Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Matthew Hutson - What Doesn't Kill You (in Salon)

The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane

What do we mean when we talk about luck? Karl Teigen, a psychologist at the University of Tromsø in Norway, has concluded that, most of the time, “lucky” events are not terribly pleasant. When we feel lucky to be alive, it's generally because something really bad just happened and, somehow, we did not die (as odds might suggest we should have).

In this article from Matthew Hutson (writing at Salon),he takes a look at the neuroscience of luck - it's an interesting excerpt from his new book, The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane.

What doesn’t kill you

When we escape death, we feel lucky and purposeful. Now science is explaining why.

 (Credit: Sven Bannuscher via Shutterstock)
This article was adapted from the new book "The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking", from Hudson Street Press. 
One morning in August 1944, a German Doodlebug exploded in London, disturbing a butterfly and causing it to flap its wings. No one seemed to notice the tiny breeze.

A year later, on the morning of August 9, 1945, the wings of Bockscar lifted it into the air. The B-29, loaded with a five-ton atomic bomb named “Fat Man,” took off from Tinian, an island 1,500 miles southeast of Japan. The United States had dropped “Little Boy” over Hiroshima on August 6, immediately killing tens of thousands of people, but Japan had not yet surrendered World War II. Around 9:30 a.m., the weather scout plane Up an’ Atom reported a few clouds but decent conditions over the next target. Clear for bombing.

Oh, but what’s that? The year-old turbulence of a butterfly halfway around the world? By the time Bockscar passed over its target at 10:44 a.m., the city was covered in haze. According to the pilot’s flight log, “Two additional runs were made, hoping that the target might be picked up after closer observation. However, at no time was the aiming point seen.” So the crew left the city of Kokura and made their way over to their second choice, Nagasaki.

Matthew Hutson, a former editor at Psychology Today, has a B.S. in cognitive neuroscience from Brown University and an M.S. in science writing from MIT. He has written for Wired, Discover, Popular Mechanics, Scientific American Mind, the Boston Globe and the New York Times Magazine. He lives in New York City.   More Matthew Hutson
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