Luhrmann soft-pedals religion again in the NYT: this time it’s demons

January 2, 2014 • 7:01 am

I remain mystified why The New York Times continues to use Tanya Luhrmann, an anthropologist at Stanford University, as a regular op-ed columnist. Although she may not be a believer, when she writes about religion she is devoted to explaining why faith is good or useful.  When she says anything else, it’s mundane.  But one thing she rarely does is to point out the dangers of faith.

There’s a small exception to this in her December 28 column, “When demons are real,” about African Pentecostal Christians’ belief in demons, but the bad stuff is outweighed by her explanation of why those beliefs are useful psychological tools.

Her subject is Ghana, the world’s most religious country (the Christian Science Monitor reports a poll showing that the percentage of nonbelievers is zero), with 70% of the inhabitants Christian and the rest of other faiths.  Luhrmann attended one of the many all-night “revivals”  in Accra, much of which involved excoriating demons, which those in attendance consider real. (Luhmann adds the frightening statistic that 57% of Americans also believe in demons.)

(By the way, if one included sub-Saharan African countries like Ghana in the worldwide positive correlation between religiosity and social dysfunctionality, the correlation would be even more striking, for sub-Saharan countries are both highly religious and highly dysfunctional.)

Luhrmann’s title should have been “When demons seem real,” but of course she doesn’t want to judge them as illusory. She is, after all, an anthropologist, and it’s presumably not kosher to pass judgment on such things. And besides, belief in demons serves a useful purpose (Luhrmann’s metier is always to point out the utility of faith).

J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, a professor at Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana, argues that these churches have spread so rapidly because African traditional religion envisions a world dense with dark spirits from which people must protect themselves, and these new churches take this evil seriously in a way that many earlier missionizing Christianities did not. Indeed, I have been at a Christian service in Accra with thousands of people shouting: “The witches will die! They will die! Die! Die!” With the pastor roaring, “This is a war zone!”

Most of us know what this “demonizing” has resulted in: horrible killings, expulsion of children from homes, and so on, but Luhrmann barely mentions this. All she says is this:

But it is also true that an external agent gives you something — and often, someone — to identify as nonhuman. In West Africa, witches are people, and sometimes, other people kill them or drive them from their homes.

Yes, “sometimes” other people kill them or drive them from their homes. “Sometimes.” This is about as much of a downside as Lurhmann can muster (the other downsides of African Pentecostal Christianity include helping spread HIV and AIDS by urging the afflicted to go off their drugs, for God will cure them, and, in the past, encouraging the genocide in Rwanda).

Luhrmann goes on, helpfully, to tell us how demons can be useful even if we don’t believe that they’re real. The following lame discussion is unworthy of an undergraduate paper, much less a column by a professional anthropologist.

. . . One way to think about demons (if you happen not to believe in supernatural evil) is that they are a way of representing human hatred, rage and failure — the stuff we all set out to exorcize in our New Year’s resolutions. The anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere, who grew up in Sri Lanka, got a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and, eventually, a job at Princeton, once remarked that all humans deal with demons. (He was quoting Dostoyevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” — “In every man, of course, a demon lies hidden.”) The only question, he said, was whether the demons were located in the mind, where Freud placed them, or in the world. It is possible that identifying your envy as external and alien makes it easier to quell.

Do Luhrmann or Obeyeskere really think that the presence of real demons in the world is a viable question?

Finally, after downplaying the hundreds of murders and child expulsions done under a false belief in demons, Luhrmann raises what she sees as the really serious problems of such belief:

In an April poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, over one in 10 Americans were confident that Barack Obama was the Antichrist — and the Antichrist is, as it happens, associated with war in the Middle East. If those people think that demons are real, they don’t mean that Obama is misguided, confused or mistaken. They mean that he is real, inhuman evil.

That is a terrifying thought.

If those people think that demons are real.  We don’t know that, but Luhrmann makes the assumption. But I seriously doubt that more than 10% of American think that Obama is “inhuman.” This is simply a lame segue between African demons and the President, a way to say something when you have nothing to say.

But at last we have an editorial comment by anthropologist Luhrmann! How terrifying it is that 10% of American think that Obama is the Antichrist! If the murder of large groups of Africans is as terrifying as Obama’s demonization, Luhrmann doesn’t tell us; she says onl that y “sometimes, other people kill them or drive them from their homes”

This is writing and thinking at its most mundane.  Luhrmann’s analysis is superficial and her writing wooden. There is nothing in her piece that makes you think, and that’s because she really has nothing to say.

Why on earth does the New York Times pay her to churn out stuff like this? And why, if she’s an objective anthropologist who does not judge the social phenomena she observes, why does she pronounce the demonization of Obama “terrifying” but says nothing about the genuine harm that comes to demonized Africans? Does her moral relativism begin only at the U.S. border?

The commenters on Lurhmann’s piece are in fact much savvier than she is. Many of them point out the connection between poverty and superstition; even more note that demon-belief is one of the great evils of modern religion.

Here are three such comments:

  • mirele, Mesa, AZ
 It’s hard for me to take this op-ed seriously when Ms. Lurhman [sic] barely mentions how “witches are people” and yet fails to acknowledge that there is a serious problem with children being called witches, forced out of their families and communities and sometimes even killed. This is not a small problem. BBC 3 broadcast a documentary last May called “Branded a Witch” and noted there are thousands of children kicked out of their homes because they were labeled a witch by these religious deliverance specialists. And it’s spreading into the United Kingdom and the USA. Witchfinder General Helen Ukpabio of Nigeria was supposed to spread her gospel of rooting out the witches in Houston in early 2012, but there was some controversy and no idea whether she actually made it there. But this stuff is HERE and children are suffering. Why did you not mention it, Ms. Luhrman?
  • GAM, Denton, MD

I wish we could focus more on the sources of fear and desperation that empower such hate-creating, demonizing religion. Even discussing demons and evangelical tribalism in isolation, as this article does, only further empowers it by adding to our irrational fear …fear of the irrational. If you want to draw attention to hate-mongering religiosity, then please mention (at least) the societal conditions that drive people to demonize each other as an act of survival: ideological politics; a growing awareness of inequality through global connectedness; dwindling resources for an ever-increasing population; etc.

Organized religion can be a source of community and comfort, but can also provide justification for the oldest solution to society’s problems: tribal warfare. To evoke the emotional fear without also evoking the rational mind only makes the situation worse.

And the best one:

  • Quodlibet, CT

Luhrmann’s religious/superstitious bias makes it impossible for her to be objective. For example, when she says: “People say that the boundary between the supernatural and the natural is thinner there”, she *assumes* that there exists a supernatural, and that its qualities can be measured and debated.

Is this the sort of medieval thinking that the NYT wants to promote?

All religious beliefs and behaviors are based on irrational superstition, despite Luhrmann’s efforts to convince us otherwise.

She rationalizes the beliefs or behaviors she encounters in order (it seems) to minimize their ridiculousness and align them more closely with Western Christian sensibilities. But when we lend credence to irrational beliefs, we also endorse the irrational behaviors they engender, and some of these are destructive. Is it OK to believe in demons? Sure, pray all night if you want. OK to believe in witches? No, because some people kill “witches,” even children. OK to believe in the word of an infallible god? OK, because the god says “thou shalt not kill,” OK to believe in an infallible god? No, because the god says “stone your child if he curses you.” Who decides what is OK or not OK? Luhrmann?

Why has this series of essays–most of which offer broad conclusions drawn only from anecdotal observations–continued? Even as opinion pieces, this series is not worthy of the NYT and its readers. Discuss religion? Yes, and with vigor! But surely we can do so with more depth and substance.

The New York Times counters its liberal columnists (Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd) with conservative ones (Ross Douthat). Why doesn’t it offer a humanistic palliative to Tanya Luhrmann? For, in the end, Lurhmann’s puerile lucubrations serve only to perpetuate and justify the superstitions that keep the world divided and ridden with inequality.


Addendum: From the Oxford English Dictionary (which contains no entry for “soft peddle”:

Screen shot 2014-01-02 at 10.15.38 AM

68 thoughts on “Luhrmann soft-pedals religion again in the NYT: this time it’s demons

  1. Oh this is utter trash. An article about demons that doesn’t discuss their antidote: angels!

    Leave it to the NY Times to leave out that critical piece of information.

  2. I’m just gonna change some terms in the first quoted section to demonstrate how horrible this sounds

    …traditional European folk beliefs envision a world dense with secret conspiracies, and these new political movements take this evil seriously in a way that more established political parties do not. Indeed I have been at a Nazi meeting in Munich with hundreds of people shouting…

    This kind of thing is no more acceptable in Africa today than it was in Europe then. To believe otherwise is to think that African lives are worth less or that African people are less accountable for their actions.

  3. I am reminded of a totally surreal scene in Sarah Palin’s church in Wasilla in which a Kenyan witch-hunting priest “anointed” her and prayed she be protected from witchcraft…

    1. “Surreal” captures my feeling too. Its one thing to defend religious practices that align with good causes, but if you can’t bring yourself to clearly, forcefully object to religious practics of exiling and killing children, then you have really gone off the apologetic deep end.

      What she should have communicated is simple and obvious: ‘this religious practice is wrong. Don’t do it. Stop it whenever possible, punish the perpetrators, and protect the victims.’

      1. That’s such a Euro-centric, chauvinist, colonialist attitude. IT’S THEIR CULTURE! Who are you, Mr. White Man, to tell them that their culture is wrong?! If anyone’s to blame here, it’s the colonialist Western governments pulling strings in the background. And don’t to try pretend these religious beliefs are about religion…obviously, these are all sociopoliticoeconomic issues. RELIGION HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS!

        Can I write for HuffPo now?

        1. I expect that these tribes were killing witches long before the first christian missionaries showed up, so I do in fact think there’s a nonreligious cultural component to this. Aside from that quibble, I agree with your sarcasm. 🙂

  4. It always baffles me that religious folk are happy to believe their particular set of superstitions in the guise of a creed but dismiss those of others as nonsense. If you accept demons why not boggarts or old shuck or fairies or pixies or selkies or giants or gnomes etc etc ad inf. ???

  5. On the question mof Obama being the “antichrist” I find that so hard to comprehend. I read quite a wide range of blogs on my reader (many of them quite right wing – and there are some articulated educated people of also believe this nonesense) Durring a recent election the conservatives used manipulated pictures to pa\in Tony Blair as the devil and therefore evil. It bombed badly – no one took it seriously. He won the vote in any case. As pointed out above, it is interesting the similaroities bewteen beif in devils and political conspiracies. They can look like one and the same thing.

      1. A joke I heard at Unitarian seminary:

        Why is the Antichrist like People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive??

        They pick a different person every year.

      2. The key phrase there is “tongue in cheek.” The democrats mean Antichrist metaphorically. The republicans mean it literally. There is a substantial difference.

    1. Far too many people in 2008 portrayed obama as Christ-like, “The Lightbringer”, & described him in messianic terms, as when Oprah said “I believe he’s The One.” The expectations at the time for the transformative change his mere appearance would bring about, would truly have required miraculous powers to realize.

        1. Actually, Lucifer was a popular Christian name in Rome and was even attributed to Jesus Christ, until the fourth century.

          Bishop Lucifer of Cagliary was a very outspoken critic of the Arian Heresy, so much angrily and vociferously so that he angered the Church Fathers in Milan, who exiled him and possibly excommunicated him.

          Saint Jerome vehemently detested Bishop Lucifer, so when he translated the Bible into Latin, he used the name Lucifer in association with Satan so as to demonize Bishop Lucifer.

          After the death of Constantine II, who was an Arian, Bishop Lucifer was forgiven and reintegrated into the Church.

  6. More importantly, jinn are said to be creatures of smokeless fire with free will. This means we have jurisprudence-based permission to quarantine Jenny McCarthy.

  7. She considers it a terrifying thought that some Americans imagine Obama to be a Demon, but she just passes over the fact that many African people are actually killed and driven from their homes! She writes like she’s a stereotypical cold scientist, only interested in what her subject is doing that she is ignoring all the brutality and ignorance, as long as she can keep watching.

    1. She writes like she’s a stereotypical cold scientist, only interested in what her subject is doing that she is ignoring all the brutality and ignorance, as long as she can keep watching.

      ….or she writes like a really crummy cultural anthropologist. She seems to be terrified because the industrialized West just shouldn’t believe the things those silly non industrialized backwoods Africans believe! Isn’t this called ethnocentrism and isn’t it something anthropologists are supposed to be aware of and avoid? That along with her deliberate editing out of the atrocities committed because of such beliefs in demons and other supernatural stuff almost puts her dangerously close to going full on “noble savage” on these people!

      If I wrote this dreck in my anthropology classes, I think my professors would have had me publicly flogged!

  8. Tanya Luhrmann is an interesting hybrid: an ‘accomodationist’ making new atheist arguments.

    It seems to me that if you pay attention to her scholarly, psychological, anthropological explanations about why people believe, she’s technically debunking religious belief, not encouraging it. She’s saying the same sort of things we say. The major difference is one of tone.

    By sticking to Therapist/Anthropologist Mode and refusing to follow up on the need to lessen our irrational dogmas and superstitions, Luhrmann allows the general public to believe she is simply making another Little People Argument for why atheists should let faith flourish. Other people need it; here is why and how. We see this from our lofty perspective and pronounce it fine and dandy.

    Except when it jumps the rails. Which it will. As I show here. Ahem.

    I think this particular piece by Tanya Luhrmann is particularly interesting because it’s demonstrating how quickly and easily accomodationism can turn into new atheism once you’re using critical thinking and bothering to address the actual issue. She’s dancing a tricky dance. Going into why people believe in the supernatural even if the supernatural doesn’t exist is a double-edged sword. Sooner or later the faithful are going to notice what’s under the mild and approving tone. “It’s understandable that you have faith: here’s why you’re wrong, though. But yea for you!Sometimes.”

    The soft-peddling is showing its hard edges.

    Frankly, I’m starting to like Tanya Luhrmann. This smiling display of the bare bones beneath the glittering surface might be an insidious strategy away from faith — even if she doesn’t see it herself.

      1. To pedal is to operate a bicycle. To peddle is to sell something. So, a soft sell as opposed to a hard sell.

            1. Well, pedal and peddle sound practically exactly the same, and if you are more of an auditory person than a visual person, you “hear” what you read. 🙂 I am very much both, so I sometimes can get confused… 😉

              1. Not really. Scottish people roll their r, so a Scottish person saying pearl would sound like “perrrl” (rolling the r and pronouncing the ea of pearl something alike a French è). I have a very fine-tuned musician’s ear so I can hear the difference. My first husband is Scottish, so I had quite a lot of practice and can imitate the Scottish accent most convincingly!

              1. A further note: “soft-pedal” is a term of art in bicycle-racing — for instance, to subtly slow the pace of a pursuit by going to the front and then “soft-pedalling”. Not sure if it’s original or borrowed, but it’s linguistically natural and widespread.

                “Peddle” is of course ignoramus-heard. Rather like the frequently-seen “straight-laced”….

      2. I had to look it up, but apparently both are acceptable, with slightly different meanings. I think I did mean the ‘soft sell,’ though.

        It’s like Luhrmann is taking spiritualists on a tour of a ‘haunted’ house and showing where the tree branches scrape against the window and sound like ghosts… and then adding “of course, you may believe whatever you want I’d never stop you.” Right. She’s selling belief so softly it floats momentarily in the air and eventually comes down on the side of skepticism.

          1. No, iirc Luhrmann admits she is an atheist. But she might be a gnu atheist in disguise.

            My guess though is that she is not, and scolding outspoken atheists by going into Therapist/Anthropologist mode and making the very common Little People Argument. To understand is to forgive. Religion is to be accepted … and studied. I’m cutting her some slack though because at least Tanya Luhrmann actually is an anthropologist. Trouble is she’s advising the academic approach in venues and to audiences where whether beliefs are true or not actually matter. It’s the main point.

            The religious love it when atheists deal openly with religion while working on the assumption that in the big picture the truth doesn’t really matter so hey, let’s talk instead about how and why the system works (or doesn’t.) But I think they’ll be less enthralled when this analysis is accompanied by a rather thorough dissecting of why the truth doesn’t really matter to the religious either. That will sting, sooner or later.

            1. I see your point. I agree…it’s unlikely that she’s a gnu atheist.

              It’s kind of sad, though, if she’s compromising her scholarly integrity (by downplaying the harms and highlighting the benefits of religion)just for a chance to be published regularly in a major newspaper.

              1. I’ll credit Luhrmann with sincerely believing she’s simultaneously exhibiting scientific integrity AND helping to promote the genuine tolerance which comes with such insight. I really doubt that she’s deliberately selling out for a chance to get published — that would surprise me.

                In addition to the old rule about assuming a charitable interpretation unless otherwise called for, we’ve all seen again and again how easy it is for scholars to believe that to understand is to accept, particularly if you can throw that understood something into the bin of ‘just human nature.’

            2. But she’s acting like such a crummy anthropologist! Ethnocentricity a bit of noble savage – this can’t be how she normally behaves as an anthropologist, it just can’t be! I suspect her only way of showing that belief is okay is to be a crummy anthropologist and that is just sad because it means she’s willing to put her academic integrity on the line to sell a bad point.

              1. The postmoderns (and there’s shades of that here) are all about the “noble savage” and their mysterious “other ways”. Of course, as my Inuit friend used to say (something like): “I’m not noble, or a savage, I’m a human being! And unfamiliar is not the same as mysterious, and it patronizes me to say that I or my people cannot assess what they do and believe critically: both with modern tools and traditonally.”

        1. Ok. now I’ll take the opportunity to introduce a third option: “soft-petal.”

          Use in a sentence:

          “Tanya Lurhmann is in the NY Times apparently treating even belief in witches like a delicate and precious flower of faith. Yeah, she’s soft-petaling religion again.”

        2. Oh no, not again! First it was “wala” instead of “voila”, now this. Apparently it’s not just science…

          Interesting link, BTW, but I think blunder is by far the more parsimonious explanation.

    1. I more-or-less agree. Luhrmann is describing an athropological/psychological situation. I don’t particularly think a dispassionate “just-the-facts” piece of quasi-scholarship needs to take a stance on the rightness or wrongness of the subjects’ beliefs and actions.

      HOWEVER, if that’s what this is, is the op/ed portion of the NYT the place for it? I expect stances to be taken in an opinion piece.

      Also, some of her language in this piece does come close to bad accommodationist:

      “The only question, he said, was whether the demons were located in the mind, where Freud placed them, or in the world.”

      This, and the remark about the supernatural and natural being closer in Africa seem calculated to avoid saying something less poetic and more realistic, and therefore, more abrasive to theists.

  9. In positing the therapeutic value of externalising “demons”, Luhrmann rehashes Jean Rouch’s “Les maîtres fous”.
    (Seek it on YouTube; longish excerpts as well as a 3-part shortened version are available.)

    Filmmaker and self-taught ethnographer Jean Rouch documented in the early 1950’s a possession ceremony held by followers of the Hauka cult in Accra (Ghana), marginalised immigrants originating from Niger.
    His early conclusion: possession was for the Hauka a way of coping with stress and alienation without going outright mad. (Rouch later came to regret this simplistic view.)
    Anyhow, the film is not for the faint of heart; the dog sacrifice scene is guaranteed to test the stomach of even the dourest dog-hater.
    But at least it has the merit of showing what “possession” can look like. Luhrmann makes it sound like a rather muscular form of Kumbaya.

    Finally, her detailed enumeration of Dr. Obeyesekere’s academic CV reminds me of nothing as much as of Arnold van Gennep’s anthropology classic Rites of Passage. If convincing, his argument alone would have been sufficient.

    1. possession was for the Hauka a way of coping with stress and alienation without going outright mad

      I don’t think anyone is objecting to the notion that ritualism in general can have some sociological or psychological payoff. The objection here is that she’s defending a specific belief which causes pretty horrific consequences, without acknowledging those consequences. She’s treating killing and exiling people for witchcraft as if it’s just a different form of yoga.

      I understand that anthropologists strive to remain culturally-judgement-free when out in the field. But when you’re writing a paid column for general readers in the NYT, you aren’t in the field. Heck, she wouldn’t even have to attack religion to object to this – she just needed to make the point that any positive therapeutic value in ritual scapegoating (religious or not!) does not justify attacking and killing other human beings.

      You don’t get to punch me in the face to relieve your stress – even if it does in fact help you relieve your stress. This is true whether your behavior is religious or not. The witchcraft situation is analogous (but obviously much worse).

  10. Luhrmann really misses the point of demons. The worst demons are the notions of guilt or sin that plague so many religious people in their daily lives for not following their religious rules.

    These are not real demons, but they are the manufactured states of stress that billions adopt daily in order to support the born-to-code of transcendence.

    1. This, I think, is the biggest (law of huge numbers) problem with demonization. It allows people to externalize problems and thereby never get to the actual cause of the condition. Think proto-gay children growing up in American Pentecostalism or think about the idiotic televangelists yelling about demons of cancer or infidelity.

    2. I worked with a guy who had a lot of demons – drinking, gambling, women…

      Some time later his wife developed a brain tumour.

      The ramblin, gamblin man makes the usual deal with doG. Lo and behold, the surgical team does a bang up job and doG gets all the credit for her recovery.

      Now his demons cause mental illness in others while Harry Pothead and the Half Baked Prince teaches witchcraft.

  11. This is an example of one of the more egregious failures of capitalism. Even educated people with something interesting and meaningful to say know that doping their polished & published substrates with rare-earth elements (demons, etc.) can broaden their appeal and increase their exposure.

    Ka-ching! (Don’t worry folks… that “brain money” (sort of like blood money?) will be pumped directly back into our public education system, to make sure that all the ignorance we continue to reinforce and propagate is eventually corrected. It’s just good old-fashioned capitalist boot-strapping. See Lance Armstrong for more details.)

    I do, however, believe that many authors are mostly victims rather than direct perpetrators of this ancient marketing ploy, yet it’s still immensely frustrating that in order to “effectively” bring science to the masses in America, we must effectively dress it up in Kabuki makeup.

  12. 1) The pastor of Vineyard (whose parishioners Luhrmann studied for _When God Talks Back_) says Lurhmann “does not identify as a Christian”;

    2) I’d worry less about whether Luhrmann herself makes anti-belief arguments, than can her findings be used by others to make them?

  13. The worst statement here by Luhrmann is

    “The only question….was whether the demons were located in the mind, where Freud placed them, or in the world. It is possible that identifying your envy as external and alien makes it easier to quell.”

    While that may have a short-term validity, in the long run the exact opposite is the case, recognizing the demons (and possibly some malignancy) is in yourself. Ursula LeGuin’s fantasy novel “A Wizard of Earthsea” is precisely dedicated to this point.

  14. My father was an anthropologist/ethnographer and studied peasant societies in the Ukraine and Macedonia. He once described various spells that were cast by women who were thought to have magical powers in the springtime during sowing to assure a good crops. I wish I could remember the details. He said that he could get the details of these rituals because he offered to swap Ukrainian spells for Macedonian ones and vice versa. The ladies were eager to gain such new knowledge. These women were also frequently “witch doctors” for various reasons. In localities with lots of livestock, setting broken bones was important and they did that. My father dislocated his shoulder and went to one of these women to have it reset. Putting moldy bread on wounds was common, presumably because the contained antibiotics has some effect. He said the ladies competed successfully with priests who were given to blessing agricultural events. He said that that’s the way people do things, but never took the content of it seriously. Occasionally he would say “You think that’s weird, listen to this spell they cast … ” and describe a new spell to control the effect of nefarious forces and beings, etc. From reading some of his writing witchcraft seemed more interesting than descriptions of fish net weave characteristics.

    1. I hope didn’t read those spells out loud, because I’m pretty sure that’s how Evil Dead started. 😉

  15. I apologise if this has already ready been posted. I’ve only got a spare min and quickly scanned through the comments and couldn’t see it. But that documentary that mirele mentioned in the first comment Jerry quoted can be found here . I just quickly checked it out. It’s very good, in a heartbreaking kind of way. I highly recommend it, but keep some tissues close by.

  16. I’m assuming, here, that Luhrmann was not quoting Obeyesekere when she said, “It is possible that identifying your envy as external and alien makes it easier to quell.”- I could just as easily say, “It is possible that unicorns are real” or, “It is possible that the sky is really lavender, and we just THINK that it’s blue”- this is not the type of comment I would make were I an “objective”, scientific observer. The very fact that she chose to say it shows that she believes that there just might be a way to find something “useful” in delusion and superstition.

    Externalizing; anthropomorphizing “outside” conditions, even objects, seems to be part of the “default” programming of our ancient brains, like the phenomenon of seeing a face in two dots and a line; seeing images in clouds, etc. Who has not grown angry and cursed at a car that refuses to start, as if it were a person? Who has not railed at the sudden thunderstorm that ruins a picnic, or a golf game? Yet, to imagine that to feel this way may be “useful” in helping us to cope with life is an absurdity that is only relieved when true information about life and how our minds react to it is acquired.

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