Resisting Woo

As you know, I've been an atheist for about 10 years or so, and a skeptic for about 2 or 3 years. While I found it easy to give up religion (in fact it was a relief once I realized I wasn't going to literally be struck by lightning for calling myself an atheist), I found it took longer to realize I needed to be skeptical about other things as well.

The hardest thing for me to give up was superstition. Deep down, I was afraid something bad would happen if I didn't knock on wood when I said certain things, or that I would be jinxed if I said something positive at the wrong time. It was crazy! I finally had to just force myself to do a basic experiment. I made myself not do the superstitious action and waited to see if there were negative consequences. Rinse, Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. Look at the results. Shabam, no ill effects!

I still have the urge to knock on wood though. But I never do anymore. Thank g... Science!

It's funny how ingrained  superstitions are. I recently messed up my neck and back. Instead of going to the doctor I tried everything I could think of to fix it myself. It only got worse. I finally went today and will start physical therapy on Monday along with some mild medications.

Why was it so hard to go, though? Why did I wait 3 weeks, in which I was completely miserable? Ok, so I have an irrational fear of doctors and dentists. That's probably a big part of it. But also because I thought I could do it on my own. When I started thinking about turning to woo, I realized I was really desperate and finally went to the doctor. That's progress, isn't it? Three years ago I definitely would have been popping every supplement I could think of and going to a chiropractor, or even an acupuncturist.

Thanks to all the skeptics in my life, I now know about the lack of scientific evidence of those practices. Now, knowing that acupuncture is equivalent to a placebo isn't good enough for me. I'd rather just go straight for real medicine, based on real scientific evidence.

Before you slam me for falling for Big Pharma, I'm not saying that pharmaceutical companies are blameless and loving, devoted to helping people selflessly. They aren't. And I can't explain it as well as Dr. Steven Novella from The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, but it basically boils down to this: science is self-correcting. People are flawed and have agendas. But science corrects itself over time in many different ways; like peer review, multiple studies, and even government oversight. There are other ways it corrects itself, but I can't think of them and I don't feel well. So please feel free to comment with more information. (I'm still waiting for the medications to start working, so I'm not at the top of my game, sorry)

I know government oversight is also far from perfect. I'm not saying it is. It's an incredibly flawed system. But it does help. Listen to the Skeptic's Guide to have Dr. Novella explain it to you. He understands the system much better than me, since he's a scientist and a neurologist.

Anyway, back to woo and superstitions. I think the best thing you can do for a child is to teach them to Reason and think for themselves, critically. I have this idea that someday I'd like to teach children somehow about critical thinking. But I have no idea how to make that happen. First I'd need to learn more about critical thinking myself, since I'm self taught. If you have any good critical thinking books or videos, let me know. I've published one great video on here, but more would be even better.

I feel like I'm learning about critical thinking coming at it from the side instead of head on. I'd really like to learn it properly, to the point that I can teach others, namely children and parents.

Ok, I'm rambling, sorry. Your ideas and information are most welcome!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving, for you Americans. I'm thankful for YOU. :)


  1. I hope you feel better. Woo-ish thinking can take a long time to get rid of.

  2. Thanks Andrew, modern medicine is treating me right. :) And yes, woo-ish thinking is something I guess most of us have to get rid of, kind of like the layers of an onion. Sometimes you can cut away bunches of it, but you might run into another layer of your thinking that you need to reevaluate.

  3. Your observation about superstitions is so apt. People do these illogical things like putting their left sock and shoe on before the right. When you challenge them about it they acknowledge that it is meaningless and has no effect, however, they keep doing it!
    BTW whenever he spilled salt, my father used to throw a pinch of it over his shoulder for luck.

  4. I think one reason why people have difficulty letting go of their incorrect beliefs is because they have incorporated these beliefs into the way they see and understand the world. To change a worldview isn't easy, and sometimes I think people just don't want to put the time and effort into it.

  5. I'd say that some acknowledge it's meaningless, but others think they actually have that kind of supernatural power over their fate. My sister in law's boyfriend's dog got loose and was lost. They prayed to St. Francis and searched and searched every chance they got for a week. They found the dog and actually thanked St. Francis instead of thanking each other for a hard search ended successfully. That's crazy, if you ask me.

  6. I guess in the time I've been following your blog, I didn't realize this was so new to you. I grew up around well educated critical thinkers, and sometimes I'm surprised that these concepts can be new to anyone (which is sort of naive of me, given plentiful counter-examples).
    As for learning, it seems you already have the key skill of questioning assumptions. There is no magical mastery of critical thinking skills that qualifies you as "good enough" to teach, just keep up what you already do.

    * unless you are looking for a job, and then there is a magical piece of paper called a Degree.

  7. Thanks very much, Tomato. I was noticing yesterday at Thanksgiving dinner that I fell into being quite gullible when a couple different people made different false statements as jokes and I thought they were serious. But after a second or so, I thought, wait, that can't be right. I guess that's what you're talking about; questioning assumptions.
    No, I'm not looking for a job. But I have this dream of somehow creating a teaching aid of some sort for kids and parents.