Dealing With Magical Thinking In Friends and Family

As skeptics we are used to refuting pseudoscience and magical thinking that we read, see or hear around us. But how do you deal with a situation where a good friend deeply believes in not just one pseudoscience, but many, including some conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure?

I was presented with this very scenario today in a conversation with a good friend of mine. We began talking something we have in common, polyamory.

But after a few minutes of that, the subject of atheism came up. She said that she considers atheism to be an extreme view because it is on one end of the spectrum with believing in many gods. I disagreed and explained my view that atheism is non-belief in any god or gods and that I arrived at it by careful, evaluation and rational thinking.

She said that she believes that she is one of the about 3% of people who can experience spiritual things. I told her that I experience the same thing when I look at a beautiful sunset or think about quantum mechanics.

She said that she meant that she also can sense things other people can’t to which I replied that science has shown that these types of experiences are internal to our minds and not caused by outside supernatural things.

She then suggested that I read The Secret because it is a very scientific way of looking at the spiritual world. She said that it was too dry and scientific for her, but thought that I’d really like it.

She said that we are all responsible for what happens to us. Not just responsible in the sense of taking responsibility for what we say or do, but that we are responsible for what happens here on earth in all respects. I told her that I can see how that could be given things like over population, global warming, and such, but that there are definitely things that we have no control over, like the weather or if an asteroid hits the earth. She then said that we, in fact, are responsible, maybe not on a personal level, but if the energy of enough people wish for an asteroid to hit earth, or if there is enough negative energy to attract one, then we are responsible. I asked her if she meant to say that this energy we have extend across the whole universe and she said yes.

Later, when politics came up, she expressed the belief that Bush had an hand in 9/11. She told me that there are plenty of web sites out there where I can get that information.

Well, by this time, I wasn’t saying very much. After all, she’s a dear friend and I love her, so I didn’t want to start arguing every point with her.

I have to admit that I’m at a lose, intellectually, with her. My instinct is to just let it go. Her friendship means a lot to me, much more than being right about these things. Still, there is so much magical thinking and pseudoscience going on in her head that it’s hard for me to even know where to start the next conversation.

Has anyone else had a similar experience with a friend or family? If so, please share it.

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One thought on “Dealing With Magical Thinking In Friends and Family

  1. I see this routinely in people I consider friends, and even my wife. My strategy, like you did, is to probe the extent of their belief, and more pointedly, ask why they believe it. How do they know it’s right? Do they acknowledge other possible explanations? What would they do if someone proved it wrong? Do they think it *could* be proved wrong?

    If you consistently point out examples of misinformation that they also agree are lies, eventually you can nudge them in the direction of at least considering whether their own beliefs are valid.

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