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Has Superstition Evolved To Help Mankind Survive? 621

Pickens writes "The tendency to falsely link cause to effect — a superstition — is occasionally beneficial, says Kevin Foster, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. For example, a prehistoric human might associate rustling grass with the approach of a predator and hide. Most of the time, the wind will have caused the sound, but 'if a group of lions is coming there's a huge benefit to not being around.' Foster worked with mathematical language and a simple definition for superstition to determine exactly when such potentially false connections pay off and found as long as the cost of believing a superstition is less than the cost of missing a real association, superstitious beliefs will be favored. In modern times, superstitions turn up as a belief in alternative and homeopathic remedies. 'The chances are that most of them don't do anything, but some of them do,' Foster says. Wolfgang Forstmeier argues that by linking cause and effect — often falsely — science is simply a dogmatic form of superstition. 'You have to find the trade off between being superstitious and being ignorant,' Forstmeier says. By ignoring building evidence that contradicts their long-held ideas, 'quite a lot of scientists tend to be ignorant quite often.'"

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