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Please Explain: Superstition

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th is a date that makes some people cringe. Where does superstition come from and why are people all over the world prone to superstitious beliefs? We’ll be joined by Dr. Edmund Kern, Associate Professor of History at Lawrence University and by Stuart Vyse, Professor of Psychology at Connecticut College.

Guests:

Dr. Edmund Kern and Stuart Vyse
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Comments [19]

PL Hayes from Aberystwyth

Hmmm... but everyone's seen electrons (although they may not realise it) and no-one's ever seen a witch... /scratches head/ ... I guess humour must be culture specific and the anthropologist's joke just doesn't work very well on the ethnically science literate. :P Especially not on those of us aware of the consequences of superstition.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/witch-hunt-africas-hidden-war-on-women-1642907.html

I wonder if cultural relativism was invented to make postmodernism look respectable... Time for a Feynman chaser, I think.

Mar. 14 2009 06:43 PM
isa kocher

that in the twenty first century two profossors punditize ex cathedra at such great length without a clue about their own profound unexamined uncritical ethnocentrism seems to this scientist to be one reason why so many Americans look at science as superstition and a scam. it's really a matter of ethics.

today's whole presentation is superstition raised to dogmatic status in a belief system, unsupported by research other than collective personal opinions. Ethno-science parading as science. It is science from the 19th Century and it ignores as if it never existed one hundred years of language, culture and society research by scientists.

how can two university professors pretend the science on this topic has never been done?[that's a rhetorical question by the way.]

how many Americans know how a lightbulb works, much less Tweeter. In the dessert, every Bedouin I know has a cell phone. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. we all use whatever explanation we need to, just to get through the day, and it takes a realy dumb scientist to believe it is otherwise, and standing at the shore yelling won't get the tide to roll back. Those two guys' lives are every bit as full of irrational explanation as the rest of us and it is purely prejudice to say this is and that isn't x or y or z.

The question is how we pick and choose and mix and match our belief, and the category of superstition has no science basis whatsoever in that mental process. It's prejudice.

Mar. 14 2009 05:21 AM
isa kocher

the categorization of ideologies into superstion and empirical is every bit a ethno-science as any folk category. when i was an undergraduate majoring in anthropology, we used to joke that a whole lot more people have seen witches than have seen electrons [IN FACT I THINK I WAS MARRIED TO ONE ;-)]

Ideologies follow rules of structure and so called superstitions are always related to the cultural structure and serve as functional mechanisms which connect between the categories of a culture. Raw vs Cooked. needs unraw and uncooked salads in us cuisine. domestic animals to eat and undomestic animals to eat vs. humans[never eaten] and pets[never eaten]

superstitions and science all serve these functions in cultures regardless of origins and the superstition science contrast is just another ethno-science contrast.

Mar. 14 2009 04:51 AM
robert coles from port washington,ny

There are many superstitions in the sailor's world:
- Don't pronounce the name of the animal with long ears, that jumps around at Easter...
- Throw a penny upwind to get more wind... (it usually brings too much a storm)
- Put a penny under the mast before stepping it ( meaning erecting it )
- Don't de-baptize a boat
- Don't pee upwind ( it burns your shoes :) unless you passed Cape Horn ( These old salts know better )
Again, we try to tame natural forces we are somewhat afraid of and on which we have no control.

Mar. 13 2009 02:01 PM
Tim Reeves from San Francisco, Calif.

Your guests are looking at this scientifically, but many "superstitions" -- which a previous caller points out, usually have yet to be tested by the same scientists who use the term -- serve psychological or cultural purposes. "Find a penny".... take action to save money today, and you will experience positive feeling from the momentum of that action. These scientific fellows, like so many these days, are reading things as literally and materially as religious fundamentalists. It's the same mentality that hesitates to acknowledge the reality of love, or intention, or of the concept of "reality" itself. Yawn.

Mar. 13 2009 01:59 PM
j

Is there a connection between superstition and obsessive compulsive disorder?

Mar. 13 2009 01:57 PM
Henry from Katonah

I fact-checked the Stevie Wonder birthday statement - Yes, May 13, 1950 was a Friday.

http://www.eldiade.com/en/1950/

I will think of this fact every time I hear the song from now on.

Mar. 13 2009 01:54 PM
David Hume from Staten Island, NY

There are many ways to look at the world. To only look at it one way scientifically, is in itself unscientific.

Dave

Mar. 13 2009 01:53 PM
Jimmy from NJ

What about Superstition regarding the afterlife? I find it so intriguing how we have so many Reality TV shows now focusing in on the superstition of Ghost.... entities.. etc.. and trying to gather scientific information of validating these superstition? Would love to hear what your guest might have to say about it

Mar. 13 2009 01:51 PM
Jimmy from NJ


What about Superstition regarding the afterlife? I find it so intriguing how we have so many Reality TV shows now focusing in on the superstition of Ghost.... entities.. etc.. and trying to gather scientific information of validating these superstition? Would love to hear what your guest might have to say about it

Mar. 13 2009 01:50 PM
Phil Henshaw from NYC

There's actually a good scientific definition of superstition, that would apply to a variety of "scientific" views.

Any time you believe your information is the world, or that your image is the reality, makes it a superstitious belief.

Mar. 13 2009 01:44 PM
Phil Henshaw from NYC

There's actually a good scientific definition of superstition, that many would apply to many supposedly "scientific" views.

"A superstition is a belief that your information is the reality."

Mar. 13 2009 01:43 PM
Catherine from Massapequa

I stand corrected by Paul.

Mar. 13 2009 01:38 PM
Catherine from Massapequa

... break your mother's back a superstition? Does anyone think it is anything other than a rhyme that you can skip over cracks to?

Mar. 13 2009 01:33 PM
Richard Johnston from Manhattan Upper West Side

The proper plural is Fridays the thirteen.

Mar. 13 2009 01:33 PM
David Hume from Staten Island, NY

Friday the 13th has a big rumor that it started from the Knights Templar execution. Can your guest verify this is false. Thanks.

Dave

Mar. 13 2009 01:29 PM
Smokey from LES

Japanese think it's auspicious to conceive children under the Northern Lights - so there's a lot of flights to Alaska in the winter.

Mar. 13 2009 01:28 PM
Rick Jimenez from Keyport, NJ

There was one in Feb. Will be another in Nov. Most years have 1 or 2. Next three timer will occur in 2015

Mar. 13 2009 01:23 PM
Mickey Bitsko from Downtown Manhattan

Is it my own and my wife's imaginations or have there been more Friday the 13th's this year?

Mar. 13 2009 12:29 PM

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