What is Modern Superstition?

Modern superstition, in its broadest meaning, uses science – in particular modern physics – to promote nonscientific, pseudoscientific, and anti-scientific beliefs. It feeds from two tentacles, one stretching into the theosophy of the Far East, the other extending to the heart of the technology of the West.

Modern superstition, because it is decorated with scientific plumes, is more dangerous to the rationality of the public than its traditional competitor. Pat Robertson’s superstition may appeal to the uneducated septuagenarians, but it is, for the most part, ignored by the literate public. In contrast, modern superstition is characterized by an association with modern physics. It uses such scientific words as field, energy, and quantum alongside such exotic words as karma, chakra, and qi, creating a salmagundi which is attractive to the intellectual population that is scientifically semi-literate.

Eastern mysticism, has had a profound influence on the philosophical thinking of a few notable physicists of the early twentieth century; a philosophical tendency which provided ammunition for some mystagogues in the late 1960s to establish a bogus parallelism between Eastern mysticism and modern physics.

The second tentacle, feeds on a kind of mysticism that is instigated by the computer revolution of the end of the twentieth century and promulgated by a new cohort of mystics, the technagogues. This mysticism is best summarized by John Wheeler’s famous phrase, “It from Bit.” It is based on a far-fetched interpretation of computer coding which suggests that reality – the “It” – is but a manifestation of a non-material computer code – the “Bit.” Being rooted in the technology that defines our civilization, this mysticism can mislead even the most educated sector of the general public.

One obvious manifestation of modern superstition is quack science, which is no longer limited to “discoveries” made by some wackos who, after reading an article in Popular Mechanics or Reader’s Digest, decide that they are sufficiently knowledgeable to repudiate Einstein’s theory of relativity, or to propose a new theory of the creation of the universe. This tendency is encouraged by more and more professional, reputable scientists who are turning to philosophical views that are decidedly anti-scientific. Unfortunately, this trend was set by some of the founders of the quantum theory.

3 thoughts on “What is Modern Superstition?”

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  2. Wolfram is clearly within his right of artistic freedom, especially since most of the illustrations in his book are patterns of points on a square grid — which before the invention of computers was known as weaving, one of the world’s most popular forms of art.

    Capra is clearly within his right of religious and philosophical freedom.

    Zakov is violating principles of society by promoting false medicine. You already claimed that medicine is not science, so you shouldn’t consider him a problem to scientists. It’s up to the health profession to speak out against him.

    Laughlin is promoting Constructivism, which is an attack on all aspects of modern society, not just science. His ilk is too pervasive and dangerous to be covered in that little vignette. If you’re worried about Constructivists, you should have a separate section for castigating just them.

    Meanwhile, the claims that are actually Modern Superstitions; such as string theory, information theory, and the multiverse; get no mention at all.

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