• Question: what have you found out about people and their rituals so far?

    Asked by avril levine to Rohan on 22 Sep 2017.
    • Photo: Rohan Kapitany

      Rohan Kapitany answered on 22 Sep 2017:

      The way I try to understand rituals is by stripping away everything we already believe about them. You can go to church, but you already know about the bible. And you can have a birthday party, but you already know the candles represent your age.

      What I do is create rituals from nothing, but using strange hand actions and performing redundant actions.

      I’ve found that when I perform these actions, particularly over food, people think that the actions are 1) redundant, and 2) that they don’t cause physical change… but 3) that they think the object is in someway special, and that people desire it more.

      Think about a fancy restaurant where they do totally redundant things, or the way they make flair cocktails (throwing around the bottles and glasses). These are kinds of ritual, and people love them. They’re also associated with ‘higher quality’ food and drink – though I bet that the food isn’t entirely that much better – some of the actions themselves make us believe that the food is better than it really is (and that’s why they do those actions in front of you, rather than secretly in the kitchen).

      However, it’s not clear when children start holding the same kinds of beliefs as adult. Which means it’s not clear whether we *learn* this, or it’s a bias we have from an early age.

      What are your intuitions about rituals? What do you think might make a good experimental question?