Would you hold a pen used by Einstein? What about putting on a cardigan worn by a serial killer? These are the questions asked in a review of Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable in the New Scientist. According to the review, the book argues that humans naturally imbue objects such as pens and cardigans with the power of good and evil. Why else do some people venerate relics of the saints or forbid the sale of Third Reich regalia?
In thinking about this question, I recalled the happiness I felt when I got to hold and touch in the Vatican Archives a letter written by Galileo to the Inquisition. The letter wasn't much. It basically asked the powers-that-be if he could spend a couple of months at his villa away from Rome. While I felt a sense of connection to history, I certainly didn't think the letter exuded some kind of Galilean spiritual essence.
Similarly, I felt uplifted when I got to touch the Mount Wilson telescope Edwin Hubble used to discover that the universe is expanding. Again, not because I thought that Hubble's shade was looking over my shoulder nodding its approval. And I do feel solemn when I enter a graveyard as I reflect with sadness how much most people want deperately to stay alive and that right now we must all die.
According to the review, the book argues that we are equipped with a supersense that "tunes into a hidden (and, let's face it, almost certainly imaginary) world of spirits, fates and spooky connections." I don't think that's right, at least for me. The provenance of objects can provoke thoughts—even creepy thoughts—like recalling the murderous rampages of a serial killer. But when it comes to putting on a killer's cardigan, why not?