Logical thinking and Magical Thinking

Can my fellow dopers provide me with any insights on the following questions:

  1. What are main benefits of logical thought? Iow, what makes logic so great? Defend: Logic.

  2. What do you consider to be the largest or most glaring logical problems with a. Religion in general and b. The major religions specifically (Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc.)?

  3. What would you consider to be the benefits of magical thinking? Iow, what makes magic so great? Defend: Magic.

I guess I’m looking for summations on all the above, not dissertations.

I promise, this is not a homework assignment! I’m looking for intelligent debate on these issues which are at the front of my mind lately. (I’m one of those geeky people with a spiritually-inclined personality - and let me tell you, that is one crazy mental ride to take).

Thanks in advance.

Logic works. It tells you that A causes B and B causes C and C causes D, so that if you want D you should do A.

Magic doesn’t work. It tells you that if you want D you should do A even if there’s no connection between A and D.

Logic is when you want money so you learn skills so you can get a job so you will get paid. Magic is when you want money so you carry a lucky rabbit’s foot.

Defend magic? Well, if you ignore the lack of outcomes, magic has the advantage of being easier than logic.

I would say that Magic also uses logic, to an extent.
Like , if I do B then G and then F, D will happen.

It’s just that B, G and F are not actually causal to D. I only think they are.

So, it’s not that logic is the opposite of magical, critical analysis is.
And knowledge of how stuff works.

If one begins from sound premises, then one may proceed, through logic, through what turns out to be an infinite field of true conclusions. One may not view this territory via other methods.

Magical thinking allows life to just <make sense>, it also allows both you and others to be blameless and gives you the illusion of POWER over things you are in reality powerless over. I was fascinated by it living with people that indulge it, and these are my conclusions.

Do you want something to happen? Well with magical thinking you have the illusion that you can make it happen. Didn’t end up happening? Well guess your juju wasn’t strong enough.

Something bad happened? Don’t analyze the situation logically trying to assign cause or blame, instead find someone you dislike to blame, obviously their juju caused this. Or blame evil spirits, they are like Tibor on the Simpsons.

I’m going to expand a little on the original topic. I’m going discuss not just logical thinking, but rational thinking in general.

There are at least two benefits to rational thinking. One is that, in the event it’s needed (some sort of personal or other kind of crisis) rational thinking leads to better outcomes than magical thinking.

Simple analogy: bicycling down a road. There’s a rock in the way. The rational thinker sees the rock, and does something to avoid it, rather than crash. (Not a great analogy, but a simple one.)

Another advantage: rational thinkers, in general, are more secure. They understand things like probabilities, for example, and are less likely to be suffer from fear of flying, or other irrational fears.

Downsides: rational thinkers are more likely to suffer from depression. They’re less likely to believe in ego-soothing mechanisms (“I’m special”, for example) or wide-spread but low-evidence beliefs like “I’m going to live forever, because I’m going to heaven when I die.”

The inverse of the above. Magical thinking allows you to ignore the evidence, and enjoy beliefs like, “Bad things happen for a reason,” or "Bad things happen to other people, or “What comes around goes around,” or “I’m rich because I deserve it.”

The downside is that they do poorly in crises - both in anticipating them, and dealing with them when they arrive. And they’re generally less secure, because there’s always some part of them that realizes their beliefs are not grounded in evidence or logic, but what is comforting. (Some part of them knows they’re not seeing the ugly rocks, so they can never be sure they’re not going to hit one.)

There’s a strong argument that magical thinking is better, from a purely rational point of view. If the purpose of life is to be happy, magical-thinkers are happier. Unfortunately, rational thinkers are unable to become magical thinkers. It’s just not in their DNA.

Let me add something to my previous post: there’s no hard-line between rational and magical thinking. Plenty of mostly rational people indulge in magical thinking from time to time, and plenty of magical thinkers are sometimes perfectly rational.

It’s a bell-curve; not a dichotomy.

One good example: many rational people indulge in the ego-soothing belief that being smart makes them better than other people. It doesn’t. Stupid people don’t choose to be stupid anymore than blind choose to be blind. It’s just a handicap imposed on them by bad luck. Similarly, being smart is just a an advantage (to the extent it is an advantage) bestowed by genes and (to a lesser degree) by the environment you happened to inherit. It’s not a choice people make at birth.

I think the big downside to magical thinking is that it can cause you to ignore more rational solutions to getting what you want out of life, and it can keep you from learning to avoid bad outcomes by acting rationally.

If you rely only on magic to effect outcomes you ignore reality based solutions that while they are not guaranteed do offer some influence on the outcome.

Also by ignoring the true causes of a bad outcome you can make the same mistakes later because you blame it on an unrelated actor or nebulous evil.

So while very comforting and empowering magical thinking can also be a trap.

Speaking as someone formally educated in science, engineering, business and technology, I agree with the poster who said “logic works”. Furthermore, ignoring logic often doesn’t work and often doesn’t work in ways that can be catastrophic.

In simplest terms, logic dictates that you do things (or don’t do things) because there is a good reason to do them (or not do them).

Well, I can’t speak for every religion, because I haven’t studied them. But in general, the most glaring logical problem with any religion is they are not based on logic and should not be viewed as such.

The purpose of religion is (or should be) to serve as a moral framework and a means of shared cultural heritage through the use of stories. The tale of Moses and his arc is no more historically accurate than the tale about Frodo Baggins and the Ring. But both serve as useful life-lessons about putting others ahead of yourself, rejecting evil and taking on a difficult task for the greater good.

The problem with religions though is that they are often very dogmatic and in many cases lead to persecution of those who either don’t follow the religion or deviate from the mainstream.

I assume by “magic” you mean any sort of thinking not anchored in a logical framework. I suppose the benefit is that, not being constrained by logic or even reality, it allows you to imagine greater possibilities.

A good example is marriage (and children). Marriage made more sense logically in the old days when it was used as a mechanism for consolidating wealth between two families and establishing a clear path of inheritance for that wealth. But in modern times, there really isn’t a reason for it. You don’t need marriage to have sex. Women don’t need a husband for financial security anymore. It’s probably better to find companionship (sexual or otherwise) with a wide range of friends and acquaintances who meet different needs at different times without formal obligation rather than expect one person to be all things at all times for the duration of your life. That person you marry at 26 is not going to be the same 26 year old forever. And a significant number of marriages fail. And once you have a child, that’s 18+ years of having to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own. Not to mention that you also may marry into an extended family of people you may not even like, but now have to deal with on holidays and such.

And yet, I’m still married and have a child and for the most part, would prefer to stay that way, even though it’s not something that makes total sense logically.

I can’t imagine what class this would be for.

I disagree. The hard line between rational and magical is “reality”. What makes rational people “better” is that they actually have to come up with a plan that works, rather than hand-waving big ideas. At least when it comes to doing things that require logic and reason. A blind person may not have chosen to be blind. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are less equipped to perform tasks that require sight like flying an airplane or playing tennis.

Mechanical advantage, by which I mean logic can help you accomplish goals with reduced physical effort, time and risk. Humans can hunt and forage for food (and did, for most of humanity’s existence) but applying logical thought allows for agriculture and a steadier food supply.

Unsupported premises. The religions (I’m not sure Buddhism should be grouped with those other three) start with an axiom that God exists and performed certain actions and has certain expectations. None of these are demonstrable.

I’d need some clarification of the term, but I gather the same objection to unsupported premises would apply.

From a viewpoint that we are all God’s children, we are some of the youngest children and angels are our parents and guardians, archangels theirs etc. We will grow to be them some day and have our own children to provide for, to inspire and to teach them to do likewise.

Logic is us learning as perhaps a toddler (in that above eternal age frame) learns for what we will one day become. It is taught to us by our parents (angels) for our development. It helps us nderstand our world and social interactions and develop technology and ethics which we are guided in and we are to use.

It is what we know how to do today at our age.

Religion first of all simulates a relationship with God instead of being one. In that is it only instructive in helping to know that 1 there is a God, and 2 God does not have anything to do with religion (and must logically be elsewhere), in that it’s purpose is logical. People will look for God naturally in religion, naturally not find Him (or if they do they will find out that God is only came there to lead them out). In that it serves it’s purpose - we think we want a structure, we think we want a priest who is the go between, a known person, God provides it because we insist. As that it is a logical move by God to allow religion, for us to realize that’s not what we want, nor what we are designed for. So religion is self defeating yet still serves a purpose.

Again all these have a purpose, all have aspects of who God is, but mixed in with a lot of phooey. In themselves it is divisive and isolating God’s people from each other. However this is God’s plan when His children start going astray, diving them up (such as in the tower of Babble).

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”- Arthur C Clarke

Magic, while we are young (in a eternal time frame), is the angelic powers we are able to access though our angelic parents. It inspires us of what is possible and inspires us to create them using our tools (logic and technology). It leads us along the path to our development. It also guides ethics but does not explain why it is as such.

Magic is what we are being inspired to do and to learn about that we will one day understand the workings behind when we are ready.

It shows what is possible for us to do and one day understand how to do that on our own. It advances science and inspires us.

I guess I’m looking for summations on all the above, not dissertations.

I promise, this is not a homework assignment! I’m looking for intelligent debate on these issues which are at the front of my mind lately. (I’m one of those geeky people with a spiritually-inclined personality - and let me tell you, that is one crazy mental ride to take).

Thanks in advance.

u’r welcome :slight_smile:

If one is defining magical thinking as fantasy, which is imagining improbably or impossible things, I think we all are capable of such thought. We all like to fantasize, probably enjoy a good movie that may even have plenty of it, or imagine many improbably or impossible things. One may have magical thoughts of being able to fly, but hopefully isn’t so hard-wired into the fantasy, wouldn’t be able to realize if they jumped off the cliff, gravity would take over.

So you’re looking for a logical discussion?

I’d have do that with logic. (Which is the defense of it right there.)

I’d have to do that with logic. (Which kind of ends the whole argument right there.)

Note that you posted here to get reasoned responses. Note that you could’ve simply wished for the answer – or that I could reply by merely wishing to provide a defense. Why did we each do the logical thing instead of the magical thing?

This interests me, rational people indulging in magical thinking. I recently read the The Atlantic (March 2015) “The Science of Superstition.”


This reminds me of the Benadryl Brownie episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in which Richard Lewis’s Christian Scientist girlfriend responds to an allergic reaction with prayer rather than antihistamines.

But are there any situations/questions/problems out there that aren’t necessarily or easily solved with rational solutions?

This I feel is kind of poor evidence of magical thinking, versus semantic sloppiness.

Obviously trees don’t have volition, this is akin to saying “evolution created human beings” as semantic sloppiness, most don’t believe evolution has agency.

Not necessarily. For example, riding Kingda-Ka is terrifying for virtually all people. If it weren’t terrifying, it wouldn’t have been built in the first place. A rational thinker could calculate the speeds reached on a 456-foot plunge, the acceleration experienced at the bottom, the strength of the steel beams and the extremely low probability of the structure collapsing or the carts coming off the rails. But it would still be terrifying.

Is it worth pointing out that all our modern electronics (the design and programming of computers, etc.) is based on logic? Without logic, you wouldn’t have the device you’re reading this on right now.

You could wish in the other hand, but I hear that doesn’t work nearly as fast.

I disagree with you. I believe that people are on a continuum; some are extremely rational, others are terribly irrational, and most are somewhere in between, on pretty much a bell curve, if you could measure it.

(I suspect someone could measure it. As a student I worked at the University of Michigan Mathematical Psychology Department, programming their computer to do studies. I was amazed at the kinds of things they could measure! I also learned the perils of playing card games with people who knew how I thought better than you I and could compute the odds better too.)