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Read: Magical Thinking - Psychology Today

Even hard-core skeptics can’t help but find sympathy in the fabric of the universe—and occasionally try to pull its strings. By: Matthew Hutson

Last year John Lennon went on tour. He visited, among other locations, Oklahoma City, Waco, New Orleans, and Virginia Tech, spreading a message of peace and love at the sites of tragic events. You may not have recognized him, though, covered in scars and cigarette burns. But to hear him, there would have been no mistaking his presence.

On this journey, Lennon assumed the form of a piano, specifically the one on which he composed Imagine. “It gives off his spirit, and what he believed in, and what he preached for many years,” says Caroline True, the tour director and a colleague of the Steinway’s current owner, singer George Michael. Free of velvet ropes, it could be touched or played by anyone. According to Libra LaGrone, whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, “It was like sleeping in your grandpa’s sweatshirt at night. Familiar, beautiful, and personal.”

“I never went anywhere saying this is a magic piano and it’s going to cure your ills,” True says. But she consistently saw even the most skeptical hearts warm to the experience—even in Virginia, where the piano landed just a month after the massacre. “I had no idea an inanimate object could give people so much.”

Maybe you’re not a Beatles fan. Maybe you even hate peace and love. But you are wired to find meaning in the world, a predisposition that leaves you with less control over your beliefs than you may think. Even if you’re a hard-core atheist who walks under ladders and pronounces “new age” like “sewage,” you believe in magic.

Magical thinking springs up everywhere. Some irrational beliefs (Santa Claus?) are passed on to us. But others we find on our own. Survival requires recognizing patterns—night follows day, berries that color will make you ill. And because missing the obvious often hurts more than seeing the imaginary, our skills at inferring connections are overtuned. No one told Wade Boggs that eating chicken before every single game would help his batting average; he decided that on his own, and no one can argue with his success. We look for patterns because we hate surprises and because we love being in control.

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Hi, Christine! Wow, what a fascinating article -- thank you so much for linking to it. What it talks about, magical thinking vs. rationalism, is a huge component to the story in a novel I wrote a while back (remains unpublished, but I'm fond of it).

And speaking for myself as an individual, it's as though two people live in my head: (1) the well-grounded rationalist and (2) the creative thinker who rides high on imagination. Sometimes they get along, especially when #2 rough-drafts my novels then #1 edits them. But my two sides don't always like each other -- and then, talk about inner conflict!

I think that's a big part of being human, that inner conflict.

Thanks for excellent food for thought, and I hope you have a great week! Big hugs to you, my friend.