On Superstition and Sand Castles

When I was about 6, I went to a beach in Brooklyn with my grandparents. After taking a dip in the water, I went to work building a sand castle with the millions of building blocks I had. I addressed issues as they came up. For starters, I built it quite close to the water, which kept on washing away bits of my sand castle. I built a dam, followed by a trough for the excess water to fall into. Secondly, the structure itself wasn't too firm. I used some of the water to make the sand into more of a clay. Third, I wanted to make sure that the imaginary people could still get into the castle (remember, I'm 6). I built a bridge connecting the dam to the castle.

With the sun setting, my grandparents told me it was time to go. As we started walking away, a few boys came by and started kicking down my sand castle. I wanted to yell at them to stop but the damage was too severe too quickly. What bothered me more was their guardian, who looked on at them disinterested. I still remembered absorbing that disinterest in something I put so much effort into as my grandma tugged my hand.

Superstition is a common trait in people. In my family, it was the rule, not the exception. There are the typical ones, like don't clink drinks if you have water in you cup or sit before a long flight. These are somewhat learned behaviors, as you pick them up from seeing your family do them. They are repeatable and in specific situations. The other group of superstitions are emergent. Sometimes I imbue physical objects with superstition with no rhyme or reason. "This aloe plant at the Walmart indoor plants section has good energy," I say, "it is asking to come home with me." Other times inanimate objects can direct outcomes. "If I don't spill any tea as I bring it to my office, I'm going to have a good day".

Is there some logic in this? Probably for the tea, considering if I spill some hot liquid on myself it likely won't help my disposition. But maybe this is what superstition is. We deal with incomplete information all of the time. Things that we don't regularly measure, like how our days go, we still unconsciously pick up signal about. Perhaps our brains makes connections where there is correlation but not causation. Drownings and ice cream sales are correlated, but less because they cause one another and more because they both tend to happen in summer. Cigarettes being bad for our health is one where we didn't properly quantify the outcome, but perhaps some people could feel an impact.

We are in constant conflict with our brains. On some level we are primitives, put on a planet, spending time to create meaning. That meaning, and the communication of it, has allowed us to do incredible things. Occasionally our brains create meaning where there is none. Occasionally that turns into superstition, and over time if it is repeatable it turns into science. Other times, it is just a sand castle, being kicked away to the sound of ocean waves.