Saturday, June 2, 2007

Magical Thinking

In 1990, after I came down with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and its usually associated depression, I started seeing a psychotherapist. My "Youie Summer" of 1989 was then still recent and powerful in my psyche, so naturally I told him about it: the marvelous coincidences I had experienced, the wondrous signs I had seen. How taken aback I was when he characterized my experiences as "magical thinking." It had never occurred to me that that was a psychiatric term:
A conviction that thinking equates with doing. Occurs in dreams in children, in primitive peoples, and in patients under a variety of conditions. Characterized by lack of realistic relationship between cause and effect.*
Of course, now that I've suggested that much of our thinking about God amounts to magical thinking, I'm wondering if it really is. And I'm wondering in what sense much of the thinking we humans engage in every day as we try to stay afloat might also be "magical thinking" in the psychiatric sense. _____________________ * John F. Abess, M.D., his Glossary of Terms in the field of Psychiatry and Neurology. Note to myself: read The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion.


  1. I'm a firm believer in magical thinking. I know psychology terms it as a type of errant cognitive pattern, but I don't think they have all the answers. There's more out there than we realize sometimes.


  2. Pamylla, please say more about your firm belief in magical thinking, and about how you know "there's more out there than we realize sometimes." Believe me, I too would love to know that, because I've become deeply disenchanted with my unsatisfactory attempts to believe it. (I'm using know in the sense that there's objective evidence for the thing known—"objective" in that it can be shared with other open-minded people—and believe in the sense that the evidence is lacking but the believer chooses to believe anyway.)

    That is, I'm not satisfied with believing without evidence. And I seem to be suffering over it, going by the way I continue to blog about it, going now this way, now that. So, if you have some evidence to share, please share it.

  3. Salamaat, maybe our cultural backgrounds/differences that allow me to see the world in several layers and take for granted that knowing can take place in a myriad of ways (and empricism is but a small little sliver of the whole equation.)

    Belief though does not entail a complete blindness either; for me all of creation speaks poignantly of a really Compassionate and Beautiful Being....

    We all have our own narratives that help us make sense of the world and help us figure out our own place in the universe.

    I think not knowing would drive me seems like an unsustainable position for the long run, isn't it?

  4. Thanks, Maliha, for your reflections on this. Yes, no doubt our backgrounds do mediate the way we perceive the world. In my case, I suspect that my distrust of authority must be among the most salient factors influencing me.

    Are you sure about there being a myriad of ways of knowing? That's a huge number. Maybe you could name just five or ten? <smile>

    I like your phrase, "our own narratives." I guess, in broad outline, the Muslim's is that God sent Muhammad as his messenger, the Jew's that Moses and others served the same function, the Christian's that Jesus....

    And I guess mine, at the moment, is that man created [the concept of] God and concocted a fabulous marketing campaign to convince the masses that it was the other way around. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has developed a stern regimen of "papal infallibility" to keep the troops in line. (That, of course, works really well into my anti-authoritarian strain!)

    However, I am, as you may have picked up, in thrall to Howard Nemerov's "Myth of Creation on a Moebius Band":

      The world's just mad enough to have been made
      By the Being his beings into Being prayed.

    I don't think I'm going insane over not knowing, although sometimes I waver. At least, I comfort myself with the sense that, if God does exist and care what we think, he isn't displeased with me...and might even be amused by those who think he derives satisfaction from being worshiped by them. He might even approve my compassion for the lower animals on the food chain, whose slaughter by those above continues to seem to offer contrary evidence of God's great compassion and beauty.

    Generally, the journey of analysis, argument, counterargument, discovery of a pertinent quotation or a provocative question, etc., is rather exciting and stimulating. I'm not minding it too much.