Superstition and Innovation – Part 1

If a mythological society innovates more, do superstitious individuals innovate more? Or maybe a tighter formulation: are innovators necessarily superstitious? We think of superstition as backward and unscientific, and of course in many ways, it is backward.

But I can’t help but speculate on how individuals like Steve Jobs and Isaac Newton embraced beliefs in the supernatural.

This science fiction-ish image comes from a page on Hindu mysticism

Steve Jobs had only one book on his iPad – The Autobiography of a Yogi. And according to the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, he,

first read [it] as a teenager, then re-read [it] in India and had read [it] once a year ever since.

According to this article, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce tells about the memorial service of Steve Jobs, where everyone received a copy of the book.

Benioff told his story of attending the memorial service following Jobs’ death, where the attendees were handed a small brown box on their way out. “This is going to be good,” he thought. “I knew that this was a decision he made, and whatever it was, it was the last thing he wanted us all to think about.

The box contained a copy of Paramahansa Yogananda’s book, “Autobiography of a Yogi.”

The hefty 500+ page book is rich in Hindu mysticism. I read it around a decade ago, and enjoyed the feel-goodness of it, but the supernatural things from the book are something else. (You can read it free online here)

It has people who can appear and disappear at will. Like this:

His body began to melt gradually within the piercing light. First his feet and legs vanished, then his torso and head, like a scroll being rolled up. To the very last, I could feel his fingers resting lightly on my hair. The effulgence faded; nothing remained before me but the barred window and a pale stream of sunlight.

This sounds very much like a science fiction novel or a popular video game. There is re-incarnation too, where death is a temporary setback and all come alive again, in a seemingly infinite play. And there are other planets and other dimensions. There is a an astral planet:

“As prophets are sent on earth to help men work out their physical karma, so I have been directed by God to serve on an astral planet as a savior,” Sri Yukteswar explained. “It is called Hiranyaloka or ‘Illumined Astral Planet.’…

And there are alternate dimensions and creatures with more than two eyes:

“Unlike the spacial, three-dimensional physical world cognized only by the five senses, the astral spheres are visible to the all-inclusive sixth sense — intuition,” Sri Yukteswar went on. “By sheer intuitional feeling, all astral beings see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. They possess three eyes, two of which are partly closed. The third and chief astral eye, vertically placed on the forehead, is open…

Human beings have been so fascinated with creatures with three eyes, there is a Wikipedia page on it. Such creatures are present in Egyptian, Greek, Hindu and Christian mythologies, as well as fantasy fiction like Dungeons and Dragons, and even Monster’s Inc.

There are much more supernatural things to be found in the book, but back to the first observation – Steve Jobs reportedly read this every year, for a few decades.


Innovation necessarily means something which has not been done, not even conceived by another person before. Maybe it requires us to go in a state of disbelief about what is possible. It has to be something not seen before, not heard before. It has to be intuitive, gut based. So maybe unless you are the kind of person who can have beliefs which don’t match known human experience, you won’t be creating marvelous innovations.

This is just speculation of course, and I have no data, but even a sample of one arouses deep interest.

In the next post, I will try to outline the superstitious beliefs of another genius: Sir Isaac Newton.

2 thoughts on “Superstition and Innovation – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Superstition and Innovation – Part 2 – Curated Intelligence

  2. Pingback: Fragility of ideas – Curated Intelligence

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