I walk around the seal. I knock on wood. I blow on dice before I roll them. I make a wish when I blow out birthday candles. Although I have well-developed scientific understanding and religious beliefs, I still find myself — like many other perfectly rational people — stuck with an odd assortment of ridiculous habits that all fall under the same name: superstition.

Objectively, superstitions are pointless at best. They fall apart under empirical observation and scientific knowledge, and they are shunned by modern religious doctrines. Most people think it absurd to believe in a supernatural world of magic, spirits, and luck that can be influenced by dozens of tiny rituals. At best, superstitions are a waste of time. At worst, as in the case of many gambling addicts, they can be dangerous and destructive. So why hang on to superstition? Why not pick up a penny that’s tails-up?

For one, superstitions are so engrained in our culture that they have become more traditions than anything else. At the heart of many classic superstitions is the desire to bring good luck to friends and family. Everyone wishes they could influence events beyond their control to make them turn out favorably, and they like the idea that other people’s well-wishing could help them in some way. Even saying “good luck” to someone has a superstitious element at its core. As much as they can be looked at as a joke, they are also comforting and heartening

In some cases, superstition can influence reality. One of the best examples is athletic superstitions. A friend of mine tells me she wears the same color knee pads and socks every time she plays volleyball. When I ran track, I used to go through the same routine the night before a meet. Although there could be some physical element of this sort of preparation, it is more important psychologically. It makes you feel confident and comfortable. In a very circular way, feeling lucky can make you lucky. Irrational nerves and fears can be cured by irrational treatments.

So walk around the seal. Better safe than sorry.

Brendan Kerwin is a freshman in the College.

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