I thought this New York Times article about superstition might interest some of you!
Another law of magic is “everything happens for a reason” — there is no such thing as randomness or happenstance. This is so-called teleological reasoning, which assumes intentions and goals behind even evidently purposeless entities like hurricanes. As social creatures, we may be biologically tuned to seek evidence of intentionality in the world, so that we can combat or collaborate with whoever did what’s been done. When lacking a visible author, we end up crediting an invisible one — God, karma, destiny, whatever.
This illusion, too, turns out to be psychologically useful. In research led by the psychologist Laura Kray of the University of California, Berkeley, subjects reflected on a turning point in their lives. The more they felt the turning point to have been fated, the more they believed, “It made me who I am today” and, “It gave meaning to my life.” Belief in destiny helps render your life a coherent narrative, which infuses your goals with a greater sense of purpose. This works even when those turning points are harmful: in a study led by the psychologist Kenneth Pargament of Bowling Green State University, students who saw a negative event as “part of God’s plan” showed more growth in its aftermath. They became more open to new perspectives, more intimate in their relationships and more persistent in overcoming challenges.
It boggles the mind (my mind at least) that a belief that a negative event was god’s plan should lead to increased openness. I have no doubt, though, that magical beliefs and superstition are very human indeed and that they correspond to human needs. It’s kind of self-evident almost.