Tag Archives: superstition

Very superstitious: why we believe

four_leaved_cloverI’ve always been curious as to why human beings are superstitious, now evolutionary biologists believe it is the result of natural selection. Prof Kevin Foster of Harvard University defines superstition as the tendency to falsely link cause and effect:

…a prehistoric human might associate rustling grass with the approach of a predator and hide. Most of the time, the wind will have caused the sound, but “if a group of lions is coming there’s a huge benefit to not being around,”

So far so plausible:

Foster and Kokko worked with mathematical language and a simple definition for superstition that includes animals and even bacteria.

The pair modelled the situations in which superstition is adaptive. As long as the cost of believing a superstition is less than the cost of missing a real association, superstitious beliefs will be favoured.

I’ve always felt that, even though I agree with a lot of what A C Grayling, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins say vis a vis belief and superstition they need to give more thought to the possibility that superstitious beliefs are part of the human condition.

[story via Slashdot][image from Greencolander on flickr]