The Department for the Study of Wishful Thinking


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The New York Times published an article Nov 12th, The Burning Bush They’ll Buy, but Not ESP or Alien Abduction, by Mark Oppenheimer. It tells the story of a religious studies Professor who wants to increase the scope of religious studies to include all kinds of nonsense. I think he wants to include essentially every topic that's been covered by Penn & Teller's Bullshit show, and include it with mainstream religion.

I fully support his cause.

One of my favorite quotes:

What was almost impossible to find, at this orgy of intellectual curiosities, was discussion of the paranormal: ESP, premonitions, psychic powers, alien abduction and the like. This is a conference concerned with all sorts of supernatural and metaphysical claims. In panels, over coffee and during cocktail-hour quarrels, they talk of Moses at the burning bush, the virgin birth, Muhammad’s journey on a winged horse. So why nothing about, say, mental telepathy?

I think it would be a great idea to put together all manner of squishy thinking into a common category or department.

Here's a first stab at what we could call it:

Department for the Study of Honestly Held Beliefs for which there is, at best, Terrible Evidence

Might think of a shorter name, eventually. I think it would be awesome to have a department that studied religion, superstition, ESP, homeopathy, alien abductions, conspiracy theories, and so on. I also happen to think that there are very good reasons to study both what people fool themselves into believing, and how they do it.

Another added benefit, obviously, is that it begins to properly label all manner of wishful thinking into a common umbrella. Maybe that's a better name:

Department for the Study of Wishful Thinking

It would be interesting to hear a person argue for why believing in the virgin birth of Jesus is not wishful thinking but why believing in leprechauns is. Especially if people who believed in each gave the same reasons for why their beliefs aren't wishful thinking.

I really hope this catches on and becomes a reality.

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