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The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane Hardcover – April 12, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Matthew Hutson promises to convince the most hard-core skeptics and rationalists that they believe in magic, and he succeeds--with wit and clarity and scientific rigor."--Sharon Begley, author of"Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

7 REASONS TO READ The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking

1: "Matthew Hutson promises to convince the most hard-core skeptics and rationalists that they believe in magic, and he succeeds—with wit and clarity and scientific rigor." 
—SHARON BEGLEY, author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain 

2: "A remarkably creative synthesis of the science behind magical thinking threaded through with a very personal narrative that engages the reader." 
—BRUCE HOOD, PH.D., author of SuperSense and The Self Illusion 

3: "With wit and respect for both the rational and the irrational, Hutson reveals the pervasiveness of superstition and 'magical thinking,' even among people who consider themselves totally rational." 
—ALAN LIGHTMAN, PH.D., author of Einstein's Dreams 

4: "This is a book that you pick up but can't put down. Hutson, intelligently and entertainingly, gives us the best kind: one that gives us insight to our very core. Highly recommended!" 
—ORI BRAFMAN, coathour of Sway and Click 

5: "In this brilliant, exhilarating book, Matthew Hutson surveys the new science of belief and irrationality to reveal the delights of the human capacity for magical thinking." 
—DACHER KELTNER, PH.D., author of Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life 

6: "In this wickedly funny and deeply clever book, Matthew Hutson makes a radical claim: all of us, whether we accept it or not, believe in magic." 
—PAUL BLOOM, PH.D., author of Descartes' Baby and How Pleasure Works 

7: "This book about thinking is magical. It's the perfect blend of astonishing stories, up-to-date science, awe, beauty, disgust, and humor. It's science journalism at its best." 
—JONATHAN HAIDT, PH.D., author of The Happiness Hypothesis and The Righteous Mind

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Hudson Street Press (April 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781594630873
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594630873
  • ASIN: 1594630879
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #295,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 57 people found the following review helpful By J. Sexton on June 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a stunning book for anyone interested in neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and why people do what they do. Yet despite the book's excellence, you'll likely find mixed reviews, simply because the book's subject matter and stance are disturbing to a lot of people. Don't be dissuaded, this is a fabulous book.

Magical Thinking is a term used by psychologists and anthropologists to describe non-scientific and a-rational thought patterns. I sort of like to think of the term as having 3 generations of use. First generation usage begins when anthropologists coined the term to describe how primitive tribes thought about magical / non-scientific cause & effect. Think voodoo and witch doctors and "sympathetic magic." The second generation of use began when psychologists used the same term to describe how everyone, no matter how modern, or scientific engages in these thought patterns. You don't have to go to Borneo to study magical thinking, you can study it in your next door neighbor. Yet with this 2nd generation of usage or study, the psychologists involved still thought of Magical Thinking as irrationality. It was still a negative term to describe cognitive flaws, if you will. What I'm calling the 3rd generation of usage is marked by a dawning understanding that Magical Thinking actually underlies a lot of our humanity, how it is, in many ways, vital to psychological health.

This book, as you may have guessed from the title, is a look at Magical Thinking from that third gen perspective. And anytime someone praises a-rational or non-scientific thought patterns, you can be sure that someone is going to get their panties in a bunch. Hence the polarized reviews.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Deb on March 16, 2013
Format: Paperback
If you think about it, the existential realities of life are pretty harsh: life has no inherent meaning, purpose, or order...and the only certainty we can count on is death. It's not hard to see how we need some kind of psychological buffer to soften the existential blows.

Enter magical thinking.

In the words of author Matthew Hutson:
"Magical thinking provides a sense of control. The value of an illusory sense of control is that it reduces anxiety and increases a feeling of agency, which can spur you to seize real control. Second, magical thinking provides meaning. There's meaning as in comprehension--understanding how things happen or how to do things--which allows for control. But there's also meaning as in a sense of purpose--grasping why things happen or why anything is worth doing. This is the stuff that gets you out of bed in the morning and lets you sleep at night... These habits of mind guide us through the world every day. In very basic ways they provide a sense of control, of purpose, of connection, and of meaning, and without them we couldn't function." (pp. 239, 9)

In other words, a spoonful (/neocortex-ful) of magical thinking helps the existential realities go down. And, as Matthew convincingly conveys, we all think magically--whether we believe it or not. He's divided the cerebral magic into seven (lucky number!) different forms: (1) imbuing essences into objects (your kid's blanky, your wedding ring, an autographed book); (2) psychologically connecting symbols to their real-life counterparts (imagine the difference between throwing darts at a picture of your mother vs.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Donald S. Waller on August 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I'll cut to the chase: this is a great book. In essence, this book central thesis is most humans are searching for order and meaning. Why? Probably because we have an evolutionary imperative to do so. Those who lead purposeful, dynamic lives are more successful in mating and passing on their genes. Consequently, after countless generations, the world is filled with people looking for order and meaning by seeing, (or looking for), patterns that represent importance, or objects that represent significance, or events that reflect purpose, or in the author's parlance: magical thinking. We can't help it.

The author, Matthew Hutson, has a great style and quick wit I very much enjoyed. He took topics such as brain chemistry, neuroscience, anthropology, evolutionary theory, and comparative published behavioral studies, and somehow made it all entertaining.

Specific topics discussed included the possible reasons why we tend to have rituals and superstitions, especially in situations where we have no control. In the author's view it's all attempt to have some influence over events, if even imagined.

The touchy subject of religion is also discussed in the form of questions to ponder. Why do the various physical forms of a supreme being tend to look like the followers? Why do we tend to give credit to God for good events and blame humans for the bad? Do we long to believe because we are afraid to die? Is it an expression of our need for control and purpose to envision someone looking out for you that also has expectations for your behavior? Sometimes the questions alone, without an answer, are worth the thought exercise. I loved it.
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