tagged on to ensure future citations. Science meanto to inspire more than to elucidate, and that’s really more science fiction than they’d like you to believe. You see this sort of mainstream pseudoscience rhetoric all the time, and you see very little effort to debunk the ‘mainstream’ science religions — indeed, what does the Amazing Randi have to say about just about any of the foundational assumptions of modern phrenologies of psychology, or economics, or medicine?

    So take heart. As someone once said about those notorious full-page anti-Linux adverts Microsoft would place in the trades, what this means is there’s a crack in the Rationalists Armour, and they know it, and they now rail at us because they are coming to realize that we, the shamanic myth-science people, may have the means to blow their farce wide open.

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