Thursday, February 11, 2010

Superstition

The universe is a humbling place. Fifteen seconds' thought can remind anyone that they are less than a speck of sand in the ocean of everything. And while we have our minds to help us make sense of it all, our minds are pretty weak when it comes right down to it. We like to imagine ourselves as intelligent beings, and perhaps we are the most intelligent creatures on earth, but we aren't as far removed from our primitive roots as we like to think.

We are susceptible to the silliest of superstitions. I don't even mean religion, although that certainly qualifies. I am thinking of the patterns of superstition that are ingrained in our minds that show how primitive we actually are. In using myself as an example, by the way, I do not mean that I think I am a fantastic example of what a human mind can be - quite to the contrary, I am acutely aware of how dumb I really am. So maybe this does not apply to everyone. Nevertheless, I will reference my own experience, as I have nothing else to go on.

I haven't been sick in months. That isn't a metaphor or a story. It's true. I haven't had a flu or cold in months. I didn't get the Swine Flu shot like I should have and I haven't been living a particularly healthy lifestyle. Last year I was all kinds of sick and I just assumed that I would be again this year, but so far I haven't. As I write this, a loud Voice In My Head is telling me that I shouldn't. After all, the Voice In My Head reasons, I might be jinxing it. Now I'll get sick this weekend for sure. I'm sure everyone knows exactly what I am talking about, because whenever someone says something like that, they follow it with a knock on wood or a kind of apology to the fates for being so open about their good fortune.

We know that this is just foolishness. There is no cosmic scorekeeper or Jinx demon standing by to level the score or, in my case, to make me sick after months of health simply because I mentioned it out loud. We know all of this, and yet we can't help ourselves. We resist the urge to speak simply because we don't want to spoil our luck. Some part of us believes it even though the better part does not. This is why we laugh nervously when the number 666 comes up, as it often does. This is why there are no 13th floors in hotels (I promise this is true - check the next time you're in one. They jump from 12 to 14). This is why Las Vegas exists.

It's possible that we'll move beyond it, but I think it is just as likely that we never will. Humanity is not some shimmering and beautiful concept, and as intricate and amazing as it may be, the human mind is not divinely inspired. Perfection is not an option. We are simply animals, and in our own way our minds are as limited as the minds of dogs and bees.

Sorry for the long delay in writing. I know that I should at least have an excuse, but I don't. The ball is rolling again, though, and I hope to keep it going. I am finishing up Practical Ethics by Peter Singer (highly recommended, by the way!) and that is having a pretty profound impact on my thoughts this past week. I'll share some of those thoughts soon. Thanks for reading!

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