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The invisible reality: Consciousness in the mirror of magical thinking

Subbotsky Eugene

Doctor of Psychology

Professor, the department of Psychology, Lancaster University, Great Britain

CR0 2GG, Velikobritaniya, London oblast', g. Croydon, ul. Saffron Square, 11

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Abstract: The paper assesses the hypothesis according to which the human mind is the ability to simultaneously live in two types of reality: perceived everyday reality and invisible magical reality. At some point around 100 thousands years ago, humans develop the idea that there exist another world, in which spirits of dead ancestors dwell. They also discover that ancestors’ spirits have unusual properties: they can be invisible; they never die, can read people’s minds and feed on the vapours from burning sacrificed animals. Having made these discoveries, humans had a new look at their own everyday world and were surprised that this world is designed very differently from the world of ancestral spirits. That was the “moment” when human consciousness as we know it was born: the ability to view the everyday reality as if “from the outside.” This ability of “reflective thinking” gave rise to new forms of behaviour: voluntary behaviour and creative thinking. Creative thinking helps to produce new and more powerful tools for hunting, labour and communication. Sometime around 30 thousands years ago creative thinking helps to invent a new way of communicating with gods and spirits – communication, which was mediated by signs and symbols, such as cave paintings or bone sculptures. At the same time, or shortly afterwards, people started using symbolic means for purely utilitarian purposes, for example, for memorising the number of killed animals or manufactured clothes items. Subsequently, symbolic reality gives birth to written language and mathematics.But the emergence of consciousness, along with many achievements, brought about psychological problems. The main of these problems was to keep the everyday and the alternative magical realities apart. In order to make this possible, there appeared in humans a specific new psychological mechanism: the “realities distinguishing effort (RDE).” It took millennia for the RDE to achieve the level of perfection it has in modern humans. Like the work of the heart, the lungs and other organs, the RDE in modern humans is automatized and unconscious.Novelty: (1) For the first time the phenomenon of consciousness is interpreted as derivative from the belief in magical reality; (2) Distinguishing the RDE psychological mechanism is a new feature as well. Conclusions: (1) consciousness emerged as the human ability to simultaneously dwell in two distinct types of reality: the perceived everyday reality and the invisible magical reality; (2) consciousness gives rise to the new psychological abilities: voluntary behaviour and creative thinking; (3) creative thinking helps to invent new means of communicating with gods – symbols and signs, which subsequently turn into written language and mathematics; (4) the necessity to maintain the borderline between everyday and magical realities brings to life a new psychological mechanism: the “realities distinguishing effort” (RDE); (5) in the course of human history, the RDE becomes unconscious and automatized; (6) disturbance of the RDE in modern humans manifests itself in such forms as hallucinations (i.e., in schizophrenia patients) or religious radicalism; (7) recent psychological studies discovered that traces of the early humans’ belief in supernatural magical reality persist in the minds of modern rational individuals.

Keywords: malfunction of consciousness, distinction between realities, symbols and signs, voluntary behaviour, creative thinking, magical thinking, magical reality, consciousness, religious radicalism, hallucinations
This article written in Russian. You can find full text of article in Russian here .

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