All Paths Lead to Magical Thinking

In recent years, psychologists have come to understand religion and paranormal belief as resulting, in most people, from simple errors in reasoning. You believe in God or astrology or a purpose in life because you apply ideas about people—that they have thoughts and intentions—to the natural world. Some display this tendency more than others, but it’s there in everyone, even atheistic heathens like me. What has not been clarified is exactly how the various cognitive biases interact to produce specific ideas about the supernatural—until now.

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Haunted Scrotums and Smiling Fetuses

Humans have a tendency to see faces everywhere—including in medical images. In my book I note a paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine titled “The Case of the Haunted Scrotum.” J. R. Harding, a British radiologist, performed a CT scan on a patient with an undescended right testicle. On the left side he saw a “screaming ghostlike apparition” (click to enlarge). On the right, no testicle was found. “If you were a right testis,” he wrote, “would you want to share the scrotum with that?” Continue reading