2009/02/04

Common-Sense Dualism and the Tragedy of Cognition

Great article on New Scientist. Here are some excerpts:

Boyer points out that people expect their gods' minds to work very much like human minds, suggesting they spring from the same brain system that enables us to think about absent or non-existent people.

The ability to conceive of gods, however, is not sufficient to give rise to religion.

The problem is something he calls "the tragedy of cognition". Humans can anticipate future events, remember the past and conceive of how things could go wrong - including their own death, which is hard to deal with. "You've got to figure out a solution, otherwise you're overwhelmed," Atran says. When natural brain processes give us a get-out-of-jail card, we take it.

What's going on, she suggests, is that when we feel a lack of control we fall back on superstitious ways of thinking. That would explain why religions enjoy a revival during hard times.

[...] god isn't going away, and that atheism will always be a hard sell. Religious belief is the "path of least resistance", says Boyer, while disbelief requires effort.