Anything can be sacred

To some, John Lennon’s piano is sacred. Most married people consider their wedding rings sacred. Kids with no notion of sanctity will bust a lung wailing over their lost blanky. Personal investment in inanimate objects might delicately be called sentimentality, but what else is it if not magical thinking? There’s some invisible meaning attached to these things: an essence.
A wedding ring or a childhood blanket could be replaced by identical or near-identical ones, but those impostors just wouldn’t be the same. What makes something sacred is not its material makeup but its unique history. And whatever causes us to value essence over appearance becomes apparent at an early age. Psychologists Bruce Hood at Bristol University and Paul Bloom at Yale convinced kids ages 3 to 6 that they’d constructed a “copying machine.”
The kids were fine taking home a copy of a piece of precious metal produced by the machine, but not so with a clone of one of Queen Elizabeth II’s spoons—they wanted the original.
In many cases the value of an object comes from who owned it or used it or touched it, an example of “magical contagion.”
In one study, 80 percent of college students said there was at least a 10 percent chance that donning one of Mr. Rogers’ sweaters, even without knowing it was his, would endow wearers with some of his “essence”—improve their mood and make them friendlier.
Gloria Steinem once related a tale from before she was famous. Another girl had seen her touch members of the Beatles. In turn, the girl asked Steinem for her autograph.
Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania and Nemeroff contend that magical contagion may emerge from our evolved fear of germs, which, like essences, are invisible, easily transmissible, and have far-reaching consequences.
Well before humans had any concept of germ theory, we quarantined the ill and avoided touching dead bodies. The deep intuition that moral or psychological qualities can pass between people, or that an object carries its history with it, could just be an extension of the adaptive tendency to pay close attention to the pathways of illness.
But that doesn’t mean we’re good at evaluating sources of contagion. Nemeroff found that people draw the germs of their lovers as less scary-looking than those of enemies, and they say those germs would make them less ill.
She also found that undergrads base condom usage on how emotionally safe they feel with a partner more than on objective risk factors for
catching STDs.

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