We all have those moments when we succumb to irrational behavior. We spill salt and then throw some over our shoulder. We avoid walking under ladders. If we break a mirror we’re positive we’re doomed to seven years bad luck. But we’re rational people, right? So where does this irrational behavior come from, and how does it impact the search for cryptozoological creatures?
Professor Jane Risen of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business published a paper last November regarding the power of magical thinking and why it’s hard to conquer our superstitions.
It got me thinking about nearly everyone I know, even some very scientific and rational people I’ve seen in TV shows about strange animals. We all have these irrational little tendencies such as:
- Sports fans wearing lucky shirts on game day, as if the shirts could influence the players’ performances.
- Spilling salt and throwing it over your shoulder for good luck.
- Not walking under ladders.
- Breaking a mirror for seven years bad luck.
- Not opening an umbrella indoors
I could be here all day listing these things, but you get the drift.
What Science Says
Professor Risen explains that even though we’re aware that these superstitions are silly and make no sense, our irrational urge can still overrule our rational mind and cause us to act upon that superstition.
She further explains that inside our brain, there is a two step process to correcting an irrational behavior. First we have to be aware of the belief as an irrational one, then we have to force ourselves to correct it (that is, not act upon it). When we don’t have the resolve or will to correct the problem/superstition, we give into it and act upon it. The professor refers to that as a process called “acquiescence.”
I’ll save you the dictionary grab. 🙂
Acquiescence – the act or condition of acquiescing or giving tacit assent; agreement or consent by silence or without objection; compliance (usually followed by to or in).
Professor Risen stated, “Even when the conditions are all perfect for detecting an error – when people have the ability and motivation to be rational and when the context draws attention to the error – the magical intuition may still prevail.”
According to the professor’s research, there are certain times and situations when we’re likely to give into our superstitions and ignore our rational mind. If someone thinks their current situation is special in some way, that may override their rational mind and cause them to think “magically.”
Then there’s the situation where ignoring your rational mind comes at a low cost (or consequence) to you, so you go for it.
The example the professor gives for this second situation is when people receive a chain letter. They know it’s ridiculous but they’re more afraid of receiving bad luck for not forwarding it, so they send the silly letter on its way.
Of course this got me thinking about researchers and witnesses of all things cryptozoological. (Professor Snape, left. My favorite magical thinker!!)
The cryptids that came to mind first and foremost are these:
- Rougarou (if you read my article on this one, have the Excedrin handy!)
- Aliens and UFOs
Of all the creatures I’ve written about, these are the most problematic.
The first set, Rougarou (pictured left, artist unknown), Windwalkers, Wendigo, Sheepsquatch, Otterman, and Mothman all have a paranormal element. They are said to appear, disappear, and/or turn into other things. And that’s the problem.
There are ways we can measure Bigfoot’s existence through footprints left behind, recordings of calls and screams and wood knocking. The creatures that may live in Alaska like the Dire Wolf or Alaskan Tiger have a chance of existing because there is a scientific history behind them.
The element that bothers me the most is associating Bigfoot with aliens. The implication is that aliens brought Bigfoot to our planet, or created them as ape hybrids or something equally silly. I think it’s more rational to assume the Bigfoots were minding their own squatchy business when the UFO appeared above to hassle them.
Otterman is said to have a paranormal element too. It supposedly can disappear and reappear and be very elusive. If that’s truly the case, then I’m more inclined to think it’s a spirit, rather than a corporeal creature.
Aliens and UFOs
I’ve mentioned before my belief is that of all the UFO sightings ever reported 90% will be earth phenomena, some understood by science, others not (yet); 8% will be stuff our military is making and testing, or that of other nations’ militaries. So that leaves 2% that I have to think and wonder about, and am more inclined to believe are real aliens visiting our planet. That thought does not make me happy because I do not trust them.
But that’s me. There are people in the world who believe every strange light they see in the sky is an ET. They’ve developed detailed fantasies about communicating with them, receiving messages from them, being healed by them. I’m sure you’ve seen the TV programs too, and like me, you’ve sat there shaking your head in wonderment.
It takes some discipline to shut down the irrational thoughts we have and it will surely feel wrong to do so and downright scary at first. But in order to view the world with a sane, sober, common sense lens, we have to tap into the power of our rational minds.
As you may know I try to look at all these creatures and phenomena as scientifically as I possibly can. Sometimes I think I must take the joy out of some of these topics for you all, as though I’m a party pooper.
But I strongly believe that getting to the absolute truth about all these matters is the best way to proceed. I don’t want to be fooled, do you?
I’ll go first. I used to struggle with the breaking mirrors thing. I couldn’t figure out how that caused seven years of bad luck – there was no logic to it. Forcing myself to face that over and over again throughout my life finally helped me kick that habit. There was no logic to it because it was a non-sequitur, plain and simple.
So what irrational superstition are you guilty of? (Keep it clean, please!!)