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. a picture of Hitler); (3) engaging in superstitious rituals and harnessing luck through physical acts (avoiding walking under ladders, knocking on wood, wearing your lucky shirt); (4) believing we can control matter with our minds (prayer, transcendent thinking, sending lucky vibes through your TV as you boisterously cheer on your favorite team during the playoffs); (5) denying our finiteness (try imagining the absolute abyss of your own death); (6) treating inanimate objects as conscious intentional ones (who hasn't yelled at their rebelliously slow computer or sworn at a traffic light that spitefully turned red?); (7) assigning meaning to random coincidences and natural events (everything happens for a reason, right?). So, even if you don't believe *in* magic, you do think *with* it.
Speaking of magic--I experienced this book as being quite magical. From page one, I was under its spell. I found the content so fascinating, the writing so skillful, and the humor so right-up-my-alley (I may have even laughed out loud more than a few times while reading this book). And, the magic of this book continued long after I finished the book: its contents have had some serious staying power and have helped me refine the way I make peace with those existential realities.
In the introduction of the book, Matthew shares his intent for writing this book:
"I'm dissecting the sacred because the same magical thinking that leads to sentimentality, altruism, and self-efficacy can also lead to vilification, fatalism, irrational exuberance, or even depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and psychosis. By tearing down everything holy and pointing out the sand it was built on, I'm hoping we can learn how to build meaning back up in constructive ways. I don't want to eradicate magical thinking. I want to harness it." (p. 4)
In my opinion, he accomplished his mission. Magically so, even.