The ghost in the machine: Why and how the belief in magic survives in the rational mind

Subbotsky, Eugene (2011) The ghost in the machine: Why and how the belief in magic survives in the rational mind. Human Development, 54 (3). pp. 126-143. ISSN 1423-0054

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Since the time of Galileo (1564 – 1642), Western civilization has increasingly fallen under the spell of science. Despite this fact, anthropological and psychological research has shown that magical beliefs are present in both children and adults in modern industrial cultures. How can a belief in magic coexist with a belief in science in the mind of a rational, educated adult? A possible explanation is that magical beliefs survive in the rational mind by going into the subconscious. The following hypothesis is considered in the series of studies presented in this paper: In modern industrial cultures, magical beliefs appear in preschool children as a legitimate, conscious form of belief that coexists with children’s belief in physical causality and is supported by social environment. In older children and adults, under the pressure of scientific and religious education, magical beliefs descend into the domain of the subconscious. Experiments examining this hypothesis will be reviewed; theoretical and practical implications of the existence of subconscious magical beliefs in modern rational adults will be analyzed.

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Journal Article
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Human Development
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19 Jun 2012 10:43
Last Modified:
21 Nov 2022 22:25