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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Irrational things I believe

When you come right down to it, a lot of people have some strange beliefs. I don't mean that they're members of particular sects; I'm referring to beliefs peculiar to themselves, little quirks of conviction that they themselves can't really justify with logic. Here are some of mine:

Washing in dew on May Day makes your skin beautiful

I read this in a magazine when I was a little girl. At the time, I had serious eczema on my hands, and in an attempt to fix it, I tried the dew method. The eczema went away and my hands became smooth.

Rationally, I suppose it just healed up because things generally do. But I still scooped some dew onto my face this May Day.

Wishing evil on someone will rebound on you

I can make a rational argument for this one. Express a wish that something bad will happen to someone in the presence of other people, and it'll affect their opinion of you. Act hatefully, and you're putting the impression of a hateful person out there: people generally don't like hateful people. I know I tend to go off people who wish too much misfortune on others, and many people are the same. So wishing evil on someone probably will rebound on you, in that it'll have negative consequences on how people treat you.

It's possible that my subconscious knows this and comes up with instincts to enforce it. If so, it clearly feels the need to make heavier threats, though, because that's not how this belief works in my mind. There's no logical reason to assume that if I say, 'I hope so-and-so dies in a fire,' I'll die in a fire. There's no logical reason to assume that if I say, 'I hope he drowns,' I'll drown - but that's how my mind seems to interpret it. Even if I don't quite believe what I believe, wishing evil on people just feels unlucky.

If someone says 'Damn you' to me, even as a joke, I'll go to hell

I think I picked that odd piece of theology up from reading at an impressionable age, and somehow it stuck. I'm not sure if I even believe in hell, and it seems to me that a universe run on such principles would be far less reasonable and beautiful than the universe we actually inhabit, so it makes absolutely no sense. But still, if someone jokingly says 'Damn you' to me, I jump up saying 'Take it back! Take it back!' (Anyone who does this is the comments, please don't; it genuinely makes me nervous, and it wouldn't be that clever or funny to begin with.)

Curiously, this belief does not extent to 'damn your eyes.' If someone damns my eyes, I mind a lot less. (Though I'd still invite commenters to not do that.)

I mention these beliefs for two reasons. The first is simply that it's interesting how many people have odd little beliefs tucked away in their corners, and I'd be interested to see what other people's are. But the second is to point out that rationality is a variable thing.

It's been my amateur observation that the people who make the biggest production of how 'rational' they are are not usually the most logical or reasonable people. Generally they're very emotional people, and their emotions are what's driving them; a lot of their self-declared rationality is actually rationalisation of beliefs that are, for whatever reason, emotionally important to them. If you watch an informal debate, the odds are pretty good that the person insisting loudly that everything should be rational is the one who's going to kick off.

Now, this is not to say that anyone who believes in being rational or admires the scientific method is actually a superstitious hysteric; dealing with things logically is an admirable quality, and many people who admire logic and science are clear-headed, rational thinkers. But the people who use logic best are generally the ones who accept that they're beings of feeling as well as thought, and know how to distinguish the two. If you're hung up on being an entirely rational creature, it doesn't stop you from being emotional; it just gives you cognitive dissonance about it, and the easiest thing to do is to pretend that your feelings are actually logical conclusions and any passion you feel is merely the conviction of absolute reason. You have to accept that you have feelings and irrational beliefs before you can can start to exclude them from your logic.

And on that score, there's nothing wrong with emotion. Emotion motivates us to act, to make our minds up, to put our logic to good use. Emotion can get there ahead of us: very often the first sign that an argument is faulty or a situation is dangerous is that it feels wrong, and while we can reason that out with a little thought, it's emotion that's given us the heads-up. Excluding emotion from a discussion isn't just dishonest, it's ill-advised, because emotions may not be logical, but neither are they stupid.

We're all driven by emotion, and we're all liable to pick up some illogical beliefs along way. So, in the interests of fun and truthfulness, I think it's good to acknowledge sometimes just how odd some of our convictions are.

What odd beliefs or opinions do you have?

Hola! You may, or may not, recognize me from the comments on Slacktivist. I followed a few links you'd posted on vanity publishers and author mills, and decided to read around a bit.

Having made a conscious effort to get rid of such beliefs a few years back (transitioning from the most credulous person on the internet to full-out skeptic lead to some rather massive mental upheavals.) I honestly can't think of any.

The problem might be that I'm equating "belief" to "know logically" (or something like that, anyways) not to "gut instinct". So, I don't "believe" any weird things, because if I knew they were weird then, by my own definition, I wouldn't believe them.

So, if I step back and look at "belief" as "things my gut knows is true" then I get...

I suppose...Taunting fate would count. So, saying "What could possibly go wrong?" just invites disaster. (Also on that list are: "Don't worry!", "Piece of cake." and "I am invincible!" Though that last one doesn't see as much use in my everyday life as I would like.)

I know, of course, that this is not true, but years of watching TV shows and movies, reading books, and generally being exposed to fiction has lead to a deep-seated uneasiness whenever someone tempts fate.

I've also been rather interested in how "damn" has transitioned. I mean, as you say, the word itself is not a nice one. You are saying that the target should be tormented for all eternity. But, due to saturation, it's now seen roughly as harmful as "Gosh-darn it!"

Raises some interesting questions about what new swear words will be founded to replace the current crop in a hundred years.

And finally, (I don't consider it a proper comment if it couldn't be re-published as an essay, it would seem. :P) yeah, logic and emotion can co-exist perfectly well.

I don't trust my gut on, well, anything (Carl Sagan has an excellent quote about that: "I try not to think with my gut. If I'm serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble.") but that doesn't mean I don't have a gut and that I don't indulge it at times.

So, while I never argue using my gut, I do watch movies and read books, and generally do things that tweak emotions.

Then again, the whole "Logic vs. Emotion" thing is a false dichotomy. If one's sole goal in life is to be happy then one can set about getting there logically. Logic only excludes emotional feelings when you don't include them as an end-goal.
I believe drinking spicy soup will make a head cold go away faster. It won't.

I believe if I exercise regularly I will be as thin as I was before my depression made me gain weight. I won't.

I believe I will someday be a famous and well-respected scientist whose work will be known and appreciated by the population at large. I won't. I will toil away unknown like 99.9% of scientists, and even that is only if I can get a job doing research after grad school.
Kit, does your strange phobia of "damn you" extend to other people? Are you worried, for instance that if someone was to say "damn X" about your fiance, that he would end up in hell?
does your strange phobia of "damn you" extend to other people?Yep.
Bah. I'm just imagining God thinking "Make me" whenever someone wishes for another's perdition.
I'm assuming you're not referring to things like my belief that the Platonic ideals have some sort of objective reality, or that "better stories make for better people", or if I tell my son five thousand times to put his dishes in the sink when he is done with them, eventually he will, so...

I am utterly convinced that if I forget my umbrella it will rain, and vice versa. Despite this being demonstrably untrue, at least for the past two weeks.

I don't really *believe* that is necessary to throw a pinch of salt over my shoulder when I spill it, but I also figure it couldn't hurt.

I believe that a diet soda negates the calories from a slice of cake or a couple of cookies. That's under the heading of "I believe this because I WANT it to be true," however.

[word verification: "scurecip" -- the sort of nasty soup you make by boiling leftover veggies and pasta with the bone from Sunday's roast, because you just know "if you throw out good food the devil will foul the larder"]
I believe if I wake up earlier then I'll get more done during the day. This hardly ever happens - I just wander around like a zombie for the first part of the day because I'm still waking up.

I believe drinking a coffee every morning will prevent me from getting migraines later in the day. It doesn't. (In my defense, I base this belief on some advice I once received from a neurologist.)

I believe I want to do the dishes and housework because I like to keep things tidy. Nope. It's usually because I'm about to get a migraine and my brain is telling me to get everything done NOW, because soon I won't be able to do a damn thing for the next 6-8 hours.

Word of the day: zillyre - a type of stringed instrument that was last popular in ancient Crete.
roosterfish, you probably already know this, but while caffeine won't PREVENT migraines, it often can alleviate the severity and length if taken immediately before or in the early onset stages (e.g., in my case somewhere between the craving for salt and the beginning of visual hallucinations)

Among other physiological effects, caffeine dilates blood vessels, including the facial / cranial ones that are often constricted by typical migraine "triggers." It doesn't always work, but it does often enough that caffeine is an ingredient in most OTC "migraine" medications.

Caffeine, however, is NOT a good treatment for "stress" or "cluster" type headaches.

Just passing it along...

[wotd: "pyranst" -- a member of a team of fire-jugglers (because we all know that there is no I in team!)
Hi hapax, yep, I know that coffee is a mild vasoconstrictor and that there's a proper time to take it. My problem is that I usually don't get visual auras, so it's very difficult for me to pinpoint when I'm having early onset symptoms.

The salt cravings aren't too regular either (you get those too, eh?). Sometimes I'll crave salt right away, and other times the craving will wait until the pain hits. Or I just won't get the craving at all.

I have stealth migraines. I actually prefer the (very rare) occasions when I do get a visual aura, as that's a nice obvious sign for me to take pills and drink coffee NOW. I call those my "polite migraines" -- they call before they visit.

(Word verification: "axends" -- the sharp, pointy bits of a double-headed ax.)
Hmmm. I'll have to give this some thought. I'm sure many of my religious beliefs would fall into that category, but that's not quite what you meant. I will say that I tend to be a believer in the venerable Murphy's Law: If something can go wrong, it will. However, I tend to be more optimistic than most Murphyians: The glass isn't half empty OR half-full; it's smashed on the floor. But you can always get a NEW glass. :-)

The "damn" discussion called to mind a recent exchange between friends on an LJ about the word -- Ted occasionally makes posts when, say, an actor or someone who's brought him joy dies, leading off with "Damn." Molly suggested it was perhaps inappropriate to wish the entire universe consigned to Hell because an actor died at 90 after a full life. Which led to a discussion of "damn," as Ted -- like most people -- tend to use the word as a mild interjection, like "Rats." Molly -- who's of Catholic background -- noted that "damn" is a trigger-word for her whereas words considered much more Extreme in most circles (like "fuck") don't bug her.

What I take from this is that linguistics can never be separated from culture or individual background. I know that, but I don't always act like I do.

(BTW, I'm one of those occasional post-ers at Slacktivist -- I surfaced in the whole pas-de-many with Jason a couple weeks ago -- and I've always admired your clearness of thought and charity of expression.)
Why, thank you L. David! :-)
re: the caffeine/headaches thing, I get migraines and also am addicted to coffee, to the extent that I get a headache in the afternoon if I haven't had any coffee. BUT! Drinking coffee (with a generous amount of water) does also, often but not always, alleviate the migraine symptoms. I don't have visuals, either, but do have a aura (lethargy, slurred speech, sound/light/smell sensitivity) and lose depth perception. I also crave sugar, particularly the cherry danish filling from Au Bon Pan. Actual cherries also help. This is strange but true.

I play the "straw wrapper game" in which I think of a person as I tie a paper straw wrapper in a knot and pull. If the knot comes undone, the person is also thinking about me, and I am happy. If it stays tied and the wrapper breaks somewhere else, the person is not thinking of me, and I am sad.

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