As part of my economic history class, I was required to do readings (with no symbols and very little graphs). Here is an interesting one, by Vernon Smith, Nobel Laureate in economics. He was talking about the economic principles in the emergence of humankind
, and he has the following to say about superstition:
Another example of the hidden economic function of culture is the magical practice of the Naskapi Indians of Labrador, who, when the caribou were scarce and the tribe hungry, resorted to scapulimacy, a divination in which the shoulder blade bone of a caribou was heated by fire until it cracked. As cracks appeared they were interpreted by a diviner in terms of the local geography as caribou trails, one of which the hunter should follow if he was to be successful. All this is commonly interpreted as showing the capacity of Naskapi for belief in magic. But is scapulimacy functional? One function is to sharpen the hunter's concentration, and to impress upon all the need for great dedication. But another effect was to cause the hunter to choose a random route, steering him away from previously successful hunting routes, and preventing the caribou from being sensitized to regularities in hunter behavior. This is precisely the normative argument for using mixed strategies in certain games of conflict. What the Naskapi in effect seem to have discovered was that reading shoulder blades had survival value.
Labels: economics, superstition