Friday, November 22, 2013


When I was a kid there was a person in the neighborhood so superstitious that if a black cat crossed his path he would change his route to avoid the cat.  If that wasn’t possible he would return home.

Native Americans in parts of Northern California thought of certain trees, rocks, or valleys as good places to visit – but other locations were to avoid.  It was OK to pick acorns from 'these' trees but not 'those'.  This rock is a good place to have acorn grinding pestles and 'over there' not.

Previous 'Indian country'

Hawaiian raditional belief tells that if you see an old woman hitchhiking you had better pick her up because she might be Madam Pele the Goddess of Volcanoes; who sometimes came in the form of an old woman to check up on her people and see if they were showing proper compassion to each other.  To be really safe you can throw an occasional  bottle of gin into the volcanic an offering to insure Pele’s good will.   Better than a human sacrifice I suppose.

Kilauea Crater - Hawaii

If  you are a poor campasino (farmer) in the Mountains of Southern Mexico and your goat suddenly had no milk one morning - it was a sure sign that the Chupacabras ( goat suckers ) had come in the night... Belief in Chupacabras continues to this day

"See a Chupacabra"

All of these are “cause and effect” thinking... “if I do this... this is likely to happen...” Used correctly this is the basis of scientific thinking...”If I add nitrogen fertilizer to my potato patch I will get bigger healthier plants. “   “If I eat fast food frequently – I will gain weight.”  “I can neutralize strong Sodium Hydroxide with an equally strong Hydrochloric Acid.”

Acid/Base Neutralization

But even us modern folks are subject to illogical cause and effect thinking... our secret superstitions.  Some one told me that he had a job offer but he didn’t want to tell me about it for fear that he would ‘jinx it’.  How many people have a lucky cap, lucky shirt, lucky shoes that they wear to every foot ball/base ball/soccer match?  Players are even worse with their secret fetishes.  Some of us always enter through one door in our office building and not another.  A lot of us have secret little ways that we do things ... not sure just why, but we feel safer doing it that way.

Yikes - Friday the 13th!!  I had better be careful!

I found a shop in Oakland that sells potions or special candles to attract good luck, love potions, dispel anger, revenge potions, remove a jinx, attract money into your name it and they have a potion for it. 

I heard recently about the forest people who have lived for untold generations in the rain forest of Peru and Ecuador... They have the belief that all things in the universe are corrected.  The goal of their life is to seek to live with tranquility.  They feel that if they get upset or violent, the action will result in changes within their universe – perhaps a wind storm, earthquake, bus accident, etc.  And the way to prevent these thinks is to live with a peaceful heart.

The tranquil universe

Pre scientific people often are found to have cause and affect belief systems limiting with a strong sense of what is safe, dangerous, clean, unclean, things to do, things to avoid.  There is sometimes a rational reason why certain restrictions were imposed – but more often not...or if there ever was a reason it has been forgotten.

Compulsive people carry cause and effect thinking to a pathological level... I knew someone how had to count things – had to count birds in a tree, cars, people waiting for a light...I don’t know what terrible thing he thought would happen if this counting wasn’t done...but he did it every time. Compulsions don’t make the person feel ‘happy’ they just reduce the anxiety with which they live.

Acorn grinding hole- Garin Park... 

But most of us post-Enlightenment-rational humans living in a pro-scientific society still have secret cause and effect beliefs that not exactly reasonable.  Most of us don’t want others to even know about these secrets we hold to ourselves.  I’m not suggesting that you find your irrationalities and root them out as inappropriate – just – when you see them, recognize them, smile, and say...”This is part of who I am.” There is something friendly and freeing in just accepting that we are not totally rational in all our understanding of how we see the world.

I suspect that cause and effect thinking is found in all humans, regardless of culture or period...some more than others.  Some of our patterns begin when we are vulnerable children –and some are taught us as part of our acculturation. Regardless of later training, vestiges of magical thinking remain in our lives. It may not feel “quite safe” to give up something that has apparently worked for us in the past.