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  • Writer's pictureChristoph Burkhardt

Magical Thinking for Progress - an evolution paradox

The great paradox of #evolution lies in the fact that it is evolution that got us to reject the theory of evolution. Hardly any other #theory has received more resistance than the powerful explanation of how we became who we are today.

One of the most dangerous, and yet most powerful, ideas the human mind has created in its 70,000-year history on this planet is the idea of magical interference from outside forces. Every time we cannot explain the sources and reasons behind a phenomenon around us, we apply magical thinking. We do this for no other reason than mere desperation. We believe our abilities to investigate are limited. Sometimes we simply cannot know the answer to a question. For example, we do not know why we are here. Since we cannot answer this question (yet) we make use of belief systems to justify why we are here. The human mind has evolved to answer all questions. Why this is the best thing that could ever happen to us, we will explore later. For now, whatever belief system you apply to answer a question, we have to be very aware of the fact that as humans we are not made to leave any questions unanswered. We cannot accept the fact that there are questions without any possible answers (right now). When we face the limits of what we know, rather than accepting our limits, we make up a story that serves as a temporary fix to answer the question. These temporary fixes take the shape of religious beliefs, supernatural explanations, and para- normal activities but also appear in more mundane forms, such as urban myths, beliefs on nutrition and exercise or the idea that Oprah would make a great president of the United States.

Here is the problem with this type of thinking:

  • Over time, #beliefs are reinforced. Merely by the fact, that the questions behind our beliefs still cannot be answered by us (such as the question of why we are here) and the made-up stories become convictions. At that point it becomes virtually impossible to break them. Even the most convincing evidence is then not evidence enough to give up a belief system.

  • What initially starts as a lack of knowledge, and an incapability to answer a question, turns into a pseudo-answer that satisfies our need to know just enough to end all investigations into the truth or different versions of what an answer might look like. We stop exploring and start justifying. We enter the #postfactual world.

  • The great paradox of evolution lies in the fact that it is evolution that got us to reject the theory of evolution. Hardly any other theory has received more resistance than the powerful explanation of how we became who we are today. Because our belief systems have become convictions over time, many people still struggle to accept evolution as a fact, despite overwhelming evidence. In fact, there is so much evidence for evolution that it should not be called a theory. Intelligent #design, on the other hand, has yet to deliver any scientifically sound evidence.

How can this type of thinking be a good thing at all? Why would it be beneficial for homo sapiens to have this kind of belief system? Why can we not simply move on and accept facts as facts? The answer is quite tricky. But there is one that does not require you to believe. So hold on—we are getting there.

If you use magical thinking to explain the unexplained and combine it with the simplifying logic of categorical thinking, you come up with a powerful mix that is responsible for most of what makes us human, which is why it is so crucial that we understand why we do what we do in our thoughts as well as in our actions. Now more than ever, we need to acknowledge the workings of the human mind as they are, and not be blinded by wishful thinking about being more rational than we actually are. Any false and oversimplified explanation of what makes us human will only drag us further down into living with machines that outperform us on every level.

Now is the time to rethink what it means to be human, rethink the skills that make us stronger, deepen the capabilities that make us different, and understand our minds. To extend our minds powers, rather than limit ourselves in irrational fights against technological changes and developments that can no longer be stopped or avoided. It is absolutely out of question that we will live in a world run in large parts by artificial intelligence. The question is not how we avoid such a world; the question is how we want to live in this world—how we want to be human in this world.

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