Johnson & Johnson Comes Out As Pro-Superstition?

In a bafflingly stupid and irritating new ad, Johnson & Johnson make the case that part of the special “human” touch that nurses add to the care of patients is their willingness to employ superstitious techniques to help them:

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Yes, superstitiousness is very human, but that’s to our embarrassment, it’s not a sign of our wisdom, our empathy, or our ability to strategize shrewdly, and shouldn’t be slyly reinforced as though it were any of the above.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • jude

    I’ve watched many nurses help many people in many ways. The nurse in this video saying she “believes in stacking the deck” to me expresses what I have seen in good nurses–they will use anything that might help, and all the more so the more grave the situation. Whether that’s the utterance of false consolations to ease anxiety or capitulation to someone’s superstitions, it’s not for a nurse to THWART the beliefs or hopes of the patient but to use them. The shamrock in the video belonged to the patient–maybe it was given to him by his kid? maybe it’s something he’s had since he was a kid? it’s meaning–even qua ‘superstition’–may involve all sorts of investments and psychic dispositions besides the mere “falsehood” of superstitions about “luck”.

  • Daniel Fincke

    The point is not that she accommodates beliefs for the patients’ sakes, it’s that she wants to “stack the deck” on top of those mere scientific means that she of course believes in. It implies more than that she just rolls with whatever the patient’s psyche needs, it’s that she believes in more than just science, but the more is not just caring and comforting however, but in resorting even to superstitious resources.

  • jude

    That said, btw, I deplore J&J’s real-life wrongs in the name of Splenda, which has been the horrifying deaths of 12K dogs.

  • Daniel Fincke

    Or, maybe the “stacking the deck” (a term with an edge of deceit to it) is in putting the shamrock in his hand to use a trick to convince him he’s lucky in some way since that will aid his recovery.

    But it’s the contrast with science and superstition that’s in there, not just the valuable contrast between physical and psychological care. The latter is understandable, but it shouldn’t be so ambiguously mixed with the former.

  • jude

    I think your term ‘ambiguous’ is the key here; I don’t see the commercial as asserting that she believes in superstitious means. That would be more clearly the case had they not made SURE that we saw the shamrock come out of HIS clothing, and put it into HIS hand (given the theories, for which there is some evidence, that those who are less-than-conscious-looking can experience subtle signalling especially via hands). I see it as offering him something familiar–and thereby strengthening–in the midst of the terrifying depersonalization of the emergency room, where you are literally and figuratively stripped of your normal trappings/clothing/and most importantly, control.

  • jude

    Anyway, good science was BORN in superstition. The line is not an absolute one. But I suspect you’ll really dislike that comment, lol.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

    A shamrock stands for luck. It does not stand just for “personal item”. It is an unambiguously iconic representative of lucky charms and also, therein, a stand-in for superstitiousness itself. Devoid any further story context, its primary symbolic connotation is its assumable meaning. I’m not reading anything into its choice and it’s illicit to read the superstitious connotations out of it when there are no further contextual explanations of its meaning that would do so.

    This is especially true when a distinct discussion of her belief in science prefaces her remark about “also being human” and embracing an unambiguoulsy superstitious item as a tool for engaging the patient.

    And good science is the antithesis of superstition. Learning how to sift our innumerable inferences to figure out which ones are the good ones and which the bad IS the advent of science. To murky that and just put in the bin of “scientific” all our patterns of induction–even the ones that were and still are counter-productive to developing actually truth conducive methods and habits of thought–is to be seriously unhelpful.

    Whatever the stumbling process by which we refined our methods from the superstitious to the scientific, we have clarified pretty well the distinction between the two and should encourage a 21st Century understanding of the world in the 21st Century. I don’t blame 12th Century people for thinking like 12th Century people. I blame modern 21st Century people for thinking like 12th Century people.

    Now, again, I understand that nurses’ jobs are different than that of philosophers and other critical thinking educators. I understand that to a certain extent there is room for them morally to put the psychological comfort of patients over those same patients’ critical thinking skills. Nonetheless, there is no need to imply that nurses sharing patients superstitions themselves is a chief signal of their humanity and concern. The contrast that doctors are cold, inhuman, uncaring practicioners of efficient science but nurses are well-rounded people who participate in the scientific side but also can “stack the deck” or go the extra mile in caring for patients by incorporating the “spiritual” where spiritual is equated with the expilcitly superstitious, is just uncalled for.

    It’s not the end of the world of course. But it’s still irresponsible, counter-educational, and promotes regressive values and stigmas against science and critical thought in general.

  • jude

    If I can’t read the superstition “out of” it (which I wasn’t), you certainly can’t read the “contrast that doctors are cold, inhuman, uncaring practicioners of efficient science” into the discussion either.

    Being “human” DOES involve thinking some things that are mythic, and I don’t think a commercial that EXPLICITLY promotes science is promoting superstition IN ITS PLACE by using the “good luck charm” trope. Maybe it’s pandering to the familiar. But that too is what nurses have to do. The bulk of the commercial is raw and medical and I think it’s hyper-sensitively anti-mythological to say this is “irresponsible, counter-educational, and promotes regressive values and stigmas against science and critical thought in general”. Being human is not all about facts, and that’s a fact.

  • jude

    I meant that being human in the historical perspective has and therefore does involve mythological-type thinking, or thinking that is not limited to what we call “facts”.

  • kenny

    I don’t see the big deal here. If I were that guy and I carried a 4 leaf clover in my pocket, I’d want someone to get it to me, especially when it looks like everything that could be done had been done.

  • Tom

    Did anyone notice that the lucky charm came out of the patients pocket?! This has nothing to do with superstition. The lucky charm belongs to the patient, this is obviously important to the patient and the nurse is the patients advocate and non-judgemental. I would do the same thing.

    nurse tom

  • Sarcastro

    Get off your high horse.

    So someone, when faced with the ultimate unknown (death and what happens next) shows the slightest semblance in belief in something other than what current (and utterly insignificant) science has proven to be true.


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