With due apologies to Sir Walter Scott, sometimes i do feel like asking in his style:
“Breathes there a man with a soul so honest and true
Who upon looking at life gone by, can with all bravery say
Never, ever have i upon a superstition relied on my life’s way”
Despite having well-developed logical brains and being surrounded by centuries of scientific progress, we humans remain by and large a fearful, superstitious lot! And these superstitions, like the humans who believe in them are diverse in nature. Some of us may not even be aware of those many idiosyncratic quirks that become part of our routine life…how often do we say ‘God bless’ when a person sneezes; the favourite shirt or pair of shoes we like to wear for important meetings; the imperceptible slowing down of our vehicle when a cat crosses the road; skirting around and not walking under a ladder propped up against a building; the one pen we use to sign all important documents; avoiding starting a new venture on a weekday that you think is unlucky; gifting someone Chinese Bamboo for good luck; turning the head of your crystal tortoise to face inwards for better feng shui; and if you are one of those passionate sports fan, or a superstar sportsman, the less said the better! That category carries superstitious behaviour to the next level…using a particular cricket bat/tennis racket/golf club to play; the one sofa seat you have to sit on while watching your favourite teams match on TV; a special number for your team jersey…all are accepted norms as long as it’s about winning the game!
Moreover, there is a thin line of distinction between what constitutes as superstition for one and faith for another. Since there can be no accepted religious standards among people of different cultural backgrounds, the very notion of what is a superstitious behavior is relative to local beliefs. Take for example the number 13…the predominantly Christian Western world considers it so unlucky that hotels do not have a room of that number, some buildings do not have a thirteenth floor and you won’t find a house of that number on most lanes and roads. Contrast this with the Chinese for whom that number denotes something ‘vibrant’ so how can it be unlucky?! They would be willing to pay extra if a car number plate with that number was up for auction. So in ‘politically-correct’ parlance one would refer to such practices as ‘folk beliefs’ rather than using the pejorative ‘superstition’
The real question here is why is superstition so hard wired into our collective consciousness?Why do even hard-core skeptics occasionally fall prey to apparently irrational behaviour? Die hard atheists say superstitions (specially of the religious ritualistic kind) are signs of a weak mind that can’t handle reality and therefore must come up with fantastic explanations for things. One finds that strange, seeing as how everyone is superstitious at one level or another. Most research argues that the more you feel that your life is determined by factors outside your control, the more likely you are to become superstitious. The rationalists will convince you that they don’t believe but if the stakes are high and the effort involved is low, they too don’t mind doing something just to avoid an unwanted jinx. In so many of life’s situations things can happen beyond your control in spite of your best preparations.Superstitions seem to provide people with the sense that they’ve done one more thing to try to ensure the outcome they are looking for. In that sense they are like placebos that tap into the power of positive belief.
Then there are those who argue that there is something inside us that craves the imaginary. Even with the advent of modern science and the spread of education, the world will never be rid of all superstition for it is inherent to human nature. It stems from the same part of us that creates stories and myth. If you think of it, superstition has fought for survival against a physical-only interpretation of reality and has stood its ground. It has passed the Darwinian evolution test!
You can pick your argument, you can choose your side but you can’t seem to get rid of them. Meanwhile i’ve just realised this blog journey will hit the half century mark soon enough. Touchwood!!!