My Authors
Read all threads
How academic psychology tries (and fails) to dunk on astrology, a thread. 1/
The root of the problem is a construct called “magical thinking” that developmental psychologists like Piaget used to describe children’s propensity to see relationships between objects in events in non-causal terms, to ascribe mental states to objects, etc. 2/
“Magical thinking” got broadened over time to mean belief in or tendency to ascribe “non-standard” causality to events. The content of beliefs psychologists label as magical roughly centers on the anomalous, paranormal, superstitious, and sometimes the religious. 3/
These days, magical thinking gets measured with questionnaires and shows some modest correlation with certain types of psychopathology, such as psychosis, schizotypy, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and so forth. 4/
Based on natural but superficial links between magical thinking and phenomena like divination and witchcraft, astrology gets labeled as magical thinking and thus painted with the brushes of cognitive error and mental illness. There are lots of problems with this. 5/
First, magical thinking needs to be decolonized. The construct is rooted in 19th century anthropology and the belief that children’s thinking, like that of so-called “primitive” races, is subject to errors that get superseded by “rational” scientific thought over time. 6/
Second, conceiving of magical thinking as developmentally “primitive” or pathological does not do justice to the data. In clinical psychology (my specialty) magical thinking does not sensitively indicate general psychopathology or any particular clinical disorder. 7/
Moreover, childhood cognitive development does not proceed smoothly from “primitive” magical belief to “mature” causal explanation. Even in young children, magical thinking occurs with relative rarity and coexists alongside non-magical thinking. 8/
Even spicier, though, are studies showing that under conditions of stress and risk, you can provoke Western adults to behave as if they believe in magic. Magical thinking doesn’t mature out of us: it goes underground for cultural reasons. 9/
Third, magical thinking gets framed in a negative light, but the simple fact of its historical intransigence should give us pause. Scientific advancement has not stopped religious and magical beliefs and practices. Why is this? 10/
Well, partly because religious, spiritual, and—yes—magical thinking frequently impart social and mental health benefits. But also, it’s natural. Dual-process models of cognition show that magical thinking is normative, common, adaptive, and sometimes beneficial. 11/
Fourth, it’s appalling this needs stating, but magic is a cultural phenomenon. Psychologists, despite our investment in multicultural competence, do not converse well with other disciplines, nor do we often actually go and see what people actually do and how they think. 12/
There is a wealth of ethnographic and historical data showing that divination and magic are widespread, practically universal phenomena that possess a wide array of meanings and purposes, and that they are complex, cognitively rich practices. 13/
I could go into enormous depth here, but the basic problem is that psychologists construe magical thinking as an error within “our” Western, scientific, colonized worldview, when it must be understood as a phenomenon with its own cultural context. 14/
Just run with me here and put astrology under the broad umbrella of divination. Seeing divination as a context-free standalone procedure is weird: across the world, divination is a cultural-religious practice embedded within particular ontological frameworks. 15/
Let me just sketch a little here. A basic framework for a divinatory cosmology that is common but not necessarily universal involves two beliefs: pantheism (the divine pervades nature) and cosmic unity (as above so below, microcosm is reflected in the macrocosm). 16/
In Stoicism, to take one example, pneuma pervades all things, and actions can be traced to pneuma’s movements, which reflect divine intentions, so all things act in sympathy such that each element of the physical world reflected or expressed the greater divine harmony. 17/
Anthropologists like Barbara Tedlock, Susan Greenwood, and Ariel Glucklich, the classicists Sarah Iles Johnston and Peter Struck, and the religious studies scholar Patrick Curry are good places to start if you want some sources/authors. 18/
In my dissertation research on Tarot divination, which involved extended interviews and ethnographic involvement with the practice, it was pretty clear that simply calling it magical thinking was a gross injustice to the depth of the practice. 19/
Tarot divination in my research showed readers bringing their whole person to the practice, instilling their service with their most highly cherished values (which typically involved spiritual and cultural meanings), and engaging in altruistic, empathic caretaking. 20/
Divination is a highly complex, existentially embedded practice that people employ to engage with cultural, personal, and spiritual value systems. Moreover, at least in my research, people generally did not see divination as incompatible with scientific understanding. 21/
In fact, participants in my study showed that magical thinking as psychologists conceive of it is a small and inessential part of the practice: one potentiality among many heterogeneous ways of experiencing divination practices. 22/
Rather than engaging in causal explanations—whether erroneous or not—diviners tend to be engaged in a practice that bears a lot of striking similarities to psychotherapy and/or folk healing (but that’s maybe a thread for another time). 23/
The practice of astrology is relevantly similar, I believe, in all the crucial respects: to dismiss it as a cognitive error reflects colonized thinking: a refusal to engage with a practice on its own terms and actually look and see how human beings use it in daily life. 24/
Psychologists would know this if they read William James: but instead of trying to understand what astrology means to people in existential context, they get caught up in debating ontology or trying to parse out standards of so-called "rationality." 25/
So, hope people enjoyed that little breezy sketch of the landscape. Maybe one day I'll finally write the book I've been wanting to write about why it's rational to believe in magic :) /thread
Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh.

Enjoying this thread?

Keep Current with Rain Mason

Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Follow Us on Twitter!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3.00/month or $30.00/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!