Tag Archives: bruce-hood

Superstition and Irrationality

I’d like to class myself as a fairly rational being, but we all have our transgressions, right? So are we all maybe a bit superstitious?

To answer this, Richard Wiseman offers this common thought experiment from Bruce Hood’s new book, Supersense:

Imagine that you only have two objects in your house:
1) A £10 watch that was given to you by your partner and therefore has sentimental value.
2) Another watch that’s worth £1000 but has no sentimental value.

Your house catches fire, and you only have time to save one watch. […] Which watch you would save?

If you think that the £10 is somehow imbued with the essence of your partner then you are being superstitious. Of course, you might argue that it simply reminds you of the good times the two of you have had together. Fair enough, but how would you feel if I replaced it with a watch that was absolutely identical (same scratches, markings, etc)? This replacement watch would have exactly the same memory-inducing properties, but most people reject the idea, saying they want THEIR watch. Again, this is irrational.

Of course, this assumes that sentimentality (while irrational) == superstition.

It does however remind me of a more interesting thought experiment about our irrationality when it comes to saving money when purchasing items of different prices (e.g. we’ll travel a significant distance to save £20 on a £40 coat, but not to save £20 on a £12,000 car).

The former via @sandygautam