After the APRU talk

Posted on February 7, 2007


Gave the talk at Goldsmiths (I’ve uploaded the PowerPoint presentation). The people at the research unit, and the audience in general, were a great bunch. Not surprisingly, most of the audience was made up of psychologists. It was very interesting for me to see the differences in how they received the talk and the kinds of questions they focussed upon. Philosophers would have probably focussed upon the question of the relationship between rationality and superstition but the psychologists were more interested in the nitty gritty of how cognitive illusions may be related to individual kinds of superstitions. I was forced to somewhat sheepishly own up to the fact that, thus far, I have not thought about how to identify such links nor how to empirically examine them (never mind actually doing any empirical work). I guess this will the kind of thing that I will have to think about when I get to Vienna, though I hope that I might get some advice in this area from the APRU people. Another difference between philosophers and the psychologists (or this group of psychologists, at least) that I noticed is that philosophers tend to be far more negative in their comments – trying to think of all possible problems and to push them as hard as possible – whereas the psychologists are a lot more collaborative, their questions mostly aiming at suggesting ways of developing what one is doing. Obviously both kinds of questions have their place but it is certainly very pleasant not to have an audience which does its best to see if it can misconstrue your position.

One particular question that an number of them returned to was the role of developmental processes in the acquisition of superstitious beliefs. I forgot to mention the work done in this area by Bruce Hood in Bristol but I suspect that many of them would be familiar with it. While I’m more than happy to allow that the developmental aspect is important, I think that it shouldn’t be seen as giving the whole answer to why we are superstitious. I made the point that the fact that we learn most superstitions while children does not explain why we are succeptible to the particular superstitions that we are succeptible to. After all, it is not the case that as children we will accept anything and everything we are told by adults.

In the end, we kept on talking at the pub and then the restaurant for so long that I only just made it for my train to Cambridge. If only all talks were as pleasant as this one was.