Would You Wear a Serial Killer's Sweater?

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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? 

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  1. What’s so sad is that magical thinking like this informs so many people’s beliefs and voting habits.

  2. What’s so sad is that magical thinking like this informs so many people’s beliefs and voting habits.
    ___________________________________________
    Yes and i would include religion in all its forms magical thinking as well. if people used common sense the world would be a better place. but as someone once said. common sense aint so common now is it?

  3. I’d wear Ed Gein’s skin.

  4. You mean this rock won’t really keep tigers away?

  5. if people used common sense the world would be a better place.

    Not for everyone. Religion helps some people cope with the pain of someone close dying, among other things. Not everyone thrives on unflinching reality.

  6. While trying on the sweater, I’d sing: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor,..”

  7. 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 Reason/Vatican connection has been revealed!

    Ron, better hide. Hide where the Knights Templar will never find you!

  8. Why else do some people venerate relics of the saints or forbid the sale of Third Reich regalia?

    Becuase science is still relatively new to the human experience and it’s a lot easier to blame non-existent entities for windfalls and ills than to accept resposibility for one’s life.

    Deep down inside, we all still wish there really is a Santa Claus…

  9. The invisible and the non-existent often look very much alike.

  10. As is spellcheck…

  11. I don’t think that’s right, at least for me.

    Same here, Ron. I have found myself to almost completely lack any attachment to objects for sentimental value–I’ll just throw something useless right in the trash, even if it belonged to someone important to me, or mattered to them. Things are just things and their only value (at least to me) is their usefulness or possibly aesthetic value.

  12. I’d wear a serial killer’s sweater if I had to try and trick that serial killer’s homicidal mongoloid son in to believing I was it’s dead parent so I could then kill the homicidal mongoloid.

  13. Philip K. Dick examined this question in The Man in the High Castle.

    “Historicity” is an odd thing indeed. If you are presented with two identical cigarette lighters, made by the same manufacturer according to the same plan, there is no way to distinguish between them. But one of them [for example] was used by FDR and one was not. This means that the two lighters are different in a way that is valid and true [it is true that one of them was used by FDR and one was not] but that difference exists entirely in the mind and nowhere else.

    This does not have to mean that we have some supersense that is in touch with a spirit world. It could also mean [as Dick concludes] that all history is an illusion and a dream. Or it could mean that the “real” is an amalgam of perception and memory.

  14. Well, now, I don’t think this is all “magical thinking.” It’s having a sense of history, and maybe a sense of wonder. History makes some objects more meaningful than other similar objects, and we can respond to that in complex ways. It’s not all bad, but people can go overboard with it, as they can with anything else.

  15. I’d wear a serial killer’s sweater if I had to try and trick that serial killer’s homicidal mongoloid son in to believing I was it’s dead parent so I could then kill the homicidal mongoloid.

    He was a mongoloid, mongoloid
    Happier than you and me
    He was a mongoloid, mongoloid
    One chromosome too many

  16. Fluffy,

    Philip K. Dick examined this question in The Man in the High Castle.

    True, but imagine instead that it all just a sumulation.

  17. So I guess anything beyond the science of the thing we humans call “love” is imaginary?

    I choose to believe there is more to being human than simply biology and mathmatics. If it means Reason and libertarians will look down their collective noses at me, so be it.

    This highlights the biggest weakness I see with Reason and the libertarian movement. I am a libertarian, but the smugness and dismissive tone of all things metaphysical as the province of undeducated rubes is a big obstacle for me working to support libertarians politically.

  18. Would You Wear a Serial Killer’s Sweater?

    Sure. It’s chilly out.

  19. I’m in tune with some sentimentality or Dickian historicity associated with objects, so long as it is kept on the right side of rational. Some people get a little too attached to objects.

  20. Episiarch: First, I’ll assume no irony. I am not quite as utilitarian as you seem to be. I very much like to keep objects around for aesthetic reasons and natural history reasons.

    For example, my wife and I buy art that we like from “famous” artists, e.g., Diebenkorn. We like the art, but we also like knowing who produced it. In addition, I’m a pack rat for archaeological and natural history items. For example, I own a cuneiform clay tablet that’s 4,000 years old (an tax inventory of some type) and a hand axe that may be half a million years old. I enjoy knowing that some person made those objects that long ago. I also own various pieces of meteorites, some really neat fossils, and so forth.

    Finally, I do keep a few inconsequential objects as aides memoire of dead friends and relatives. To look at those items is to think of them and reflect on how I will never see them again.

  21. I think I’m with Papaya on this.

    Looking up at the haze of the Milky Way, pondering the vastness of the universe and feeling awe at its beauty, feeling a connection to, say, Carl Sagan is a somewhat spiritual experience and not at all unreasonable.

    It’s why I poo-poo people who say atheists have no appreciation of mystery or beauty. Untrue!

  22. So I guess anything beyond the science of the thing we humans call “love” is imaginary?

    Why cant you have your cake and eat it too
    Why believe in things that make it tough on you
    Why scream and cry when you know it’s through
    Why fall in love when there’s better things to do

  23. I tend to agree with Jay insofar as a general disdain for metaphysical questions hangs over much discussion, and that disdain is annoying, I don’t find it to be symptom of libertarianism but rather of scientism in general, pervasive throughout our culture.

  24. Ron, no irony. I just wanted to bolster your proposition that not everyone gets superstitious about objects.

  25. LMNOP: So is a killer’s sweater imbued with some kind of metaphysical properties?

  26. Deep down inside, we all still wish there really is a Santa Claus…

    It’s spelled B-A-R-A-C-K O-B-A-M-A

    Hooray for Santy Claus!

    /obscure?

  27. Obama ain’t santa claus. Santa only gives good things to good boys and girls.

  28. I choose to believe there is more to being human than simply biology and mathmatics. If it means Reason and libertarians will look down their collective noses at me, so be it.
    ___________________________________________
    The great thing about Libertarianism is that i may think you are wrong, disagree and such. but i also say you are free to belive whatever you want ghosts jesus. as long as you do not enforce your beliefs on me or anyone else enjoy the fairy circle, i could care less

  29. “I’m in tune with some sentimentality or Dickian historicity associated with objects, so long as it is kept on the right side of rational. Some people get a little too attached to objects.”

    I’ll die before I give up my fleshlight.

    And for future reference, her name is Donna Troy.

  30. I own a cuneiform clay tablet that’s 4,000 years old (an tax inventory of some type) and a hand axe that may be half a million years old.

    That is so cool. The nearest that I come to owning anything like that are some Roman coins from the reign of Constantius II.

  31. My mom’s name is Donna Troy…

    WTF!?

  32. I have scanned Lincoln’s marriage certificate, a Galileo manuscript, cigarette baseball cards, pages from a Gutenberg bible, the title page of a first edition of Frankenstein, letters from dozens of prominent Victorian era authors, hundreds of photographs from the Civil War, and the personal photographs of a brothel madam Belle Brezing who was the model for Belle Watling from Gone With The Wind.

    The best thing old objects do for us is remind us just how insignificant we are in the scheme of things.

    Fun Fact: The Mary Todd Lincoln House was used as a bordello in the 1880s.

  33. Ron-

    Obviously, no- it’s not. Water cannot be holy and kill vampires, either.

    People rarely live at the extremes. I am a libertarian, but believe in a modicum of metaphysical things.

    For example, I believe that an element of love is spiritual, for lack of a better term.

    You will find most people believe that, and it doesn’t make them fools nor ignoramuses. I just think the level of dismissiveness on this site and in the libertarian movement in general to be a hindrance of the only hope we have to prevent this country from collapsing on its own weight.

  34. Indian artifacts are common here in south Alabama. I have found a dozen or so nice complete points and hundreds of incomplete points as well as pot sherds. It is fascinating to me, a modern lazy human, to consider the uses of the tools I have found in the natives daily lives. I dabble in knapping points that just increases my respect for the previous owners.
    We also have a box or two full of school papers and projects from our kids. I think some things have a value not monetary or utilitarian.

  35. I am taking a class in writing that sposed to include punctiation next week. My apologies for the previous.

  36. I am a libertarian, but the smugness and dismissive tone of all things metaphysical as the province of undeducated rubes is a big obstacle for me working to support libertarians politically.

    How about dismissive as in “not a subject that needs to be dealt with in the political sphere”? That work for you?

  37. Hooray for Santy Claus!

    Best creepy quote from Santa Conquers the Martians: “And my finger isn’t tired!”

    So useful in so many situations. I believe Obama recently said just that to the Saudi king.

  38. Dang. I just got a letter from my doctor. Turns out I’m looking through Gary Gilmore’s eyes.

  39. Would you hesitate to wear the underpants that grandpa shat in if you could be assured that they’re clean?

    Are you revolted by the thought of breathing someone else’s flatus but not of breathing your own?

  40. For example, I own a cuneiform clay tablet that’s 4,000 years old (an tax inventory of some type) and a hand axe that may be half a million years old.

    Bwa ha ha ha ha. BOY, did they see you coming.

  41. According to scientists I’ve heard, due to the way the atmosphere moves about we’ve all breathed air and drank water that were breathed and drank by, well, pretty much everybody in history, saints, sinners, regular folk, etc. I guess it’s a lot more abstract than holding/wearing a solid object so I guess it doesn’t bother people. “You just breathed in some of Hitler’s air!”

    I do not intend this as Godwinning the thread.

  42. Reason and libertarians will look down their collective noses at me

    Jay,

    There are two main schools of Libertarianism, as far as I can tell: The minimal-government Libertarians (CATO/reason.com/Milton Friedman) and the anarchist Libertarians (mises.org/lewrockwell.com/Murray Rothbard).

    It seems to me that while the minimal-government Libertarians seem to predominately atheists, often self-righteously so, the anarchist Libertarians seem to be evenly split between Christians and religion-friendly atheists.

  43. I carry around remnants of a supernova.

  44. I am taking a class in writing that sposed to include punctiation next week.

    I hope they throw in a little spelling, too.

  45. Warren: Mebbe so, but my cuneiform tablet looks a lot like this one (although mine is somewhat less legible and thus less expensive) and my hand axe is very similar to the one denominated as 1980-1010.

  46. I own the tooth of a Carcharocles megalodon. Which was a perverse gift from my wife in that I’ve had recurring nightmares of being eaten by a shark since I was a child. There’s a reason I married that sweet gal.

  47. Also, is anyone else sick to death of the following ubiquitous piece of atheist sophistry?

    Step #1.) Define the standard set of atheist metaphysical views as synonymous with the words “common sense” and “reason”.

    Step #2) Decry the apparently objectively verifiable lack of “common sense” and “reason” plaguing our society today.

  48. RC Dean,

    my spelling is implacable!

  49. NeonCat, we also eat plants and animals whose existence and ability to thrive is the result of doodie. Fertilizers througout history all lend themselves to our current existence, biological make-up, civilization, etc. Ain’t it grand that everyone is literally full of shit?

  50. This highlights the biggest weakness I see with Reason and the libertarian movement. I am a libertarian, but the smugness and dismissive tone of all things metaphysical as the province of undeducated rubes is a big obstacle for me working to support libertarians politically.

    Surely there must be one or several drinking rules applicable to this?

  51. fyodor,

    A drinking rule about smug religionists coming here to condemn our smugness? You’ll kill us all with your mad schemes.

  52. We do this formally, as a nation.

    Just two weeks ago I was in the presence of the black top hat Abraham Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theater the night he was assasinated. Next to it was the black suit he liked to wear while in his office in the White House.

    There were lots of personal artifacts of his and his wife’s. One thing that I thought was slightly silly was an old “circuit desk” that he and other lawyers used when he was practicing law and “rode circuit.” The sign for the exhibit explained that the desk had been repaired and restored many times, so that only the front rail was original. Seems to me that rather than saying “this is the desk Lincoln used” (which basically is what is says), it should say “This a recreation of the desk Lincoln used.” Is that one little piece of wood from the original enough to imbue the entire piece of furniture with sufficient Lincolnisity to legitimately say this was the desk he used?

    They also had a lady’s cuff, which had stains on it from Lincoln’s blood. Can’t remember the lady’s name, but she was in the box in Ford’s Theater with Lincoln at the time.

    Years ago, I also saw the rocking chair he was sitting in when he was assassinated. It was, at the time, in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.

    Powerful juju.

  53. Ah, the Ship of Theseus paradox.

    The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned [from Crete] had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.

    -Plutarch, Theseus

  54. So I guess anything beyond the science of the thing we humans call “love” is imaginary?

    Not at $500/hr for an outcall it isn’t!

  55. Sugarfree-

    I thought my posts were smug free, but to each his own.

  56. right now we must all die

    Glad we agree.

  57. Fun Fact: The Mary Todd Lincoln House was used as a bordello in the 1880s.

    Less fun fact: Government buildings have been bordellos since their inception.

  58. I have found a dozen or so nice complete points and hundreds of incomplete points

    Me too.

  59. Jay,

    I thought my posts were smug free, but to each his own.

    I wasn’t really singling you out. Your point about a lot of us denying everything metaphysical is valid, but too often the mere acceptance of any metaphysics is seen as a way to discredit all forms of rationality.

    As for the smug often heard around these parts from other commenters:

    Which is more smug? Assuming your opponents are mildly deluded and OK if they just keep to themselves or assuming your ideological opponents will be condemned to eternal torment? I contend atheists are not the smug ones in these perennial debates.

  60. I have found a dozen or so nice complete points and hundreds of incomplete points

    I was looking at some property along the Colorado River a few weeks ago. It had some Indian mounds on it that had been used for hundreds of years (the mounds were the built-up remains of campsites). Flint all over the place. The old house had a jar in it full of Clovis points.

    I nearly bought it on the spot. But the wife wanted, like, electricity and running water and roads and shit.

  61. I am taking a class in writing that sposed to include punctiation next week.

    Sign up for the elective on placement of modifiers. Next week and every week.

  62. But the wife wanted, like, electricity and running water and roads and shit.

    Wives are picky that way, I’ve found. I just want 50+ acres (legal considerations) and she keeps nattering about buildings and roads and sewers and all these unimportant details.

  63. Obama ain’t santa claus. Santa only gives good things to good boys and girls.

    You sure about that? Just think of all of the carbon we can keep out of the atmosphere by sequestering coal in the stockings of children.

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