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Thu Mar 29, 2012, 10:46 AM

Our brains have evolved to look for patterns and assign meaning, even when none exist.

All this talk about having evolved to believe in god or how we are born religious got me thinking about a book I read last year by Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain. We are not evolved to believe in god or religion, but instead we are evolved to look for patterns and assign meaning to these patterns, even when no pattern or meaning exist.

Book Review: The Believing Brain. Michael Shermer

Skeptic in-chief, Michael Shermer has an important and fascinating new book. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths – describes how our beliefs arise from patterns and that these beliefs come first, and explanations for those beliefs comes second. Shermer reviews 30 years of leading research in cognitive science, neurobiology, evolutionary psychology and anthropology and numerous real-world examples to show how the belief mechanism works. This holds for our beliefs in all manner of important spheres: religion, politics, economics, superstition and the supernatural.

Shermer proposes that our brains are “belief engines” that “look for and find patterns” quite naturally, and it is only following this that our brains assign these patterns with meaning. It is these meaningful patterns that form what Shermer terms “belief-dependent reality.” Additionally, our brains tend to gravitate towards information that further reinforces our beliefs, and ignore data that contradicts these beliefs. This becomes a self-reinforcing loop where beliefs drive explanation seeking behaviors to confirm those beliefs which are further reinforced, and drive further confirmation seeking behavior. In fact, the human brain is so adept at looking for patterns it “sees” them in places where none exist. Shermer calls this “illusory correlation”. Birds do it, rats to it; humans are masters at it. B.F. Skinner’s groundbreaking experiments on partial reinforcement in animals shows this “patternicity” exquisitely.

--snip--

This goes a long way to describing all manner of superstitious behaviors in humans. But Shermer doesn’t stop there. He also describes how and why we look for patterns in the behaviors of others and assign meaning to these as well. Shermer call this “agenticity”. This is “the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention and agency”. As he goes on to describe:

… we often impart the patterns we find with agency and intention, and believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down, instead of bottom-up causal laws and randomness that makes up much of our world. Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, government conspiracists, and all manner of invisible agents with power and intention are believed to haunt our world and control our lives. Combined with our propensity to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise, patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms.


Backed with the results of numerous cross-disciplinary scientific studies, Shermer’s arguments are thoroughly engrossing and objectively difficult to refute.

http://thediagonal.com/2011/08/23/book-review-the-believing-brain-michael-shermer/



Published last year, this book uses actual science. And as Shermer is quoted as saying:
"I’m a skeptic not because I do not want to believe, but because I want to know. How can we tell the difference between what we would like to be true and what is actually true? The answer is science."

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Reply Our brains have evolved to look for patterns and assign meaning, even when none exist. (Original post)
cleanhippie Mar 2012 OP
Ilsa Mar 2012 #1
longship Mar 2012 #2
saras Mar 2012 #3
cleanhippie Mar 2012 #4
Humanist_Activist Mar 2012 #5
SamG Mar 2012 #36
EvolveOrConvolve Mar 2012 #39
Humanist_Activist Mar 2012 #6
cleanhippie Mar 2012 #10
TlalocW Mar 2012 #7
tabatha Mar 2012 #8
Jim__ Mar 2012 #9
cleanhippie Mar 2012 #11
Jim__ Mar 2012 #14
cleanhippie Mar 2012 #22
Jim__ Mar 2012 #25
edhopper Mar 2012 #26
Jim__ Mar 2012 #31
edhopper Mar 2012 #33
Jim__ Mar 2012 #40
edhopper Mar 2012 #42
Jim__ Mar 2012 #45
edhopper Mar 2012 #47
Jim__ Mar 2012 #49
cleanhippie Mar 2012 #28
Jim__ Mar 2012 #30
cleanhippie Mar 2012 #34
SamG Mar 2012 #37
Humanist_Activist Mar 2012 #12
Jim__ Mar 2012 #17
Humanist_Activist Mar 2012 #18
Jim__ Mar 2012 #19
Jim Lane Mar 2012 #13
Jim__ Mar 2012 #15
Jim Lane Mar 2012 #21
cleanhippie Mar 2012 #23
Jim__ Mar 2012 #24
edhopper Mar 2012 #27
cleanhippie Mar 2012 #35
Jim Lane Mar 2012 #29
Jim__ Mar 2012 #32
edhopper Mar 2012 #38
Jim__ Mar 2012 #41
edhopper Mar 2012 #43
Jim__ Mar 2012 #44
edhopper Mar 2012 #46
Jim__ Mar 2012 #48
Silent3 Mar 2012 #50
edhopper Mar 2012 #51
laconicsax Mar 2012 #54
SamG Mar 2012 #52
edhopper Mar 2012 #53
Jim__ Apr 2012 #55
edhopper Apr 2012 #56
Jim__ Apr 2012 #57
edhopper Apr 2012 #58
mr blur Mar 2012 #16
azul Mar 2012 #20
SamG Apr 2012 #59

Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 10:54 AM

1. Thank you for this post! nt

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 11:05 AM

2. Pareidolia

Pareidolia is an incredible feature of human psychology. It's why people are always seeing Jesus, Mother Mary, Elvis, etc. in everything.

Humans just like to pattern match.

R&K

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 12:13 PM

3. Great - ANOTHER form of fundamentalism

 

Much as I love science, it is not, by its nature, capable of addressing entire subject areas. It can only address those parts of the world that we have the power to shoehorn into science's limitations.

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Response to saras (Reply #3)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 12:17 PM

4. Your strawman is so adorable.

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Response to saras (Reply #3)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 12:46 PM

5. So basically saying science can be used to study the brain and the evolution of it is...

 

fundamentalism?

Also, please tell us what are science's limitations? From what I can tell, those who mention that simply don't want to know something, whether its about evolution, neuroscience, etc.

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Response to saras (Reply #3)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 04:24 PM

36. I think you might want to explore the research, a little...

 

more in depth before you declare it "fundamentalism".

If science studies how human beings perform any number of OTHER mental tasks that would be okay with you, but when it bumps up against religious beliefs, then it's "fundamentalism"?

Science also studies how chimps and dogs and other animals fare on similar simple tests, humans lead the pack in our ability to work feverishly to find more patterns.

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Response to saras (Reply #3)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 07:22 PM

39. What are science's limitations?

Science is simply a way of gaining knowledge through testable, observable phenomenon in the universe. If an idea is not testable, observable or provable, it exists only in the realm of the imagination. So science can tell you what your brain is doing while in prayer, but it can't tell you if your prayer is going to an actual deity, because that's an untestable idea.

Claiming some imaginary limitation in science and making an accusation of "fundamentalism" is just absurd.

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 12:49 PM

6. The simplest example of this would be the constellations and looking for shapes in clouds...

 

which is sometimes a fun thing to do with kids, who have no problem in pattern recognition.

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Response to Humanist_Activist (Reply #6)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 04:36 PM

10. Exactly. And unfortunately, people still assign agenticity as seen in horoscopes.

How many people still think that horoscopes are true?

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 12:49 PM

7. One explanation for certain so-called psychic phenomena

Falls into this category, as described by one of Shermer's colleagues, James Randi, who gave an example of someone feeling nervous about getting on a plane, and while on the flight, there's some turbulence, and the plane has to drop several thousand feet, etc. That person might believe they had a psychic prediction about the trip, but they're forgetting all the other times they were nervous before flying, and nothing happened. Something happened this time, and the brain wants to make a connection so it does, imperfectly.

And of course, the whole remembering the hits and forgetting the misses is what "psychics" and other flim-flam artists rely on when making their predictions or talking to your dead relatives, etc.

TlalocW

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 12:58 PM

8. I have seen this in real life.

That is why people often believe what they want, if their conclusion was derived before any real evidence.

Hence climate change deniers. Hence the right wing. Just look at freeperville.

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 01:44 PM

9. Why do you suppose evolutionary processes selected-for a brain with beliefs?

Of course, we can just claim that this is a ride-along feature; but I think any honest evaluation has to begin with the assumption that universal (or near universal features) have been selected-for.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #9)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 04:38 PM

11. Shermer addresses this in his book.

In a nutshell, it's a defense mechanism. If you hear a rustle in the grass, you believe it's a lion and run away.

He explains it quite well.

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Response to cleanhippie (Reply #11)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 05:15 PM

14. Can you explain it?

The explanation that you give doesn't make a lot of sense. If running away when I hear a rustle in the grass is a survival mechanism, why shouldn't I just evolve a flight reaction to the sound of grass rustling?

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #14)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 02:46 AM

22. If I could explain it like Shermer, I'd write a book.

I encourage you to read his book. Its an easy read, really.

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Response to cleanhippie (Reply #22)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 07:38 AM

25. If you understand something, you should be able to explain it.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #25)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 10:16 AM

26. Seeing patterns is incredibly useful

tracking animals, seeing where there could be danger, what in the landscape might indicate water or edible plants, etc...
But this ability let's us see thing that aren't there. Patterns in the stars or clouds, faces in the rock.
There is no on/off switch for real or imagined patterns. We must use other cognitive abilities to discern those.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #26)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 01:54 PM

31. A pattern recognizing brain is not necessarily a "belief engine."

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #31)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 02:43 PM

33. The OP post makes it quite clear

why the author postulates it is. If you have counter scientific evidence, I would be interested in hearing about it.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #33)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 06:21 AM

40. Why would you ask for scientific evidence to counter a postulate?

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #40)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 10:09 AM

42. A postulate

based on scientific evidence.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #42)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 12:02 PM

45. Here are a few different ideas about beliefs, religion, and evolution.

From wikipedia:

Lewis Wolpert argues that causal beliefs that emerged from tool use played a major role in the evolution of belief. The manufacture of complex tools requires creating a mental image of an object that does not exist naturally before actually making the artifact. Furthermore, one must understand how the tool would be used, which requires an understanding of causality.[9] Accordingly, the level of sophistication of stone tools is a useful indicator of causal beliefs.[10] Wolpert contends use of tools composed of more than one component, such as hand axes, represents an ability to understand cause and effect. However, recent studies of other primates indicate that causality may not be a uniquely human trait. For example, chimpanzees have escaped from pens that were closed with multiple latches, that were previously thought could only have been figured out by humans who understood causality. (Chimpanzees are also known to mourn the dead, and notice things that have only aesthetic value, like sunsets, both of which may be considered to be components of religion or spirituality.) The difference between the comprehension of causality by humans and chimpanzees is one of degree. The degree of comprehension in an animal depends upon the size of the prefrontal cortex: the greater the size of the prefrontal cortex the deeper the comprehension.

...

(Nicholas Wade) :"Like most behaviors that are found in societies throughout the world, religion must have been present in the ancestral human population before the dispersal from Africa 50,000 years ago. Although religious rituals usually involve dance and music, they are also very verbal, since the sacred truths have to be stated. If so, religion, at least in its modern form, cannot pre-date the emergence of language. It has been argued earlier that language attained its modern state shortly before the exodus from Africa. If religion had to await the evolution of modern, articulate language, then it too would have emerged shortly before 50,000 years ago."[12]

...

Dr. Frans de Waal and Barbara King both view human morality as having grown out of primate sociality. Though morality may be a unique human trait, many social animals, such as primates, dolphins and whales, have been known to exhibit pre-moral sentiments. According to Michael Shermer, the following characteristics are shared by humans and other social animals, particularly the great apes:

"attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group".



And from Robert Bellah:

...


In Chapter one, Bellah defines the sacred as non-ordinary reality. We regularly operate within non-ordinary realities, such as the bounded limits of a football game. These bounded limits – a catch don’t count unless it is in the game space, and the time stops for various reasons – create a reality that is set apart from ordinary reality. Ordinary and non-ordinary realities are not strictly separate, but overlap. After his discussion of the sacred, he develops a typology of religious representations which includes unitive, enactive, symbolic, and conceptual representations. Unitive representations are “representations that attempt to point to the unitive event or experience” (13), and enactive representations are recipes for action. Symbolic representation is necessary for the integration between inner and outer worlds (21), while conceptual representations are representations of something definite which make possible a world independent of subjects (38). For Bellah, these are the building blocks of ritual, myth, and theology.

Chapter two is where much of the heavy lifting occurs. Here he attempts to describe the evolutionary underpinnings for religion that are found in our deep evolutionary history “from single cell organisms to contemporary human society” (44). He does start with the single cell organism, but what is fundamental to his project is parental care. Using theories developed by the human ethologist Eibl Eibesfeldt and without diminishing the role of aggression, he argues that parental care is the basis of group bonding and individual friendship – in short, love. The precursors to love can be found in our earliest ancestors. Parental care can invoke sibling rivalry, which is a precursor to play. Play begins, ends, and is bounded by space. Shared intentions and attention are necessary for play. A final consideration of play is that it is a practice, which is an activity performed for no end except the good of the practice. Different spheres have different practices, and this practice is prior to belief. The purpose of the discussion of parental care, play, and practice is that these aspects of humanity are a precursor to ritual.

Chapters three, four, and five extends this work into tribal and archaic religions. It is here that biological evolution starts to get abandoned in favor of cultural evolution. This is not to say that the biological disappears, but it is relegated to our relationship with other apes. It is also here that Bellah begins to acknowledge our separation from these other species. Here as in the rest of the chapters the concept of play as developed in chapter two is just under the surface. Play or ‘offline’ activity seems to be a necessary precursor to the foundation of myth and theory. Ritual and myth are pushed to the breaking point in the more stratified societies that practiced “archaic religion”, such as 1778 Hawai’i. These societies are typified by a despotic king who had the final say in matters of life and death, and myth is stretched to defend this social structure. Chapter five in particular focuses on detailing the relationship between myth and these more stratified societies.

...



Is there some overlap in these ideas and the ones expressed in the OP? Of course there is. But, no one knows what the origin of religion is. It's a complex question that remains open.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #45)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 12:09 PM

47. You seem to be under the misapprehension.

that the OP is saying that this is the one and only reason why humans have religion and believe in the unreal. Rather a component in the make up of humans that lead to these things.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #47)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 12:15 PM

49. See post #48.

We're arguing about the same issue in 2 different subthreads.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #25)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 11:25 AM

28. You're right, and I can.

But there is a book you can read to get the same information and understanding that I have, and then we can discuss the entire premise, both its strong and weak points. Why should I take the time to write for you what is already written and available for you to read? There are also numerous web-based sysnopsis and reviews, as well as videos of Shermer himself discussing his premise.

The Believing Brain is divided into four parts. Part I, “Journeys of Belief,” includes personal narratives of belief, including that of the author; Part II, “The Biology of Belief,” bores into the brain and explains how the mind works to form beliefs, from thoughts and ideas down to neurons firing across tiny synaptic gaps as they talk to one another chemically; Part III, “Belief in Things Unseen” applies my theory beliefs to the afterlife, God, aliens, and conspiracies; and Part IV, “Belief in Things Seen,” examines the role of beliefs in politics, economics, and ideologies, explains how belief confirmation works to assure that we are always right, and then explores the history of scientific exploration, from the world to the cosmos, and how science works to overcome the power of belief.

--snip--

From narrative stories Dr. Shermer turns to an architecture of belief systems, how they are formed, nourished, reinforced, changed, and extinguished, first conceptually through the two theoretical constructs he developed called patternicity and agenticity, and then delve deeper into how these cognitive processes evolved and what purpose they served in the lives of our ancestors as well as in our lives today. Dr. Shermer then bores deeper into the brain, right down to the neurophysiology of belief system construction at the single neuron level, and then reconstructs from the bottom up how brains form beliefs. Then we shall examine how belief systems operate with regard to belief in religion, the afterlife, God, extraterrestrials, conspiracies, politics, economics, and ideologies of all stripes, and then consider how a host of cognitive processes convince us that our beliefs are truths. In the final chapters we will consider how we know any of our beliefs are believable, which patterns are true and which false, which agents are real and which are chimera, and how science works as the ultimate pattern detection device.

http://www.michaelshermer.com/the-believing-brain


And here is Shermer himself, in his own words...





These two sources alone should give you all the understanding you would need for us to have a conversation about it. Enjoy.

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Response to cleanhippie (Reply #28)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 01:53 PM

30. I'll accept that your explanation is Michael Shermer said so.

If the best explanation you have is to refer me to a video that runs for over an hour, I have to assume you can't explain the assertion.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #30)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 03:09 PM

34. You can assume what you want to, it matters not a bit to me.




Have a nice day!


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Response to Jim__ (Reply #30)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 04:30 PM

37. Are you trying hard to be snarky? or just repeating a pattern?

 

Seriously, you have been given the sources and even a video.


I don't think that falls within the T O S. to be insultingly argumentative.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #9)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 04:43 PM

12. Probably to make us aware of our surroundings more...

 

Note, this is pure speculation on my part, but a hominid who is more likely to assign personal agency to a rustling of bushes would be less likely to get eaten by a leopard. False positives, i.e. it was just the wind, would only involve a miniscule amount of wasted energy running away and hence wouldn't adversely affect reproductive success. This sense, or belief, if you will, could be extrapolated in larger brains to assign agency to the wind, sun, lightening, etc.

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Response to Humanist_Activist (Reply #12)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 05:25 PM

17. You say false positives wouldn't adversely affect reproductive success.

It seems like on a windy savannah, over-reaction to the rustling of the bushes could be a life-threatening waste of energy. But still, if flight due to the rustling of the bushes is a survival mechanism, why not just evolve the requisite flight mechanism which could be extended to any perceived activity that could be made by a predator. Assigning agency could just be an unnecessary expenditure of energy.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #17)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 05:36 PM

18. You forget that we live in groups, and so did our ancestors...

 

and frankly we do have a flight or fight response, its instinctual. Anyone who gets woken up at night from strange noises can attest to that. The reason to assign agency makes perfect sense in this context, as those who are too curious rather than fearful have a tendency not to return to the group. You also have to remember that humans learn, we aren't slaves to our instincts, we can fight them off, a more experienced member of a tribe of humans may chide and guide the younger members to know the difference between the sound of a big cat and the sound of the wind.

Our instincts were there to help us survive but they aren't perfect, and they can be messy.

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Response to Humanist_Activist (Reply #18)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 06:45 PM

19. I don't forget that we live in groups, your explanation didn't have anything to do with groups.

And your explanation still doesn't have anything to do with groups. Yes human children learn from their elders but so do, say, fawns. You haven't really added anything to your explanation except for this assumption: Our instincts were there to help us survive but they aren't perfect, and they can be messy. Our instincts were there. You don't think they are there anymore? Have we lost, for instance, the fight or flight instinct?

I still don't see any explanation for the evolution of a believing brain.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #9)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 04:43 PM

13. Seeing patterns has survival value because there ARE patterns

 

Suppose that the pattern-oriented caveman puts together observations over the course of several years and concludes (correctly) that, in the fall, the migrating animals are often to be found in a particular area. Suppose that, on similar reasoning, he concludes (incorrectly) that chanting a prayer before the hunt will increase the chance of success. His hunts will actually be more successful than those of his non-pattern-seeing neighbor.

Seeing patterns is a valuable skill but one that can lead to false conclusions. The same, incidentally, can be said of skepticism. (It's reported that, when a Harvard scientist presented his theory about the origin of meteorites, Thomas Jefferson said, "I think it more likely that a Yankee professor should lie than that stones should fall from heaven." The difference is that, at least in contemporary America, the general population is far more prone to see nonexistent patterns than to be overly skeptical.

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Response to Jim Lane (Reply #13)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 05:20 PM

15. Do you have any evidence to support your last sentence?

The difference is that, at least in contemporary America, the general population is far more prone to see nonexistent patterns than to be overly skeptical.


Which people make up the general population? Who is the general population more prone than to see nonexistent patterns? What evidence supports this?

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #15)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 12:16 AM

21. Anecdotal evidence: Astrology columns in newspapers. Useless gambling systems.

 

Homeopathic "remedies" sold in real drugstores, right alongside drugs that have been subjected to scientific double-blind testing. People who think they'll "jinx" something by what they say (commenting on good fortune will make it go away, saying "what if so-and-so died" will make the death more likely, etc.).

The general population is, let us say, American adults (people who are eighteen years of age or older). That's the definition used in one source of non-anecdotal evidence. In a very cursory Google search, I turned up a Gallup press release from 2000, according to which

the Halloween poll does show that the American public's belief in ghosts and witches has increased substantially since the question was first asked in 1978. Currently, 31% of American adults say they believe in ghosts, and 22% say they believe in witches. In 1978, just 11% of the public said they believed in ghosts and the same percentage said they believed in witches.


Source: http://www.gallup.com/poll/2380/one-third-americans-believe-ghosts.aspx

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Response to Jim Lane (Reply #21)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 02:53 AM

23. Jim, those were awesome responses!

It would be nice to see more of your posts here.

:cheers:

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Response to Jim Lane (Reply #21)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 07:34 AM

24. Your answer indicates that you are far more prone to see patterns than to be overly skeptical.

A halloween poll about ghosts - really?

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #24)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 10:23 AM

27. What are you disagreeing with?

That people don't see patterns that aren't there? That even today a lot of people (in some cases the majority) believe in things that aren't there?
That the ability to see patterns is an evolutionary result?
You have been given some clear and concise answers to the idea in the OP, and yet you either don't understand what the reply says, or don't agree with the premise.
Your responses seem confused.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #27)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 03:13 PM

35. Is it me or is Jim being unnecessarily antagonistic?

Not sure why this OP has his hackles up, this approach seems very unusual for him.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #24)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 01:11 PM

29. I was reporting an actual Gallup poll. I personally do not believe in ghosts.

 

I don't understand why you comment "really?" about the poll. You asked me for evidence to support my assertion about what the general population believes. In response, I gave you the link to a professionally conducted poll. If you think it was silly to waste time on such a poll, take it up with Gallup, Inc.

As I said in another post, there actually are some patterns in the world. It's possible to err by missing patterns, and it's possible to err by thinking you see patterns that aren't really there. Sensible people do their best to avoid both errors by carefully scrutinizing the evidence.

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Response to Jim Lane (Reply #29)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 02:02 PM

32. Two points.

The first is that you are using far too little evidence - a halloween poll about ghosts - to draw far too big of a conclusion about the general population.

The second point is that I can take this simple example of your seeing a general pattern where there is insufficient evidence to draw any general conclusion and draw the same conclusion about you that you're drawing about the general population of the US - and I can even claim that it's a valid conclusion; but generalizing about you based on that conclusion would be a leap. General conclusions about even one person based on a small bit of information is a leap, general conclusions about whole populations based on small bits of information is just illogical.

As for taking any issue up with Gallup, I haven't seen Gallup draw this broad conclusion: in contemporary America, the general population is far more prone to see nonexistent patterns than to be overly skeptical based on any of his polls.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #32)

Fri Mar 30, 2012, 06:30 PM

38. Try these

http://www.gallup.com/poll/4483/americans-belief-psychic-paranormal-phenomena-over-last-decade.aspx

http://www.gallup.com/poll/16915/three-four-americans-believe-paranormal.aspx

http://www.gallup.com/poll/114544/darwin-birthday-believe-evolution.aspx

http://www.gallup.com/poll/19558/paranormal-beliefs-come-supernaturally-some.aspx

Are you refuting that humans have a behavioral adaption to recognize patterns? Or do you disagree that this evolutionary adaption is responsible for some of the unfounded beliefs that people have?

Again, what is it you are arguing. You have asked repeatedly for others to explain the concept, which they concisely did, yet you are not explaining your views, except to throw off the mark sideswipes.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #38)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 07:08 AM

41. Gallup does not make any such claim in those polls.

Last edited Sat Mar 31, 2012, 09:51 AM - Edit history (1)

We all know that there are people who believe in the paranormal. Why people believe in the paranormal is a much more difficult question to answer. Show me where Gallup draws a conclusion like the one I asked for:

As for taking any issue up with Gallup, I haven't seen Gallup draw this broad conclusion: in contemporary America, the general population is far more prone to see nonexistent patterns than to be overly skeptical based on any of his polls.


One of the polls you cited asked about evolution. Are you claiming that belief in evolution is due to people seeing nonexistent patterns? If not, what did you think that poll showed? Are you claiming that people not believing in evolution is based on their seeing nonexistent patterns?

Are you refuting that humans have a behavioral adaption to recognize patterns? Or do you disagree that this evolutionary adaption is responsible for some of the unfounded beliefs that people have?


I'm looking at the claims being made, and saying that I don't see any scientific evidence to support the conclusions. For instance, from the OP:

… we often impart the patterns we find with agency and intention, and believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down, instead of bottom-up causal laws and randomness that makes up much of our world. Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, government conspiracists, and all manner of invisible agents with power and intention are believed to haunt our world and control our lives. Combined with our propensity to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise, patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms.


Take the case brought up in post #21 about people believing in ghosts. Do you think when people believe in ghosts it's because they are imparting agency and control to patterns that they find and that these ghosts are controlling the world? Have you ever spoken to anyone who believes in ghosts? I have. Do you know when I've had the topic come up? Usually at funerals. Usually at the funerals of young people who die unexpectedly. I've had close friends die under those circumstances. When that happens, I usually am unable to accept that that person is dead. I know they're dead. I don't believe in any afterlife. But I still can't accept it - it takes time. The people I know who believe in ghosts usually have that belief based on those times. After such a death, they think they see the dead person. Are they imparting agency and intention to a pattern? No. Am I claiming to know why people believe in ghosts? Only the people I've spoken to and only the reasons they've given me. But that does not support the contention about attributing agency to nonexistent patterns. But in post #21 someone cites a poll that says some people believe in ghosts and so that is evidence that people see nonexistent patterns. What percentage of the people who believe are ghosts are basing their belief on nonexistent patterns? What do you base your answer on?

Do you think this paragraph has shown any kind of scientific support for its conclusion: Combined with our propensity to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise, patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms.

There are scientific studies to back the claim? Point me at the relevant data. Yes, there is supporting data, but not conclusive data. Based on your previous claims about the Gallup polls, you need to point me at accessible data - you've already demonstrated that you make claims for data that the data doesn't support.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #41)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 10:12 AM

43. So your argument is based on

personal anecdotal evidence?

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Response to edhopper (Reply #43)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 11:45 AM

44. In the first place, I didn't give an argument.

I gave an example of a situation where the OPs claim doesn't stand up:

... Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, government conspiracists, and all manner of invisible agents with power and intention are believed to haunt our world and control our lives. Combined with our propensity to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise, patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms.


I merely presented a counter-example to this argument. That means the argument the OP is making is not universally true.

Simple statements seem to confuse you. In your previous post, you confuse an argument with a counter-example. I explicitly stated:

... Am I claiming to know why people believe in ghosts? Only the people I've spoken to and only the reasons they've given me. But that does not support the contention about attributing agency to nonexistent patterns. ...


It's really not that complicated. I'm not sure if you're being deliberately obtuse; or if you have problems with elementary logic. But, you should make some effort to understand what is being said.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #44)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 12:06 PM

46. I just don't understand what you are trying to say

it seems that you are trying to argue against the idea that humans have an evolutionary adaptation to see patterns and that that characteristic has lead many to believe in things that aren't there. That they see patterns where there are none. It is a simple concept. At first you said you didn't understand it. Then when it was explained several times, you seem to argue against it. This latest argument, that there might be other reasons people believe things that aren't true, that the idea in the OP has to be 100% universal is just silly.

I think you are the one being obtuse.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #46)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 12:14 PM

48. Post #9 was my opening of this sub-thread.

I asked a question: Why do you suppose evolutionary processes selected-for a brain with beliefs?

Some people gave answers that I did not, and do not, see as any explanation for why evolution would select-for a brain with beliefs - and particularly a brain that generates beliefs in non-existent patterns. I haven't seen any explanation of Shermer clarifying that point. The answers offered didn't seem show any reproductive value over other, simpler types of behavior.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #48)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 12:28 PM

50. All it takes for overzealous pattern recognition to be an evolutionary advantage...

...is for such pattern recognition to, ON AVERAGE, produce better survival results that less zealous pattern detection or no pattern detection at all. There's no guarantee in the evolutionary process that the right mutations will occur that put a better option on the table (say, strong pattern recognition with good elimination of false positives) for natural selection to favor.

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Response to Silent3 (Reply #50)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 02:56 PM

51. Thank you S3

I am not sure why Jim doesn't get this.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #51)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 08:28 PM

54. I can explain that:

 

If you already know the candlelight is fire, the meal was cooked long ago.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #48)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 02:58 PM

52. Do you mean reproductive "value" or "advantage"?

 

Over the last 20 or so thousand years of human life on Earth, (the historical time where we have actual evidence of funeral ceremonies, etc, indicating a belief in a higher power, or a spiritual observance of some sort), reproductive advantage has had more to do with environmental factors, (geography, natural resources for health, etc.) than any particular thinking habits, (pattern recognition,etc.) which might provide some marginal advantage to living long enough to reproduce, but not provide the major advantages that clean water, food, favorable climate, etc. would.

The mere fact that there are thousands of religions and some of them have been vastly different than others, and that Christianity and a couple other major ones have survived to procreate in large numbers is more a factor of the geographic advantage to the locations where those religions originated and thrived for hundreds of years, Rome, Europe in general, some places in China, India, the Middle East. Those places enabled large numbers of offspring, relatively better survival to adulthood advantage than in, say, the arctic, or several places in South and Central and Southwestern North America, where severe drought, or cold, diet, or other factors reduced the chances of long-living progeny.

Indeed, the Native American, to take one example, probably recognized the patterns of natural phenomena better than many immigrating western Europeans. Native Americans were extremely well accustomed to the threats and natural dangers within their environment, yet their pattern recognition did little to ward off their lack of immunity to many western European illnesses, nor to the firearm, both of which killed them off in staggering numbers. It wasn't the religions of Native Americans, nor their advantage in recognition of patterns in nature that caused their demise, it was a simple case of introduction of alien illness and a sense of manifest destiny, (and the firearms), among the Europeans that killed the Native Americans off.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #48)

Sat Mar 31, 2012, 03:02 PM

53. We do have a brain with beliefs

therefore evolution selected for it. The beliefs in the supernatural might well be a "ride along" as you put it with beliefs in patterns that helped survival. the problem is the brain is not good at distinguishing the two.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #53)

Sun Apr 1, 2012, 05:50 AM

55. That does not answer the question of "why" it was selected-for.

Last edited Sun Apr 1, 2012, 07:51 AM - Edit history (2)

Yes, the brain recognizes patterns. A powerful pattern recognition machine may well sometimes lead to false positives. Therefore the brain is a belief engine? Non sequitur.

And certain types of false beliefs are universal across cultures? Why? Claiming the brain is a belief engine really does not explain that. And, certain beliefs that he claims result from pattern recognition can be better explained though other mechanisms, for example the emotional reaction to the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one and the belief in ghosts. And, once you have a belief in ghosts, you have a strong candidate for belief in an afterlife and from that you can get to a belief in the supernatural.

The questions are open and any proposed answers at this time are not sufficiently supported by data to make any determination. If, as the OP claims, the answer is science, then the answer to this question about beliefs is not yet known.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #55)

Sun Apr 1, 2012, 09:54 AM

56. So everyone who believes in ghosts is because they had a sudden death

of someone close? What about seeing things in photos that aren't there but look like a figure? Or hearing sounds at night that are mistaken for footsteps? Aren't those mis-perceived patterns?
And as been stated before it is not ONLY the pattern recognition behavior that is responsible for false beliefs, but they way it interacts with the human psyche.
Are you arguing that this adaptation has nothing to do with the pervasiveness of false beliefs?

I hope your final sentence is not a God of the gaps claim.

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Response to edhopper (Reply #56)

Sun Apr 1, 2012, 11:03 AM

57. Read posts #41 and 44.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #57)

Sun Apr 1, 2012, 02:12 PM

58. I have no idea what you are trying to argue

or what you believe. You seem to be saying the OP is wrong, but I am not sure why, except that it isn't 100% universally the true and only cause of all beliefs. Which you probably aren't saying.
We may just be in one of those more nuanced discussions that web forums are ill suited for. So I am stopping now.

Au revoir.

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 05:21 PM

16. Pareidolia:

 

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Thu Mar 29, 2012, 11:59 PM

20. Thanks ch for the review.

It will soon join these other brain books in my little mind: The Hidden Brain, The Other Brain, and Buddha's Brain.

The Hidden Brain is about the patterns of cultural behavior that are accepted as true by the subconscious mind, regardless of facts or reasoning to the contrary.

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Response to cleanhippie (Original post)

Sun Apr 1, 2012, 05:56 PM

59. "Fun Science: Randomness"

 



An explanation of the nature of randomness and an example of our human habit of seeking patterns, and why we lose at roulette, genetic chance, or other games.

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