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Spill salt, break mirrors, and cross your fingers at the Superstition Obstacle Course

Wednesday, May 11 2005
I enjoy superstitions. I find little rituals like knocking on wood or avoiding opening umbrellas indoors to be charming bits of folklore, inconsequential and amusing. I'm not usually a fearful person, but I'll cross the street to avoid walking under a ladder -- I tell myself I don't really believe inanimate objects have the power to shape my future, but why not observe the funny old rules, just to be on the safe side?

The Superstition Obstacle Course is set up especially for those who, like me, have turned someone else's long-ago hoodoo into absent-minded habits. In a bid to champion critical thinking, science, and rationality, the course invites participants to step on cracks, spill salt, break mirrors, and do lots more, on the already auspicious Friday the 13th. As part of the Exploratorium's "Mind Project," the event is one of many to look at and question attention, judgment, and emotion. As for the obstacle course, I don't know if I can do it, honestly, but my hesitation embarrasses me, which may be part of the point. I should know better.

Inspiration for the lighthearted event comes from an outfit devoted to challenging hoaxes, hearsay, exaggeration, and guff of all sorts: the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. The group doesn't always make friends; the online encyclopedia Wikipedia claims that the Church of Scientology once had a plan to discredit the organization via forged CIA documents. But founder Paul Kurtz and CSICOP's members -- who have included sci-fi author Isaac Asimov, children's TV superstar Bill Nye ("The Science Guy"), and scientist Carl Sagan -- soldier cheerfully on, coming up with tests to confront muddy reasoning, urban myths, and paranoia.

I hope I'll be able to throw my unfounded caution to the wind and enjoy the course's dare. After all, I do own a black cat.

About The Author

Hiya Swanhuyser


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