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fracture


Mar 5, 2007, 12:18 AM
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Religion Evolves
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Check it. (NYT article.)

(And if you liked that, you better go buy Breaking the Spell.)


robbovius


Mar 5, 2007, 5:46 AM
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Re: [fracture] Religion Evolves [In reply to]
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fascinating...

"Our Spandrel, which art in heaven..."
;-)


petsfed


Mar 5, 2007, 1:45 PM
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fracture wrote:
Check it. (NYT article.)

(And if you liked that, you better go buy Breaking the Spell.)

Its funny because its more or less incredibly obvious. There was a time when science and religion coincided precisely. Over time the two separated, but its willful delusion to believe that they don't share a common ancestor. The real key though is that the utter terror that comes with a god-free universe is far more dangerous than any dogma if your life tends to the nasty, brutish and short side of things. We have always looked to religion to give our lives meaning because the average person lacks the time to produce a Nietzschean solution to existentialism. The idea that a god has a plan for us all makes some horrifying tragedies somewhat bearable.

I believe that the explanation for religion (irrespective of the actual existence of God) is to prevent widespread depression because it is under that conditions that the species cannot propagate.


fracture


Mar 5, 2007, 7:14 PM
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Re: [petsfed] Religion Evolves [In reply to]
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petsfed wrote:
fracture wrote:
Check it. (NYT article.)

(And if you liked that, you better go buy Breaking the Spell.)

Its funny because its more or less incredibly obvious.

I disagree. I find it very counter-intuitive to think that an organism could be more successful by understanding its environment less accurately.

In reply to:
There was a time when science and religion coincided precisely.

No. But there was a time when there was no science.

In reply to:
Over time the two separated, but its willful delusion to believe that they don't share a common ancestor.

Sharing a common ancestor is different from what you wrote above. Would you say that "there was a time when humans and fish coincided precisely"? No, you'd say there was a time when there were no humans, just ... well, a fish-like creature that was an ancestor of both. (And note that that doesn't imply that you should be able to point to a given organism x and say x was the first human. Evolution doesn't work that way.)

In reply to:
The real key though is that the utter terror that comes with a god-free universe is far more dangerous than any dogma if your life tends to the nasty, brutish and short side of things.

But terror evolved too. If the idea of a god-free universe was frightening to our anscestors, it was because they evolved to find it frightening for some reason or another. Possibly the terror was an accidental "spandrel", possibly an adaptive behavior. You're back to square one. (So "incredibly obvious", right?)

In reply to:
We have always looked to religion to give our lives meaning because the average person lacks the time to produce a Nietzschean solution to existentialism.

What is a "solution" to Existentialism? What's the problem (aside from it being a bunch of incoherent Continental nonsense)?

I think I got the solution: Existentialism should be considered deprecated.

In reply to:
I believe that the explanation for religion (irrespective of the actual existence of God) is to prevent widespread depression because it is under that conditions that the species cannot propagate.

Well, unfortunately that belief is apparently not founded in empirical science. It is certainly possible that religion "prevents widespread depression", but if it does, as I mentioned above, there is still a question of why we would have evolved in such a way that we'd find a lack of it depressing. And for that matter, even assuming that that is what religion does, there is a question of why it is religion as we know it, with it's variety show of non-corporeal conscious entities and transcendent immaterial souls: why didn't we evolve to use something to quench our terror and depression that wouldn't have the side-effect of causing us to believe false things about Nature? Further, keep in mind what's been called the "genetic fallacy"---you can't simply deduce the original purpose or merit of something based on its apparent current purpose or merit (and vice versa). Perhaps religion today is functionally preventing "widespread depression" (and this is an empirical claim that requires scientific inquiry for real support), but originally it may have done something quite different.

The issue is a lot more complex than you are pretending.


(This post was edited by fracture on Mar 5, 2007, 8:21 PM)


pinktricam


Mar 5, 2007, 7:37 PM
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fracture wrote:
I find it very counter-intuitive to think that an organism could be more successful by understanding its environment less accurately.
Why would you assume it would understand its environment less accurately?


fracture


Mar 5, 2007, 8:13 PM
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pinktricam wrote:
fracture wrote:
I find it very counter-intuitive to think that an organism could be more successful by understanding its environment less accurately.

Why would you assume it would understand its environment less accurately?

Pinktard: do you or do you not admit that there are some religions out there which believe in false propositions? Or do you believe in both reincarnation and souls ascending to heaven simultaneously? (That'd be a cool trick!)

"Religion" is not even remotely confined to your particular affectations: you have to consider the whole deal. Pretty much every culture on earth systematically believes in a bunch of things that they have no reason to believe in. They do it in highly similar ways, with ritualistic trappings and taboos against questioning and an assortment of other common features. They can't all be right, so at least some of these organisms are deceiving themselves.

Further, as I'm sure you're probably aware, your peculiar pseudo-philosophy has been around for only a couple thousand years. I know you don't believe in evolution, but if we are talking about how religion may have evolved, we're talking about things that happened way before Christianity existed. So your perception of the truthiness of the latter is really completely irrelevant to the question of whether its predecessors could have evolved as adaptive survival strategies despite their falsehood.

In other words: as usual, you're out of your element.


(This post was edited by fracture on Mar 5, 2007, 9:02 PM)


blondgecko
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Mar 5, 2007, 9:08 PM
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My favourite hypothesis goes something like this:

Essentially every creature with a functional nervous system, no matter how rudimentary, has an extremely strong sense of self-preservation. This makes perfect evolutionary sense: the creature that doesn't avoid danger typically won't live long enough to breed. In fact, in most creatures this is arguably the strongest instinct of all.

That adaptation probably worked fine for untold millenia, until a creature (early man) evolved that was intelligent enough to understand that death is inevitable. This sets up an enormously strong conflict: for (hundreds of) millions of years, our ancestors have been evolving to fear death above all else, and now we realise that, no matter what we do, it will happen to us.

It's easy to imagine that this sort of cognitive dissonance could be dangerous to individuals with much more pressing concerns, like avoiding the local carnivores while catching tonight's dinner. So, in typical fashion, evolution found a work-around: we learned to avoid the issue.

I don't have time to find it at the moment, but I remember reading a few months ago a review of the latest research on the subject - it was really quite interesting. IIRC, they showed that the brain has various mechanisms more or less hardwired into it that effectively do their best to drag attention away to something else whenever the subject of death is broached.

That's one level of defence. A second level would, of course, be convincing one's self that it's not really real - that death is not the end, but only the beginning. Combine the two, and what you end up with is a belief system that downplays the reality of death, and a mechanism that dissuades active conscious thought on the subject. Sound familiar?


dan2see


Mar 5, 2007, 9:33 PM
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Re: [blondgecko] Religion Evolves [In reply to]
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Do you believe in Thor? Well, I believe in Crom. That's Conan's god, who sleeps under the mountains.
Your god is terribly busy running around the worlds, and fighting. My god sleeps all day and sleeps all night. Any questions?


(This post was edited by dan2see on Mar 5, 2007, 9:41 PM)


fracture


Mar 5, 2007, 10:01 PM
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blondgecko wrote:
I don't have time to find it at the moment, but I remember reading a few months ago a review of the latest research on the subject - it was really quite interesting. IIRC, they showed that the brain has various mechanisms more or less hardwired into it that effectively do their best to drag attention away to something else whenever the subject of death is broached.

The first sentence here somehow makes me think whatever it is you're referring to might be online? (If so, if ya get a minute to find us a url at some point, that'd be wicked.)

And interesting post, by the way, but I think it's not quite accurate to say that we have evolved to fear death "above all else". My understanding is that kin selection theories suggest situations where an organism does its genes more service by dying, due to its death increasing the survival chances of other organisms which share a certain percentage of its genes (cf. pages 125-131 in The Selfish Gene (30th aniv. ed) for more on why that makes sense).

Furthermore, phenomena like Japanese Kamikaze pilots (or suicide in general, or 9/11, etc) seem to be an existence proof that when it comes to modern day humans, death is not feared above all else.


(This post was edited by fracture on Mar 5, 2007, 10:04 PM)


blondgecko
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Mar 5, 2007, 10:16 PM
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fracture wrote:
blondgecko wrote:
I don't have time to find it at the moment, but I remember reading a few months ago a review of the latest research on the subject - it was really quite interesting. IIRC, they showed that the brain has various mechanisms more or less hardwired into it that effectively do their best to drag attention away to something else whenever the subject of death is broached.

The first sentence here somehow makes me think whatever it is you're referring to might be online? (If so, if ya get a minute to find us a url at some point, that'd be wicked.)

It was online. I'll try to find it, but it could be a few days - I'm quite busy with other stuff at the moment.

In reply to:
And interesting post, by the way, but I think it's not quite accurate to say that we have evolved to fear death "above all else". My understanding is that kin selection theories suggest situations where an organism does its genes more service by dying, due to its death increasing the survival chances of other organisms which share a certain percentage of its genes (cf. pages 125-131 in The Selfish Gene (30th aniv. ed) for more on why that makes sense).

You have a point there - but it's still pretty close to the top! You're right that kin selection is a very strong instinct, and may win out in some situations. Perhaps if I amended my sentence to "...fear death of self or kin..."?

In reply to:
Furthermore, phenomena like Japanese Kamikaze pilots (or suicide in general, or 9/11, etc) seem to be an existence proof that when it comes to modern day humans, death is not feared above all else.

I see what you're saying. I'm afraid I don't know all that much about the belief system behind the Kamikaze, but I see the Islamic suicide bombers, at least, as the ultimate victory of the "death is not the end" meme over the drive for self-preservation.


fracture


Mar 5, 2007, 11:01 PM
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blondgecko wrote:
You have a point there - but it's still pretty close to the top! You're right that kin selection is a very strong instinct, and may win out in some situations. Perhaps if I amended my sentence to "...fear death of self or kin..."?

Yeah; works in most cases. (Fears should probably evolve about failing to get as much of your genes into the next generation as possible, and dying is only one possible way to fail to do this, but it is also a pretty major one.)

In reply to:
In reply to:
Furthermore, phenomena like Japanese Kamikaze pilots (or suicide in general, or 9/11, etc) seem to be an existence proof that when it comes to modern day humans, death is not feared above all else.

I see what you're saying. I'm afraid I don't know all that much about the belief system behind the Kamikaze, but I see the Islamic suicide bombers, at least, as the ultimate victory of the "death is not the end" meme over the drive for self-preservation.

It would definitely be ironic if religion originally evolved due to something somewhat along the lines of this particular hypothesis, but somehow in modern society has reached proportions where our (very useful!) general fear of death can be eliminated well beyond what could possibly be adaptive levels.

But personally I suspect (with no real, hard evidence to support me) that that probably isn't the whole story. Human beings really seem to love killing each other and risking their lives over petty disputes. What is the biological function of warfare? It would be maddening if such a pervasive part of the human condition were simply a spandrel, wouldn't it? Ever consider the possibility that war is (or perhaps originally was) an elaborate mating ritual? A device by which males can demonstrate their fitness to potential mates (or, for that matter, a device by which males can conquer females forcefully)?

Could our "genes for war", if they exist, go overboard sometimes, leading us to make ridiculous suicidal attacks on our enemies, but still pay out on balance?

... maybe. Tongue


(This post was edited by fracture on Mar 5, 2007, 11:24 PM)


petsfed


Mar 6, 2007, 12:19 PM
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blondgecko wrote:
My favourite hypothesis goes something like this:

Essentially every creature with a functional nervous system, no matter how rudimentary, has an extremely strong sense of self-preservation. This makes perfect evolutionary sense: the creature that doesn't avoid danger typically won't live long enough to breed. In fact, in most creatures this is arguably the strongest instinct of all.

That adaptation probably worked fine for untold millenia, until a creature (early man) evolved that was intelligent enough to understand that death is inevitable. This sets up an enormously strong conflict: for (hundreds of) millions of years, our ancestors have been evolving to fear death above all else, and now we realise that, no matter what we do, it will happen to us.

It's easy to imagine that this sort of cognitive dissonance could be dangerous to individuals with much more pressing concerns, like avoiding the local carnivores while catching tonight's dinner. So, in typical fashion, evolution found a work-around: we learned to avoid the issue.

I don't have time to find it at the moment, but I remember reading a few months ago a review of the latest research on the subject - it was really quite interesting. IIRC, they showed that the brain has various mechanisms more or less hardwired into it that effectively do their best to drag attention away to something else whenever the subject of death is broached.

That's one level of defence. A second level would, of course, be convincing one's self that it's not really real - that death is not the end, but only the beginning. Combine the two, and what you end up with is a belief system that downplays the reality of death, and a mechanism that dissuades active conscious thought on the subject. Sound familiar?

You basically said what I meant, only much much more clearly.

As to the science/religion duality, they both found a common ancestor in shamanistic rituals which you can make a pretty strong case as being a proto-religion (if not a full blown religion unto itself).

As for existentialism, I'm not talking the Dadaists and Waiting for Godot. Its the belief system that there is nothing beyond this world and (somewhat more dangerously) that our existence may lack meaning. The latter veers into nihilism, but it is what it is. Existentialism, if you'll recall, was a response to the pointlessness of World War I and artists and philosophers on both sides of the Atlantic were a part of it. It is interesting to consider though that it is one more phase of human spiritual maturity. One could consider the progression from shamanistic practices to animistic practices to polytheistic practices to monotheistic practices to existentialism to something else.

As we mature as a species, we move up to the next level. And while each level had its utility, I think we've evolved past the point of religions that delude us into thinking we'll avoid death.


blondgecko
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Mar 6, 2007, 2:36 PM
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fracture wrote:
blondgecko wrote:
You have a point there - but it's still pretty close to the top! You're right that kin selection is a very strong instinct, and may win out in some situations. Perhaps if I amended my sentence to "...fear death of self or kin..."?

Yeah; works in most cases. (Fears should probably evolve about failing to get as much of your genes into the next generation as possible, and dying is only one possible way to fail to do this, but it is also a pretty major one.)

In reply to:
In reply to:
Furthermore, phenomena like Japanese Kamikaze pilots (or suicide in general, or 9/11, etc) seem to be an existence proof that when it comes to modern day humans, death is not feared above all else.

I see what you're saying. I'm afraid I don't know all that much about the belief system behind the Kamikaze, but I see the Islamic suicide bombers, at least, as the ultimate victory of the "death is not the end" meme over the drive for self-preservation.

It would definitely be ironic if religion originally evolved due to something somewhat along the lines of this particular hypothesis, but somehow in modern society has reached proportions where our (very useful!) general fear of death can be eliminated well beyond what could possibly be adaptive levels.

But personally I suspect (with no real, hard evidence to support me) that that probably isn't the whole story.

Oh, I'm sure it isn't. But I think it plays a big part!


In reply to:
Human beings really seem to love killing each other and risking their lives over petty disputes. What is the biological function of warfare?

Competition for resources, and territorialism. Many of the great apes (especially chimpanzees) are notoriously territorial, and will kill members of rival tribes without a second thought. They're even known to run raids into neighbouring territory with the explicit aim of starting a fight.


fracture


Mar 6, 2007, 6:15 PM
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petsfed wrote:
As for existentialism, I'm not talking the Dadaists and Waiting for Godot.

Artists are allowed to be irrational and silly---that's half the fun, eh? But when philosophers do it, it makes me cringe.

In reply to:
Its the belief system that there is nothing beyond this world and (somewhat more dangerously) that our existence may lack meaning. The latter veers into nihilism, but it is what it is.

There's definitely a lot more to it than that, and I would suspect that Christian Existentialism didn't even really have that (but I don't really know and I certainly don't intend to waste my time trying to find out); "God" sure seems to be about as "beyond this world" as it gets, no?

For one thing, you're leaving out something I've always understood to be a principally defining feature: a refusal to admit that philosophy must be methodologically subservient to the results of third-person empirical science.

In reply to:
Existentialism, if you'll recall, was a response to the pointlessness of World War I and artists and philosophers on both sides of the Atlantic were a part of it.

Seeing as how both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were dead before World War I even started, that's a pretty odd claim. And no: at least in terms of philosophy, it was by and large a Continental phenomenon.

But I do like how you just slipped into the past tense. Let's try and leave all this hogwash in the past where it belongs, ok? Wink


(This post was edited by fracture on Mar 6, 2007, 6:18 PM)


fracture


Mar 6, 2007, 6:44 PM
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blondgecko wrote:
fracture wrote:
Human beings really seem to love killing each other and risking their lives over petty disputes. What is the biological function of warfare?

Competition for resources, ...

Mates are a type of resource, of course.

But if you mean things like food, pre-agrarian human societies (which would be the societies in which we evolved) probably did not have nearly so much competition when it came to sufficiently feeding themselves (cf. this). Also, there are examples in the modern world of "primitive" hunter-gatherer societies (google Yanomamo for one example) which engage in warfare despite the fact that they clearly do not lack sufficient capability for feeding themselves.

In reply to:
... and territorialism.

"Territorialism" isn't really an explanation so much as a part of the behavior we want explained.

In reply to:
Many of the great apes (especially chimpanzees) are notoriously territorial, and will kill members of rival tribes without a second thought. They're even known to run raids into neighbouring territory with the explicit aim of starting a fight.

Yup. And this is a fact often used to argue for the possible explanation I was alluding to, since chimps are our closest relatives. Chimps on these raids often chase away or kill weaker, older, or sick males, and then destroy any infants to make the females receptive to copulation. Humans beings have often done the same thing, in a variety of cultures and throughout recorded history.


(This post was edited by fracture on Mar 6, 2007, 6:45 PM)


petsfed


Mar 6, 2007, 8:49 PM
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fracture wrote:
But I do like how you just slipped into the past tense. Let's try and leave all this hogwash in the past where it belongs, ok? Wink

Will do. I often wonder if we might see a resurgence in Kierkegaard readers (not just angst-ridden college students) over this whole war in Iraq.

I don't think I could stand another neo-existentialism. I hate Dadaists. Its a snow shovel; just because you've never seen one before does not make it art, or even a criticism of aesthetics. Its just a snow shovel.


blondgecko
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Mar 6, 2007, 10:33 PM
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fracture wrote:
blondgecko wrote:
I don't have time to find it at the moment, but I remember reading a few months ago a review of the latest research on the subject - it was really quite interesting. IIRC, they showed that the brain has various mechanisms more or less hardwired into it that effectively do their best to drag attention away to something else whenever the subject of death is broached.

The first sentence here somehow makes me think whatever it is you're referring to might be online? (If so, if ya get a minute to find us a url at some point, that'd be wicked.)

Ok, found it. It was in the 28th August 2004 (more than just a few months ago, it would seem...) edition of NewScientist - not the most amazing rag, I know, but this article was very good. Unfortunately it's subscription only. Here's a few highlights, though:

It's mainly about a series of psychological experiments performed by Sheldon Solomon, Tom Pyszczynski and Jeff Greenberg, from Skidmore College, the University of Colorado and the University of Arizona, respectively. For instance:

  • Municipal court judges who were asked to contemplate what would happen after they died and how that made them feel were asked to set bond for a hypothetical woman accused of prostitution. The average price they set was $455, compared to just $50 for a control group.

  • Volunteers were given a fake personality test, and then shown movies either containing images of death or neutral footage. People who were given glowing "results" back from their tests before viewing the "death" film showed no difference in anxiety levels to their counterparts who saw the neutral film. On the other hand, for people who were given not-so-good results, the anxiety level was markedly higher for those who watched the death film. Essentially, boosting our sense of self-worth helps us to ignore the idea.

  • People who had undergone "mortality salience", as they put it, were more likely to give large amounts of chilli to a chilli-hating third party whose political views differed from their own than to someone whose political stance agreed with them. The control group showed no such behaviour. Similarly, Christians were found to rate other Christians more positively than Jews, and German students were found to sit closer to other Germans and further away from a Turk following mortality salience.



They claim to have found a fairly predictable pattern to all this:

In reply to:
Working with Jamie Arndt from the University of Missouri-Columbia, they found that immediately after mortality salience, subjects do not show physiological signs of anxiety and claim not to feel worried. "The first thing that happens is there is an active suppression process that appears to be geared towards blotting out the conscious awareness of death," says Solomon. In the few minutes that follow, thoughts associated with death become unconsciously accessible. People become more likely to associate word prompts with death-related words: "coff-" with coffin rather than coffee, for example. Finally, after about 10 to 15 minutes, subjects react with the predictable sorts of responses that bolster their self-esteem and reaffirm their world view, which in turn seems to suppress the unconscious death thoughts.

It's interesting stuff, indeed. Apparently studies such as this are quite common in the psychology literature these days.

Anyway, the original article is here, for anyone who has access to a subscription.


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