For nine months after Steve Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he reportedly refused the surgery that might have saved him. He is said to have given himself over to magic thinking and tried to treat his condition with acupuncture, dietary supplements and juices. He abandoned that course only after it was too late. It was Steve Jobs’s magic thinking that created the iPhone, and magic thinking may have ended up killing him in 2011. He was 56.
My theory is that under the spell of ubiquitous, miraculous electronics, the people of the early 21st century have become somewhat prone to magic thinking in their lives and politics. Such thinking has become a powerful tendency of an American people that once had a reputation for shrewdness and practicality. The effect may be magnified among millennials. The young are less aware of the limitations imposed, even on heroes, by age, disease, dementia.
As Jobs found, neither extreme optimism nor stubborn denial will prevail against mortality. Whatever remarkable medical advances now prolong human life, death, the old way of doing things, will have its dominion.
Mr. Morrow is the Henry Grunwald Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.