Why magical thinking is still present to this day?


Despite all the bad reputation and hatred to people that have any kind of magical thinking (i.e. believes in magic, any kind), this ideology still very present in society these days, day that seems all about reason and science. What happened to the enlightenment?

Michel Ortega

Posted 2018-02-13T19:17:06.580

Reputation: 31


Hi, welcome to Philosophy SE. Please visit our Help Center to see what questions we answer and how to ask. One reason is that it serves a number of psychological functions. Please read Wikipedia's Magical Thinking and see if it already answers your question, if not please indicate why more specifically.

– Conifold – 2018-02-13T20:32:06.457

I think Habermas would agree with you, though I have not kept up with his later work. I thought this was a good book: Title: The philosophical discourse of modernity : twelve lectures, Author: Habermas, Jürgen. Publisher:MIT Press,Pub date: 1987. – Gordon – 2018-02-14T00:33:36.923

Habermas has also written an essay "Modernity versus Postmodernity" which Is good. Perhaps you have already read it. https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/staff/robertfine/home/teachingmaterial/sociologyofmodernity/readings/modernity_versus_postmodernity_habermas.pdf

– Gordon – 2018-02-14T00:43:46.987

1Just because some method thinking (eg, the Earth revolves around the Sun) has a bad reputation and hatred to people doesn't mean it's wrong. Also, science doesn't always give us the right answer, and magical thinking doesn't contradict reason directly. – None – 2018-02-14T17:11:01.080

1Thank you for the suggestions about Habermas, didn't know about him or his work. I have read a book called "My years of magical thinking" by Lionel Snell. He offers what it's in my opinion, an interesting POV. Also, I agree with @barrycarter; a method of thinking with a bad reputation is not equal to "Wrong thinking method". Still, I am curious about the taboo that still exists in society and why with this thinking method in specific. – Michel Ortega – 2018-02-14T18:41:19.957

I think in some way it happens exactly because of the "overflow" of reason and science - in the end, many people love mystery. And magic gives them exactly that. – Yechiam Weiss – 2018-02-14T20:46:12.360

Try to elaborate on term magic and the answer may come up – rostamn739 – 2018-02-14T18:14:46.510

@ Frank Hubeny. I have deleted my answer. It wasn't satisfying anyone, eventually even myself. – Geoffrey Thomas – 2018-02-17T16:06:54.360

As Descartes noted, once you believe anything beyond "I think, therefore I am", you have accepted some level of magic. – None – 2018-02-19T16:25:01.223

You might want to look at something more central to postmodernism, somewhat related to Habermas: thinking is not just about meaning and experience, it is also always about power. Hostility often comes with uncertain power, and science conveys a great deal of power, but in a way wholly dependent upon the non-scientific to supply it source material. To ask it to make space for other forms of thinking within its own domain it sees as insulting, because it has proven its effectiveness. But if it crowds out other forms of imagination, it will not have anything to 'deduce' from or to 'shape'. – None – 2018-02-19T21:30:41.843



All thinking, including the basic phenomenology of science is at root magical thinking. We tie results to causes, and without further study, they remain tied. One of the things we tie to causes most directly is our own wish, since we do things like move our bodies and manipulate conversations so unconsciously that we cannot analyze the process without involving others.

The idea that applying any set of principles make this any less magical is dismissed by Hume's problem of induction. The idea of induction or observation is itself 'magic' and remains so despite our biases. Science itself is an enormous elaboration of metaphors, all derived from more natural magical thinking.

Particles 'vibrate' because mystical substances in ancient India 'vibrated'. The metaphor is entirely dishonest, and springs straight out of religion. But it is a part of basic physics because it helps, somehow.

Science has a point in insisting we should always get around to explaining our beliefs, when we can. But scientific thinking must always be built upon a more basic foundation, and it must always leave space for the facts that are so close to us that we cannot focus on them (what exactly is morality, what is a purpose, etc.)


Posted 2018-02-13T19:17:06.580


2I agree. The mind, as the mysterious realm that it's right now, mostly unknown and unpredictable, is rooted in the magical thinking as far as we can't explain concepts like consciousness, what it is and how it works. – Michel Ortega – 2018-02-15T19:25:35.827

Not just at the boundaries, but in a very central way, our thinking is naturally magical. Deduction can only remove or refine things. Induction proper is the only way to make new ideas. And it is ultimately magical thinking. Even the assumption "There must be something physical and logical underlying any observed connection" is itself a magical connection we just hold because it makes us feel better, and we cannot prove it. It pays off, so it wins over time. But the ways it pays off rely on the miraculous ability it gives us to predict the future. – None – 2018-02-19T20:07:49.810


Magical thinking has entered mathematics with Cantor's set theory.

Aristotle is the first to distinguish potential infinity and actual infinity. He bans actual infinity from philosophy and mathematics. The idea of the infinity of God, created in Hellenism, amalgamates – not later than in the works of Thomas – with the Aristotelian postulate of the pure actuality of God. This yields the Christian perception of God's pure actuality. During the renaissance, in particular with Bruno, the actual infinity is carried over from God to the world. The finite world models of present science show clearly, how the superiority of the idea of actual infinity has ceased with the classical (modern) physics. In contrast the inclusion of the actual infinite appears disconcerting which explicitly began during the end of the last century with G. Cantor. In the intellectual framework of our century – in particular when considering existential philosophy – the actual infinite appears really as an anachronism. [Paul Lorenzen: "Das Aktual-Unendliche in der Mathematik", Philosophia naturalis 4 (1957) p. 3]

Meanwhile Cantor's followers believe in "real" numbers that cannot be defined or used in any way (Cantor himself did not as we must say in his favour). Even uncountable alphabets (i.e., unlistable lists) are accepted. The whole matter has completely pushed out the former precision and definiteness of the "Queen of Sciences".


Posted 2018-02-13T19:17:06.580

Reputation: 1

2This is not at all what is meant by 'magical thinking' as the OP is using it. – None – 2018-02-19T11:28:10.740

1It is even worse. It tries to impress laymen as scientific but is nothing than superstition. – Wilhelm – 2018-02-19T12:22:52.183

1There is nothing here with philosophical content. The ideas present are entirely bias. It does not address the question as asked. And it is purposefully rude. This post has no value. – None – 2018-02-19T19:39:54.433