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Superstition as Science

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Superstition in a pigeon. Skinner box. Operant conditioning ... pigeons' - Vyse. Superstition as science? Adventitious reinforcement. Matrix task. 4 x 4 matrix ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Superstition as Science


1
Superstition as Science
  • Konrad Talmont-Kaminski
  • UMCS KLI

2
First-footing
  • It is lucky when a tall man walks into a house
    first in the New Year
  • Is this a scientific hypothesis?
  • Why not?
  • Is it something about the hypothesis?
  • Is it something about our attitudes?
  • Is it something about how it was reached?

3
Outline
  • Elements of superstitions
  • Superstition, magic religion
  • 3 different views of superstition
  • Superstition as science
  • What is the difference?
  • Empirical limits
  • Conclusions

4
Elements of superstitions
  • Superstitious beliefs
  • Superstitious practices
  • The link between them

5
Elements of a superstition
  • Superstitious belief
  • Action
  • Crossing fingers
  • Can be just an event Friday 13th
  • Effect
  • Potentially desirable or undesirable event
  • Connection
  • Causation/conjuration or prediction/divination
  • Explanation
  • Luck
  • No natural explanation
  • Supernatural explanation

6
Elements of a superstition
  • Superstitious practice
  • Taking or avoiding the action
  • Avoiding black cats
  • Success uncertain
  • Function
  • Manifest
  • To avoid or bringabout the effect
  • Latent
  • Can be very different
  • First-footing again
  • Predicting or causing?

7
Elements of a superstition
  • The link between beliefs and practices
  • Generally problematic
  • Focussing on practices
  • Skinners behaviourism
  • Beliefs secondary
  • Focussing on beliefs
  • Superstition satisfying internal needs
  • Practices secondary

8
Superstition, magic religion
  • Magic religion
  • Magic superstition
  • Religion superstition

9
Superstition, magic religion
  • Magic religion
  • E. Durkheim 1912
  • Sacred vs. profane
  • Religion
  • Social function
  • Magic
  • Individual function
  • D. S. Wilson 2002
  • Evolutionary explanation ofreligion
  • Social function as group-selection

10
Superstition, magic religion
  • Magic superstition
  • Magic
  • Traditional societies
  • Superstition
  • Modern society
  • Relation?
  • Different phenomena
  • Same phenomenon / different contexts
  • Education and superstition (Jahoda 1969)
  • Jumper example

11
Superstition, magic religion
  • Religion superstition
  • Deisidaimonia
  • Misplaced fear of daimons
  • Theophrastus, circa 300 BC
  • Superstition is false religion
  • Worship of demons
  • Aquinas, circa 1250 AD
  • Atheist generalisation
  • All religion is false
  • Therefore, superstition is all religion
  • Can differentiate religion superstition
  • Some religious practices superstitious
  • Intercessory prayer

12
3 views of superstition
  • Superstition as fantasy
  • Superstition as rhetoric
  • Superstition as science

13
3 views of superstition
  • Superstition as fantasy
  • Attempted retreat from threatening/uncontrollable
    reality
  • Anxiety-reduction (Malinowski 1925)
  • Retaining feeling of control (Case et all 2004)
  • The man under the sway of impotent fury or
    dominated by thwarted hate spontaneously clenches
    his fists and carries out imaginary thrusts at
    his enemy, muttering imprecations, casting words
    of hatred and anger against him. Malinowski
    Magic, Science, and Religion

14
3 views of superstition
  • Superstition as rhetoric
  • Attempted communication
  • Use of language to induce motion in things (Burke
    1969)
  • Costly signalling (Tambiah 1990)
  • Accepting authority (Palmer 1989)
  • By communicating acceptance of a supernatural
    claim one is communicating a willingness to
    accept the speakers influence unskeptically. -
    Palmer The ritual taboos of fishermen

15
3 views of superstition
  • Superstition as science
  • Attempt to understand/control the world
  • Primitive science (Frazer 1890)
  • Adventitious reinforcement (Skinner 1947)
  • Biased cognitive heuristics (Rozin Nemeroff
    1980)
  • Magic is a spurious system of natural law as
    well as a fallacious guide of conduct it is a
    false science as well as an abortive art. -
    Frazer, Golden Bough

16
Superstition as science?
  • Question of focus
  • Primitive science
  • Adventitious reinforcement
  • Biased cognitive heuristics

17
Superstition as science?
  • Question of focus
  • Superstitious beliefs vs. scientific beliefs
  • Superstitious methods vs. scientific methods
  • Both options incomplete
  • Would superstitious beliefs be scientific if
    arrived at scientifically?
  • Could they be arrived at scientifically?
  • Is there such a thing as magical thinking?
  • Or is it that thinking sometimes leads to magical
    beliefs?

18
Superstition as science?
  • Primitive science
  • Tylor 1871, Frazer 1890, Levy-Bruhl 1910
  • Superstition identified with primitive
    societies/minds
  • Science identified with modern societies/minds
  • Progress seen as directed evolution
  • Enlightenment / Intellectualist position
  • Rationality expels superstition

19
Superstition as science?
  • Adventitious reinforcement
  • B.F. Skinner 1947, S. Vyse 1997
  • Superstition in a pigeon
  • Skinner box
  • Operant conditioning
  • Independent reinforcement schedule
  • Superstitious behaviour
  • Operant conditioning isnot just for rats and
    pigeons - Vyse

20
Superstition as science?
  • Adventitious reinforcement
  • Matrix task
  • 4 x 4 matrix
  • Move dot from top left to bottom right
  • Task Find out when points are gained
  • Points awarded randomly
  • Numerous theories put forward
  • Similar situations
  • Malfunctioning light switch
  • Conditioning as basis for understanding science?

?


?
21
Superstition as science?
  • Biased cognitive heuristics
  • Domain-specific
  • Generally effective
  • Systematically biased
  • Heuristics and biases (Kahneman Tversky 1974)
  • Bounded rationality (H. Simon 1972)
  • Scientific methods as heuristics(W. Wimsatt
    2007)
  • Contagion heuristic
  • Rozin Nemeroff 1980

22
What is the difference?
  • Truth empirical adequacy
  • Natural vs. supernatural
  • Sacred vs. profane

23
What is the difference?
  • Truth empirical adequacy
  • Superstitions as false causal beliefs
  • Often used definition
  • Many false causal beliefs, some scientific
  • Superstitions not just false but (known to be)
    empirically inadequate
  • Scientific beliefs rejected due to empirical
    inadequacy
  • Can not equate Newtons physics with his
    astrology
  • Is onto something
  • But superstitious beliefs look different

24
What is the difference?
  • Natural vs. supernatural
  • Superstitions as supernatural claims
  • Problems
  • Vague concept
  • Circularity?
  • Distinction much later than category
  • Correlation between superstitious and
    pseudoscientific beliefs
  • Succubi become aliens
  • Post hoc explanations
  • Is onto something

25
What is the difference?
  • Sacred vs. profane
  • Durkheim
  • Explaining a cognitive category in terms of a
    social phenomenon?
  • Is onto something
  • But, again, superstitions look different

26
Empirical limits
  • van Fraassen
  • Observability superstitions
  • Observability functions
  • Agnosticism about explanations

27
Empirical limits
  • B. van Fraassen
  • The Scientific Image 1980
  • Limits of observability
  • Actual empirical limitations
  • Ability to discern small objects
  • Limits change over time
  • Agnosticism about unobservable claims
  • Challenging scientific attitudes
  • Observable/detectable distinction
  • Distinction generally rejected
  • Is anything unobservable?
  • Significance of social attitudes

28
Empirical limits
  • Observability superstitions
  • How observable are superstitious claims?
  • Connections between actions and events
  • Observable as correlations
  • Explanations for the connections
  • The claims hard to observe
  • Attitudes object to observation
  • Render superstitious explanations effectively
    unobservable
  • Superempirical rather than supernatural

29
Empirical limits
  • Observability and functions
  • Manifest and latent function
  • Manifest function requires observability
  • Religious connections unobservable
  • Latent (social) function more important
  • In superstitions only explanations unobservable
  • Scientists aim to make explanations observable
  • A vital difference

30
Empirical limits
  • Agnosticism about explanations
  • Scientific explanations?
  • Scientists take realist view of explanations
  • Pursue evidence for their truth
  • Agnosticism not justified
  • Superstitious explanations
  • Explanations in practically untestable terms
  • Testing of explanations discouraged
  • Agnosticism is not enough
  • Agnosticism about explanations is not scientific

31
Conclusions
  • Similarities
  • Methods Use of heuristics
  • Beliefs Often hard to test explanations put
    forward
  • Differences
  • Methods Development of new heuristics
  • Beliefs A realist attitude to explanations
    leading to pursuit of testing

32
Thank you
  • konrad_at_talmont.com
  • http//deisidaimon.wordpress.com
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