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Magical Thinking

(also known as: superstitious thinking)

Description: Making causal connections or correlations between two events not based on logic or evidence, but primarily based on superstition.  Magical thinking often causes one to experience irrational fear of performing certain acts or having certain thoughts because they assume a correlation with their acts and threatening calamities.

Example #1:

Mr. Governor issues a proclamation for the people of his state to pray for rain.  Several months later, it rains.  Praise the gods!

Explanation: Suggesting that appealing to the gods for rain via prayer or dance is just the kind of thing crazy enough to get you elected president of the United States, but there is absolutely no logical reason or evidence to support the claim that appealing to the gods will make it rain.

Example #2:

I refuse to stay on the 13th floor of any hotel because it is bad luck.  However, I don’t mind staying on the same floor as long as we call it the 14th floor.

Explanation: This demonstrates the kind of magical thinking that so many people in this country engage in, that, according to Dilip Rangnekar of Otis Elevators, an estimated 85% of buildings with elevators did not have a floor numbered “13”.  There is zero evidence that the number 13 has any property that causes bad luck -- of course, it is the superstitious mind that connects that number with bad luck.

Example #3:

I knew I should have helped that old lady across the road.  Because I didn’t, I have been having bad Karma all day.

Explanation: This describes how one who believes that they deserve bad fortune, will most likely experience it due to the confirmation bias and other self-fulfilling prophecy-like behavior.  Yet there is no logical or rational basis behind the concept of Karma.

Exception: If you can empirically prove your magic, then you can use your magic to reason.

Tip: Magical thinking may be comforting at times, but reality is always what’s true.

References:

Hutson, M. (2012). The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane. Penguin.



Registered User Comments

Wolfgang P
Monday, March 20, 2017 - 02:48:36 PM
Your example #2 is correct for the person believing in bad luck ("Magical thinking"), but it may be proper logical reasoning for a guest who rents a room or the builder who skips floor 13 in the numbering. Attributing this fallacy to those would be "Illicit Substitution of Identicals", no?

Hotel management can expect a certain number of superstitious guests who would refuse to be on floor 13, so they risk losing actual business. A guest may try to lure a new female acquaintance to his room and likewise knows that a random stranger may be superstitious. Both the builder of a hotel and a guest on a "pleasure trip" could logically defend their position with "magic" as the reason.

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - 09:09:23 AM
Right, people cater to other's magical thinking all the time and are not guilty of magical thinking themselves. I bet newspapers who post horoscopes aren't really into astrology (perhaps some are). Perhaps this can somehow be worded into a formal argument showing the "Illicit Substitution of Identicals" fallacy, but I can't immediately see how.

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Conrad Schiff
Sunday, May 15, 2016 - 06:47:06 PM
I am troubled by one particular point in this post; specifically in the discussion of the elevators and 13th floors. The current wording reads

"Explanation: This demonstrates the kind of magical thinking that so many people in this country engage in, that, according to Dilip Rangnekar of Otis Elevators, an estimated 85% of buildings with elevators did not have a floor numbered “13”. "

There seems to be a fallacy being committed in this explanation. As it reads, a critic could retort, 'perhaps 85% of all buildings are not so high as to have a 13th floor, regardless of how it is numbered.' I believe there is a missing premise in the explanation. Something to the effect: 'Dilip Rangnekar of Otis Elevators, estimated that 85% of all buildings with 13 or more floors have the elevator stop labeled something else.' (presumably 14)

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Bo Bennett, PhD
Sunday, May 15, 2016 - 08:19:18 PM
It is implied that this applies to buildings with more than 13 floors. Kind of like in Wayne's World when Garth is asked by a beautiful woman if he would like to have dinner some night, and he replies, "Oh I like to have dinner every night!" :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52FdiECWnhQ

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Conrad Schiff
Monday, May 16, 2016 - 10:32:00 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD: Yes, I know it was implied. My point was not how the point would be read conventionally but how it would be read within the context of a logician insisting on logically clear thought.

I bring it up since there is a double standard that logicians sometimes engage; precise language is demanded from the lower classes (i.e. non-logicians) but a certain flexibility is permitted for the the higher ones. I am not thinking of you in this but other books of logic that have taken certain groups to task for 'sloppy thinking' where, conversationally and contextually, the implied premises were known by all.

Anyone who quotes Wayne's World is clearly not hung up on being a logical nitpicker (thank God). Although, you would have scored far more points with me if you had used Office Space.

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