Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Reasons for Non-Reason

Originally posted on August 28, 2012

A recent and most interesting book came to my attention, Matthew Hutson’s 2012 The Seven Laws of Magical Thinking, subtitled How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane  (New York: Hudson Street Press / Penguin). I’ve been thinking of the phenomena associated with illusion for much of my life. From rhetoric, propaganda and semantics as a way into critical thinking in my teen years to an interest in socio-cultural variables affecting mental health in mid-career, this general theme has fascinated me. On one hand, I’ve been first bewildered and then mildly annoyed by the extent to which irrational thinking and behavior truly dominates much of our culture. (This is especially so in those innumerable cases when a non-rational belief presents itself as sensible, highly rational—it’s just that non-believers don’t ‘get it.’)

Hutson’s book adds another angle. First, irrationality, superstitions of all sorts, myth, beliefs in one’s capacity to stay in control, etc.—are deeply human, and no amount of training in critical thinking will make more than a modest dent in this tendency to magical thinking. The author states near the end of the book, “We could no sooner escape [magical thinking] than escape consciousness.

The second point is that a fair amount of magical thinking gives life “juice,” aesthetic elaboration, and we would be all too “flat” were we to try too hard to abjure it. I am reminded here of the story of the “illusionless man” who gave in finally to the allurement of the visionary maid, by Allen Wheelis, a psychiatrist in the 1960s, expressed my emergence into the peak of the attempt to get past illusion and the growing awareness that some illusions might well also be of great value. It’s just that one needs to continually exercise consciousness and responsibility as to which illusions one employs.

The early-mid 20th century also was caught up in the illusion of being able to ascetically liberating oneself and humanity from the grip of illusion. It was, in the sense of the idiom, “biting off” way more than what could be “chewed.” Positivist philosophy cannot adequately respond to the sense-making functions, which not infrequently have to get past mere reason. A philosophy that truly aspires to make sense out of the whole of life needs to include a goodly number of paradoxes  especially regarding the phenomena associated with the human mind! It is the nature of the deep mind to transcend ordinary logic and recognize such non-rational phenomena as love, preference, feelings of belonging, and all kinds of other bewildering sentiments. That humans are manifestors of such contradictions is a fact that must be woven into an adequate philosophy.

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