Though most people don't believe in magic, they may wish for a good outcome by knocking on wood. Magical thinking—the need to believe that one’s hopes and desires can have an effect on how the world turns—is everywhere, with spirits and ghosts often invoked. People will make all sorts of connections between mystical thinking and real-life events, even when it’s not rational. Some of this is animistic thinking, meaning that people believe the supernatural is everywhere and that it has some power over what happens in their lives. Sometimes people look for life’s meaning in strange places, because the brain is designed to pick up on patterns. After all, making such connections helped our ancestors survive what they didn’t fully understand—for instance, they learned not to eat a certain berry or they would die. Seeing patterns also gives an illusion of control, conferring some comfort by eliminating unwanted surprises.
What Is Magical Thinking?
The Science of Supernatural Beliefs
Children are the number one make-believers, embracing fantasy like imaginary friends with passion. As children grow older, however, they do away with fantastical play, but they keep their superstitions within reach. Magical thinking extends to the idea of "magical contagion," or passing the magic along. Hence the reason why everyone wanted to touch Mother Theresa. The high-profile celebrity auction is another good example of magical contagion. The estate of Marilyn Monroe, for example, auctioned off the actress's personal belongings to the tune of $13 million, while the winning bid for just one hat worn by Prince was $32,000. Everyone wants a piece of the magic.