My dog had a tumor in the stomach. I immediately got down to business. First, I made an appointment with the vet, and then hooked up the imagination. I imagined that the tumor is cancer, and the treatment will be worth a lot of money, the dog will constantly suffer from pain, and after all this we will have to put it to sleep.
Now I can relax, but not completely. I need to keep thinking about the worst, and thus prevent it from happening. This is how my “magical thinking” works. This is a ritual that I perform several times a day. If I imagine the worst that can happen, then, according to my theory, this will not happen.
My son participated in a basketball game. I was sure that he would play well. But he played terribly. He scored only two points in the game, where he could score 20. And I scold myself for not having foreseen that this could happen. If I had expected this, he would have scored 25 points. And this is due to the strength of my “magical thinking”!
Magical thinking is more than superstition, with which we are all so familiar: for example, a baseball player who does not erase his uniform while he is lucky, or a sales representative who always kisses his briefcase before a deal. Magical thinking is the belief that thoughts can influence events – either for the better or for the worse. Joan Didion very emphatically talks about this in a book she wrote after the death of her husband John Gregory Dunn and which became a bestseller. For example, she writes that she refused to throw away her husband’s shoes in the hope that he would return.
Of course, like Didion, I know that my thoughts about the event have nothing to do with the result. When I see a causal relationship, it’s just a coincidence. But I can’t stop thinking that way again and again. It gives me a sense of control when I do not control the situation. Consciousness controls matter. Consciousness can influence the world of physical objects.
Magical thinking is not a new invention. It is appropriate to recall that Aristotle was the first philosopher who discovered this kind of reasoning. For this, there is even a phrase in Latin: post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which means “after this, therefore because of this.” Now this kind of reasoning is known as post hoc error, based on the erroneous view that if one event happens after another, then the first event is the cause of the second.
It was found that emotional stress and some mental disorders push us towards using magical thinking or, as scientists call it, magical ideation. People who have a certain form of mental disorder may be more inclined to believe in the existence of connections between events that are in no way connected.
So what are the conclusions? When my medications work, magical thinking weakens. When they do not act, and I feel worse, it may seem that thoughts are driving me. To weaken the tyranny of thoughts, I use the following non-material solution: I imagine myself transmitting them along with the people who are involved in them, at the discretion of a higher power. Thus, these thoughts help me develop a more fulfilling spiritual life, which, as I discovered, can also ease other symptoms of my bipolar disorder — those that I cannot cope with due to illness.
Magical thinking is also a warning signal that the symptoms of my illness are returning. Like a canary in a cave – or in the mind, thoughts are the first sign that something is going wrong, and it helps me to come to the doctor when I can still resist the disease.
As for my dog, he is all right. Has my thinking influenced this? Of course not. But sometimes I believe it.
Translated by Irina Zarubina, especially for the Bipolar Association.
Editor – psychologist Igor Nikolsky.