Magical thinking and wishful thinking are fraternal, if not identical, twins. Both are cognitive traps that our emotional selves stumble into. Both are characteristically childlike. While childlike behavior and mentation is adorable in small children, when adults do it, it is childish and not cute. There is no law which says that adults cannot, or should not, behave childishly if they so wish. But they should do so in the privacy of their own homes, and I suspect most people do behave childishly occasionally in private with their significant others. If they do so in public, we are justified in telling them, “Sheesh, get a room.”
Believing that something can come out of nothing is magical thinking. The illusion of a rabbit out of a hat taken seriously. Wishful thinking leads to popular delusions such as that there is an omniscient benevolent power out there which is personally interested in human affairs, and which power can be petitioned to and if done sincerely enough, that “Big Daddy up in the Skies” will arrange stuff more in accord with our personal satisfaction.
Wishful and magical thinking is pretty pervasive and universal in time and space. “Give me your troubles, and I will take care of them” proclaims the guy with the head scarf and trimmed white beard. “Believe in me and you will have eternal life” says the guy nailed to a tree. “Do exactly as I say and you will have unlimited sex” says the guy whose image is verboten. The list is pretty long and apparently varied. But the subtext is the same and it gets tiresome merely recounting the popular delusions that we are susceptible to.
The recipe is simple. Take three cups of greed (finely processed), add two pounds of laziness (canned variety can be substituted), mix well with a whole bunch of stupidity (sliced and diced), throw in some fear (properly aged atavistic type is best for this), and bake for a good few years in a conventional oven.
That someone else will solve our problems is basic laziness. Believing that if you pray sincerely enough, you will get stuff is greed. Fear of non-existence is so primal and insistent that some will kill others to ensure continued existence in an afterlife.
Even people with very limited intelligence have figured it out that humans suffer from these cognitive diseases. Nigerian scamsters make a pretty decent living out of it. Huge billion dollar organizations with immense power owe their existence to the gullibility of billions. It may take an Einstein to figure out the basic laws of the universe, but figuring out how to make money out of the bounded rationality of humans is not rocket science.
While I grant the possibility that the universe may be the ultimate free lunch, within the universe there is no such thing as a free lunch. No amount of futzing around will get you two out of one. Free energy is as likely to happen as the resurrection of a dead guy.
”But,” the argument goes, “isn’t it true that many things that were thought impossible in the past turned out to be incorrect?” Sure lots of false beliefs were demonstrated to be false. However that does not mean that every apparently illogical idea stands a pretty good chance of being shown to be correct in the future. It is a silly misuse of inductive reasoning to say that we have changed our minds about things in the past, and therefore we will change our minds on this, that or the other specific notion as well.
Engineering problems can be solved using technology, and technology continually pushes the frontiers of what is doable. But no amount of engineering can route you around a logical impossibility. Perpetual motion machines are logically impossible and therefore technologically intractable.
What brought this line of thinking was my post on “Free Energy?” and the related comments. Sure, we will discover new energy sources which we cannot dream of now. But free they will be not, in the sense that there has to be a source which supplies the energy and the availability of energy here will be more than paid for with an increase in the over-all entropy of the system.
Something only appears “free” when in the analysis one stops too early. I wish that we could get free stuff (books, for instance) but that would be wishful thinking.
The magical universe exists but magic unfortunately doesn’t.