Archive for January 23rd, 2007

Santa Claus = My First Jesus?

Interesting story in today’s NYT about superstition and magical thinking, which contained this particularly interesting passage:

It is no coincidence, some social scientists believe, that youngsters begin learning about faith around the time they begin to give up on wishing. “The point at which the culture withdraws support for belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is about the same time it introduces children to prayer,” said Jacqueline Woolley, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas. “The mechanism is already there, kids have already spent time believing that wishing can make things come true, and they’re just losing faith in the efficacy of that.”

It’s an intriguing notion, that such childhood superstitions are a form of preparation for organized religion – almost as if they’re exercising some sort of faith muscle. Or, alternatively, that the human brain is hardwired for belief, and religion is the way most people channel it. The story leans towards the latter interpretation.

But as interesting as that is, most of the story is about belief in the power of positive or negative thinking, good omens, and lucky talismans or rituals. It almost sounds like superstition is a form of self-administered placebo.

These habits have little to do with religious faith, which is much more complex because it involves large questions of morality, community and history. But magical thinking underlies a vast, often unseen universe of small rituals that accompany people through every waking hour of a day.

The appetite for such beliefs appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress. In excess, it can lead to compulsive or delusional behavior. This emerging portrait of magical thinking helps explain why people who fashion themselves skeptics cling to odd rituals that seem to make no sense, and how apparently harmless superstition may become disabling.

(…)

“The question is why do people create this illusion of magical power?” said the lead author, Emily Pronin, an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton. “I think in part it’s because we are constantly exposed to our own thoughts, they are most salient to us” — and thus we are likely to overestimate their connection to outside events.

The brain, moreover, has evolved to make snap judgments about causation, and will leap to conclusions well before logic can be applied. In an experiment presented last fall at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, Ben Parris of the University of Exeter in England presented magnetic resonance imaging scans taken from the brains of people watching magic tricks. In one, the magician performed a simple sleight of hand: he placed a coin in his palm, closed his fingers over it, then opened his hand to reveal that the coin was gone.

Dr. Parris and his colleagues found spikes of activity in regions of the left hemisphere of the brain that usually become engaged when people form hypotheses in uncertain situations.

These activations occur so quickly, other researchers say, that they often link two events based on nothing more than coincidence: “I was just thinking about looking up my high school girlfriend when out of the blue she called me,” or, “The day after I began praying for a quick recovery, she emerged from the coma.”

For people who are generally uncertain of their own abilities, or slow to act because of feelings of inadequacy, this kind of thinking can be an antidote, a needed activator, said Daniel M. Wegner, a professor of psychology at Harvard….

“I deal with students like this all the time and I say, ‘Let’s get you overconfident,’ ” Dr. Wegner said. “This feeling that your thoughts can somehow control things can be a needed feeling” — the polar opposite of the helplessness, he added, that so often accompanies depression.

Magical thinking is most evident precisely when people feel most helpless. Giora Keinan, a professor at Tel Aviv University, sent questionnaires to 174 Israelis after the Iraqi Scud missile attacks of the 1991 gulf war. Those who reported the highest level of stress were also the most likely to endorse magical beliefs, like “I have the feeling that the chances of being hit during a missile attack are greater if a person whose house was attacked is present in the sealed room,” or “To be on the safe side, it is best to step into the sealed room right foot first.”

(…)

Those whose magical thoughts can blossom into full-blown delusion and psychosis appear to be a fundamentally different group in their own right, said Mark Lenzenweger, a professor of clinical science, neuroscience and cognitive psychology at Binghamton, part of the State University of New York. “These are people for whom magical thinking is a central part of how they view the world,” not a vague sense of having special powers, he said. “Whereas with most people, if you were to confront them about their magical beliefs, they would back down.”

They’re called Republicans…

Getting back to the title of my post, I’m not being entirely facetious here. They share a holiday, they both have beards, they’re both very generous and love children, and they both died horrible, painful deaths to redeem our sins.

2 comments January 23rd, 2007 at 11:52pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Science

Eli’s Obsession With The Google

My old blog is the #1 search result for best sex yet.

Now I’m sorry I left…

2 comments January 23rd, 2007 at 09:43pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Eli's Obsession With The Google

Okay, So…

If Libby’s defense strategy is to claim that the Bushies are making Libby a scapegoat to protect Rove…

What kind of proof do they have to provide to make that case? Would it be enough to get Rover indicted?

And as a special bonus, it looks like both the prosecution and the defense are portraying Cheney as the Grand Puppetmaster orchestrating the leakage. Mwahahahaha.

1 comment January 23rd, 2007 at 09:41pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Cheney,Libby/Plame,Politics,Rove,Wankers

George W. Bush, Equalitymaker

Heh. Dubya led off his State Of The Union address by appearing to take credit for the House having its first-ever female Speaker.

Which, I suppose, he can.

Oh, and he congratulated the “Democrat majority.” Wanker.

Post-SOTU Update: Chris Matthews just referred to Hillary’s fundraising operation as “Promethean.” The hell???

January 23rd, 2007 at 09:19pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Politics,Wankers

Officially A Hack

When Deborah Howell says your story’s bullshit…

John Solomon must forever wear the Scarlet H.

(h/t Josh Marshall, by way of Christy)

January 23rd, 2007 at 07:41pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Politics,Wankers

New Horizons In Not-Quite-Lying

Former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie says that the federal budget hasn’t been balanced since 1998.

I suppose this could be considered true, in the sense that a budget in surplus is not technically “balanced”…

(h/t Atrios)

2 comments January 23rd, 2007 at 06:00pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Politics,Wankers

Oy.

How sad is it that my old blog is getting more traffic than my new one? And almost all of it is Google searches for some variation of sex bus.

Sigh. I should have just deleted it to force everyone to come here for all their sex bus needs.

On the plus side, I am was on the first page of search results for aquarium platform shoes.

4 comments January 23rd, 2007 at 05:54pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Eli's Obsession With The Google

A Six-Year Moment Of Truth

I was thinking about the success of the Democrats’ First 100 Hours Plan, and what it means, and how important it is to keep building on it as Democrats (hopefully) consolidate their control of the Senate and retake the White House.

For the third time in a row, the Republicans have run the country into the ground, and then challenged the Democrats to somehow make it all better. Generally speaking, Carter failed, and was replaced by an incompetent Republican. Clinton succeeded, but was nevertheless replaced by an even more incompetent Republican. What will happen this time?

The early signs are positive, as Congressional Democrats have begun to use their new powers to start fixing areas of neglect like minimum wage and homeland security (you heard me). Obviously, they need to continue to build on that over the next two years, and then work with a Democratic president to achieve even more comprehensive rollback and repair.

If they succeed, then not only will they pull the country back from the brink, but they can incorporate this into their brand and narrative to drive the Banana Republicans back to their holes: “The Republicans are the party that breaks the country, and the Democrats are the party that puts it back together again – who would you rather vote for?”

It would be a very compelling campaign message, but the Democrats really would have to put the country back together, which will be a daunting task to say the least. If they can’t pull it off, then the country will continue to alternate between Republican and Democratic control until the Democrats can demonstrate a consistent track record of cleaning up Republican messes. I believe that establishing that pattern is essential, and that if Carter had succeeded in fixing the economy (and if the Republicans hadn’t sabotaged him on the hostage crisis), Al Gore would have won easily in 2000.

One thing that I keep wondering about is what the Democrats will do with all the extraordinary powers that the Republicans have granted themselves as president and congressional majority. Will the Democrats graciously hand them back in the name of comity and Constitution, or will they use them to push through extreme measures that Republicans can’t stomach? Will the Gang Of 14 anti-filibuster compromise on judicial nominees still be operative? Would the Democrats invoke the nuclear option? I have mixed feelings on all this. While it would be very satisfying (not to mention expedient) to use the Republicans’ own weapons against them, ultimately the ends cannot justify the means. Ideally, I would like to see them broker a deal with the Republicans which makes such majority and presidential power grabs all but impossible in the future, and raises the bar for judicial approvals to a supermajority, with no presumption of presidential prerogative. I think the Republicans would jump all over such a deal – the trick would be figuring out how to prevent them from tearing it up the second they retake power (hopefully never). Oh, and as long as I’m pipedreaming, some election reform (paper trails, public campaign financing, nonpartisan election officials) would be nice, too…

But I digress. The bottom line is that the Democrats need to show visible progress over the next six years, in getting us out of Iraq, in improving our security and relations with the global community, in restoring and augmenting the safety net, in rebalancing the budget, in reining in corporate corruption and excesses, and in re-establishing the government as the servant of the people. If they can do that, and continue to remind the American people that they have done that, they should stay in control for a good long time – at least until a new generation comes of age that doesn’t remember how bad it was under the Republicans.

2 comments January 23rd, 2007 at 12:18pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Democrats,Favorites,Politics,Republicans

Surgery

Looks like John McCain and the American people aren’t the only ones unimpressed by The Surge:

Al Qaeda’s deputy leader on Monday mocked President Bush’s plan to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq, challenging him to send the “entire army” and vowing that insurgents would defeat them, according to a new videotape released by an American group that tracks messages from Al Qaeda.

(…)

In the tape, Mr. Zawahri said the United States strategy for Iraq, outlined by Mr. Bush in a speech on Jan. 9, was doomed to fail.

“I ask him, why send 20,000 only — why not send 50,000 or 100,000?” Mr. Zawahri says on the video released by SITE. “Aren’t you aware that the dogs of Iraq are pining for your troops’ dead bodies?

“So send your entire army to be annihilated at the hands of the holy warriors to free the world from your evil,” he continues, “because Iraq, land of the caliphate and jihad, is able to bury 10 armies like yours, with God’s help and power.”

That’s some pretty good trash talk right there.

January 23rd, 2007 at 07:33am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Politics

Choices

Well, now that it’s the day after Blog For Choice Day, I guess I can put my two cents in on the subject:

If they’re really serious about reducing or eliminating abortions, the pro-lifers should stop trying to make it harder to get an abortion, and start making it easier to not get one. If our schools teach real sex-ed (none of this ineffective abstinence bullshit); if contraceptives are readily available; if indigent mothers have enough support options that they feel they can take care of a baby, then abortions will plummet. Most of them will be for cases of rape/incest or where the mother’s life is in danger – scenarios where only a tiny sliver of anti-choice psychos believe abortion is not justified.

The fact that most so-called pro-lifers are against giving women these additional options to avoid the Ultimate Evil of abortions, proves that they are not pro-life, but rather pro-pregnancy, pro-birth, anti-choice, anti-women, and anti-sex. Fie upon them.

1 comment January 23rd, 2007 at 07:26am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Choice,Politics,Republicans


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