Category Archives: Myth Communication

Political perspective: Liberals and Conservatives really ARE different (but maybe not how you thought)

Most people don’t want to talk, or even think about politics. It’s too divisive, and rarely pleasant. Unfortunately, politics is a part of our lives whether we like it or not, and we’re better served to not stick our heads in the sand and hope everything just works out.

That said, I found an article recently that finally seems to bring some clarity to the age-old Liberal vs Conservative debate. I’ve been really into the idea of emotional intelligence lately – understanding someone else’s situation, point of view, why they feel the way they feel. In doing this, it’s easier to relate, empathize, and maybe even work together (compromise), rather than just saying “I don’t agree with you, you’re stupid, I’m going to make your life harder”.

From comes “Why Democrats and Republicans don’t understand each other”, and I think it does a good job of explaining some key differences that we hear about, and we perceive ourselves, but they’re finally presented in a more “tangible” way.


Democrats are more focused on making policy to appease their various interest groups and Republicans are more focused on proving their commitment to the small-government philosophy that unites their base.

As Speaker John Boehner put it when he was asked about the slow pace of lawmaking in his House, “we should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

As one example I can think of (though I’m sure there are better ones), I watched a documentary years ago about Ralph Nader called “An Unreasonable Man”. The title is derived from the quote “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself, thus all progress depends on the unreasonable man”. In this documentary, it chronicled how Nader initiated several organizations and committees to protect various groups – workers, consumers, families… and he was making quite a bit of headway, until the next Replublican president was elected and quickly squashed and stagnated his efforts.

This next bit speaks to a point that Chris Rock made in one of his stand up specials, about being liberal on some issues, and conservative on others:

On its face, this presents a puzzle: how can conservatism be the more popular ideology even as the Democrats are the more popular party?

Grossmann and Hopkins disagree. They see this not as a puzzle about American politics but as an explanation for why it works the way it does. They note that 73 percent of Republican voters say they’re conservative but only 42 percent of Democratic voters say they’re liberal. And they note that while voters tend to agree with Republicans on the philosophical questions in American politics (should government be smaller?) they tend to agree with Democrats on the policy questions in American politics (like should Social Security be smaller?).

The Republican Party, in other words, has a very good reason to base itself around philosophical conservatism, while the Democratic Party has a very good reason to base itself around policy deliverables.

This next part is pretty interesting, and gives you an idea of the broader, longer-term implications of this:

The chart above shows the results: Democrats consistently prefer politicians who compromise and Republicans consistently prefer politicians who stick to their principles.

What’s remarkable is that held true even when Republicans controlled the White House. “Though they voiced strong disapproval of Bush, Democrats still expressed a preference for compromise in government — a tendency that has carried over to the Obama era,” write Grossmann and Hopkins. “Republicans have been consistent in their elevation of principle over moderation, regardless of which party is in power.”

That is…extraordinary. Even when a Republican president was facing a Democratic Congress, Republicans did not choose the answer that would have helped their president get more done. And even when a Republican president was facing a Democratic Congress, Democrats did not choose the answer that would have stiffened their party’s spine against passing Bush’s bills. I would have bet money against surveys showing this kind of stability between Democratic and Republican administrations. This is a difference between the two parties that runs deep.

This is something I do tend to find frustrating about more pure conservatives, some might call it “stubbornness”, and it’s important to be able to tell the difference between stubbornness (refusing to budge no matter what) and sticking to principles because you don’t feel you’ve been giving satisfactory reasoning for a change.

“Democrats and liberals are more likely to focus on policymaking because any change that occurs is much more likely to be liberal than conservative. New policies usually expand the scope of government responsibility, funding, or regulation. There are occasional conservative policy successes as well, but they are less frequent and are usually accompanied by expansion of government responsibility in other areas.”

The cleanest way to shrink the size of government is to repeal laws and regulations. But it doesn’t happen very often. In the American political system, Grossmann says, “it’s hard to pass anything, but it’s particularly hard to repeal a law that already exists.” Systematic analyses show it’s rare for laws to be repealed wholesale. “That creates perpetual disappointment among the Republican base,” Grossmann continues. “They correctly perceive that their party does not succeed in enacting their professed ideology.”

But they’re a reminder that American politics is fundamentally rational. Republicans are uncompromising because compromise tends to expand the scope of government. Democrats are willing to make deep concessions because policy moves in a generally liberal direction. Republicans have a clearer message about government because their message about government is fundamentally popular. Democrats talk more about policy because what they have to say about policy is fundamentally popular.

I think that’s a good distinction, and I think if more people were aware of it, it could help grease the gears a bit better and perhaps lead to a little more getting done. I think it suggest that partisanship is at least partially misconceived. Yes some people are truly stubborn and unwavering for personal and/or selfish reasons, but I’m sure that’s actually a minority.

This next bit feels a bit like the whole “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” idea, but applied to politics:

The data also explains why Democratic and Republicans have so much trouble understanding each other. Democrats tend to project their preference for policymaking onto the Republican Party — and then respond with anger and confusion when Republicans don’t seem interested in making a deal. Republicans tend to assume the Democratic Party is more ideological than it is, and so see various policy initiatives as part of an ideological effort to remake America along more socialistic lines.

This is really why effective communication is so important. If you make assumptions that are wrong, you obviously won’t get the results you expect. As frustrating and broken as the 2 party system often seems, perhaps there is a healthy balance hidden in there.

I’ve been “liberal” and “socialist” for a long time, and used to be much more ideological than I am now. If I was given political power in my 20s, I probably would have made a bunch of laws which were well-meaning, but not fully or properly considered/researched. Now I feel like I would think longer and more carefully before setting a policy for something.

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Ten things everyone should know about science

From, “Top 10 things everyone should know about science”, with each point also shrunk into twitter fitting length:

  1. Science successfully explains natural phenomena through rational investigation and logical reasoning rather than by recourse to superstition and mysticism.

    Tweet: Science explains nature rationally and logically, eschewing superstition and mysticism.

  2.  When scientific disputes arise, the ultimate arbiter is not expert authority or common sense but experimental evidence, guided by theory.

    Tweet: Fits as is!

  3. Scientific theories are not “guesses” but are logi­cally rigorous attempts to explain the observed facts of nature and to predict the results of new observations.

    Tweet: Theories aren’t guesses; they are logically rigorous explanations of observed phenomena that predict new results.

  4. When a theory’s predictions are confirmed, it becomes an essential tool in the further practice of science, but even good theories may someday be superseded by theories more comprehensive or more accurate.

    Tweet: Good theories may be superseded by better theories.

  5. The universe is vast and old, with our sun one of bil­lions of stars in a local galaxy, joined by billions of similar galaxies occupying the depths of space beyond.

    Tweet: There are billions and billions of stars.

  6. Life has changed over the eons, with complex creatures evolving from simpler precursors, and human beings therefore occupy one branch of an immense fam­ily tree of living organisms — all sharing a common molecular machinery driving basic life processes.

    Tweet: All life is related.

  7. As Einstein demonstrated, conceptions of time and space based on everyday life don’t apply accurately to all speeds and all realms of space.

    Tweet: Fits!

  8. The microworld of the atom, and realms even smaller, obey “quantum” laws completely at odds with common sense, and notions of cause and effect and the very nature of reality are inherently blurred on that scale.

    Tweet: The subatomic realm is weird.

  9. The way a thing works is often influenced by its connections to other things and the ways that they work, a principle that applies to everything from the networks of cells in the brain and the body’s other organs, to ecological and economic systems, to human interactions and social institutions.

    Tweet: Networks Are Us.

  10. Little is certain in science but much is highly probable, and the proper quantification of probabilities is essential for inferring facts, drawing conclusions and formulating sound judgments.

    Tweet: Learn some damn statistics.

All I have to say is, I love that last tweet. It’s kind of ironic, despite my day job revolving around numbers, and the music I write revolving around numbers, I really don’t particularly enjoy math, nor do I consider myself especially good at it. I took a statistics class once, it was kind of interesting, but because I’m just a little bit silly I was more interested to use it to calculate the mean length of podcast episodes than anything actually useful. Good thing I never aspired to be a statistician I guess.

Anyways, yay scientific principles and more logical thinking!

Are some animals psychic? Spoiler alert: No.

I just listened to this last night, The Skeptoid Podcast #412 “Animal Predictors: Psychic, Sensitive, or Silly?”. The episode does a great job of looking at a few purported cases of psychic animals, and then breaking down the factors at play to explain why they aren’t or weren’t. If you’ve ever watched James Randi debunk a psychic or other pseudoscience person (there are several videos of this on YouTube, like this one), this podcast episode does something very similar.

Skeptoid looks at five examples and explains factors in play that the average person wouldn’t necessarily be aware or even consider. My favourite was “Paul the Octopus”, who was apparently quite good at predicting who would win world cup matches.

Paul the octopus lived in a tank at Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany. In 2008, during the European Football Championship, they put two boxes of food in his tank, one labeled with Germany’s flag, and the other with that of Poland, whom Germany was about to play. Paul went to the Germany box first, and sure enough, Germany won that game. Throughout the tournament, Paul correctly predicted 2/3 of the matches he was given. But during the 2010 World Cup, Paul was correct 100% of the time, a feat that seems impossible unless he was truly inspired.

Many news outlets consulted mathematicians, who generally used the coin toss analogy. Paul’s chances of correctly picking the 2010 World Cup were 1/64, and with hundreds of animals being used as oracles around the world, it was a virtual certainty that at least one of them would guess all eight matches correctly. And that one is the one we all remember.

But the coin toss analogy is not correct. Paul was given only matches in which Germany played, and since Germany was a top team (eventually winning second place), it was more likely they’d win any given match. Octopus are extremely intelligent, and though they’re colorblind, they do recognize shapes. In his six 2008 trials, Paul simply swam to the Germany box every single time, and was wrong two out of the six. Once Paul had learned that the Germany box contained food, it only makes sense that he’d go straight to the one marked with the bold stripes of the German flag each time.

In the 2010 World Cup, Paul continued to choose Germany five out of seven times. In the eighth and final match, Germany did not participate, so Paul had a 50/50 chance on that one, and he guessed it correctly. Paul was correct all eight times. Most of these may be attributable to his trust of the German flag and Germany’s winning tendencies, but that doesn’t explain his misses. Octopus are imperfect, apparently. However it is noteworthy that in all three instances of Paul’s career that he did not pick a box marked with a German flag, the box that he picked also had a national flag with three bold horizontal stripes. Three of the five times he picked Germany in his perfect 2010 season, it was against a country whose flag was very different.

Was Paul truly psychic, or was it all random chance? Probably neither. He simply had an octopus’ excellent eyesight and intelligence, and knew that he’d find food wherever he saw three bold horizontal stripes.

Pretty cool.

Another notable example from the episode was that of a psychic cat in a nursing home that would “correctly predict” who the next person to die was going to be, but Brian points out that everyone there was terminally ill, thus literally, no matter who the cat chose to spend time with, they would eventually die anyway, and once they did, he would have no reason to still stay by them.

[The cat]’s story can almost certainly be explained by confirmation bias: the tendency of workers at the center to more strongly notice Oscar’s actions when they confirm the belief, in exactly the same way that many hospital workers notice busier nights during a full moon, a notion that’s been conclusively disproven. But we can’t know for sure since nobody has ever studied the way Oscar divides his time between the living and the dying. Until they do, we have a cute story, but certainly not a psychic cat.

We are great at attributing qualities to things based on our interpretations and perceptions, but this is in part how a lot of superstitions are born. The more we can learn to examine an occurrence and determine what is really going on and come up with a logical, rational explanation, the better off we are. It may be more “fun” to believe in psychics or magic, but to quote an image I recently found online:

You don’t see faith healers in hospitals for the same reason you don’t see psychics winning the lottery.

Nerd Nite Presentation Recap – Life as a Polymath

[Update 2 June 21, 2014 – I’ve come across data that refutes the validity of the MBTI system, so the reference to INFJ in this post isn’t as relevant anymore]

This post is essentially a written transcript of my Nerd Nite Presentation (delivered on April 17, 2014). The presentation was titled “I want to do EVERYTHING! (Life as a Polymath)”.

So, we start with a photo of Albert Einstein, and a quote of his:

I have no special talents,
I am only passionately curious

This quote has pretty much come to define my life, and I only discovered it last year.

So let’s start with a question. It’s a pretty common icebreaker when meeting new people. So, what do you do? Continue reading

Comedian Aamer Rahman explains why “Reverse Racism” isn’t a thing

Australian Comedian Aamer Rahman has a fantastic bit, which I think clearly highlights what a lot of people don’t get about racism and other forms of systematic discrimination and oppression. Some white people will complain when a black comedian tells jokes about white people, or when minorities are chosen for jobs or other rewards over a white person. They call this “reverse racism”. Aamer explains with great comedic effect, why this is not accurate:


A lot of white people don’t like my comedy.
A lot of white people say this to me:

“Hey Aamer, hey! You get on stage, you make your jokes about white people, you say white people this, white people that. What if I did something like that, huh? What if I got on stage and I say “yeah, black people are like this, muslims are like that”. You’d probably call me a racist, wouldn’t you?”

And I say…

*long inhale*

Yeah, you should never do that, that’s bad for your health.


And they’re like “well YOU do that Aamer, you do that! You get on stage, you make your jokes about white people! Don’t you think that’s a kind of racism?

Don’t you think that’s… *dum dum dum*… Reverse Racism?”


I say no, I don’t think that’s reverse racism. Not because I think reverse racism doesn’t exist. If you ask some black people they will tell you flat out, there is no such thing as reverse racism, and I don’t agree with that.

I think there *is* such a thing as reverse racism. And I could be a reverse racist if I wanted to. All I would need would be a time machine.

And what I would do is I would get in my time machine, to back before Europe colonized the world, right? And I’d convince the leaders of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America, to invade and colonize Europe. Just occupy them, steal their land and resources… Set up some kind of.. I don’t know.. trans-Asian slave trade, where we exported white people to work on giant rice plantations in China. Just ruin Europe over the course of a couple of centuries, so that all their descendents would want to migrate out and live in the places where black and brown people come from.

Of course, in that time I’d make sure I set up systems, that privilege black and brown people at every conceivable social, political and economic opportunity, and white people would never have any hope of real self-determination.

And every couple of decades, make up some fake war, as an excuse to go bomb them back to the stone age, and say it’s for their own good because their culture is inferior.

Just for kicks, subject white people to coloured people’s standard of beauty so they would end up hating the colour of their own skin, eyes and hair.

If, after hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years of that, I got on stage at a comedy show and said “Hey! what’s the deal with white people? Why can’t they dance?”…

THAT, would be reverse racism.

Additionally, from

“Rahman hits the nail on the head. Without getting too sociological, people who cry “reverse racism” need to realize that racism – as in, actual racism – requires a power dynamic in order to work. According to Tim Wise, racial jokes and slurs toward white folks are less potent because whites hold institutional power over everyone else. This is true throughout history. And since people of color hold little sway in defining the terms of white existence, it’s abundantly clear that racial slurs and jokes directed at whites are no more than that: slurs and jokes. They carry little weight, because there’s no actual power behind them.”

On a similar note, and by another non-white comedian, Hari Kondabolu has several really good bits on this topic and related ones. For instance, here is a clip from YouTube titled “My English Relationship” (which is a metaphor for the above):

And a bit called “Ethnic Comedy”:

This all originally stemmed from me being involved in a debate about whether Louis CK doing jokes using the N word and “faggot” was more acceptable because he does generally much sharper and smarter social critiques, but this article points out how he has admitted often he just uses these words because he likes to, not because he’s actually examining them in any real way.

I’m not here to say comedians shouldn’t be able to make jokes, but I do think some comedians (particularly white ones) don’t truly realize the power they wield and if they did realize, they would choose not to make some of those jokes anymore, even though no one is actively stopping them. No one is stopping me from using the N word, I simply understand why I have absolutely no good reason to ever use it, so I don’t. I’m adding more and more words to my “do not say” list for the same rationale. Political Correctness, I am starting to see, isn’t about censorship so much as it’s about respect for marginalized and oppressed people. It’s helping to combat stigma and shame around things that people shouldn’t be ashamed of in the first place (ie things beyond their control or things they didn’t choose). Choosing to use respectful words and terminology is merely a sign of human decency, kindness and respect.

Another example I was made aware of not that long ago, is the order of words. For instance, you should say “a person with mental illness”, rather than “a mentally ill person”. This puts their humanity first, which it always should be. If you suddenly fell ill or were injured, would you rather be called a crippled person or a person with a disability? The former comes across more like “You’re crippled!”, the latter is more like “you’re still a person who has been injured”. Something to keep in mind.

See also:
“Explaining White Privilege to a Poor White Person”
“Privilege, Oppression and “Being Nice”
“Four Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege”

And this video:

Brain Myth #3 – Once we are adults, our brains are “final”

Have you ever heard someone say (probably right before a big exam) “my brain is so full that every time I read something new, something old falls out to make room”?

Well, there’s sort of a bit of truth to that, but not exactly.

According to this video, as long as we live, our brains will continue to accommodate new information by growing new connections, so we can keep learning forever (which is great). The sliver of truth to the previous idea is that the old information we no longer really use or need, those connections weaken, shrink and fade away. So basically our brain is just renting empty apartments to new tenants. The apartments go empty once the old tenant no longer needs to be there anymore.

So, keep reading, keep learning, and keep thinking!

Double Brain Myth – Alcohol kills brain cells and the human body replaces all cells every 7 years

You may have heard people say that we are technically not the same person every 7 years, because due to constant cell replacement within our bodies, technically we are not made up of the same cells forever thus we are sort of a different person.

Well, this is partially true, but ultimately false.


It is true that individual cells have a finite life span, and when they die off they are replaced with new cells. As The New York Public Library’s Science Desk Reference (Stonesong Press, 1995) notes, “There are between 50 and 75 trillion cells in the body…. Each type of cell has its own life span, and when a human dies it may take hours or day before all the cells in the body die.” (Forensic investigators take advantage of this vaguely morbid fact when determining the cause and time of death of homicide victims.)

Red blood cells live for about four months, while white blood cells live on average more than a year. Skin cells live about two or three weeks. Colon cells have it rough: They die off after about four days. Sperm cells have a life span of only about three days, while brain cells typically last an entire lifetime (neurons in the cerebral cortex, for example, are not replaced when they die).

So, if your neurons don’t get replaced when they die, it would seem like an especially bad idea to aid in their rapid destruction by drinking alcohol, wouldn’t it?

Well, as much as I don’t want to encourage people to drink more, I have good news for those who do drink. Well, sort of good news.

From Mental_Floss:

Now, ethyl alcohol (the kind found in boozy beverages, also known as ethanol) can kill cells and microorganisms. That’s what makes it an effective antiseptic. Your brain contains a few billion cells called neurons that send electrical and chemical messages between it and the other parts of the body. Obviously, you don’t want these little guys dying en masse.

Fortunately, when you drink alcoholic beverages, your body tries not to let all of that ethanol roam around unchecked. Rather, your liver processes it and converts it into less toxic stuff. The liver can only work so fast, though, processing about 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits per hour. If you’re knocking drinks back fast enough that your liver can’t keep up, the excess alcohol hangs out in the blood and travels through the body until it can be processed. [emphasis added]

When this alcohol reaches the brain, it doesn’t kill the cells outright. What actually happens, according to Roberta Pentney, a cell biologist who studied alcohol and brain function for decades at SUNY Buffalo, is that the alcohol damages the parts of the cells that send and receive information. This causes problems with the way the cells communicate with each other and results in some of the impairments of intoxication.

Researchers at Washington University found that alcohol, even when applied directly to neurons, didn’t kill them. Like in Pentney’s work, it just interfered with the way they transmit information. Specifically, the researchers showed that alcohol causes certain receptors on neurons to manufacture steroids that inhibit memory formation.

So, no you’re not a completely new person every 7 years, and no drinking doesn’t kill brain cells, but drinking too much is still not the best idea, for the same reasons.

Oh yeah, and we also don’t use only 10% of our brains. That’s also a myth.

Superstitions, Phobias, Luck and Fear

Over the weekend, I hosted and moderated a discussion group for CFI Toronto, an event called Cafe Skeptique. I was able to choose the topic and while at first it was hard (many possibilites, what did I really want to talk about?). I ended up starting with something kind of general and broad, so as to be more easily accessible. It also gave me a chance to do some research.

I had been on the elevator at work, and the building I work in has no 13th floor. It’s 12A. This honestly bothers me. 13 is just a number. But that is what originally put the topic idea in my head, and when I started researching it, it was pretty interesting to find out the origins.

My talk was structured as follows:
1. What is the difference between superstition and phobia?
2. How do they get started?
3. Are some superstitions or phobias healthy/not terribly unhealthy?
4. How do we combat them?

Let’s start with the definitions for clarity:

Superstition – [1] An irrational belief that an object, action or circumstance can influence the outcome of an event or course of events that it is not logically related to. [2] A belief, practice of rite irrationally maintained by ignorance of the laws of nature or by faith in magic or chance.

Phobia – A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous

The commonality between the two is that they are both irrational fears, but superstition is more related to luck, whereas a phobia is more just a strong fear leading to avoidance. The other key point to consider is that both of these are “a danger perceived much greater in the mind than in reality“.

Our discussion actually ending up talking about the idea of luck (and karma/fate), and my current stance (because you know, I could always be wrong) is that there is no such thing as any of those. Penn Jillette has a great quote addressing this: “Luck is statistics taken personally“. I have decided after this discussion that my new default will be “may the odds be in your favour” rather than “good luck”. I also refuse to say “bless you” when someone sneezes.

So, back to phobias and superstitions.

I did a bit of research on phobias to see how they were different from superstitions, and I found some interesting information (via

  • There are non-psychological phobias such as photophobia, which is sensitivity to light. It’s not a fear, just an increased sensitivity that would cause a person to avoid that thing (as a migraine sufferer, I get this)
  • Discrimination/Prejudice – homophobia isn’t actually a phobia, those people are not afraid of gay people, they just don’t like them. The term is a misnomer.
  • “Social Phobia” has been changed to “social anxiety disorder” to be more accurate.
  • Phobias are the most common kind of anxiety disorder in industrial nations.
  • 9-18% of people of all ages suffer a phobia, more women than men.
  • It is unusual for them to start after age 30.
  • They are NOT genetically inherited (they are learned fears)
  • Many effective treatments are available, so if you have a strong phobia, you should talk to your doctor.

As for Agoraphobia – I have always heard this one cited as “a fear of wide open spaces”, and while that’s part of it, it’s a bit inaccurate/misleading. My research indicated that it is actually a fear of situations that you can’t control, whether that be lost in a wide open space, or stuck in a crowded mall (which yes is a big open space, but not empty and void of people).

Wikipedia states:

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives certain environments as dangerous or uncomfortable, often due to the environment’s vast openness or crowdedness. These situations include, but are not limited to, wide-open spaces, as well as uncontrollable social situations such as the possibility of being met in shopping malls, airports, and on bridges.

Although mostly thought to be a fear of public places, it is now believed that agoraphobia develops as a complication of panic attacks.

How do superstitions start?

Lucky charms and superstitious behaviours are typically efforts made by a person to feel more in control of their circumstances, it makes them feel more reassured that they’ve done what they can to get the result they desire. It is a belief than a specific object or action can negate unwanted experiences or outcomes.

Here are the origins of some popular superstitions (thanks to

1. The Number Thirteen – Seems to mostly stem from The Last Supper where there were 13 dinner guests and one got murdered. There is also a tale from Norse Mythology where Loki was the 13th guest and got killed in a brawl. Thus the number 13 is considered bad luck.
2. Black Cats – were believed to be servants to witches, and if they served long enough, they would become a witch themselves. To cross their path was to attract bad luck.
3. Opening an umbrella indoors – since an umbrella is meant to protect us from the elements (outdoors), opening it inside is thought to “offend the spirit of the umbrella” (yes, my research actually said this), which will bring bad luck.
4. Walking under a ladder – “The most likely theory is that a ladder forms a triangle when propped against a wall. The triangle symbolizes the Holy Trinity. When you walk through it, you effectively insult the Trinity and attract the Devil”. After I read this to the group, I commented “gee, it really seems much easier to just not believe in the Devil, huh?”.
5. Breaking a mirror – this is believed to bring 7 years of bad luck, because essentially people used to believe that spirits got trapped in mirrors when they died and to break the mirror released the spirit and that spirit got into you. But since the body is thought to renew every 7 years (by cell replacement), that’s why the bad luck only lasts that long. Though that isn’t true either as brain cells never actually get replaced.
6. Salt over the left shoulder – “The devil is believed to detest salt. If a superstitious person spills salt, they must immediately toss a pinch over their left shoulder, because the devil is most likely to attack from the rear, and left (or sinister) side. The presence of the salt will immediately scare off the Devil before he can cause any trouble”.

One of the most common (and arguably “acceptable” places where superstitions exist is in sports. Spitting in your glove in baseball, growing a playoff beard in hockey, many athletes do these things and for the most part, society does not question them. In fact, many sports fans will even scold you for “jinxing” it if you say or do anything that might counteract such superstitions actions. I am a hockey fan, and while I find playoff beards amusing, I have no illusion that they make any difference. I see it as more of a light-hearted tradition and team bonding.

Are there any healthy superstitions?

Technically, superstitions are an evolutionary defense mechanism. They helped us survive in the early days of humankind. We heard rustling in the grass or trees and learned that it sometimes meant a lion or a bear was coming for us, so we would scram when we heard rustling just to be safe. That makes sense. But in modern times, a lot of defense mechanisms actually aren’t necessary, but not everyone stops to re-assess the things they do and determine if they should keep doing them. It got the intended result once, so it works every time, right?

They are “irrational” when they get to the point that your adherence to them is negatively affecting your ability to lead a normal life, similar to how OCDs can range from minor to extreme. Compulsively washing your hands every time you go to the washroom is healthy, but compulsively washing your hands every 30 seconds for no reason is not. However, WebMD says:

While some of the symptoms of OCD can mimic superstitious behaviour (and the two aren’t mutually exclusive), most of the evidence would indicate there is no connection between the two.

When I asked the group “do you think there are any healthy, or not overly unhealthy superstitions?”, that led someone to ask “well, does anyone here want to admit to having superstitions?”. One person brought up something that was more of an OCD issue. I was definitely more superstitious growing up since I was raised loosely catholic and I think a lot of basically “ghost stories” come with that. I was afraid of monsters under my bed and in my closet, I would avoid cracks on the sidewalk.. but eventually after taking a critical look at many of these behaviours I decided it was pointless and a waste of my time to keep doing them. My mother and sister are both afraid of spiders, significantly so. I learned that behaviour, but I have mostly gotten over it. I still don’t especially like spiders, but unless it’s a species that I know is actually dangerous (like a black widow spider), I basically just ignore it.

But it’s true, the idea that even a group of self-described skeptical, rational, freethinking people, could still have irrational thoughts and behaviours. No one is immune, which is again part of why I enjoy researching and posting things on this site, it’s a journal of my ongoing learning process. The point I emphasized is that I think it often comes down to the simple fact that we do something and we get a positive result, and so we keep doing it the same way, feeling fairly safe that we’ll get the same desired result again. Sometimes (often?) there is truly no causal link between that action and the result we got.

So we just need to regularly check in with ourselves and assess if the habits we have formed are beneficial or not. We also tend to accept a lot of the “wisdom” passed down from our parents, teachers, friends and other trusted figures, without assessing it with a more critical mind. This tends to improve as we get older, we may continue to uphold traditions even though they are purely symbolic. Personally, if I had kids, I wouldn’t teach them about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. While those might seem harmless, I don’t like the idea of knowingly teaching kids untruths and unnecessary folklore or ghost stories. Teach them to have a “bullshit detector” from an early age and you’ll be doing them a favour in life. There are lots of other fun, and true things you can teach them instead.

The reason I asked if there were any healthy superstitions is because things like spitting in your glove or growing a beard aren’t necessarily unhealthy, they aren’t really hurting anything (as long as you’re realistic). The point at which they would become unhealthy is if your team lost and you convinced yourself “I just didn’t spit in my glove enough“, and start compulsively spitting in your glove all the time. That’s not rational, healthy behaviour.

We decided as a group that ultimately it was a good goal to gently nudge society away from even these relatively harmless superstitious behaviours (we can treat phobias, so we can treat superstitions as well), in the short term we should focus on bigger fish, such as more highly irrational beliefs that actually do harm or endanger a person or those around them.

My research did indicate that people who believe in luck and hold “good luck charms” (of any type), tend to perform better, but it is usually a result of an added false confidence, they believe they will do better because of the charm, but if they didn’t have it, they would be less confident than average. So essentially, the charm is causing a placebo effect.

Best ways to combat Superstitions?

From WikiHow:

1. Think rationally about the superstitions you believe in – is there any real reason that you should be afraid or that something would be unlucky?
2. Consider which superstitions cause regular inconvenience to you – do you constantly bump into people because you’re always watching your feet to avoid stepping on cracks?
3. Find ways to prove to yourself that these superstitions have no basis in reality – leave a lucky charm at home and see how your day goes.
4. When making decisions, rely on common sense and a sound pattern of reasoning as opposed to weird feelings and supposed supernatural signs
5. Realize that you have the power to make your own “luck” – you can’t control everything that happens, but you can control how you react to any given thing

Additionally, from

  • Make a list of your superstitious beliefs and rank them.
  • Observe your emotional reactions when thinking about each one, what emotion does it excite? (sad, angry, anxious, scared?)
  • Keep your anxiety at bay and be realistic
  • Feel free to maintain practices and beliefs that are culturally significant to you, however remember that they carry only symbolic meaning instead of literal meaning

So, hopefully you learned something here, and maybe are re-assessing some behaviours or thoughts you have about different things.

And to close with a joke, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you” 😉