I bought this umbrella recently. Melbourne is a place where you often need an umbrella – it pays to carry one with you some days. Just a few days ago, I left mine in my car and consequently trudged back to my car after work in the rain, getting drenched in the process.

But I digress.

I  was leaving a physiotherapy appointment one evening a few weeks ago and dashed into a little boutique to explore what they had. I’ve been meaning to pick up a new umbrella lately, and wanted a black one. But of course, I wanted something a little different than just the usual black umbrella. I could tell that there was something printed on the lining of the umbrella and I thought I knew what it was, but wasn’t sure. So I asked the lady who worked there what was printed inside and she told me to just open it up.

Was she crazy? Open up the umbrella indoors?! I told her I couldn’t possibly do that, it’s such bad luck. She laughed and took the umbrella from me, offering to open it herself. I was not thrilled with the idea of being next to someone holding an open umbrella indoors, but I wanted to see the inside, so I told her to go ahead, but it was totally on her if anything bad happened. We laughed about the whole thing and I was happy to find a map of Melbourne on the inside of the umbrella and I purchased it.

I told my Dad this story on the phone one day shortly after and he said to me “And you call yourself a scientist!?”, which got me thinking – is it ok for me to be a scientist and to also be superstitious?

Superstition is the belief in a supernatural connection between things, which does seem to contradict the world of science. Can I count on science to prove our existence, to cure diseases, to explain how the world works and yet still believe that something bad will happen to me if I open umbrella indoors? Or if I walk under a ladder? Or if I get out of bed on the wrong side?

I believe everything in the paragraph above – both the science and the superstition. I had a drink after work with a friend last week and we talked about this. We are both scientists and we are both superstitious. I did some research and found this website which lists some common superstitions, and I’ve pulled some out for you here:

  • Friday the 13th is an unlucky day
  • Finding a 4-leaf clover is good luck
  • Breaking a mirror brings you 7 years bad luck
  • An itchy palm means money will come your way (actually we were always told that an itchy left palm means money coming in, an itchy right palm means money going out!)

And I had to include these ones below, because they really made me laugh:

  • Eating fish makes you smart (actually, that’s the fish oil, all explained by science)
  • It’s bad luck to chase someone with a broom
  • A sailor wearing an earring cannot drown
  • Animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve
  • Smell dandelions, wet the bed (LOL)

I guess, for me, part of it is like tradition, I learnt superstitions from my family before I learnt anything about science. It’s ingrained in me. I know it’s irrational, but it’s still there. It’s similar to what happens when I watch ghost movies – horror movies involving ghosts are my favourite kind because they scare me to death and while my brain tells me that it’s irrational to believe in ghosts, I can’t help it. And I thrive on the adrenalin boost watching one of those films.

On the technical side, this post gave me the opportunity to photograph another one of my favourite things and play with my 60mm macro lens (another favourite) some more. It was raining and close to dark when I took the photos in this post. Some of the shots were taken with a very slow shutter speed to get enough light in.

So tell me, what are your thoughts on superstition versus science? Can they coexist? What are some of your superstitions? Or do you have any relative or friends with some wild superstitions?

x desleyjane


Posted by:desleyjane

photographer, blogger, planner, scientist, dog lover, frequent flyer, daughter, sister, BFF, human

39 replies on “Superstition – Scientist or Mouse?

  1. . . . hmm . . . not sure you want to hear my answer. Then again, if you know anything about me, you should know the answer.

    But, turn it around a bit . . . I once had this discussion with someone about whether someone can be a skeptic and believe in {god, ghosts, supernatural, luck, etc}?

    I use skeptic because being a scientist is not an all-encompassing umbrella (see what I did there?)

    You could be a geologist and believe in ghost, for instance. But, as a skeptic, you have to consider evidence and question unsubstantiated claims. If skeptic is too charged a word – these days it’s been hijacked by all sorts of people who don’t understand the meaning of the word – try “rational”.

    Can someone be considered a rational person if they hold even one unfounded belief? Do you consider yourself a rational person?

    That becomes a much more interesting question because few people want to consider themselves as irrational.

    So, which is it? Rational, or not?

    . . . of course, one then has to define “unfounded” . . . it never ends, really.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep I see what you did there 😉
      Why wouldn’t I like this answer? And yes I expected a curly one from you. And I thank you for taking the time to read and comment.
      As for being considered rational, for me it depends on the unfounded belief that the person has. There are some deal-breakers for me and those are the ones that won’t believe what science has already proven. So yes, definition of unfounded is important.
      And last night, we watched a horror movie, with demon possession, and while it wasn’t great, the whole “other presence” thing got me again!


      1. That wasn’t my curly answer (not sure what that means . . . is it flattering?)

        I’ll answer truthfully, but please don’t take offense.

        You have the name scientist in your title and you like using it as a descriptor.

        This comic: http://xkcd.com/242/

        summarizes what I see as a difference between scientists and regular people. A scientist would conduct an experiment to see if there is any truth to back luck from opening an umbrella, black cats walking in front of you, breaking mirrors, and the like. A scientist has a thirst for knowing.

        Julie says in her comment that superstitions are harmless, but I don’t agree. That mindset permeates in other areas of life, sometimes without us even knowing it.

        She gives the example of not walking under a ladder is a sensible thing to do . . . unless walking around it has you step off the curb and a bus hits you.

        Whether we like it or not, what we believe affects what we do, how we interact with our environment, how we approach problems, and so on.

        As for the umbrella . . . did you ask the clerk if she was beset by constant bad luck? She works in a store that sells umbrellas, and she obviously has opened a number of them. A perfect test subject.

        Or, and this is a bit more troubling, do you believe that particular “bad luck” only applies to you? For that matter, do you believe in luck, or do you put more stock on chance? To my mind, the first answer has you walking through life blindly hoping “bad luck” doesn’t turn its evil eye on you. The second answer points to a person who understands actions and consequences, random occurrences, and in doing so does what is reasonable and practical to minimize actions and behavior that invites negative consequences to them.

        Now, both types of people can and do survive and prosper in life. We each decide which type of person we want to be, and that is good, but if you value the implication of the name “scientist” you should then value the associated rigor it demands.

        Disclaimer: this is not meant as a castigation. I firmly believe people should do whatever helps them live their lives with a measure of peacefulness and emotional comfort, and I fully understand how I approach life does not work for everyone.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Now there’s the curly answer 😉 Luckily, I left the lab 10 years ago. Can you imagine scientists around the world conducting these tests? Forcing people to sniff dandelions and then wait for morning to check their mattresses? Pushing sailors into the ocean to see if they drown? Love it. I’ll lead the team!! I suppose in reality I don’t actually believe any of those superstitions (by the way, no it’s not just me who would have bad luck from opening an umbrella indoors, it’s everybody!!). I guess it’s just fun to participate in it.


        2. I did have an idea this morning . . . I thought I could market umbrellas that had been “stripped” of their bad luck. You could open them anywhere. The map would be extra, of course.

          I did recently see a video, which I just looked for but can’t now find, where people were invited to test their superstition, including breaking mirrors. The idea was to face one’s fears, but going with the idea of confirmation bias, I worried that people would then attribute everything bad that happened – no matter how trivial – to the activities associated with bad luck.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Brilliant. You would probably sell quite a few 😂😂😂
            The video sounds like an interesting concept. I think the Mythbusters have probably done something with a few superstitions. Yes, you’re right, people who participate in that type of test would definitely blame the bad luck.


  2. Good question, I don’t believe I am superstitious as such and as Disperser says I think I am mostly rational, but I think some superstitions were based in fact; walking under a ladder is not bad luck, however it could be dangerous, a woman walking into a coal mine will not spell disaster, but if she is hot and sexy (or the men haven’t seen a woman in a awhile) it could cause all sorts of dangerous situations if they got distracted. I’ve had itchy palms quite a few times and it never brought me money, I’ve broken a mirror and it didn’t have any lasting effects. A full Moon brings out the crazies, ask any ER Nurse or Doctor, Friday 13th does not bother me and I own a black cat (OK so he is Black & White, but hey). I believe in science, but I do not think science can explain everything……….there is still a bit of mystery in the universe. And let’s face it superstitions don’t really hurt anyone do they?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Facts!?! You’re being in facts?! Now that’s completely rational. Good on you 😊😊
      Love your coal mine example, that’s hilarious. And yes I’ve had itchy palms and broken mirrors but never analyses the effects. I think it’s fun to think about at the time, but I forget it afterwards.
      No they don’t. They’re good fun. And I still won’t open an umbrella inside.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another lovely combo of words and photos. I love the umbrella in all its photographic manifestations, and I love your musings on science and superstition. I also like the sound of your challenging dad. Me? I’m perpetually challenged by my children: wouldn’t dare challenge them! I think I won’t be suspicious of 13 any more – it was Gate 13 that gave me an upgrade to business class. Although I suppose that’s an anecdote, not a reliable statistic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah thanks, yes Dad is always like that. And we both have to be right all the time!! Yes I agree on the number 13, it hasn’t done me any harm. But I’ve stayed in hotels in the US where they don’t actually have the 13th floor. They just go straight from 12 to 14. I often wonder, does the superstition know that they skipped it or are all the people on level 14 suddenly beset with bad luck?!! Hahah.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another great post. I have been thinking about the idea recently because my mother is a very bright, sensible person, but she has always had superstitions, including some you’ve mentioned. Mama (her mum) was the same. A few of them have stuck. I also learned (I think via reading Greek tragedy) to avoid hubris, which I interpret as tempting fate by bragging about something. So you’ll only ever hear me admit ‘so far so good’ when others are going ‘Great!!!’. I did read somewhere that 13 is lucky for Taureans and being a Taurean, I’ll go with that!

    I respect science, but I don’t believe life is all explainable – or at least not in the near future! I also believe not all the old wisdom was wrong. Science may say there haven’t been enough trials on dandelion leaves to say whether they are effective diuretics, but herbalists often use them this way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow I didn’t know that about dandelions. I guess I should have investigated some of these superstitions more deeply!! I think you’re in the “just right” place – it would be extreme to believe science can do everything. And extreme to believe there’s no such thing as science and that we’ll have perpetual bad luck if we live at number 13. Ok so next we should look at old wives tales (or the old wisdom, as you say). I think those will hold up a lot better than superstitions. Thanks so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The dandelion one does come from a scientific reason – dandelions act as a diuretic, but of course you need to digest them not simple smell them for that to happen. It would be interesting to see how the other superstitions came about. I mean not walking under a ladder is just common sense, in case someone on the ladder drops something!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, someone else mentioned the diuretics above. I think I’ve heard of using dandelion tea for that before. So…science explains that one. Except why you would absolutely wet the bed after sniffing them is beyond me 😂😂 You’re ladder reasoning is of course spot on! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  6. That is a fantastic umbrella! And, I say I’m not superstitious, but I knock on wood! I don’t like opening an umbrella inside and I avoid stepping on cracks! But, black cats don’t bother me a bit!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m jealous of your fancy umbrella. I never bother getting a “good” one. Around here, our rains are very often accompanied by high winds. People typically wear head to toe rain gear on wet days. Umbrellas often end up inside out. They can’t take the wind. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post – gave me quite the giggle reading through it! I have to say I can be pretty superstitious about things but the more “conventional” ones like opening an umbrella indoors, breaking a mirror, walking under a ladder, holding my breath going through tunnel(s) etc. I’ve heard of some pretty whacky Balinese/Indonesian superstitions that gave me the real jeebies…but unfortunately I can’t remember them right now! So many superstitions and quite some interesting ones too 😛
    PS. Cool photos and super awesome umbrella! Hope it’s strong enough to withstand the crazy Melbourne weather though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s