<trp-post-container data-trp-post-id='26799'>Le large back from the thinking magic

The decade that is drawing to a close will certainly have been marked by the great return of magical thinking, at a time when our world seems to be embarking on a huge technological - and therefore rational - headlong rush.

Antonio Damasioin Descartes' errorhighlighted the role of emotions and feelings in decision-making that we would have liked to be purely rational.

Daniel Kahneman and researchers in behavioural economics followed suit, pointing out that most of our choices are made by what he calls our System 1, a system that makes us receptive to magical and religious thinking.

After 4 centuries of Cartesianism, cognitive science and neuroscience are putting magical thinking and the non-rational back at the centre of the debate.

Magical thinking hitherto scorned as characteristic of a mentality "primitive The human mind: common to pre-civilised man and to the child, it seeks an explanation for what escapes its understanding in mysterious forces or mystical beliefs, such as animism or pantheism, where the omnipresence of the divine replaces non-existent scientific thought.

Man therefore gives these "mysterious forces powers that he neither controls nor understands; forces that are necessarily superior to him.

These forces can take concrete form in... the Force: note the worldwide success of the Last Jedithe eighth episode of Stars Wars.

Unlike mythical thinking, which is based on structured narratives - hence the structuralist approach of Claude Lévi-Strauss - magical thinking is more confused, more subtle, and obviously inaccessible to the reason it replaces.

At the same time, we are also witnessing the rise to power of an intelligence superior to our own: artificial intelligence - AI, which makes the term more mysterious than simply talking about algorithms - which, under the pseudonym AlphaGo, has beaten Lee Sedol, the reigning world champion of the game of Go.

To say that AI is the stuff of magical thinking would be a bit of a shortcut: for the engineers who program the algorithms, it's all about scientific applications.

However, the question can be asked of many other people, in particular marketing professionals who hope that systems they understand very little about - if anything at all - will solve all their problems, from identifying potential customers to the final sale: and here we are well within the realm of magical thinking, where we attribute powers to things that escape us.

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