Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/777

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CURIOSITIES OF SUPERSTITION.

for a day or two, in order to keep all their available wits about them. A Silesian miner will make his will if his lamp happens to go out before its oil is spent. According to the analysis of Immanuel Kant, the basis of the whole delusion is what he calls the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy—"after it, therefore because of it," or the tendency to mistake an accidental coincidence for the result of a causal connection. From this point of view there is no specific difference between a misapplication of the inductive method and the grossest portent-superstition. The precipitate follower of Bacon has noticed the coincidence of cold weather and catarrhs, and jumps to the conclusion that a low temperature deranges the functions of the respiratory organs; he has known cases of recovery following the use of Dr. Quack's cough-medicine, and ascribes the cure to the nostrum. The weather changes about four times a month, a month has four lunar phases, therefore the weather depends on the changes of the moon. At the roulette-table certain numbers may now and then turn up oftener than others: the gambler concludes that they must be lucky numbers, or bets on red cards because he twice lost his monthly salary on a black one. To the objection that the weather-superstition deals, after all, with fixed natural laws, and the roulette-superstition with capricious accidents, the gambler might reply that so-called accidents are only necessities in disguise.

When that disguise is practically impenetrable, the theoretical attempts to that effect speak, perhaps, in favor of an order-loving and systematic tendency of the human mind. Man is a methodical animal, and will regulate his conduct by the most fantastic rules rather than act entirely at hap-hazard. "In the game of life," says Edmond About, "men are often apt to follow a system where they might just as well play at random."

In some cases that tendency may be ascribed to a latent fetichism. In the age of faith every man had his favorite days, months, numbers } stars, colors, etc.; for all such things had their presiding deities, and their partisans, as it were, threw themselves upon the protection of a tutelary spirit. The hero of the "Cyropædia" never gives battle without sacrificing to the genius of the day and the nymphs of the surrounding rivers and mountains. Scipio Africanus used to invoke the deities of a hostile city before he brought his battering-rams into play, just as the Zooloo Caffres propitiate the demons of a new hunting ground. It seemed the safer way—"If it does no good it can do no harm"—as the mediæval apologists justified the invocation of the patron saints, and in the same way a gambler may defend his "system" against the objections of his intellectual conscience.

The rules of such systems often suggest the influence of curious associations of ideas. In ancient Greece the luckiness of the first lunar phase was deemed so axiomatic that the Spartans missed the battle of Marathon rather than take the field before the new moon.