Superstition and Yellowstone NP

Note: Based on feedback I received, posts on this blog are now longer and with more photos.

I don’t know the exact age, but around eight years of age, I feasted on a zombie . . . er . . . received my First Communion.

I do remember doing a lot of thinking about god . . . and testing god. She . . . He . . . it failed miserably. 

Over the next few years, I graduated from testing god to challenging it, trying to provoke a response. That was also a form of testing, albeit a bit drastic. I’m not sure exactly when god became a non-thing for me. I still went to communion, but before going to communion one had to go to confession. I had a standard list of “sins” I confessed instead of kneeling there in silence . . . I claimed disobedience of my parents, telling a few lies, speaking the name of god in vain. Admittedly, I didn’t exactly know what that last one was. I sort of knew it had to do with cursing, but I didn’t typically curse. At least, not that I remember.

June 2015 trip to Wyoming

By my early teens, that whole church thing was a mild but bearable annoyance. Sometime during my high school years, I told my parents I wasn’t going anymore. Used logic and everything, something along the line that it made no sense “faking” going to church; if there was a god, it would know.

It would be many years later I would learn the word “atheist”, and years after that I would hear the word skeptic and learn there were others like me. 

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By the way, all these photos are from our 2015 trip to Yellowstone. Click on them for a larger version. Go to the SmugMug Gallery for the full-size versions.

Anyway, I bring that up not to talk about religion, although it is peripheral to the discussion, but rather to address superstition. Specifically, how it applies to me. 

I can safely say that since I remember, I questioned. Especially, I questioned things that sounded fantastic. 

Now, lest one thinks I never got fooled, not so. I got fooled many times and I continue to get fooled . . . but a lot less often. As I went through life, I not only learned to question more but to also question in better ways. And to apply common sense. 

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Take, for instance, Karma.

“The sum of your actions in this and previous states of existence decides your fate in future existences.”

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask.

“Nope.” 

“So, this is a variation of the hell idea?”

“No, because in hell you suffer forever, but in each life you have the chance to redeem yourself and improve your next existence.”

“So, is this my first existence?”

“No; you’ve had countless lives.”

“But, I don’t remember them.”

“Right.”

“I’m going to really mess with my future existence! I’m going to do whatever I want and live my life as an asshole. I know! . . . I’ll go into politics!”

“But, but . . . your next life will be terrible!”

“What do I care? I won’t know it; I’ll be dead.”

That worked until John Lenon changed it. Then, it became Instant Karma. Still no evidence for it, but it sounded more ominous. 

The point is that the whole concept of Karma, like Hell and Heaven, doesn’t make any sense. Sure, you can accept it, but if you want to live a good life, why not just live a good life. Why put a reward and punishment mantle atop the idea?

And so, we come to superstitions. They are yet another form of reward and punishment.

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Aside what I consider my natural skepticism, I also benefitted from immigrating to the US from Italy. Different cultures have different superstition. Reading also helps. 

For instance, we consider the number 13 a harbinger of bad luck. Not so the Chinese. Chinese people consider the number 13 to bring good luck. The Chinese have multiple relationships with numbers, usually based on how they sound.

But how can that be? How can something be lucky for one person and the same thing be unlucky for another? The answer is, as always, that humans make stuff up. Why they do it, I don’t know. 

“Bad things come in threes.” 

“So, I’m going to die three times?”

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Most people don’t come to these things on their own. Like religion, superstition is inculcated by parents and our social circles.  

Actually, let me take that back. Humans are naturally (because of evolution) inclined to look for patterns. Take a random athlete . . . his or her parents did not instill the idea of lucky socks, or lucky bracelet, or a lucky pair of panties, or not shaving during the playoffs, and so on.   

At some point, through whatever circumstance, the athlete worked that out all on their own.  

BUT . . . they were primed for it. Once you believe in the supernatural (the religious), or a governing universal intelligence (new age mystics), or luck (mathematically challenged people), your natural propensity to find patterns is swayed if not outright directed by your underlying belief.

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 A common counter argument goes along the lines of “Science can’t explain everything!” meaning that “there are things we don’t know” so this or that belief could be real.  

Science doesn’t purport to explain everything . . . but it has a hell of a better record than bullshit. 

Unfortunately, it’s not just the natural propensity to look for patterns . . . there’s also the propensity for it to be “more”. 

I can almost understand it. Almost. 

I mean, I get how the realization we are at the mercy of chance, that no one is guiding the boat, that we are no more special than any of the other seven billion people or, for that matter, any living being, can be scary for some to contemplate. 

How can this, all that we are, everything we aspire to, all we accomplish, how can all that be no more than guided by chance, will end in a blink, and, except for very few of us, be quickly forgotten and lost in the roiling river of time?

Gosh, I write purty.  

So, is superstition a way to give this life meaning? Is it a way to grab some agency in the progression of our life? 

I don’t think it has to do with meaning, but it does have to do with agency. By believing that some item, action, or thought affects the outcome of real-world events, we can gain some agency, a bit of control over said events. 

We are no longer hurling through the cosmos with no destination and no control over our travels. We are no longer ignorant of what’s going to happen . . . we now have a magical means of controlling “luck”. Luck, of course, being what drives the events in our lives. 

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There is good luck, no luck, and bad luck. Usually, human beings being who they are, ‘no luck’ is lumped in with bad luck. 

The key, then, is to court good luck and ward against bad luck. You better keep that mirror safe, or a crapload of bad luck will befall you. 

Now, some might say there’s no harm in it. I don’t agree . . . false beliefs make you susceptible to predators, make you more prone to bad decisions by masking the realities of the world in favor of the comfort of delusion. 

This is both funny and not:
 http://thesoutherndaily.co.za/pastor-charges-lion.html.html

This next thing, I hope, is just funny.

~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~

Disperser Industries is proud to announce their latest lines of magical products!

Patented Disperser Mirrors, All Bad Luck Removed. Our mirrors have all their accumulated bad luck removed, and are guaranteed to remain bad-luck free for two full years! But, after a few years, bad luck finds its way back in there. Sign up now for Disperser’s bad-luck-less mirrors replacement program. You can either send us the mirror and we’ll clear it of accumulated bad luck, or you can opt for our mirror replacement program, and we’ll send you a new mirror every few years. For an additional fee, we’ll even take back the old mirrors, now full of bad luck. Don’t worry, our facilities are insulated against bad luck, and our technicians wear special bad-luck deflecting apparel. 

Speaking of which . . . our Bad Luck Dispersal Hats are guaranteed to deflect and shed bad luck as you pass under ladders. Great when paired with our patented black cat crossing vests. The ensemble will keep you safe from bad luck no matter the circumstances.

Act now, and we’ll include a bit of our limited Money Powder. Just sprinkle a little bit into your left palm, and soon it will start itching. Money is sure to come your way!

~ ~ ~ o o o ~ ~ ~

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That sounds harmless, right? Some fools are parted with their money and the world goes on. 

What about people who make important decisions in life based on their horoscope? Basically, another form of superstition. What about homeopathy, alternative medical treatments, flashing lights meant to cure everything from baldness to arthritic knees, and so on . . . all those things might keep someone from getting effective treatments, see real doctors, get effective medicine. 

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Some will maintain we’ve come a long way from “harmless” superstitions . . . but, have we?

I contend that when you open yourself up to irrational beliefs you surrender the ability to discern reality from delusion. No matter how much one might want to minimize the effect, it does, in fact, impact one’s life. 

I know people who will delay going to the doctor, who will avoid getting medical help in what appears to be a belief that as long as they don’t know it, it’s not really happening. I guess it’s a bit like not staring at a wild animal or it might decide to attack you. Likewise, facing the unknown invites bad luck, bad things to happen. 

Some people think having good luck is bad luck. If something good happens, something bad is sure to happen and counter the good luck . . . usually with a vengeance. It gives them anxiety as they wait for the balancing bad luck to strike its mighty blow.

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Some are afraid to rejoice in their good fortune or happy life . . . lest it invites the capricious attention of the universe who would then punish them for their hubris. 

When I hear all those things, I’m at a loss . . . I want to help them, I want to tell them to examine these beliefs of theirs, to see how irrational they are, to see how it’s not helping their lives, to show them they are only making their lives miserable. 

This is where confirmation bias comes in. I’ve learned one cannot rationally discuss these things with believers. They will draw on example after example where exactly what they feared happened. 

But, if you are always waiting for something bad to happen, and you are willing to assign a cause to it in hindsight, you are always going to be right.  

Say you are driving home, and you have a fender bender. You waste two hours of your life and will incur a $500 bill. Plus, your insurance goes up. 

Bad luck, right?

Let me posit a different scenario . . . the universe intervened to keep you from being at an intersection three miles down the road where a semi ran a red light. Had you not had the fender bender, you would have been killed.

“No, no,” you say, “that’s not it. Besides, you can’t know that!”

Well, neither can you. The way you look at the situation is strictly based on what you want to believe. The only thing you know for sure is that you had a fender bender. 

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20150603_DSC8488_1_DSC8488_DIGII have no explanation for why I grew up as I did. I could hypothesize about my propensity to question and challenge. 

It could be tied to the amazing inefficacy of prayer (something I tested very early and often), or it could be due to genetics. Since I don’t know much about my father’s side of the family, I might be prone to envision them as imbued with natural skepticism. 

But, as near as I know, no one has found a “skeptic gene”. Some purport the existence of a “god gene” which makes people susceptible to notions of the supernatural, magic, and crazy new-age nuttery. Perhaps I lack that supposed gene and that’s what makes me question extraordinary claims.

My money, however, is on . . . reading. Apparently, I was reading at a very early age. I still have some of the material I used to read. If one squints, one can see where some of the material might nudge the receptive brain toward different ways of thinking. 

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I still think education is important . . . unfortunately, it comes after your parents have had their way with your mind, making it malleable and receptive to extraordinary claims by unscrupulous individuals. Just look at the current elections. 

Perhaps the best proof that all this superstitious nonsense is just that, nonsense, is that none of it has been weaponized. 

You don’t see the armed forces deploying giant ladders over the enemy’s positions, and the opposing army trying to counter the falling bad luck by donning Disperser’s Bad Luck Dispersal Hats. 

You don’t see the armies of the world training black cats for deployment in front of advancing armies. Perhaps it’s something too powerful to deploy and too difficult to control. They are, after all, cats. 

But, you also don’t see waves of Suicide Mirror Breakers Terrorists. Honest, most terrorists wielding a hammer are much more likely to bash you over the head with it than smash as many mirrors as they can. 

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Believe me, it’s not like everyone scoffs at such ideas. Our government experimented with remote viewing, ESP, and other “magical” ideas they thought might be useful and give them an edge in battle.  Nothing. Nada. Ziltch.

So, if you don’t believe me, you don’t believe any one of a large number of studies, and you don’t believe countless articles on the matter, you should, at least, ponder the fact the military industrial complex is not pursuing any of those things. 

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So, if you are superstitious, and you don’t want to be, what can you do to change?

Well, you could buy my Anti-Superstition Ointment. Made from the ground Unicorn horns and infused with focused quantum waves direct from the core of our galaxy, it will help gradually diminish your disposable income . . . er . . . I mean, diminish your credulity in “the beyond”. After 837 applications (you need exactly 837 application; so it is written on an ancient Mayan tablet recently discovered atop an extinct volcano in the Bermuda Triangle, so you know it’s powerful mojo) you will no longer feel superstitious. 

No, I don’t guarantee results . . . for all I know, you skipped application #561 and #739, two of the thirteen most important applications.

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OR, you could just start writing stuff down. Dreams you had, things you did, stuff that happened.

You see, we are very good at “looking back” for answers. We are also very good at forgetting things that happened or didn’t happen and only remember things that interest us.

You might have 3,469 dreams about stubbing your toe but you are likely to only remember the one a couple of days before you did stub your toe. You will then call that a vision. BUT, if you have a list of 3,468 toe-stubbing dreams after which nothing happened, you might be less likely to see a connection with the actual toe stubbing.

You could do what I do. Purposefully do things purported to bring bad luck.

When we first visited Hawaii, we were told taking lava or black sand from the Island would incur Pele’s wrath and terrible things will happen to you. It sounded like a challenge to me.

Do you remember THIS post? That Beach Globe has black sand from Hawaii in it.

To read the internet, people have literally died after having challenged Pele. There are countless stories of people mailing sand and rocks back to Hawaii claiming grave misfortune had befallen them, their family, and their friends after they had angered Pele. 

I can only assume I would now be a six-foot-four multi-gazillionaire had I not taken the sand home with me. Instead of the very nice life I lead, I might have achieved my dream of ruling the world. Dang, Pele! You be mean. 

The more reasonable assumption is that local spiritual people make money by “blessing” lava and sand you want to take home, satisfying Pele’s desire for you to give money to said spiritual people. Really, not that much different from any religion you care to mention.

Another approach is to ponder the mechanism of luck. Can you find a mechanism that explains things better than chance? If not, perhaps you can start reconsidering things you took for granted because you always heard them.

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The sad part of all this is that right now two different types of people are out there doing the following . . . one is setting up a company to sell bad-luck-less mirrors and the other is telling the first to hurry up because they want one. 

Had I no scruples, I would be a millionaire. But for scruples, I would be bigger than Chopra. I could have been somebody, instead of a skeptic, which is what I am.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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. . .  my FP ward  . . . chieken shit.