Magical Thinking: 13 Reasons Why Non-Believers Don't Exist

Whether you think you do or not, you believe in magic.

I don't mean the magic of love or romance or double rainbows. I mean stuff that, as far as scientific consensus is concerned, is not possible, and is a little spooky, and would get you burned at the stake if you claimed mastery of in another era.

In a recent Gallup poll, three in four Americans admitted to believing in at least one paranormal phenomenon--clairvoyance, haunted houses, witches, etc. And in nearly every country around the world, the percentage of self-described atheists is only in the single digits. But even for those few of us who claim to be complete skeptics, belief quietly sneaks in. Maybe you feel anxious on Friday the 13th. Maybe the idea of a heart transplant from a convicted killer weirds you out. Or maybe you're convinced that if you wear your sweats to Target you'll run into at least three people you know. If so, on some level you believe in magic.

As I argue in my book The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking [Penguin / Hudson Street, $25.95], we're all believers. Thanks to evolved habits of mind, we suspect the reality of essences, voodoo, luck, mind over matter, ESP, the soul, karma, and destiny. We attribute mental properties to nonmental phenomena (treating natural events as purposeful, say) and attribute nonmental properties to mental phenomena (treating thoughts as having force in the world). We mix up the realms of mind and matter.

What's more, such illusions are not all bad--they can provide a sense of control over the events around us and a sense of meaning in life.

So before you call someone with far-fetched beliefs stupid or crazy, read on and check out 13 of the many reasons the supposed "non-believer" is just one more figment of the imagination.