The story goes that a reporter was ushered into Einstein's study in Princeton and noticed a good luck horseshoe over the door. "How could you, Professor Einstein, a supremely rational man, believe in such a superstition?" the reporter asked. The great man replied, "I'm told that it works whether you believe in it or not."
I was reminded of that anecdote when I read an article in today's New York Times by some academic researchers who say that actions like knocking on wood can have beneficial psychological effects.
Knocking on wood may not be magical, but superstition proved helpful in understanding why the ritual was effective. Across cultures, superstitions intended to reverse bad luck, like throwing salt or spitting, often share a common ingredient. In one way or another, they involve an avoidant action, one that exerts force away from oneself, as if pushing something away.I believe.