Religion explained (boyer 2001) -- resumen


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Religion explained (boyer 2001) -- resumen

  1. 1. Boyer Religion Explained 2001 Religion Explained to keep society together or to preserve The evolutionary origin of religious thought morality, because these needs do not create (2001) institutions. Pascal Boyer. • Social interaction and morality are indeed crucial to how we acquire religion and how it influences peoples behaviour.1. WHAT IS THE ORIGIN? • An different angle: The study of the social mind can show us why people haveReligion has many disparate and weird beliefs. particular expectations about social life and morality and how these expectations areOur brain (not genes) has a predisposition to receive connected to their supernatural concepts.certain types of religious ideas. Progress box #4 – Religion and reasoning.Everyone has an opinion as to why religion. • The sleep of reason is no explanation for religion as it is. There are many possibleSupernatural agents can be very different. Some unsupported claims and only a few religiousgods die. many spirits are really stupid. Salvation is themes.not always a central proposition. Official religion is • Belief is not just passive acceptance of whatnot the whole of religion. You can have religion others say. People relax their standardswithout having "a" religion. You can also have because some thoughts become plausible,religion without having "religion". not the other way around. • A different angle: We should understandReligious explanations make complex mysteries what makes human minds so selective inrather than simple understanding. what supernatural claims they find plausible.Our minds are not general explanation machines. Toolkit #1 Culture as memesRather, minds consist of many, different explanation • Consider cultural transmission as theengines. transmission of memes in a genetic way. A meme is a concept (a tune, a story, an idea).Progress box #1 – Religion as explanation A successful meme is one that sticks in • The urge to explain the universe is not the minds and is transmitted as a result. origin of religion. However, cultural memes undergo, • The need to explain particular occurrences mutation, recombination, and selection seems to lead to strangely baroque inside the individual mind even more often constructions. than during transmission. • You cannot explain religious concepts if you • Minds have a disposition to learn in do not describe how they are used by particular domains (templates) which allows individual minds. then to take information (concepts) and • A different angle: Religious concepts are apply them far more extensively via probably influenced by the way the brains inference. inference systems produce explanations without us being aware of it. Toolkit #2 cultural epidemicsProgress box #2 – Emotion in religion. • Religious concepts do not always provide Some concepts fit easily into common templates and reassurance or comfort. spread as a result. • Deliverance from mortality is not quite the universal longing we often assume. • Religious concepts are indeed connected to 2. WHAT SUPERNATURAL CONCEPTS ARE human emotional systems, which are LIKE. connected to life-threatening circumstances. • A different angle: Our emotional programs Some concepts just sound like religious concepts. are an aspect of our evolutionary heritage, Religious concepts are not just strange. which may explain how they explain religious concepts. Supernatural concepts involve taking an ontological category and violating some of the expectations (ieProgress box #3 – Religion, Morality and society person + immortality or tool + consciousness) • Religious cannot be explained by the John A Brown 2005
  2. 2. Boyer Religion Explained 2001Inference: to combine new info with previous • The mind is composed of specialisedrepresentations. systems that produce inferences about these different aspects.Default inference: an inference that assumes all if • Objects in different “ontological categories”the implied inference is true unless there is contrary activate different sets of these specialisedinfo. systems. • Each inference system is itself composed ofExpectations: even more specialised neural structures.Ontological categories: Abstract concepts such asANIMAL, TOOL, PERSON, PLANT, NATURAL Animals are members of only one class. ArtefactsOBJECT NUMBER. can be a member of multiple classes.Humans create new concepts by taking an existing Concepts are much less descriptions than skills. Theconcept and adding a bit (ie circle + dent). With a animal concept is the ability to recognize actualghost we add the new but (translucent, goes thru animals and make inferences about then a (pg113)walls etc) and we just infer all of the other aspects ofPERSON) Progress box #6 – Development and specificity • Inference systems make us attend toA "man who walked thru a wall" (ontological particular cues in environments and produceviolation) is better recalled than "a man with 6 specific inferences from these cues.fingers" (expectation violation, but not of those • Skeletal versions of the principles directexpectation that define the ontological category knowledge acquisition from infancyPERSON). • All concepts develop as skills, which is why discussions of innateness are oftenOne violation at a time works. Two or more meaningless.ontological violations are very rare in religion. • What principles you have depends on what species you are: which is why evolution isSerious religion and non-serious folk-tales come relevant to mental architecture.from the same basis but religion has some additional"bits"..... Tool kit 3: evolutionary biology • Humans are information hungry3. THE KIND OF MIND IT TAKES. • Humans are cooperators. • Humans live in a cognitive niche. ExamplesThe brain is comprised a large number of (invisible) of specialised, information based traitssub-systems. include a hypertrophied social intelligence (remember different peoples traits uniquely),The brain witnesses events but infers a huge a taste for gossip, adaptations for socialamount of info as a result. For instance, the exchange (giving and receiving), evaluationmovement of coloured dots on the screen can of trust, and coalitional dynamics.change our inference from dots moving, to solidobjects colliding to beings with intent chasing each Progress box #7 – Evolution, psychology, socialother. mind. • Specific inference systems were tailored byThe mind has relatively simple flags that distinguish selection for their contribution to solvingbetween one ontological category an another to particular problems in ancestralenable the resulting inferences. environments. • To describe them it is useful to combineImpairment can be very specific. Autistic children predictions from the evolutionarycannot imply the mentality of others. EEG tests background and independent experimentalshow that when we see the gestures of others, we evidence.imagine making the same gestures ourselves. • Crucial to our species are mental adaptations for social life, as informationProgress box #5 Domain-specificity (notably that provided by others) is our • Perception and understanding of ecological niche. surroundings requires inferences and guesses about different aspects of objects Decoupled cognition allows future planning, around us. historical episodic review / re-evaluation, and external representations such as pictures, John A Brown 2005
  3. 3. Boyer Religion Explained 2001and maps (their interpretation requires inference of • I am interested in which religious agents youthe authors intent). However there are constraints to believe in because (if it is the same as mine)do decoupled cognition. Usually one couple is then I know that your behaviours will besevered while all of the other inferences run as per modified in the same way as mine.normal.Progress box #8 – The mind it takes (to have 5. WHY DO GODS AND SPIRITS MATTER.religion) • The mind it takes to have religion is the Morals in children do not come (entirely) from either standard architecture that we all have by reasoned principles or feelings. Some part is implicit. virtue of being members of the species. (We need no special mentality or mind) Three evolutionary routes to selfless behaviour: 1. • Because of decoupling and specialisation, Kin selection, 2. Reciprocal altruism, 3.? human minds are sensitive to a particular range of cultural gadgets. People have special inference systems to detect • (To anticipate:) Religious concepts too are cheating and this has survival value for the group probably successful to the extent that they (thru cooperation) rather than for the individual. activate inference systems. People read misfortune into random events because our brains are overly adept at spotting patterns4. WHY GODS AND SPIRITS? (spotting randomness has no Darwinian survival value.When asked how God (Christian) might intervene ina sinking ship, answer along the lines of changing a The "evil eye" is an assumption that envy drivesnearby captains mind to go and rescue were much people to wish misfortune on others - effectively andmore frequent than physical intervention many times unconsciously! It is in effect between people of the same social status, with an exchangeHumans envisage god to be human-like relationship where some unexpected advantage is(cockroaches likewise) but it is the human apparent (ie cheater). Not between people ofmind/intentionality that is always preserved rather different status. It has a "levelling" effect.than physical attributes. Witches are cheaters - deriving advantage fromHumans have hyper-active agent detection. others misfortune.Humans spend a lot of time wondering if other General principals (termite infested buildings willpeople have access to strategic information. collapse) do not provide specific answers (why me) so another "explanation" is required.Gods and, spirits are normal agents but with fullaccess to strategic information. Strategic information People are very clear about "why" a supernaturalhere means information that is relevant to social agent delivers misfortune but not "how".interaction. (given a particular situation, and givensome information that activates ones inference People are in social exchange with supernaturalsystems, one assumes that the full-access agent agents (gods, spirits etc) and the have full access tohas access to than information) strategic information so they are natural suspects for cheating.Anthropological Tool-kit 4 - Relevance andtransmission. 6. WHY IS RELIGION ABOUT DEATH? • Concepts that "excite" more inference systems, fit more easily into their Dead people, like vegetables, can be pickled or expectations, and trigger richer inferences preserved. You can also abandon them to the beasts (or all of these) are more likely to be of the field, burn them like rubbish or bury them like acquired and transmitted. treasure. From embalming to cremation, all sorts of • The full-access agent is easier to represent techniques are used to do something with the (in our brain) because we do not need to corpse. But the point is, something has to be done. figure out what strategic information that agent has. We can get straight onto It seems that in many places beliefs about death are estimating the result. quite vague; only beliefs about dead bodies seem John A Brown 2005
  4. 4. Boyer Religion Explained 2001 committed to. The alternative is defection (cheating)The reason why people feel the need to handle The supernatural natural are easy to associate withcorpses, the reason why they have done that for rituals because it is easy to associate a non-visiblehundreds of thousand years may well be something change with a non-visible do with the corpses themselves. Or, rather,something to do with the way a human mind Rituals where supernatural agents do somethingfunctions when faced with that very particular kind of (marriage) are rare (once per person) those whereobject. the supernatural agent is the beneficiary (sacrifice) and common.Corpses are an actual source of pollution, and thehuman mind has an inbuilt avoidance of unseenpathogens no matter what the dose. 8. WHY DOCTRINES, EXCLUSION AND VIOLENCE?Human cognitive systems treat the death of animalsand people differently. Religion are effectively guilds (as for a blacksmith, farrier etc) which guarantees a stable market shareCorpses induce dissonance by activating the human and price for its members at the exclusion of non-inference systems (animacy, person-file, grief and members for a small fee. This is very important forpredator-avoidance) in conflicting ways. "while one religious practitioners as their services are bothsystem in the mind represents them as dangerous dispensable and replaceable.sources of unseen and barely describable danger,another system is producing inferences about Religions succeed well if they gain centralizedinteraction with them; yet another is assuming that political power for the same reasons.they cannot have goals or interaction; and finally thecircumstances of their death may in themselves Converting a religion into a brand has all the sameinspire fear. advantages as for business - distinct, saliency, consistency, exclusivity etc. Hence the use of prescribed texts (quality systems!) and heirachical7. WHY RITUALS? structure.Rituals are undertaken in a special place in a Theological texts do however create a divorce fromparticular manner by people with specific roles. the standard supernatural templates of local spirits and the like. Organised religions offer one god thatRituals have a sense of urgency (if you do not anyone can interact with (a global brand)perform them something terrible will happen) socialeffects (husband and wife, boy to man) and Organised religion is plagued by local modificationssupernatural participation. and outbreaks due to the tedium of the repeated doctrine vs the loud (exciting) alternative.Ritual cleansing activates by the contagion system. Humans will rapidly form groups even based onSacrifices are about exchange with supernatural abstract criteria (red group & blue group). groups(Pig for protection) but a relaxation of exchange with don’t form because of common ideals - coalitionsother people - unconditional sharing with the whole form because of human groupiness and then thegroup. commonalities are inferred. Groups are about coalitions rather than categories.Rituals to turn boys into men typically promise asecret but it is never revealed. Rather it is often a Religious fundamentalism is a model phenomenonpainful prepayment to forming a risky coalition with with a basic desire to return to how things were;other men. before people were aware that there were alternatives. The key point is that defection is notMarriage rituals are very public to announce the costly therefore it is likely.change in social exchange relevant to the wholegroup, but... Fundamentalism is neither religion in excess or politics in disguise. It is an attempt to preserve aWhile people have constant experience of social life particular type of hierarchy based on coalition, whenthey do not understand it very well. this is threatened by the perception of cheap and therefore likely defection.Rituals are a way that people publicly commit thesame commitments that others in the group John A Brown 2005
  5. 5. Boyer Religion Explained 20019. WHY BELIEF. cases of misfortune, because we are predisposed to see misfortune as a social event, as someonesThe minds characteristic flaws pg.300 : the responsibility rather than the outcome of mechanicalconsensus effect, false consensus effect, generation processes. So the agents are now described aseffect, memory illusions, source monitoring defects, having powers such that they can visit disastersconfirmation bias, cognitive dissonance reduction. upon people, which adds to the list of their counter- intuitive properties and probably to their salience.Religious thought is not just negligent thought People who have such concepts will probably endbecause religious ideas are not just a relaxation of up connecting them with the strange representationsreason, they are of a very specific nature. and emotions caused by the presence of dead people, because this presence creates a strangeAlso human minds recognise and the infer things cognitive state in which various mental systems -rather the explicit chains of reasoning. those geared to predation and to the identification of persons - produce incompatible intuitions. We senseReligious thinking is not special in the brain - and both that the dead are around and that they cannotthey are not created by the specialist and degraded be around. If you have concepts like that, at someby the multitude. point it will make sense to connect them with the various repeated and largely meaningless actionsFinal Progress box – The full history of all that you often perform with some fear that non-religion (ever) performance will result in grave danger. So there areFor aeons, people naturally have talked about now rituals directed at these agents. Since manymillions of exceedingly parochial and contextual rituals are performed in contexts where socialmatters but also about some objects and things that interaction has non-obvious properties, it willare not directly observable. It is after all a hallmark become easy to conceive of these agents as theof the "modern mind" - the mind that we have had for very life of the group you are in, as the bedrock ofmillennia - that we entertain plans, conjectures, social interaction. If you live in a large enough group,speculate on the possible as well as the actual. there will probably be some people who seem betterAmong the millions of messages exchanged, some skilled at producing convincing messages from theare attention grabbing because they violate intuitions counter-intuitive agents. These people will probablyabout objects and beings in our environment. These be considered as having some special internalcounter-intuitive descriptions have a certain staying quality that makes them different from the rest of thepower, as memory experiments suggest. They group. They will also end up taking on a special rolecertainly provide the stuff that good stories are made in ritual performances. If you live in a large groupof. They may mention islands that float adrift or with literate specialists, these will probably at somemountains that digest food or animals that talk. point start changing all these concepts to provide aThese are generally taken as fiction though the slightly different, more abstract, less contextual, lessboundary between a fictional story and an account local version. It is also very likely that they will form aof personal experience is often difficult to trace. manner of corporation or guild with attendantSome of these themes are particularly salient political goals. But their version of concepts is notbecause they are about agents. This opens up a rich really optimal, so that it will always be combined indomain of possible inferences. When you talk about most peoples minds with spontaneous inferencesagents, you wonder to what extent they are similar that are not compatible with the literate unseen and dangerous predators. You can alsotry to imagine what they perceive, what they know,what they plan and so on, because there areinference systems in your mind that constantlyproduce such speculations about other people. Additional ReadingAmong these accounts, some suggest that counter- Chapter #3 Ref 36 Evolution of capacities for music,intuitive agents have information about relevant Jerison, 2000.aspects of interaction between the people Ruth Millican, philosopher, pg 113. :Concepts areexchanging these messages. This gives speakers music less descriptions than skills. The "animal"and listeners a strong motivation to hear, tell or CONCEPT is the skill to recognize actual animalsperhaps challenge such stories. This also allows a and make appropriate inferences about them.further development, whereby people can combinetheir moral intuitions with the notion that such agentsare indeed informed of the morally relevant aspectsof what they do and what others do to them.When counter-intuitive agents are construed in thisway, it becomes easy to connect them to John A Brown 2005