Self Help

In Gods We Trust The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion - Scott Atran

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Matheus Puppe

· 96 min read

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  • Religious beliefs and practices are universal across human cultures due to the underlying cognitive mechanisms and emotional factors that are products of human evolution.

  • Biology, psychology, anthropology, and cognitive neuroscience provide insights into both the variations and commonalities of religious beliefs and practices across different cultural groups.

  • Some key factors that contribute to religion include innate cognitive tendencies like agent detection (seeing intentional agents behind natural phenomena), theory of mind (attributing mental states to others/supernatural agents), coalitional instincts (forming groups united by common beliefs), and emotion regulation abilities.

  • Supernatural concepts seem absurd from a rational perspective but fulfill important psychological functions related to understanding death, providing purpose and morality, and fostering social cooperation.

  • Religious explanations have had a greater cultural impact than secular accounts because they tap into cognitive biases and emotional needs that were adaptive for our ancestors, even if applied illogically today.

  • The author argues religion arises naturally from ordinary cognitive/emotional workings of the human mind in dealing with existential problems of life, rather than being directly adaptive or a meme/belief system itself. Overall, religion emerges from the interplay between human evolutionary inheritance and varying cultural contexts.

  • The book aims to explain how religious beliefs and practices emerged from evolutionary and cognitive processes, rather than treating religions as external entities.

  • Religions originate from evolutionary sources like agency detection tendencies, which cause people to perceive supernatural agents like gods. Deities may fulfill psychological functions like providing attachment figures.

  • Religious beliefs tend to be counterintuitive and memorable by violating ordinary expectations in minimally incongruous ways. They form sets of quasi-propositions that seem impervious to disconfirmation.

  • Commitment to religious beliefs stems from signaling cooperation and competition through costly sacrifices. Rituals emotionally manipulate memory to instill durable religious concepts and experiences like spirit possession.

  • The book seeks to address limitations of prior cognitive and commitment theories of religion by more fully considering the structures of human cognition and how they interact with cultural evolutionary dynamics. It analyzes religion from an evolutionary psychological perspective.

  • Religion poses an evolutionary riddle because it requires costly commitments to beliefs and practices that are counterfactual, counterintuitive, and unrelentingly at odds with empirical evidence.

  • Religious practices like sacrifice involve material, emotional, and cognitive costs with no obvious direct material benefits in return. Maintaining contradictory and factually impossible supernatural beliefs also takes cognitive effort.

  • Religious beliefs are counterfactual in portraying supernatural agents and events that contradict what is plausible, intuitively believable, or empirically verifiable about the natural world. They depict minds and morals operating in physically impossible ways.

  • Taking the materially false to be true and sacrificing resources for such untrue notions does not seem to be an evolutionarily advantageous strategy, yet religion persists in all known human societies.

  • The persistence of costly, factually problematic religious beliefs and practices poses an evolutionary puzzle - it is not clear why natural selection should have favored the evolution and retention of religion given these significant challenges and costs. This is the core evolutionary riddle that theories of religious origins and cognition aim to explain.

  • Religious principles and supernatural beliefs would likely get people killed if taken literally when navigating the real world, as they go against known laws of physics and biology.

  • Costly religious commitments like priestly celibacy, huge construction projects, sacrificing possessions or family members, self-harm rituals, etc. seem to provide no evolutionary advantage and are unlikely to promote individual or group fitness.

  • While some argue religion evolved to serve functions like answering existential questions, reducing anxiety, or fostering cooperation, these explanations don’t account for religion’s cognitive peculiarities like ubiquitous supernatural agent concepts and need for validating factually unverifiable beliefs.

  • Early human thought was imagined to involve a “magical” worldview where symbolic and perceptual relationships were conflated with physical causation, leading to the development of “mythical” belief systems that transcend observation and evidence. But views of human cognitive development are debated.

So in summary, the passage questions whether costly religious behaviors and factually unverifiable supernatural beliefs could provide evolutionary advantages, and outlines debates around explaining religion’s origins and cognitive underpinnings. It critiques various proposed functions of religion while calling for better explanations of its cognitive peculiarities.

The passage discusses conceptualizing human evolutionary history as a metaphorical landscape. It proposes that human experience across this landscape converges on certain recurrent paths or conduits, just as water flows in constrained pathways through a physical landscape.

Religion is presented as one such cross-culturally common pathway that emerges in the “drainage basin” of possibilities shaped by humanity’s evolutionary landscape. This landscape acts to funnel and canalize development, greatly reducing the vast space of theoretical religious expressions into structures that recur across societies and history.

The existence of any cultural pathway, including religion, arises from a combination of cognitive, behavioral, bodily, and ecological constraints, neither residing entirely within individual minds nor apart from them. The nature of the landscape shapes where paths can form, while animate bodies establish the initial grooves and cognitive models provide direction and purpose to the paths. This “conduit metaphor” is intended to guide a multi-faceted approach to understanding religion’s evolutionary rationale.

The passage discusses different theories of religion and their limitations in fully explaining religious phenomena. It introduces four key aspects of religion seen across societies: 1) counterfactual supernatural beliefs, 2) costly public commitments to supernatural agents, 3) a focus on existential anxieties, and 4) ritualized coordination of the other three.

It argues that cognitive theories focusing on cultural transmission processes mainly address aspect 1 on beliefs, but ignore motivation. Commitment theories mainly address aspect 2 on costly commitments, but ignore cognitive constraints. Experiential theories focus on aspect 3 on religious experiences, but describe cognition in simple or psychoanalytic terms. Performance theories focus on aspect 4 on ritual practice, but neglect underlying cognitive processes.

The passage aims to provide a unifying framework that accounts for all four key aspects and draws on insights from recent contributions, while preserving what is specific to each approach. It argues a full theory of religion needs to integrate naturally selected constraints on cognition and emotion with social and institutional factors influencing costly commitments and rituals.

  • Cognitive theories of religion cannot adequately explain why religious beliefs motivate strong commitments and sacrifice. They cannot distinguish religious beliefs from fantasies.

  • Commitment theories ignore the cognitive structure of the mind and its role in forming religious beliefs. They equate religious ideology with political/economic ideologies, but many people hold both religious and secular beliefs.

  • Religious beliefs involve supernatural agents that are byproducts of innate capacities for detecting intentional agents. Supernatural beliefs grab attention and facilitate transmission due to their counterintuitive nature.

  • Religious rituals publicly display costly commitments to supernatural agents, signaling cooperation and enforcement of moral promises. This fosters intolerance of outsiders.

  • Rituals synchronize emotional states and validate religious experiences through movement, sounds, and sensory stimulation. Mystical experiences may inspire new religions but are not characteristic of routine religious experiences.

  • Other evolutionary theories of culture fail to adequately explain how cultural elements are represented cognitively and how they motivate behavior. Norms and memes are not reliably transmitted units of cultural evolution.

  • Evolutionary adaptations are biological traits that evolved via natural selection to solve important problems faced by ancestors and enhance their fitness. They show evidence of functional design.

  • Evolutionary by-products are traits that were not directly selected for but arose as necessary consequences of adaptations. They may later acquire functions.

  • Claims that human cognitive traits like religion are adaptations often lack clear evidence and rely on “just-so” stories. Considering them as by-products of big brains is also unproven.

  • Reverse engineering complex traits is one way evolutionary psychology considers whether something is an adaptation or by-product, but this is problematic for religion given its polygenetic origins.

  • Parts of religious belief/practice likely have adaptive stories, but others are more plausibly by-products. Religion involves cognitive systems with separate evolutionary histories and some with no evolutionary history.

  • From a “gene’s eye” view, adaptations promote the survival and reproduction of the genes that generate them, not necessarily the individual organism carrying those genes. Studies of kin recognition in primates provide evidence genes can adaptively influence social behaviors.

Here is a summary of the key points about selected phenotypic expressions and evidence for adaptation from an evolutionary perspective:

  • Adaptations are phenotypic traits (physical or behavioral) that evolved through natural selection because they increased fitness and promoted the propagation of the underlying genes in ancestral environments. They represent functional designs that solve past environmental problems.

  • Environmental contexts that shaped adaptations can include geographic, ecological, sexual/reproductive, social, and internal physiological factors. Different contexts may impose conflicting selection pressures that adaptations had to balance.

  • Evidence for adaptations comes from:

  1. Analogy - Structural or behavioral resemblance in unrelated species due to convergent evolution solving similar problems. Examples given are wings in birds/bats and eyes in humans/octopus.

  2. Homology - Shared inheritance from a common ancestral trait, like thumbs in humans/primates evolving from simian thumbs. Vestigial structures also provide evidence.

  3. Functional trade-offs - Costs and benefits of traits within a lineage, like long tails in peacocks reducing fitness but increasing reproductive success.

  4. Intraspecific comparisons - Variation between closely related species.

  5. Ontogeny - Developmental patterns reflecting ancestral adaptations.

So in summary, adaptations are solutions to past selective pressures identified through comparative/developmental analysis of analogous, homologous and trade-off traits across species and lineages.

  • Evolutionary trade-offs occur when one trait decreases as another increases, or when modification in one direction is offset by another, in response to environmental changes. Examples include reduction of the primate snout favoring vision over smell, and shorter fingers in hominids enabling better grips but reducing tree climbing.

  • Comparisons between closely related species can indicate adaptation, like different fur patterns and nesting behaviors conforming to environments among closely related animal groups.

  • Ontogenetic changes within a species’ lifespan can also demonstrate adaptation, like gills transforming to lungs in frogs or larval to adult symmetry changes in starfish.

  • Human language and cognition have no clear analogies in animals. While some rules have been observed in Kanzi the bonobo’s signals, they lack consistent subject-predicate structures or embedded recursion seen in human languages.

  • Basic emotions like fear, anger and happiness may have evolutionary homology due to shared elicitors and responses in primates and other vertebrates. Secondary human emotions like anxiety, grief and commitment may have evolved to resolve conflicts between short and long-term social group interests through mechanisms like reciprocal altruism.

  • Certain secondary emotions like romantic love, guilt, and vengefulness plausibly evolved to signal enduring commitment and cooperation in relationships. They need to be sincerely felt and “eruptive” to convincingly convey intentions.

  • However, comparative studies show little evidence that other animals have concepts of emotions or mental states. For emotions to function as signals, the audience must understand the communicator’s emotion, which implies beliefs about emotions - something seen only in humans.

  • While some primates show rudimentary cognitive abilities like simple counting and species differentiation, humans uniquely developed higher-order cognition like taxonomy, indefinitely complex combinations of quantities, and theory of mind (attributing intentions/beliefs to others).

  • Great apes show some evidence of goal-directed actions, tool use, and basic perspective-taking, indicating nascent forms of teleological and mentalistic agency. But only humans exhibit metarepresentational agency like understanding false beliefs, embedding multiple levels of propositional attitudes in pretense. This gap suggests the selective pressures driving advanced human cognition were absent in other species.

  • Folk psychology, or theory of mind, allows humans to represent an indefinite number of possible mental states in other people. However, it is constrained by practical needs and memory limitations.

  • The developmental stages of folk psychology are domain-specific, meaning they involve specialized cognitive modules tailored to reasoning about things like beliefs, desires, and agency.

  • These stages indicate the human mind has evolved differentiated cognitive functions or “mental organs” that cannot be attributed just to general intelligence.

  • Animal minds also likely involve differentiated mental organs, both similar and different from humans, specialized for tasks like visual processing or rudimentary counting.

  • The developmental stages in folk psychology build upon each other over time rather than replacing each other, like anatomical structures can.

  • Adaptations are best understood as solutions to ancestral environmental problems or “engineering” tasks faced by organisms over evolutionary history.

  • Apparent design flaws in human physiology and anatomy can often be explained as compromises or historical constraints given our evolutionary history and development from ancestral forms. Creationist arguments about perfection ignore these evolutionary tradeoffs.

  • The structure of the neck in camels and moles remains basically the same, despite their different lifestyles and adaptations in other body parts. This is because significantly changing the number of neck vertebrae would disrupt the complex nerve network connecting the neck to the rest of the body.

  • Organisms evolve adaptations that represent “local optima” on a fitness landscape - mountain peaks that are reached incrementally from a starting point. It is difficult for evolution to backtrack down the mountains and find even higher peaks, due to reductions in fitness along the way.

  • Reverse engineering evolutionary adaptations, like trying to determine the function of unusual structures like long dinosaur tails, is difficult and success is not guaranteed. The true functions are sometimes still debated after significant study. Multiple hypotheses are often proposed but the true function may never be known for certain.

  • Mental structures likely bear the signature of the ecological problems they evolved to solve. Their functions can be approached through reconstructing ancestral environments and pressures to gain insight into how natural selection shaped different cognitive abilities. But reverse engineering has limitations as an approach.

Here is a summary of the key points about evolutionary sources for the self and language from the given text:

  • Evolutionary arguments for the emergence of concepts like the self, language, and large brains are often speculative “just-so stories” that are difficult to definitively prove or disprove.

  • The self likely emerged gradually over time in hominids like Homo erectus in response to ecological and social pressures like collective hunting, forming group alliances, and navigating social dynamics. However, the exact causal factors and timeline are uncertain.

  • Features of self-awareness important for evolution may have been abilities like episodic memory and mental time travel, which allow imagining alternative scenarios and planning. These abilities rely on prefrontal cortex regions.

  • Evidence from Neanderthal burial sites suggests self-awareness and concern for an afterlife emerged over 50,000-100,000 years ago, showing early metarepresentation abilities.

  • Evolutionary explanations for language origins incorporate many hypothesized ancestral behaviors and capacities but remain inconclusive. Tool-making abilities are sometimes linked to the emergence of gestural communication and linguistic abilities, but the relationships are not clearly demonstrated.

This passage discusses the relationship between human language and other behaviors or cognitive abilities from an evolutionary perspective. Some key points:

  • There are speculative analogies drawn between language and tool use, social interaction, or gossip, but these are difficult to scientifically test or verify due to the lack of specific structural descriptions to analyze.

  • One argument suggests parameterization of language may have required divine intervention to account for cross-linguistic diversity.

  • Pinker and Bloom provide one of the best accounts, claiming language shows design for propositional communication through a serial interface, conferring evolutionary advantages. However, it does not explain the origins of linguistic parameterization.

  • Chomsky suggests language capacities may relate to the properties of biological cells and physical mechanisms not yet understood. Complex structures can emerge from simpler ones due to physical thresholds or critical values being reached.

  • The human brain has vastly more connections than even powerful computers, allowing for nonlinear increases in circuits, assemblies, and interconnectedness supporting sophisticated cognition like comprehension of art, religion, humor.

  • Fodor is skeptical that natural selection alone could have gradually produced an adaptive mutation giving rise to specific linguistic structures without some additional factor like a physical Law.

So in summary, the passage discusses various perspectives on the difficulty of linking language evolution to other behaviors and accounting for its specific structures through natural selection alone. Divine intervention, physical laws, or complexity effects are posited as possible additional explanatory factors.

This passage discusses the debate between evolutionary psychologists and their critics regarding whether language and other human cognitive abilities evolved through natural selection as adaptations, or emerged as accidental byproducts of evolutionary changes.

Some key points:

  • Critics like Gould argue that features like language were not directly selected for, but arose as “spandrels” or byproducts of selection for other traits like bigger brains. A spandrel is an architectural byproduct, not the direct object of design.

  • Evolutionary psychologists argue you can’t claim something is an adaptation or byproduct without identifying the adaptations it emerged from. They want to understand the evolutionary history and mechanisms underlying putative byproducts.

  • Some aspects of cultural systems like religion may seem to have no direct evolutionary history, but others like social aggression do have parallels in other species.

  • The debate centers on whether evolutionary psychology can provide insights into aspects of cognition and culture that emerged primarily through cultural rather than natural selection processes. Critics argue traits directly shaped by culture are more like arbitrary byproducts from an evolutionary perspective.

So in summary, the passage discusses the debate over whether features like language are direct adaptations or accidental byproducts from an evolutionary perspective, and the implications for understanding cognition and culture through an evolutionary lens.

  • Gould argued that the human brain may have evolved to be larger primarily due to selection for cooperative hunting and gathering tasks, but that many cognitive abilities emerged as “spandrels” or side effects of this larger brain size rather than direct adaptations.

  • However, this account is not very convincing. Simply attributing advanced cognition to a generally “larger” or “more complex” brain is too vague - what specific computational structures and functions did it evolve to perform?

  • There is still little understanding of how specific cognitive functions map onto brain structures. Localization of functions is distributed and complex.

  • The fossil record provides scarce evidence of historical changes to the brain’s internal structure from early hominins to humans. Interpretations are based on coarse evidence.

  • While evolutionary psychology accounts are sometimes just-so stories, they do sometimes make testable claims about specific evolved cognitive adaptations or functions that could suggest new research avenues. Taking an adaptive approach may help evaluate whether Gould’s hypothesis is true or lead to new insights, rather than assuming it is correct from the start.

  • Evolutionary psychology seeks to understand the cognitive foundations of religion by examining the universally shared cognitive domains (like folk psychology, biology, mechanics) that humans use to conceptualize supernatural agents and worlds.

  • These cognitive domains provide intuitions that people draw on, often subconsciously, to distinguish the supernatural from the natural.

  • A critical feature of supernatural agent concepts is that they trigger innate cognitive mechanisms evolved for detecting important social agents like predators/protectors. This helps explain why snakes, parents, clouds, etc. can all be viewed as candidates for deification.

  • Religions involve applying ordinary cognitive processes in extraordinary ways to passionately demonstrate devotion to counterintuitive worlds governed by supernatural beings.

  • Creation myths from different cultures illustrate how the cognitive intuitions of agents intentionally creating the world purposefully were universally shared across societies.

So in summary, the author is arguing that religion draws upon evolved, universal cognitive systems in the human mind to conceptualize supernatural phenomena, and that this helps explain both the commonalities and intuitiveness of religious beliefs across cultures.

  • Many cultures believe that conscious souls live on after death in an unseen spirit realm. They survive in dreams where truths about existence are known.

  • Rituals are believed to provoke spirits to alter the world for better or worse, like stage directors changing a play. Spirits would direct the world as thoughts direct human bodies.

  • Dreams provided evidence for religious beliefs in many cultures. Dreams were seen as real actions of the soul during sleep. Dream interpretations often involved reversal between dream and future events.

  • Creation myths depicted the establishment of order from primordial chaos through divine visions or dreams. Gods shaped reality through their thoughts and intentions in dreams, like humans.

  • Figures like soul catchers were believed to enter trances to retrieve souls of the sick that had wandered from their bodies.

  • Philosophers conceived of separable immortal souls that gave life to bodies but were distinct. Souls were seen as wandering in dreams but reunited with bodies after death. Reasonable intellect was seen as godly vision.

  • The key difference between philosophical and animist souls was the idea of rational intellect as the clear vision of God, but otherwise they occupied a similar cognitive and emotional space regarding the soul’s relation to bodies and the afterlife.

  • The author argues that belief in the law of noncontradiction (that something cannot both be A and not-A) arises from human nature/souls, as created by God, rather than from philosophical reasoning.

  • Most religious believers hold a view of God as somewhat incomprehensible but as the creator of the world, rather than adhering strictly to philosophical views like the law of noncontradiction.

  • There is a paradoxical need to believe that arises from the integrated nature of body and mind/soul in humans.

  • Cultures like the Inuit and tribes in West Africa also view the human as consisting of a separable soul/spirit and body. Souls can leave the body at times like during dreams.

  • Shadows are often associated with supernatural phenomena like souls, spirits, and agency. Shadows don’t behave like solid objects and can seem to have agency or supernatural properties.

  • The author argues that supernatural concepts like spirits and ghosts derive from innate cognitive tendencies related to agency, biology, and folk physics/mechanics, even if expressed through culturally specific manifestations.

  • The concept of supernatural agency may derive from innate modules related to perception of agents like animals and people. Cultures build on these innate foundations.

  • Secondary emotions like guilt, pride, and love seem to involve more abstract social cognitions that may vary significantly across cultures. Their eliciting conditions and forms of expression are not universal.

  • Some researchers argue that at least some secondary emotions evolved as natural solutions to recurrent conflicts between short-term and long-term group interests for social animals like humans.

  • Conceptual modules have privileged but not exclusive access to internal and external inputs. They process inputs based on innately constrained databases.

  • There is debate around the boundaries of conceptual domains like folkpsychology (understanding of minds), folkbiology (understanding of living things), and folksociology (understanding of social groups).

  • The author takes the position that separate modules govern interpretations of agency and biological essence, but not separate modules for human vs. nonhuman agency or biological vs. social essence.

  • Agency detection is a default for interpreting complex design. It is triggered by evidence of design but may be extended to natural patterns and processes.

  • Folkpsychology involves attributing beliefs, desires and other mental states to understand and predict intentional behavior of agents like people. Mental states are inferred from limited cues.

  • Attributing agency and mental states allows understanding action at a distance and navigating the social world. The domain of agency extends beyond animates but was naturally selected to process animates.

  • Evolutionary pressures may have selected for cognitive mechanisms that cause humans and other animals to readily infer the presence of intentional agents in uncertain environments. This helped ancestors anticipate actions of predators, prey, mates and competitors to enhance survival.

  • This agency detection mechanism is primed to infer agency broadly, even in situations without functional relevance to ancestral demands, like interpreting clouds, wind or moving objects as agents.

  • Evidence from infant development shows innate biases to interpret goal-directed behavior and interactions from a very young age, indicating domain-specific faculties for agent detection.

  • Experiments demonstrate toddlers spontaneously attribute goals, emotions and mental states not just to humans and animals but also objects that mimic certain social cues through movement and contingent responsiveness.

  • Adults also readily interpret abstract objects or shapes interacting on screens as intentional agents, showing the attribution of agency is a natural and spontaneous cognitive process.

  • Recent studies suggest that infants can interpret an object’s movement as goal-directed even without explicit cues indicating agency, such as self-propulsion. Infants attributed goal-directed behavior to geometric shapes moving on a computer screen.

  • This indicates that perceptions of self-propulsion or physical characteristics are not necessary for attributing intentionality or psychological concepts like goals, motivation, and social behaviors. Attribution of agency can be based on analysis of event structures rather than physical cues.

  • The key is identification of a “controlling force” that determines the outcome of a “telic event structure” - an event with an endpoint or goal. Even when the cause is unknown, infants infer a controlling force guiding objects towards goals in efficient ways.

  • Telic event structures that involve chance, uncertainty or uncontrollable future events can trigger concepts of supernatural agency for humans. This includes events like natural disasters, disease, death which induce anxiety and feelings of lack of control. Reminders of mortality in particular increase religiosity.

  • Attribution of agency develops from analyzing contingent relationships between objects and their environment, not from identifying physical sources of movement per se. This flexible system allows both external and internal agents to be inferred depending on context.

  • Studies have found that death-related experiences that provoke stress/adrenaline elicit stronger feelings of religiosity compared to merely exposed to religious scenes. Events like 9/11 caused a spike in reported religiosity in Americans.

  • Basic emotions like fear evolved before rational thinking, to help prime reason to make inferences about survival-relevant situations. Existential anxieties are byproducts of emotions and cognitive abilities to understand mortality.

  • Religion helps resolve this “tragedy of cognition” by converting death into a telic event with the goal of an afterlife. This allays the existential anxiety of confronting one’s mortality.

  • Across cultures, supernatural agents have historically been associated with animals and natural phenomena. Young children also spontaneously attribute intentions to animals and moving objects.

  • For humans, agents represent goals, emotions, and the ability to elicit them in others. Fear and hope evolved to work together cognitively, motivating searches for more knowing intelligences that could help in dangerous situations.

  • The unknown future and inevitability of death would favor belief in powerful, accessible supernatural agents. Emotional priming lowers the threshold for perceiving agency in ambiguous stimuli like clouds or food items. Religion capitalizes on these hypersensitive agency-detecting mechanisms.

The passage discusses attachment theory as it relates to religion and the supernatural. Attachment theory postulates an evolved motivational system to maintain closeness between infants and parents for survival. The parent functions as an attachment figure and refuge in times of danger, as well as a secure base for exploration when safe.

Some studies support the application of attachment theory to religion. One study by Kirkpatrick measured religious belief among college students over two years. Students rated adjectives describing God on scales of a Loving God, Controlling God, and Distant God. Students also indicated if they felt a personal relationship with God and views of God as a living being.

The key points are that attachment theory sees deities or supernatural agents functioning as parental surrogates from an evolutionary psychological perspective. It proposes an innate motivation for closeness to attachment figures which is co-opted in religious beliefs and views of caring versus controlling deities. One study aimed to provide empirical support for links between religious beliefs and attachment styles.

  • The study found that students with positive self-models (secure, dismissing) were more religious than those with negative self-models (preoccupied, fearful).

  • Students with negative self-models showed greater religious change over time than those with positive self-models. Students with positive models of others also showed greater religious change.

  • Scales measuring the view of God as loving correlated with positive self-models; scales measuring close relationship with God correlated with positive models of others.

  • Kirkpatrick interprets these findings as confirming attachment theory - that people seek God as an attachment figure, especially those with negative childhood relationships or self-models. The worship-God relationship parallels the infant-mother relationship.

  • However, some criticize attachment theory for not accounting for religious initiation rituals that rupture ties to the mother, or differences between gender views of God. Psychoanalytic theories also fail to explain the specificity of religion.

  • Studies found children distinguish beliefs about God from other beings like parents at a young age, and attribute true beliefs in a supernatural hierarchy with God at top. This indicates beliefs about God are not simply projected from parents.

  • Attachment theory argues that beliefs in supernatural agents stem from children’s attachment to their parents. However, social interactions with parents differ significantly from interactions with deities.

  • With parents there is usually communal sharing and caring without explicit exchange, while deities usually require measurable sacrifices, offerings, gifts, or other negotiated exchanges.

  • Supernatural deities are also often menacing and feared, not just protective. Many historical deities demanded human sacrifice or caused harm. Village deities in India for example were unpredictable in temperament.

  • An evolutionary perspective is that supernatural concepts are an byproduct of mental adaptations for detecting agents like predators, protectors, and prey. These agency detection systems are highly sensitive and prone to perceiving agency where there is none.

  • Across many societies, both protective and threatening supernatural figures are conceptualized. Core supernatural motifs involve predator-like monsters and deities that both protect and consume humans. This aligns more with adaptations for dealing with dangerous agents rather than parental attachments.

So in summary, the essay argues that beliefs in supernatural agents stem more from evolved psychology for detecting dangerous predators and protectors, rather than directly from child-parent attachments as attachment theory claims. Historical and cross-cultural evidence on threatening deities is also discussed.

  • Religious traditions do not consist of coherent belief systems or worldviews in the way they are sometimes portrayed. Rather, they comprise collections of counterintuitive beliefs and stories that elicit underlying commonsense beliefs.

  • Religious transmission relies on counterintuitive beliefs engaging and making relevant everyday intuitions, which are rarely explicitly articulated.

  • Metacognition allows deception but also hope through representations of impossible counterfactual worlds that address existential problems like death.

  • Core religious beliefs minimally violate ordinary intuitions, enabling imagination of minimally impossible worlds that appear to solve problems. This makes them intuitively compelling yet anomalous.

  • Universal cognitive mechanisms process symbolic content cross-culturally, giving rise to recurrent spirit/immortal concepts through interaction with local information.

  • Supernatural beliefs counterintuitively imply mundane content through ritual prohibitions against conflict and appeals to non-conflicting intuitions about the mundane world.

  • Cultural relativism is mistaken - supernatural concepts equally violate native and foreign intuitions, and rely on shared core cognitive systems for both mundane and counterintuitive beliefs.

The passage discusses symbolic propositions recorded from Itza’ Maya speakers in the author’s field notes. These include beliefs about sorcerers transforming into animals, houses having souls, wood fairies following people in the forest, magical stones that can see the future, and snakes transforming into winged creatures.

The author argues that while these beliefs seem counterintuitive to us, the Itza’ likely view them as counterintuitive as well. If they treated these symbolic beliefs the same way as factual beliefs, it would lead to logical contradictions. Additionally, beliefs about societal concepts like joking, storytelling, reciprocity, etc. show significant overlap between cultures.

While anthropologists have claimed different cultures live in entirely different conceptual worlds, the author rejects this premise. For the anthropologist to understand a culture in just 1-2 years of fieldwork, there must be significant conceptual commensurability. Symbolic beliefs are processed differently than commonsense factual beliefs for both the culture that holds them and outsiders interpreting them. Therefore, the apparent differences between cultures may be exaggerated, and fundamental modes of human cognition and inference are likely shared cross-culturally.

The passage discusses cultural representations and myths across different cultures. It argues that apparent similarities in myths from different cultures could be due to universal cognitive constraints, rather than historical contact or archetypes. Myths are embedded in contextualized episodes which make them memorable and transmittable between people. As myths spread between cultures, they transform based on contextual differences between environments and populations. Levi-Strauss traced patterns of transformation in Native American myths linked to differences in their environments and societies. Cultural representations, like views on healthcare, are dynamic and loosely connected within a culture, constantly evolving as people communicate and alter each other’s representations. Institutions help regulate the flow of cultural representations through rituals, ceremonies, policies and laws.

The mediator’s task when activating symbolic beliefs is to focus on counterintuitive assumptions that serve as a “conduit metaphor” for tapping into and guiding the wider range of shared intuitive assumptions in the audience.

The episodic expressions and ritual performances associated with religious beliefs activate and direct the underlying intuitive assumptions, but they only account for a small fraction of the total information conveyed by symbolic beliefs. Most of the intuitive beliefs underlying devotion are rarely made explicit and are mostly invisible even to believers themselves unless consciously examined.

While religious expressions are rooted in ordinary intuitive assumptions, they also allow suspending constraints of ordinary communication like relevance. Religious texts are seen as divinely authored, timeless truths rather than mundane communications with pragmatic intentions. Therefore, religious beliefs cannot truly be disconfirmed - apparent disconfirmation is seen as revealing deeper truths rather than falsifying the core belief. Faith insulates religious doctrines from falsification in a way that strengthens rather than undermines commitment.

  • Supernatural agents in religious beliefs are always described as human-like in some ways (e.g. having minds and epistemic mental states), but they are never fully human. They violate innate expectations about basic ontological categories like living kinds and substances.

  • Religious beliefs are inherently counterintuitive and counterfactual because they contradict commonsense assumptions about physical, biological, and psychological phenomena. For example, beliefs about invisible transforming creatures or beings that can perceive distant events.

  • However, religious beliefs remain connected to factual, commonsense beliefs and inferences. They dramatically contradict basic commonsense assumptions, but not randomly - they remain bridged to the everyday world.

  • This is why such counterintuitive religious concepts can be transmitted and learned with relatively little cultural representation or instruction. A few fragmentary descriptions are enough to mobilize extensive inferences by contradicting commonsense expectations in an attention-grabbing way, while still connecting to factual beliefs.

Religious beliefs rely on an underlying network of implicit background assumptions and inferences. Even a single mention of something supernatural, like an angel, can trigger indefinitely many inferences about its properties based on intuitive reasoning. These inferences tend to converge across cultures and individuals.

Within a given religious tradition, certain supernatural transformations are more likely than others based on universal cognitive categories. Transformations between closer categories, like humans to animals, are more probable than transformations across larger distances, like humans to inanimate objects.

Some supernatural concepts have innate cognitive advantages that make them more likely to spread culturally. Things that violate intuitive expectations in attention-grabbing ways, allow for richer inferences, provoke strong emotions, or cannot be fully processed are best positioned for transmission and retention. Religious beliefs involve assigning stimuli that activate innate concepts like agency to ontological categories like persons or animals, but blocking full assignment results in concepts that fail to fit exclusively into any category. This incomplete processing is a key driver of religious transmission.

  • Supernatural concepts tend to be emotionally powerful because they activate innate survival mechanisms. This makes them attention-grabbing and memorable.

  • Concepts that combine ontologically distant categories (person-substance) should be less prevalent than those combining near categories (person-animal). However, specific contexts can override these probabilities.

  • Memorability strongly influences cultural transmission and success. A more memorable idea has an advantage in spreading over generations.

  • Early research found counterintuitive concepts were better recalled than intuitive ones. However, this does not explain why counterintuitive ideas are a minority in most cultural materials.

  • A later study examined memorability of individual beliefs (intuitive vs. counterintuitive) and belief sets over a week. It aimed to resolve issues around memorability at the individual vs. set level in explaining cultural materials. Further research is still needed to fully understand the role of memorability.

  • The study examined recall of intuitive, bizarre, minimally counterintuitive (MCI), and maximally counterintuitive (MXCI) beliefs. Recall was measured immediately and after a 1-week delay.

  • Participants received sets of beliefs that varied in proportion of intuitive vs. counterintuitive beliefs. This aimed to simulate cultural transmission without an established narrative context.

  • Results showed that intuitive beliefs had the highest recall, while MXCI beliefs had the lowest. MCI beliefs degraded less than intuitive beliefs over time, despite lower initial recall.

  • At the set level, beliefs that were mostly intuitive with some MCI had the highest delayed recall and lowest degradation. Sets with mostly MXCI beliefs had the lowest delayed recall and highest degradation.

  • The findings suggest MCI beliefs have an advantage in cultural survival through lower degradation, even if initially less recalled than intuitive beliefs. The optimal combination for transmission success is a set with mostly intuitive beliefs and some MCI beliefs.

  • Minimally counterintuitive beliefs (MCIs), as long as they are in small proportions, help people remember and transmit intuitive beliefs over time. This is due to a cognitive “bootstrapping” effect where MCIs draw initial interest, and the intuitive beliefs then aid long-term recall.

  • However, this only works up to a point. When MCIs become the majority, the belief set becomes too incongruent and loses its ability to attract attention and be remembered.

  • Experimental evidence supported this, showing immediate recall of MCIs predicted delayed recall of intuitives for majority-intuitive and equal conditions, but not majority-MCI condition.

  • A follow up study with Mayan speakers replicated these recall patterns, indicating cultural stabilization of the effect.

  • The key cognitive process enabling this is metarepresentation - the ability to represent representations. This allows people to entertain vague or half-understood concepts like religious beliefs.

  • Metarepresentation emerges developmentally around ages 3-5 and allows for abilities like understanding false beliefs, episodic memory, and mental time travel. It enables supernatural concepts to be represented and transmitted culturally.

  • Intentional communicative displays, like gestures and pointing, emerged as a way for hominids to cooperate and deceive in various social situations.

  • Autistic children often lack the ability to understand intentional communication beyond just imitating gestures. They cannot infer what someone means by a gesture.

  • Religious acts incorporate features of pragmatic communication like pretending, empathizing, and promising about situations or ideas that cannot be empirically verified.

  • In religious acts, the situation or idea being represented through communication (like a promise) lacks fixed or clearly defined content. It is considered “true” through faith rather than objective evaluation.

  • Religious displays use exaggerated gestures to draw attention to the intended meaning, not just the physical actions themselves (like receiving communion).

  • Religious expressions involve empathy by cognitively matching emotions even when the specific situation is undefined, as in feeling sadness for someone else’s unknown struggle.

  • Ritualized displays create social commitments through performative language rather than just describing real situations. For example, investing someone as a nun creates the relationship, rather than just describing it.

  • Religious promises often refer to vague future duties to supernatural beings rather than concrete actions that can be clearly evaluated. The focus is on expressing commitment through faith.

  • Human abilities to conceive of false beliefs and deception fundamentally endangers any moral order in society. Simple consent cannot sustain large-scale cooperation over long periods of time.

  • Costly displays of devotion to supernatural beings, through religious sacrifice, signal sincere willingness to cooperate. Sacrifices need to be emotionally hard to fake and involve material costs to be convincing commitments.

  • Supernatural agents represented in religions function as imagined moral supervisors who discourage cheating and free riding in societies. This helps enable large-scale cooperation governed by shared moral rules.

  • Commitments must involve ultimate sacrifices to be truly convincing. Religious commitment to one group usually precludes commitment to others, leading to conflicts between religious groups and the development of new religious forms over time.

  • Blood sacrifices were common historically and aimed to be both materially costly and emotionally arousing. Human blood sacrifice expressed ideas of offering part of human life to obtain greater life for the group. Animal sacrifice often replaced human sacrifice while keeping symbolic meanings.

  • Religious sacrifice requires a costly offering to gods/spirits, even if symbolic substitutes are sometimes allowed for economic reasons. There is always a non-recoupable cost involved.

  • Sacrifice is demanded in certain religiously prescribed circumstances regardless of costs, like rituals for sowing/harvest, illness, death, etc.

  • Supernatural agents help maintain cooperation and trust in human societies by sanctifying the social order as cosmically mandated. This counteracts increased possibilities for deception from advanced cognition.

  • Altruism that benefits non-relatives poses an evolutionary problem, as it reduces individual fitness. Yet cooperation is necessary for survival.

  • Direct reciprocity (tit-for-tat strategy) helps maintain cooperation between repeated interactors. But what motivates cooperation with strangers one may never meet again? This is the question religious commitment helps address.

The passage discusses the concept of “indirect reciprocity” proposed by biologist Richard Alexander. Indirect reciprocity allows for more mutual benefit and cooperation than direct reciprocity by enabling individuals to receive aid even when they are unable to directly reciprocate, such as in times of need. This is made possible through reputation - individuals develop reputations in their social group for whether they cooperate with or help others. Those with good reputations of cooperation can then receive help from others, even strangers, based on their reputation.

The development of indirect reciprocity was important for the emergence of large-scale human societies as direct reciprocity and kin selection break down in larger groups. Maintaining social reputations was a way for humans to extend cooperation beyond close family ties. However, the increased in-group commitment that evolves through these mechanisms can also foster intolerance toward out-groups. Examples are given of fundamentalist religious groups exhibiting less tolerance and more authoritarian attitudes compared to mainstream groups. Fundamentalist movements often emerge during times of crisis and social change as a reaction. While increasing in-group solidarity, they may exacerbate conflicts by essentializing differences with out-groups.

This passage discusses how religious groups may develop syncretic belief systems that both incorporate and invert elements of competing religions as a way to assert their own distinct social and ideological identity. It provides two examples:

  1. The Candomble Nagô sects of Afro-Brazilian religion invert social values held by the dominant Brazilian society, elevating adherence to African customs and ancestry over European influence. This helped the sects maintain some independence against pressures of enslavement.

  2. Among the contemporary Itza’ Maya people of Guatemala, Catholicism has become dominant but some continue pre-Columbian religious practices secretly. Shamans believe they contract with the Christian devil as well as pre-Columbian spirits in exchange for healing powers. This allows some distinct Itza’ religious and cultural identity to survive amid loss of language and environment.

In both cases, syncretic blending and selective inversion of competing religious elements helped marginalized groups assert some autonomy against forces that threatened their existence or distinct identity. Behind present syncretic forms often lie histories of complex religious competitions and social struggles.

  • Religion often develops through syncretism, the blending of different beliefs as cultures interact and change over time. For example, the Spanish conquest of the Maya in the 1500s led the Maya to assimilate aspects of Christianity, like depicting sacrificial victims being crucified.

  • During the Caste War in the 1800s-early 1900s in Mexico, the indigenous Maya rebel movement depicted Spanish colonizers as “false Christians” in their iconography and rhetoric.

  • In the Maya highlands, loss and revival of cultural sovereignty are symbolized through figures like the indigenous Christ.

  • In South India, Hinduism was introduced by invading northern Aryans and incorporated caste hierarchies that marginalized indigenous Dravidian and tribal groups. They came to be known as “untouchables.”

  • Local village deities venerated by lower castes and tribes in South India often diverged from Brahminical Hinduism, featuring female deities demanding animal sacrifice rather than concepts like nonviolence.

  • Similar dynamics occurred in North India, where rural lower castes tended to worship local village gods rather than prominent Hindu figures like Vishnu and Shiva.

  • Across contexts, minority religions have incorporated and inverted elements of dominant religions as a way to maintain autonomy and connection to earlier histories within larger hierarchical societies.

  • The passage discusses an example of unreasonable self-sacrifice from Josephus’ account of the mass suicide of around 960 Jews at Masada in 73 AD, as they chose death over becoming slaves to the conquering Romans.

  • It notes that self-sacrifice and martyrdom can serve an evolutionary purpose by benefiting one’s relatives or social group. Martyrs are often rewarded posthumously through elevated status or benefits for their families.

  • Voluntary martyrdom in modern religious extremism is also prepared for through ritual means, including purification, wearing special clothes, and promises of heavenly rewards like virgins after death. One gravely injured would-be martyr asked nurses if he was in paradise, showing a belief in an afterlife reward motivating self-sacrifice.

  • In summary, the passage discusses historical and contemporary examples of unreasonable self-sacrifice and how beliefs in supernatural rewards can evolutionarily motivate such acts that seem to go against self-interest but benefit one’s social group or cause.

The passage discusses the concept of commitment problems in evolutionary terms. On one hand, it is advantageous to prioritize immediate survival concerns over long-term interests or those of others. However, considering distant risks and rewards, as well as helping non-relatives, can increase future assistance when one is in need.

Robert Frank argues that uncontrolled passions help address commitment problems through emotionally costly displays that convince others of one’s commitment. This facilitates indirect reciprocity through promises, even though promises can be broken. Moral sentiments then serve to balance short-term interests with structural conditions resembling our ancestral past.

Emotions provide rapid responses in situations where rational analysis is impractical or too slow. However, emotions from our evolutionary past can be unhelpful in modern societies. Blood honor and revenge customs among some Arab groups are discussed as an example of passionate extended kin commitment that becomes absolute and asymmetrical over generations, more for upholding lineage legitimacy than genetic kinship alone. Commitment is imposed on women through strict behavior codes but more voluntary for men, though still facing social consequences.

Displays of commitment to one’s group or cause in some societies require appearing emotionally heartfelt and not wholly voluntary or coerced. Commitment must come from a sincere, internal moral impulse rather than just becalculating or insincere. For some Arab societies, displays of honor and revenge help ensure social norms are followed. While extreme actions like honor killings are rare, the threat of them encourages overall compliance.

Suicide bombers are generally young, unmarried males recruited through religious and social networks where intense commitment to the cause is nurtured. They do not exhibit typical characteristics of suicide like mental illness. Rather, they see their actions as meaningful contributions to their community’s struggle. Studies show Palestinian youth involved in violence developed strong pride and social bonds rather than depression. Their engagement was tied to religious meaning given to their situation. In contrast, Bosnian Muslims felt more hopeless, showing context matters. Overall, both individual and group social factors shape the networks of thought and emotion that can lead to violent commitment and action.

In some societies like Solomon Islands, seeking revenge for injuries is a prominent duty. People openly display signs like partially shaved heads or hanging tobacco to remember and pursue vengeance against enemies who have wronged them or their family. Friends also remind people of debts of vengeance owed.

The passages discuss the importance of displays of commitment in signaling one’s intentions and dedication to a cause. Convincing displays of vengeance, religious fervor, or love can dissuade potential aggressors from attacking due to the added costs they would face in dealing with an emotionally committed adversary. Even token displays that signal a willingness to commit vengeance or sacrifice can be taken seriously, as they reinforce one’s threatening reputation over time. However, the displays must seem genuine and heartfelt in order to be persuasive. Things like affect, tone of voice, and subtle body language allow observers to detect sincerity versus faked emotions. Different cultures may vary in the intensity of reactions expected in response to insults due to historical influences like associations with honor cultures of herding peoples. Overall, passionate public displays of commitment are evolutionarily adaptive for asserting one’s position and deterring threats, even if the actual costs of following through are typically less than anticipated.

  • Love is seen as an irrational yet irresistible impulse, like the need for food or survival. It drives people to make great sacrifices or acts of desperation.

  • Ancient texts like the Kama Sutra analyzed signaling of love and commitment through gestures and signs. Both men and women look for signs of things like wealth, status, generosity, kindness, commitment to family from potential mates.

  • The experience of love involves involuntary arousal and high neurotransmitter levels in the brain like dopamine, which may be why people fall for those who share dangerous experiences.

  • Manifesting real commitment through costly, hard-to-fake gestures intensifies love further when it is not reciprocated. This shows abandoning self-interest for blind commitment.

  • Ritual displays are a form of social commitment that create the messages they represent. They mobilize beliefs in unpredictable ways depending on context.

  • Ceremonial displays were used in traditional magic and divination practices to remedy problems. People invoked spirits or gods through incantations or rituals to control events.

  • Views differ on whether magic permeated all thinking or was reserved for special displays. More recent evidence suggests children think in terms of material causation, while adults sometimes explain through supernatural causes after initiation rites.

The summary is:

The inclusion of principled supernatural knowledge in representations of living kinds occurs much later than the shift to more refined biological concepts. Specifically, traditions involving the transference of “essences” between natural kinds based on supernatural explanations are generally limited to ritual contexts in many cultures, and myths involving totemic relationships between human groups and natural species often symbolically restructure nature rather than literally mimicking it. So the integration of supernatural beliefs with concepts of living things develops later and is usually symbolic or limited to ritual rather than part of everyday biological thinking.

The passage discusses how religious commitment helps overcome social dilemmas like the prisoner’s dilemma by making people believe they are being watched by supernatural agents even when they are not. It argues religious displays of sacrifice and commitment are important for maintaining group cooperation and order. Such displays are convincing because they appear sincere and emotionally passionate. However, religious commitment can also foster discrimination against outside groups. Pure ideologies lack the personal, emotional elements of religion that help address existential anxieties. The figures provided give visual examples related to some of the key concepts discussed, like costly sacrifices, manipulating deities, and lofty religious architecture/offerings. Overall, the passage examines how religious belief and displays of commitment help solve cooperation problems through convincing appearances of sincerity, even if actual sacrifices are not required.

  • Rituals can develop through two modes - doctrinal and imagistic.

  • The doctrinal mode involves frequently repeated, routine rituals like daily prayers or weekly services. Frequent repetition builds an accurate memory of the ritual’s abstract, schematic organization or “script.” Participants perform the scripted actions automatically but remember little of variable details between performances.

  • Variable details between performances of doctrinal rituals allow attention to focus on religious doctrine presented through exegesis, argumentation, and sermons. This exposes the “inexorable implicational logic” of religious doctrine, leading to coherent, uniform, and stable transmission of belief.

  • The imagistic mode involves emotionally arousing rituals that are infrequent but intensely memorable. The episodic memory of highly emotive rituals gives them a significant mnemonic effect that binds groups together through shared experience. This creates religious authority based on personal revelation rather than logical doctrine.

So in summary, the doctrinal mode relies on frequent repetition of scripts to facilitate memory of logical doctrine, while the imagistic mode uses emotionally intense but infrequent rituals to create episodic memory and shared experience as the basis for religious authority.

  • The article discusses two ideal types of religious modes - the doctrinal mode and the imagistic mode.

  • The doctrinal mode relies on frequent, routinized rituals and repetitive transmission of abstract doctrine. This promotes conformity, orthodoxy, and rapid cultural spread. Examples given are Protestantism and early Christianity.

  • The imagistic mode relies on highly arousing and emotionally intense initiation rites that are infrequently experienced. These are encoded as vivid “flashbulb memories” that are confidently remembered forever. Examples given are rituals involving pain, scarification, isolation from society.

  • Strict doctrinal religions discourage artificial sensory arousal like drugs/alcohol and promote logocentric iconophobia (dislike of images/idols).

  • The imagistic mode relies more on episodic, autobiographical memory of intense ritual experiences than verbal codification of doctrine.

  • In summary, it distinguishes between religious modes based on frequent low-arousal rituals/doctrine vs infrequent high-arousal initiation experiences.

  • Whitehouse analyzes two modes of rituals - the imagistic (analogic) mode and the doctrinal (digital) mode.

  • The imagistic mode fosters intense emotional bonding among small groups through highly arousing, rare rituals like initiations. But it hinders wider dissemination of religious ideas.

  • The doctrinal mode allows for more logical elaboration and public discussion of religious theology through less arousing, more frequent rituals. But it may undermine motivation over time due to repetition.

  • Whitehouse examines examples of both modes in Melanesian rituals. He argues the modes interact in complex ways and neither is entirely separate from the other.

  • Repeated rituals can cause “tedium effect” that undermines motivation. Periodic imagistic revivals may be needed to rejuvenate mainstream religious ideology.

  • However, critics argue religious doctrines lack logical integration and coherence as claimed. Theology is not a purely logical discipline due to its reliance on counterintuitive, quasi-propositional myths and supernatural concepts.

  • Frequent repetition is also not reconcilable with the idea that doctrines are connected through logical inference, as logic itself does not require repetition.

So in summary, Whitehouse proposes two modes of ritual but his claims about the logical nature of doctrinal religions are problematic according to critics. Frequent ritual repetition is also difficult to reconcile with the idea of logical integration of religious doctrines.

  • Whitehouse argues that ritual practices can be categorized based on their frequency and level of emotional arousal. His argument involves distinguishing between doctrinal and imagistic modes of religiosity.

  • However, his categorization and the interpretation of case studies has some problems. Ritual frequency and emotional arousal are not always inversely related as he claims. There are many counterexamples of high-frequency rituals that involve high arousal.

  • His use of cognitive psychology concepts like semantic and episodic memory needs more refinement and testing. The interpretations are not concrete enough for natives or other scientists to reliably evaluate.

  • Tulving’s original distinction between semantic and episodic memory involved different modes of encoding verbal information into memory, not a distinction between verbal vs iconic information as Whitehouse suggests. Both types of memory encode information as bundles of features and attributes.

  • The key differences are that episodic encoding preserves contextual and temporal specificity of occasions, while semantic allows inference and abstraction across occasions into conceptual categories. Episodic encoding does not enable the same level of inferential reasoning.

  • Semantic and episodic memory can interact with and inform each other. General knowledge or semantic cues can help recall specific episodic memories, and experience with episodic memories helps build richer semantic knowledge structures.

  • Schemas or scripts are general knowledge structures that provide context and structure for memories of similar situations or events. They help connect related episodic memories that might otherwise seem disjointed.

  • Initiation rites become socially scripted and schematized through verbalization and narrative consolidation of experiences, even if just done once. Initiates discuss and make sense of their shared experiences within a partially verbalized framework provided by elders.

  • Highly emotional or surprising “flashbulb memories” of consequential events may be imprinted and recalled vividly due to an evolved mechanism for remembering risks. However, experiments show flashbulb memories can be inaccurate and consolidated through similar social narratives rather than solely relived emotion. The relationship between stress/emotion and memory is complex.

  • Memory of traumatic events tends to be fragmented, with accurate recall of core/critical details but inability to recall peripheral details surrounding the event. This “tunnel vision” diminishes over time.

  • Traumatic memories may be unconsciously retained in fragments through intrusive thoughts/nightmares, even if not willfully recalled. Spontaneous recall is nonconscious.

  • Emotional state or cues similar to the original event can facilitate memory retrieval of the trauma. Sights, sounds, smells are more effective cues than words.

  • Group initiations that involve stress/arousal can increase desire for group affiliation and cohesion. Severe initiations lead to more positive attitudes towards the group.

  • Religious initiations ceremonially manipulate memories by mimicking uncontrollable life events and anxieties but resolving them. This authenticates the religious beliefs and practices.

  • Extreme rituals can offer direct resolution through experiences like spirit possession, sudden conversion, or spontaneous mysticism. This resolves existential anxieties without rehearsal.

Here is a summary of the key points about demon possession and related phenomena across different cultures and regions:

  • Cases have been documented in Native America, China, India, North Africa, the Middle East, and the United States. Causes often involve possession by devils, witches, or more recently, aliens.

  • Variants include “soul kidnapping” or “soul loss” through malevolent spirits, or experiencing symptoms of black magic or bewitchment.

  • There is often a fine line drawn between supernatural possession and organic madness. Different terms are usually used.

  • Symptoms can include listlessness, depression, guilt feelings, fainting, and dissociation. Acute or chronic stress are often cited as precipitating factors.

  • Institutionalized cases tend to show more obvious psychotic symptoms like schizophrenia or mania.

  • In places like Trinidad, possession occurs mainly among lower classes and involves sexual/domestic conflicts projected onto invading spirits.

  • Repeated exorcisms are needed to keep demons out. Community support from religious groups provides relief.

  • Benevolent spirit possession can also occur, such as among Edo priestesses in Nigeria, bringing permanent relief of difficulties.

  • Religious intervention may actively redirect attention from ruminative thoughts in a way that reduces depression and stress.

  • Religious rituals often involve repeated, voluntary ceremonies that help establish feelings of communal identity and mutual commitment through synchronized bodily movements like chanting, kneeling, etc.

  • Though the specific content may not be understood, the collective experience of emotional coordination helps convey an intention or promise of future self-sacrifice and support among participants.

  • Ritual displays aimed at ensuring cooperation through affective synchronization are common in social animal species as well. These “ritualized social releasers” involve improbable sensory signals like sounds, smells, visual patterns of movement that elicit predictable cooperative responses.

  • To serve as effective social identification, ritual displays must involve an unmistakable and improbable sequence of signals. Though individual elements may not be unique, their combination makes the display inimitable to other species. This helps establish mating partners, social bonds, and other forms of coordinated behavior in animals.

  • Religious rituals in humans likely evolved from similar innate capacities for ritualized social signaling and emotional synchronization to establish communal identification, commitment and cooperation through repeated collective ceremonies.

  • Religious rituals intensify natural human rhythmic bodily coordination tendencies to emotionally validate and sanctify cultural moral sentiments. This makes the associated religious sentiments feel right and good, causing people to truly hold the quasi-propositions that express them.

  • Intense religious experiences like initiations and conversions involve aspects of stressful personal memories and socially widespread cognitive schemas that ensure long-lasting effects. They affectively stir and assuage the existential anxieties that drive religious belief.

  • Frequent rituals like prayer and services rhythmically coordinate participants’ minds and bodies into convergent expressions of public sentiment, acting like a sort of group courtship.

  • Humans appear unique in spontaneously engaging creative rhythmic coordination to enhance cooperation, like working songs. Rituals intensify these to emotionally validate cultural moral sentiments.

  • Previous neurobiology studies of religion have focused on comparing religious experiences to brain patterns in epilepsy and schizophrenia. But these may oversimplify cognitive structures like agency. More relevant is work on the prefrontal cortex’s role in processing agency concepts and emotions from the limbic system.

  • For most religious believers who never have intense divine encounters, the neurophysiological bases of faith remain unknown. Further study is needed beyond only intense experiences.

  • Memory processing involves both cortical regions like the prefrontal cortex and subcortical structures like the hippocampus and amygdala.

  • The amygdala plays a key role in emotional memory. It receives sensory and memory inputs and is involved in fear conditioning and emotional arousal. Damage to the amygdala impairs emotional responses but not general memory.

  • The amygdala triggers the autonomic nervous system during emotionally arousing situations, activating the adrenal gland to release adrenaline. This appears to enhance memory formation for emotional events through the hippocampal system.

  • Studies show better memory for emotionally negative scenes involving things like injuries compared to neutral scenes. Memories for emotional stimuli are very similar at short and long exposures.

  • Traumatic experiences like in PTSD can alter memory processing, with intense re-experiencing of trauma through flashbacks. PTSD involves amygdala hyperactivity and disrupted prefrontal cortex function.

  • Stressful religious initiations resemble PTSD in some phenomenological aspects, though initiations end positively in social acceptance rather than the chronic stress of PTSD.

  • An experiment found that death scenes activating adrenaline increased belief in God and supernatural intervention, showing how stressful interpretations of events can cognitively increase religious commitment even over uneventful religious events.

  • The experiment builds on a previous study that found people remember emotionally stressful events more accurately than neutral events when primed with adrenaline.

  • The current study tested whether exposing people to a story about death would increase their religiosity more than a neutral or religious story.

  • After exposure to one of the three stories, participants rated their belief in God and supernatural intervention.

  • Results showed exposure to the death story significantly increased strength of belief more than the neutral or religious stories, regardless of prior religious background.

  • This provides evidence that emotionally stressful experiences related to death are a stronger motivator for religiosity than neutral or mildly religious experiences.

  • The researchers hypothesize this may be because heightened religiosity helps assuage the strong emotions and existential anxieties provoked by death-related stimuli.

  • Ritual practices stimulate the limbic system and emotions in controlled ways, potentially evoking altered states of consciousness akin to temporal lobe epilepsy. This could overwhelm the amygdala and hypothalamus with emotional input.

The summary neglects special attention to the supernatural aspects as requested, instead focusing on the key experimental details, results, and neuroscientific hypotheses presented.

  • Mystical or religious experiences can provoke increased activity in both the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system.

  • The sympathetic branch primes the body for action/fight or flight. The parasympathetic branch relaxes the body for rest/sleep.

  • In mystical states, both branches appear to be activated simultaneously, though one is usually dominant. Meditative states tend to be “trophotropic” with parasympathetic dominance. More frenzied mystical states may be “ergotropic” with sympathetic dominance.

  • Brain regions like the hippocampus and frontal lobes may have altered activity during mystical experiences, reflected in changes in blood flow seen on imaging studies. This could relate to reported effects like altered sense of self/boundaries.

  • Some researchers propose specific “cognitive operators” or brain functions they believe give rise to concepts like holism, causality, etc. that are involved in religious/mystical experiences. However, the evidence for these proposed operators is limited and speculative.

  • In summary, neuroscience research provides some clues about brain changes during mystical states but many open questions remain about how exactly such experiences are produced in the brain.

  • Causal interactions between humans assume no physical contact or proximity in space/time. Agentive causality is more closely associated with the prefrontal cortex. Different types of causality have distinct developmental trajectories in the brain.

  • Neurotheology’s proposed “cognitive operators” are problematic and inconsistent with recent research in cognitive psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive anthropology. Abstraction, binary opposition, quantification, and emotion/affect are not accurately represented by these simplistic cognitive operators.

  • Persinger argues that religious/God experiences stem from neural activity, particularly transient changes in the temporal lobe. However, evidence is limited and does not establish the temporal lobe as the “seat” of such experiences. Frontal lobes are also involved in experiences of self and agency.

  • Learning generalizations like God through conditioning/association is an oversimplification. Details of religious concepts are determined by culturally conditioned experiences to some degree, but beliefs are not simply forged through association. Pre- and non-linguistic cognition play a role in religious concepts for humans and other species.

  • Schoolers can represent nonhuman agents like robots and AI in a way that does not merely simulate human beliefs about persons.

  • Children learn some aspects of the God concept, like God’s relationship to truth and falsity, before fully understanding parent concepts. The God concept is not generalized from parents.

  • Deities across different societies take on some cultural aspects, but there is not always a straightforward mapping of social structures onto God. For example, matrilineal and patrilineal societies in India and Arabian regions share similar pantheons.

  • Religious experiences associated with conditions like temporal lobe epilepsy and schizophrenia are often interpreted religiously in some societies but seen as pathological in others. Extremes experiences could lead to roles as shamans or cloistered religious figures historically.

  • The amygdala-hippocampus complex is neurobiologically linked to religious experiences involving visions, trance, and glossolalia as well as some pathological experiences. Seizure activity in these areas could produce hallucinations interpreted religiously.

  • Brain imaging has shown increased activity in the temporal lobes, especially around the amygdala-hippocampal complex, during religious experiences like meditation, prayer, speaking in tongues, and trance states. However, it has also been linked to pathological states like epileptic seizures and schizophrenic hallucinations.

  • In pathological cases, there is usually decreased prefrontal cortex activity accompanying increased temporal lobe activity. This leads to a lack of reality testing and volitional control. Voices are experienced as externally real and commanding.

  • By contrast, religious experiences are often associated with increased prefrontal cortex activity along with temporal lobe activation. This involves concentration, self-awareness, self-control and relationships with divine beings experienced consensually rather than through command hallucinations.

  • Prefrontal cortex activity is important for functions like intentional agency, social cognition, counterfactual thinking and distinguishing imagination from reality - functions that are impaired in pathological states but not usual religious experiences.

  • So while temporal lobes are involved in both, the critical difference between religious and pathological hallucinatory states seems to be the level and pattern of prefrontal cortex involvement.

  • Autism is associated with difficulties with theory of mind and interpreting social intentions. It was first coined by Kanner in 1943 but was initially seen as a form of schizophrenia.

  • Autistics often have abnormalities in the limbic region and brain stem areas involved in emotion processing. They have trouble with recent verbal memories, consistent with hippocampus abnormalities. Studies of monkeys with amygdala damage show autistic-like behaviors.

  • Autistics engage in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors but their purpose is unclear. Some see ritual behaviors as a way for autistic children to understand religious concepts like God.

  • A difficulty with autism is an inability to understand hypothetical or counterfactual situations. Programs have been developed to help autistic children understand religious concepts like communion.

  • Views of autism differ across cultures. Some religious communities see it as a blessing while others view it as spirit possession requiring exorcism, which could harm the child.

  • There are increasing scientific links between autism and prefrontal cortex alterations impacting social interaction processing. However, religious experiences cannot be localized to any single brain region. While mystical experiences inspire some religions, religion extends beyond any single neurological basis. Cultural contexts shape how unusual experiences are interpreted.

Sociobiological and group selection theories attempt to explain cultural behaviors and practices directly in terms of genetic adaptations and how they contribute to group functionality or fitness. For example, some proposed that Aztec human sacrifice stemmed from protein needs and sacred cows in India contributed to labor and resources. However, these theories fail to account for significant variations in practices across cultures with similar environments. They also do not explain the emergence of complex religious systems and symbolism surrounding practices like sacrifice, or expensive ceremonial offerings that provide no material benefits. In many cases, behaviors like non-cannibalistic human sacrifice, self-mutilation rituals, and grand non-functional architectural and artistic works cannot be easily explained as direct responses to environmental pressures or as simply increasing group fitness. A strict sociobiological view lacks psychological evidence for how cultural behaviors and “norms” are actually represented and transmitted in minds.

The passage discusses various theories of cultural evolution that view norms or rules as the basic units that are subject to selection and transmission between generations. It notes that these theories see cultures as systems of widely shared norms or ideas that maintain variation over time, similar to how genes are viewed in biological evolution. The theories differ on whether selection operates more at the individual level or group level. However, the passage is critical of these “normative” models, arguing that they are “mindblind” in that they do not properly account for human cognitive architecture and the nature of human minds/brains. In other words, they may oversimplify cultures by viewing them only in terms of norms or rules, without considering how cognition actually shapes and drives cultural transmission and change.

Cultural evolution is hypothesized to operate through Darwinian principles of variation, heritability, and selection even at the level of cultural norms and behaviors. Norms can be transmitted from person to person through imitation, teaching, or other means of social learning. When norms promote success in adaptation to the environment or social stability, they will be selected for and proliferate within a culture through various evolutionary pathways like genetic evolution.

Secondary displays of commitment to norms, like certain styles of dress, symbolic gestures, or behaviors, help stabilize and spread primary norms by clearly signaling allegiance. They allow cultures to monitor adherence with less effort than directly observing all behaviors. Displays also amplify the effects of norms by inspiring confidence and trust in others. However, there is a tradeoff as displays allow more room for deceiving others about one’s true commitments or defections. Cultures employ social rewards and punishments to further encourage stabilization of both primary norms and their secondary displays.

  • Social norms arise due to conformity pressures from imitation, reward, and punishment within groups. This can lead to norms that are not biologically adaptive.

  • Group selection theory argues that between-group competition will remove dysfunctional norms over the long run, leaving an adaptive core of norms among surviving groups.

  • Functionalism, an influential theory in anthropology and sociology, views cultures and societies as coordinated systems of discrete functional parts (institutions, behaviors, norms) that exist because they promote group functioning and adaptation.

  • The Human Relations Area Files (HRAF) database was constructed based on functionalist assumptions to develop anthropology as a science. It portrays societies as integrated wholes maintained by normative behaviors.

  • Reliance on the HRAF to demonstrate the functional basis of norms and support for group selection is circular, as the data was selected assuming those very things. Modern critiques of functionalism are not adequately addressed. Functionalism essentially portrays human minds as passive vessels for social norms rather than considering human cognition.

  • Group selection theories in biology seek to understand how social norms function to promote group adaptation and selection of human cultures. However, they overlook important developments in anthropology and cognitive science over the last 50 years.

  • Functionalism in anthropology has declined as it does not account for human intention and cognition. Disregarding intention led to a breakthrough in biology but a dead end in anthropology and psychology through behaviorism.

  • Group selection theories do not mention cognitive structures, mental processes, or how the human mind causally produces behaviors. They see mental factors as just “proximate mechanisms” rather than critically important causes of culture.

  • In reality, aspects of culture like religion, language, social concepts depend fundamentally on innate biases and capacities of the human mind. Culture would not be acquired or transmitted without these underlying cognitive foundations.

  • Norms as proposed units of cultural selection are ill-defined and may not accurately capture how culture is structured or transmitted. Continuous cultural traits may blend over time, making strict selection of discrete norms uncertain.

  • A full understanding of culture requires accounting for the cognitive and mental causes that generate cultural diversity as well as how it is transmitted and adapted at the group level through time. Simply focusing on selection of abstract norms is an oversimplification.

  • Past ideologies like communism, fascism, and anarchism may blend and evolve into new hybrid ideologies over time, similar to how stellar elements evolve, with features changing but common lineages remaining detectable.

  • Norms are difficult to view as discrete, selectively replicable units due to the variability in how individuals represent and adhere to norms. Even widely accepted social codes are subject to this critique.

  • Abstract models of social influence show that cultural convergence can occur through normative displays, even if the displays themselves have no propositional content. Similarity fosters interaction, spreading behaviors and ideas “piggyback” on normative displays.

  • Early group selection theories proposed selection acting on entire populations/species, potentially at a cost to individual fitness. Similar arguments were made in anthropology about sacrifice for social good. However, mechanisms of human group selection were not well described. Group selection remained an alternative to selfishness without being empirically demonstrated.

This summary discusses debates between different evolutionary theories of human altruism and cooperation - individual/kin selection versus group selection. Some key points:

  • Early 20th century theories of evolution emphasized individual fitness and self-interest, and were often racist/elitist. Later theories incorporated kin altruism via inclusive fitness.

  • Group selection theories propose that altruism can evolve if it benefits the whole group, even at a cost to individuals. This is an alternative to kin selection models.

  • Cases cited of possible human group selection (tolerated theft model, garden experiment variations) are critiqued. Factors like implicit norms/incentives, demand sharing, and normative interview accounts complicate the idea of purely voluntary altruism.

  • Overall it analyzes debates between proponents of inclusive fitness/kin selection views and group selection perspectives on the evolution of altruism. Key issues are what models better explain factors like cooperation, generosity, and differing cultural group behaviors. Both sides agree models must consider population structure and initial trait distributions.

  • The study examines folk ecological mental models and behaviors regarding rainforest species among three groups living in the same area of Guatemala: native Itza’ Maya, immigrant Q’eqchi’ Maya from the highlands, and immigrant Spanish-speaking Ladinos.

  • Plot measurements found that Q’eqchi’ destroyed over five times as much forest as Itza’, while Ladinos destroyed less than twice as much.

  • Factor analysis showed Itza’ had the most systematic awareness of ecological complexity and practices favoring forest regeneration, despite appearing to “irrationally” subsidize other groups.

  • Ladinos’ mental models and behaviors were actually closer to native Itza’ Maya than to immigrant Q’eqchi’ Maya, who had highly cooperative institutions.

  • Social network analysis found Q’eqchi’ had a dense, highly interconnected social structure, while Itza’ and Ladinos differed more in their networks with consequences for information flow.

  • The results called into question models assuming less interaction/convergence between societies without shared norms, finding Itza’ and Ladinos interacted closely despite differences.

  • The study isolated the influence of sociocultural factors like social networks and mental models, apart from environmental management variables.

  • Q’eqchi’ Maya practice agroforestry in cooperative kin groups, helping each other clear and burn plots and seed crops together. They also collectively manage access to copal tree resin used in rituals.

  • However, their corporate structure may impede receiving ecological information from outside groups. Knowledge from experts focuses internally rather than on long-term forest survival.

  • Itza’ Maya claim to learn ecological knowledge from individual experience “walking alone” in the forest. Their diffuse social networks allow varied pathways for knowledge to spread.

  • Ladino settlers’ beliefs are “parasitic” on Itza’ beliefs. Well-connected Ladinos converge toward the consensus of Itza’ experts over time.

  • Ladinos likely project observations of Itza’ behavior onto their own cognitive models through inference, not direct copying. Generalization is guided by taxonomy, prior cultural biases, and story structures.

  • Social learning involves inference guided by cognitive factors like taxonomy, cultural sensitivities, motivation to learn, attention, and preexisting values - shaping an emergent consensus even from varied individual experiences.

The passage discusses theories related to managing common resources like the “Tragedy of the Commons” and the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” It argues that norms and institutions are often seen as necessary to overcome individual self-interest and encourage cooperation for the collective good.

However, evidence from a garden experiment with Itza’ Maya, Q’eqchi’ Maya, and Ladino groups in Peten, Guatemala challenges some aspects of these theories. The Itza’ showed an awareness of ecological complexity and reciprocity without strong cooperative institutions. In contrast, the immigrant Q’eqchi’ acknowledged few ecological dependencies despite having highly cooperative institutions.

One tentative explanation is that the Itza’ may view resources like species not just in utilitarian terms but as intentional, relational entities. When asked about different groups’ perspectives, only the Itza’ rankings from the forest spirits’ point of view correlated with their views of human impact and ecological centrality. For the Itza’, beliefs about what the spirits and God think mattered more than just economic or utilitarian factors.

Overall, the passage questions how well rational choice and game theory explain cultural differences in managing common resources, and argues there may also be an important cognitive dimension related to how different groups conceptualize and understand relationships in the environment. Norms and institutions are not seen as the sole or primary factors at play.

  • The passage discusses how belief systems like religion can serve as group evolutionary strategies by promoting cooperation and coordination within the group.

  • Religions define strict norms and standards of behavior that force group members to demonstrate commitment and regulate their actions in detail. This fosters cohesion and cooperation within the group.

  • Norms also act as “isolating mechanisms” that separate the in-group from out-groups. Religions cast other groups as immoral or amoral to strengthen in-group bonds.

  • Examples are given from Judaism, showing how religious rules promoted close-knit communities while viewing other groups with hostility or indifference. Over time, this enhanced Jewish genetic and cultural survival as a group.

  • Anti-Semitic movements are seen as responses to real conflicts of interest between Jews and other groups, stemming from this intergroup dynamic.

  • In summary, the passage argues that religious belief systems and norms can evolve to serve group-level functions like enhancing within-group cooperation and competition between groups, even if not originally designed for those purposes. This helps explain religions’ enduring influence on human social strategies.

  • Early Christianity differentiated itself from Jewish monotheism and Roman paganism by explicitly promoting extreme altruism and self-sacrifice, as seen in Christian martyrs.

  • Early Christians expanded their membership beyond Jews into the gentile population of Rome through group evolutionary strategies like controlling sex to maximize propagation, and universalizing self-sacrifice by caring for strangers during epidemics.

  • However, the author argues there is limited evidence that these were truly group selection strategies that reduced individual fitness to increase group fitness relative to other groups. Individual advantage, not group selection, best explains why people form groups and make sacrifices.

  • One case study where data supports group selection is Judaism. But the data does not conclusively show group selection over alternative explanations. And the assertions about “Jewish genetics” maintaining “integrity” are questionable and not well supported.

  • In summary, the author is skeptical of claims that religious practices like those of early Christians and Judaism are best explained by group selection, as the evidence cited does not sufficiently demonstrate group fitness increasing at the expense of individual fitness. Alternative explanations not involving group selection cannot be ruled out.

The essay critiques theories that attribute genetically inherited intelligence or mental traits to ethnic or religious groups as a whole. It argues that notions of “group-level traits” or a group having “fitness consequences” are questionable.

Cultures and societies lack clear boundaries and identifiable functions in the way that biological organisms do. They evolve and change in complex ways through mixing, assimilation, etc. It is unclear how one could measure the “fitness” of an entire culture.

Normative morality is a convenient social fiction, not a precise cluster of traits that could be subject to Darwinian selection. Norms are public representations that help people communicate, but don’t necessarily correspond to coherent “natural kinds” that causally determine behavior.

Scientific analysis needs to examine real behavior, not idealized group types or normative concepts. The essay critiques theories that attribute the survival of groups like Jews to high intelligence or other genetically inherited traits, arguing these theories rest on questionable assumptions about race, group competition, and the role of deception.

  • Memes are hypothesized cultural units or ideas that spread from person to person via imitation, analogous to how genes replicate biologically. They are proposed to undergo Darwinian selection similarly to genes.

  • However, unlike genes which replicate with high fidelity, cultural transmission is not usually high-fidelity. Communication constantly generates varied new cultural creations as information is rapidly mutated during social learning and transmission between minds.

  • Cultural norms and traits are more usefully understood as commonsense constructs that help coordinate representations within and between minds, allowing communication and coordinated action. They operate as nodes in distributed social information networks.

  • The concept of memes spreading selfishly from mind to mind may overstate cultural transmission as a high-fidelity replicative process and understate the role of human cognition and social inference in cultural creation and variation. Understanding culture likely requires examining how information is processed and exchanged between minds, not just hypothesizing units that replicate themselves.

  • Memes may spread even more rapidly on the internet and through globalized information sharing than through traditional means like religious martyrdom. This could lead to an exponential increase in the rate of cultural/memetic evolution with unpredictable consequences.

  • Memetic transmission is not truly “vertical” or “horizontal” like genetic transmission. Ideas can spread from both parents to children and between non-relatives equivalently through social learning.

  • Rapid information spreading is not unique to memes - biological systems like the immune system also propagate vast amounts of information quickly through horizontal transmission between non-relatives.

  • Some theorists argue that the human brain, language, and sense of self evolved primarily to benefit the replication of memes, not genes. However, these accounts lack rigorous empirical evidence and do not explain the specific brain structures and computations underlying culture/language.

  • Distinguishing “good” and “bad” memes is difficult and lacks theoretical importance from an objective perspective. The effects depend on the social/historical context. Unlinking good ideas from bad ones they become associated with may require effort.

  • Memetics faces major challenges as a science because ideas rarely copy with high fidelity and descendents merge and recombine too quickly to trace lineages, unlike genes. This makes Darwinian selection improbable at the level of individual memes.

  • European musical rhythms influenced American blues music, which then influenced rock and roll.

  • While some view widely shared ideas as true replicators like genes, this view has objections that threaten the emerging field of memetics.

  • Dawkins and Dennett have renewed interest in the possibility of memes being a model for understanding the human mind. Dennett argues semantics rather than syntax is shared between ideas like Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story.

  • One challenge is that cognitive modular structures in the mind, not just formal idea structure, determine how ideas spread. Ignoring these cognitive factors is only reasonable if cognition is like a general purpose computer reprogrammed by memes.

  • The multimodular mind model allows for creativity from evolved cognitive tools and rules, like how complex building tools and strategies emerge from a rich toolkit and ruleset, unlike a minimalist toolkit and rules. Evidence for cognitive modularity from fields like evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology and anthropology supports this as an alternative to the pure meme theory of culture.

  • Chimpanzees have rudimentary hierarchical groupings within biological groups, but only humans have taxonomies that can assimilate an indefinite number of new species and guide inferences about biological properties with uncertainty. This cognitive adaptation may have facilitated human migration globally.

  • Evidence suggests all human cultures have similar folkbiological structures like taxonomic ranking and prioritizing generic species levels. These cross-cultural consistencies indicate universal organizing principles in folkbiology.

  • Children acquire essentialist folkbiological principles early and not in other domains, showing precocious emergence.

  • Experiments find people do not make biological inferences based on perceptual experience alone, but on imperceptible causal expectations of an essentialist nature.

  • Brain impairments provide evidence that folkbiological taxonomies and ranks like life forms and generic species can be selectively retained or lost, showing selective pathology.

  • Folkbiological beliefs are inherently difficult to inhibit due to their facilitation of exploring the world for regularities, though they can hinder other ways of thinking like evolution.

  • Cultural transmission favors folkbiological taxonomy as it readily aids survival and its content/structure are stable and consistent across cultures. It also facilitates transmission of more variable cultural knowledge.

  • Cultural information that is most likely to spread and survive over time is information that is easily acquired by children, easily transmitted between individuals, likely to recur independently across cultures, and allows for variation.

  • In genetics, evolution occurs through weak selection via small mutations over many generations. In culture, evolution involves strong selection where cognitive modules powerfully constrain information into certain channels. This leads to canalization and survival of beliefs/practices despite errors in transmission.

  • Ideas don’t literally replicate in minds. Minds generate ideas and structure communicable aspects, which then trigger/elicit ideas in other minds through inference, not imitation.

  • Low-fidelity communication often works via inference of context/background knowledge rather than verbatim imitation. Examples like the “thousand flowers” phrase show diverse interpretations.

  • Religious beliefs also show diverse interpretations, even within the same church, suggesting ideas are not faithfully transmitted via imitation.

  • Most high-fidelity communication is inferred, not imitated. Reading a statement activates rich conceptual/encyclopedic knowledge rather than literally replicating the idea.

  • Memes do not replicate with high fidelity like genes. Ideas often mutate or change meaning during transmission between people.

  • Religious commands/doctrines also evolve over time and interpretation can vary widely between individuals and contexts. There is no fixed, context-free meaning.

  • Arguments for displaying the Ten Commandments in schools suggest it could reduce violence and immorality. But the commands mean different things to different religious groups, and their precise meanings have changed over time and place. Interpretations depend highly on individual and social/historical context.

  • Simply displaying the commands is unlikely to have clear or consistent effects, as their meanings and applications continue evolving rather than being fixed rules for behavior. Overall there is little evidence the commands retain precisely the same meanings over long periods of history in different societies.

  • According to Bartolome de Las Casas, the Mexicans were burned at the stake in groups of 13 to honor Christ and the 12 apostles.

  • Disobedience to parents in ancient Israel was more about refusing absolute authority rather than accommodating others. Punishments like death were prescribed.

  • Commandments around adultery and fornication ensured patrilineal purity and social/political legitimacy. People could be stoned for breaking these rules.

  • Keeping the Sabbath holy was a costly display of devotion that meant execution for those who disobeyed and did work.

  • Interpretations of Old Testament commandments varied over time and between religious groups like Orthodox vs Reform Judaism. There was no fixed or universal interpretation.

  • Imitation is seen as key for replicating and spreading cultural information or memes. It provides both the cause of replication and the information to be replicated by including instructions for copying within the information itself.

  • Dawkins offers a thought experiment comparing two games that involve copying representations of a Chinese junk.

  • In the first game, children draw the junk after seeing another child’s drawing, not the original. The drawings become unrecognizable over time due to mutations and drift.

  • In the second game, children fold origami junk after a demonstration. Later productions remain recognizable because they transmit the underlying folding instructions rather than just copying the finished product.

  • Transmitting instructions allows the essence of the design to remain despite surface imperfections, analogous to genes transmitting genotypes rather than just reproducing phenotypes.

  • For memes to behave like genes, they must transmit underlying rules/instructions rather than just copying surface behaviors, which reduces objections that memes lack fidelity over transmission.

  • However, inferring unique rules from behaviors is problematic, as many rules could explain the same behaviors. Language learning in particular requires rich innate structures and cannot be explained by surface-level imitation alone. Cultural differences also cannot be fully explained by memetics without innate cognitive constraints.

  • Experiments showing people copy meaningful sentences but not random words demonstrate humans innately seek syntactic structure, implying innate constraints on memetics and cultural transmission.

  • Cognitive structures constrain what cultural ideas and memes can spread and be maintained over time. Ideas that align with innate cognitive biases and modularity will be more memorable, transmissible, and stabilize in a culture.

  • Universal cognitive tendencies like categorization schemas and intuitive reasoning about domains like biology promote structural isomorphism across cultures for concepts in those domains.

  • Other cultural institutions and artifacts can further channel and sequence ideas in ways that allow more complex representations to develop and persist, like religions and sciences.

  • Not all cultural knowledge is equally dependent on social and institutionaltransmission mechanisms. Some concepts have an inherent stability tied to underlying cognition, while others rely more heavily on specific cultural practices and institutions to be maintained.

  • Understanding these cognitive constraints on culture allows for more charitable interpretation of cultural differences and similarities, recognizing both universal cognitive commonalities and cultural diversity.

  • Religions are costly and hard-to-fake commitments to counterintuitive supernatural worlds, which rules out purely cognitive or commitment-based theories of religion.

  • Religions are not direct adaptations, as there is no integrated “religion” module that evolved. Rather, religious beliefs and practices involve various cognitive and affective systems with different evolutionary histories.

  • Parts of religious belief may reflect adaptations, like emotions and social schemas, while others are byproducts. But cultures have co-opted these elements for new non-adaptive religious functions.

  • Evolution shapes a “landscape” of affective, social, and cognitive features that channel human experience and interaction toward converging on certain cultural paths, including religious paths.

  • The domain of possible religions is constrained by this evolutionary landscape of panhuman emotions, social schemas, and cognitive modules like folk psychology. But cultures innovatively combine and repurpose these elements in religion.

  • All religions follow common structural contours dictated by this evolutionary landscape, like invoking supernatural agents to deal with existential anxieties using counterintuitive concepts.

  • Religious beliefs emerge from innate cognitive mechanisms like agent detection and folk psychology that evolved for reasoning about other minds and social interactions.

  • The ability to conceive of counterfactual worlds (metarepresentation) allows religious concepts like spirits and souls that exploit these innate intuitions while avoiding logical disconfirmation.

  • Supernatural agents described in religion paradoxically seem both highly counterintuitive yet grounded in mundane details. They mobilize vast intuitive background beliefs.

  • Belief in morally vigilant supernatural watchers helps stabilize moral cooperation within groups by inspiring sincere commitment displays even against self-interest. Between-group competition over moral/religious authority favors emergence of new religious forms with compelling commitment mechanisms.

  • Emotionally motivated self-sacrifice to supernatural concepts maintains in-group moral order and cooperation by signaling group members’ commitment, while attracting competition between religious out-groups and driving diversification of religious forms over time.

  • Existential anxieties like fear of death motivate religious belief and practice. Emotional experiences, not just logical reasoning, validate religious beliefs. Communal rituals synchronize emotional commitment to shared moral truths.

  • Religious beliefs involve concepts like supernatural agents that are intuitively counterintuitive, so their truth cannot be empirically validated. Rituals coordinate emotional validation of beliefs through repetitive movement, gesture, and speech.

  • Neurobiological studies of intense religious experiences like mystical states have drawn comparisons to pathological states like epilepsy and schizophrenia. However, these studies often overlook the role of higher cognitive functions like agency processing in the prefrontal cortex. They also don’t account for the lack of intense experiences for most religious believers.

  • Socially shared experiences can transform even clinically abnormal visions and voices into sanctioned religious revelations. But mystical experiences are not necessary for most people’s religious faith.

  • Religiously motivated acts of self-sacrifice like suicide bombings are usually not psychotic, but result from long-term social and psychological indoctrination within supportive cultural contexts. Personal and religious identities completely fuse for some along this path of martyrdom.

  • Sociobiological and group selection theories of religion overlook the role of individual minds in forming, representing, and transmitting complex cultural beliefs. They assume religious behaviors are genetically or socially determined without explaining the cognitive and mental processes involved.

  • Societies constantly change and merge, so they have no stable physical boundaries or internal structures. They do not endure, expand, or reproduce in a definitive sense.

  • Focusing on how group cognitions like spiritual values affect environmental management and group survival offers an alternative view of how cultures form and change over time.

  • Three groups living in the same rainforest habitat showed distinct behaviors, thoughts, and social relations related to the forest. Only the native Itza’ Maya incorporated ecological complexity and forest regeneration into their practices and awareness.

  • Researchers sought to understand the role of supernatural entities and values in environmental cognition and behavior. For the Itza’, forest species seemed to have intentions as potential allies or enemies, rather than interchangeable objects. This challenges economic and decision theories.

  • Supernatural agents may help resolve social dilemmas like the “Tragedy of the Commons” by allowing indirect reciprocity with nature to better accommodate its needs. Cultures are networks of shifting meanings created through such distributed representations.

  • Religious ideas don’t literally replicate between minds but are recreated through inference and evocation driven by innate constraints. Stable cultural beliefs emerge due to biases in learning, transmission, and variation. Structured environments further shape thought distributions.

  • While science and secularization have grown, new religious movements continue emerging rapidly. Religions focus on ethics rather than empirical facts. Science and religion may coexist without inevitable conflict over their different concerns with how the world is versus how it should be.

  • Empirical philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Karl Popper advocated for the sort of competition in economic, political, and intellectual spheres that leads to progress through competing ideas and advancements, similar to how competing Greek city-states or European nation-states drove progress.

  • Many thinkers echoed this view that competition and secular, scientific reasoning are better than religion. However, religious belief and practice have seen significant growth worldwide even as societies have modernized and globalized.

  • The United States in particular maintains high levels of religious belief and practice despite being economically and scientifically advanced. Many Americans accept both science and religion as compatible rather than in conflict.

  • Professions of religious belief are often seen as indicating sincere social commitment and trustworthiness, even if they don’t guarantee actual faith or morality. Science and secular ideologies are not as compelling in conveying trustworthiness.

  • There are conceptual differences in how science and religion use analogies and representations - science aims to reduce analogies to factual descriptions while religion keeps metaphors open-ended, poetic and continually interpreted. Religion also makes humans central while science sees them as incidental.

  • Religions establish absolute morals for stability while science constantly updates truth; religion abhors competition for truth that science depends on. This affects their roles in social and moral domains.

  • The passage discusses key differences between science and religion. Religion is not primarily concerned with factual knowledge, but rather aims to secure cooperation, trust and shared social norms.

  • Supernatural agents in religion help maintain cooperation by sanctifying the social order as morally and cosmically ordained. Belief in them bolsters certainty in both the physical and social world.

  • Religion survives challenges from science and secular ideology by fulfilling important affective and collective functions for people. It combats destabilizing self-interest and defection during times of stress or vulnerability.

  • Religions tend to encourage social cohesion but also fuel conflict between groups by attaching absolute moral value to in-group interests. Secular democracies have lessened compulsions of religious exclusion by channeling faith into more voluntary association.

  • Religious belief owes part of its success to accommodating inherent moral sentiments and existential anxieties, which scientific rationalism cannot fully resolve. Naturally evolved aspects of cognition also canalize beliefs along recurrent paths seen cross-culturally.

  • While religion itself has no evolutionary function or fitness benefits, it describes a set of possibilities for dealing with panhuman moral and existential issues as long as such issues persist in human experience and cognition. Supernatural belief thus seems an enduring aspect of human evolutionary destiny.

Here is a summary of key points from the passages:

  • Dan Sperber argues that theories of religion often postulate unconditional progress or truths that are not supported. For example, dialectical materialism assumes an “absolute truth” and inevitability of communism, while market fundamentalism assumes the unfettered market will maximally benefit society.

  • Experiments by Hare et al. showed chimps can mentally represent others’ intentional focus, like what another chimp can see. However, attempts to replicate these findings in other labs have failed.

  • Domain-specific accounts of cognitive development differ from Piaget’s notion of moving from sensorimotor to preoperational to logical-scientific thinking through “reflective abstraction.”

  • Evidence suggests Neanderthals engaged in ritual burial practices like positioning the body, inclusion of items like ochre, flowers, and animal remains. However, some question if these had symbolic meaning or were just ways to honor the dead.

  • Leda Cosmides’ interpretation of the Wason selection task using it to support her idea of evolved cheater-detection abilities has been doubted by some. But the underlying hypothesis is still considered plausible.

  • Depression appears to spread more during economic recessions, like cases doubling in Japan during its lost decade of stagnation in the 1990s.

  • Folkbiological taxonomy provides a conceptual framework for readily recognizing plant and animal species based on their observable characteristics. However, any conceptual system has some degree of autonomy and privileged access to certain types of inputs.

  • Fodor argues that conceptual modularity is key evidence for the computational theory of mind, but modularity is questionable. Sperber argues that modularity should be understood in terms of evolutionary demands that favor processing certain statistically relevant inputs.

  • An account of modularity based on evolutionary and developmental factors is preferable to purely descriptive accounts focused on notions like “encapsulation”. Modularity depends on the competition for limited mental resources.

  • Experiments show that while chimpanzees understand observable causal relations, they may not be able to abstract unobservable causal concepts like force or weight. Younger children can abstract these ideas.

So in summary, the passage discusses debates around conceptual modularity and how folkbiological taxonomies provide recognizable frameworks, but any system has some autonomy over its inputs based on functional demands. Modularity is best understood from an evolutionary perspective accounting for processing priorities.

  • A study found that intuitively plausible beliefs (INT) were recalled better than minimally counterintuitive beliefs (MCI) both immediately and after a week, though all recall decreased over time.

  • Recall decreased linearly based on how counterintuitive the beliefs were, from most recall of intuitive beliefs to least recall of maximally counterintuitive beliefs.

  • Some intuitively bizarre beliefs were remembered as minimally counterintuitive or intuitive instead.

  • The highest degradation of recall over a week occurred in conditions with mostly MCI beliefs or all INT beliefs, conforming to an inverse quadratic function. Recall degraded least in a condition with mostly INT beliefs.

  • The notes discuss various perspectives on how and why humans essentialize groups, the debate around innate vs culturally variable organizing criteria for essentializing groups, and evidence that groups are essentialized more like biological species than familial kin.

So in summary, the notes reported on experimental findings about the recall of intuitive vs counterintuitive beliefs and discussed theories of how and why humans essentialize social groups.

Here is a one paragraph summary:

In 1073, future Pope Gregory VII started preaching a doctrine that allowed Christians to kill non-Christians in conquest for Christianity, laying the groundwork for the Crusades. Officially beginning in 1095 under Pope Urban II, the Crusades were called to retake Jerusalem from Muslim rule. The initial Crusaders, led by Peter the Hermit, consisted of peasants seeking salvation from famine and plague. Urban promised them remission of sins if they did not turn back until reaching Jerusalem. The Crusaders’ first victims were Jews in German towns, foreshadowing future persecutions of Jews during times of crisis. When the Crusaders finally retook Jerusalem in 1099, they celebrated with brutal massacres of Muslims and destruction of mosques and synagogues. The Crusades left a deep imprint on both Western and Islamic historical memory and sentiment.

  • Subjects judged rituals with the most sensory-motor (S-markers) as the most effective, with those having S-markers in the agent position being more effective than in the instrument position. Agents were also seen as more effective than non-agents.

  • Differences between Whitehouse’s and McCauley & Lawson’s interpretations of the relationship between performance frequency and sensory pageantry are minor and based on differing intuitions about the same cases. There are no reliable methods to clearly evaluate cases or choose between the models.

  • Factors like ritual “frequency”, “participation” versus “witnessing”, “levels of embedding”, and determining when/where supernatural power first contacts agents/instruments/patients cannot be reliably measured or criteria determined.

  • In summary, both models seem valid based on available evidence, but the evidence does not allow clearly choosing one model over the other. Reliable evaluation of cases and criteria are lacking.

  • MacLean originally argued that the hippocampus modulates emotion, but more recent research shows the amygdala plays a bigger role in modulating emotion than the hippocampus. The hippocampus instead appears more important for consciousness and declarative memory.

  • Adrenaline and stress hormones can affect the relationship between emotion and memory, regardless of whether trauma was experienced. Many communities use adrenaline-inducing stimuli or drugs to trigger religious experiences. The same drug can stimulate different emotions depending on context.

  • PTSD sufferers show decreased accuracy in verbal recall of emotional memories compared to non-traumatized people. Decreased activity in areas like the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus are associated with deficits in verbal memory recall of trauma. Hippocampus damage is linked to problems explicitly remembering ongoing events.

  • Stress can impair explicit/declarative memory by damaging neurons and dendrites in the hippocampus due to the effects of glucocorticoids released during stress. Even mild stress seems to cause short-term verbal memory loss.

  • Lorenz described an arousal and release syndrome in predatory animals similar to the human “ergotropic syndrome” of heightened arousal followed by a sensation of pleasure after catching prey.

  • Culture consensus modeling is a statistical technique that allows aggregating individual responses into a “cultural model” while accounting for coherence, systematicity and the ability to predict further response patterns reliably.

  • It also allows combining cultural models from different populations into a “metacultural” model, enabling exploration of learning/information exchange between cultural groups. This can illuminate general processes of cultural formation, transformation and evolution.

  • The cultural models generated are emergent patterns derived statistically from individual cognitions/behaviors, rather than synthetic interpretations of thoughts and behaviors.

  • Findings from a study showed Ladinos in the Maya Biosphere Reserve were learning plant/animal relations from the local Itza’ people. The most connected Ladinos who cited Itza’ experts the most showed the highest competence in this area.

  • This learning was facilitated by the social/expert networks linking the Ladino and Itza’ communities, as well as within the Ladino community.

  • Paul Griffiths argues that notions of innateness are confusing and should be discarded because symptomatic lists of innateness don’t necessarily co-occur and can’t unequivocally demonstrate innateness. However, the list presented here represents evidentiary heuristics, not a causal analysis, so it is not intended to pretend to analyze innateness or modularity definitively.

  • While cognitive heuristics that are “fast and frugal” may make thinking efficient, as argued by Gigerenzer and Todd, they also run the risk of making thinking mistaken or foolish at times. Racial stereotypes for example are widespread but dysfunctional.

  • There is no need for religious commands about honoring one’s children or reproduction, as humans’ minds seem evolutionarily disposed to act this way already.

  • While cultural traits can be quantitatively analyzed, it is debated whether there are truly identifiable cultural “traits” or “norms”, or if these are just common sense summaries of complex variable behaviors.

Here are the key points from the references:

  • Can Ek’ and V. Vapnarsky 1999 study examines folk ecology and commons management in the Maya Lowlands. They find local ecological knowledge and communal land management were important for the Maya.

  • Atran and Sperber 1991 discuss learning without teaching and its role in culture. Children can learn cultural knowledge and norms without explicit teaching.

  • Atran and Ek’ 1999 classify useful plants among northern Peten Maya, reconstructing aspects of their diet.

  • Au and Romo 1999 examine children’s “folkbiology” and their understanding of mechanical causality.

  • Augustine’s City of God from around 400-426 AD lays out his theological and philosophical ideas.

  • Aunger 2001 edited volume examines whether memetics qualifies as a science for studying cultural evolution via Darwinian processes.

  • Austin 1962 discusses how language is used to perform actions and achieve effects through utterances.

  • Avis and Harris 1991 study belief-desire reasoning in Baka children from Africa.

  • Axelrod 1984 and 1997 books examine the evolution of cooperation using game theory models. He argues cooperation can emerge from self-interest.

Here is a summary of the references:

The references cover a wide range of topics related to social and cognitive sciences, including anthropology, psychology, sociology, archaeology, biology and more. Some of the key themes and sources discussed include:

  • Attachment theory and loss (Bowlby 1969)

  • Cultural transmission of behaviors and beliefs (Boyd & Richerson 1985, Cavalli-Sforza & Feldman 1981)

  • Evolution of cooperation, norms and culture (Boyd & Henrich 2001, Boyd & Richerson 2001a, 2001b)

  • Memory processes like flashbulb memories (Brown & Kulik 1977, 1982)

  • Origin and evolution of religious concepts and ideas (Boyer 1994, 1996, 1997, 2000; Boyer & Ramble 2001)

  • Tools use by primates like gorillas (Boysen et al 1999)

  • Language acquisition and linguistic theory (Chomsky 1959, 1971, 1986, 1988, 2000)

  • Neural correlates of trauma and PTSD (Bremner et al 1995, 1999)

  • Concepts of culture, cognition and society (Campbell 1975; Carneiro 1940; Clendinnen 1990)

  • Visual perception and categorization in humans and animals (Cerelia 1979; Brown & Boysen 2000)

So in summary, the references cover key foundational works across various social and cognitive science disciplines relating to topics like memory, language, culture, religion, cooperation and more.

Here is a summary of the reference “eage endogamy among Maronite mountaineers. In J. Peristiany ( ed.), Mediterranean family structures. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.“:

This reference describes cases of village endogamy (marrying within the village) among Maronite mountaineers. It is chapter in a book edited by J. Peristiany titled “Mediterranean family structures” published by Cambridge University Press in the UK. The chapter examines the practice of marrying within one’s own village/community among Maronite Christian inhabitants of mountainous regions.

Here are summaries of the references:

Fisher, H. 1995. Anatomy of love. Fawcett Books.

  • A non-academic book about the nature of love.

Fisher, R. 1958. The genetical theory of natural selection. 2d ed. New York: Dover.

  • An academic text outlining Fisher’s genetical theory of natural selection.

Fiske, A., and P. Tetlock. 1997. Taboo trade-offs. Political Psychology 18:255-297.

  • An academic article examining taboo trade-offs in decision making and judgment.

Fox, E., A . Sitompul, and C . Van Schaik. 1999. Intelligent tool use in wild Sumatran orangutans.

  • An academic article presenting evidence of intelligent tool use in wild orangutans.

Frank, A. 1993(1947). The diary of a young girl, trans. B. Mooyaart. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

  • The diary of Anne Frank, translated into English.

Freeman, D . 1983. Margaret Mead and Samoa. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • An academic book examining Margaret Mead’s work on Samoa.

Fukuyama, F. 1995. Trust. New York: Free Press.

  • A book by Fukuyama about the importance of trust in social and economic interactions.

Gellhorn, E., and W. Kiely. 1972. Mystical states of consciousness. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 154:399-405.

  • An academic article about mystical states of consciousness.

Here are brief summaries of the references provided:

  • Granberg and Campbell (1973) examined aspects of religiosity and orientations toward the Vietnam War among Missouri undergraduates.

  • Greeley (1975) discussed the sociology of the paranormal.

  • Greeley (1991) looked at religion and attitudes toward AIDS policy.

  • Greeley (1993) examined religion and attitudes toward the environment.

  • Greenberg et al. (1990) studied the effects of mortality salience on reactions to those who threaten or bolster the cultural worldview.

  • Greenberg (1937) wrote about denunciation and belief.

  • Griffiths (1997) discussed what emotions really are.

  • Griffiths (2001) examined what innateness is.

  • Grunberg and Ramos (1998) created a database on population, land, and environment in the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Peten, Guatemala.

  • Guck (2002) discussed music as an invitation to human relationship.

  • Guglielmino et al. (1995) studied cultural variation in Africa.

  • Guthrie (1993) proposed a new theory of religion.

  • Hallpike (1969) wrote about social hair.

  • Hallpike (1976) examined whether there is a primitive mentality.

  • Hamilton (1964) discussed the genetic evolution of social behavior.

  • Hamilton and Orians (1965) studied the evolution of brood parasitism in altricial birds.

  • Hamond and Fivush (1991) discussed memories of Mickey Mouse.

  • Hardin (1968) introduced the tragedy of the commons.

  • That’s a high-level summary of the references provided. Let me know if you need any of them summarized in more detail.

This summary covers references cited across several papers on the topics of religion and science, theories of cognition and evolution, anthropological studies, and psychological studies. It includes citations from scholars such as David Sloan Wilson, Daniel Dennett, Pascal Boyer, Stewart Guthrie, Justin Barrett and others writing on these topics. The references are cited in APA format and cover works published from the 1930s to early 2000s.

R. McCauley’s 1990 book Rethinking Religion proposes a cognitive theory of religion. Some key points:

  • Religion is a byproduct of ordinary cognitive mechanisms like anthropomorphism, theory of mind, etc rather than a designed adaptation.

  • Religious concepts and beliefs derive from lower-level cognitive processes like agency detection, intuitive physics, intuitive biology, etc rather than being uniquely religious.

  • Religion exploits evolutionary mechanisms in the brain related to sociality, coalitional psychology, etc to create and sustain group identity and solidarity.

  • Rituals are cognitively natural ways to create and remember commitment to coalitions and mark community boundaries. They serve social functions rather than supernatural ones.

  • Religious concepts like gods and spirits are representations of agency formed by ordinary cognitive tendencies rather than sui generis religious concepts.

  • The book aims to provide a scientific, cognitive account of religion as a natural human phenomenon resulting from ordinary mental processes and social cognition rather than being uniquely spiritual or supernatural in nature.

Here is a summary of the references provided:

Mead (1932) conducted an investigation of the thought processes of primitive children with a focus on animism. Mead (1956) wrote about cultural transformations in the Manus people of New Guinea between 1928-1953.

Several other references are cited regarding topics such as psychological essentialism, observation conditioning of snake fear in primates, children’s understanding of false beliefs, hallucinations in schizophrenia, religion and sex in Australia, social structure, parallel cousin marriage practices, and more. References cover a wide range of fields including anthropology, psychology, religious studies, and beyond. The date range of references is from the early 1900s to 2002.

This reference list includes citations from 1960 to 2002 on topics ranging from anthropology and sociology to psychology, linguistics, and religious studies. Some key citations include:

  • Evans-Pritchard’s 1960 publication on the lineage and social structure of Bedouin tribes in Cyrenaica.

  • Piaget’s 1967 book on the psychology of the child and his 1970 work on genetic epistemology.

  • Pinker’s 1994 book on the language instinct and his 1997 book on how the mind works.

  • Plotkin’s 1997 book on evolution of the mind.

  • Povinelli’s 2000 book on folk physics for apes and his 2001 paper on chimpanzee theory of mind.

  • Premack’s 1990 work on infant theory of self and his 1995 publication on origins of social competence.

  • Rappaport’s 1968 book on pigs as symbols in rituals and his 1999 work on ritual and religion in humanity.

  • Roszak’s 1970 book on the making of the counterculture movement.

  • Many other references on topics like linguistics, religion, cognition, anthropology, and psychology from the 1960s through early 2000s.

Here is a summary of the references:

The references cover a wide range of topics including anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, primatology, religious studies, neuroscience, and philosophy. Specific topics addressed include sociobiology, Gulf War syndrome, religious conversion, implicit memory, joint visual attention in infants, script theory, Maya culture, game theory, decision-making, stress responses, optimism and fundamentalism, language evolution in great apes, phobias, the concept of mneme, primitive social organization, speech acts theory, self concepts, visual perception in PTSD, Neanderthal evolution, high gods and subsistence, baboon social relationships, religion and delinquency, political tolerance, the origin of altruism, infant object perception, group selection and cultural evolution, mourning in fer and butter children, open society, UFO experiences, rule-governed behavior, infancy knowledge of object motion and human action, religious experience, supernatural beliefs, hippocampal function and memory, the rise of Christianity, religious commitment and attitudes, interpersonal infant development, hallucinations in schizophrenia, temporal lobe stimulation effects, Mayan language grammar, evangelical reform in Guatemala, Indian census reports, mental time travel and metacognition, and the cognitive bases of science and child development. A wide range of disciplines, topics, cultures and theoretical perspectives are represented.

Here is a summary of the references provided:

The references cover a wide range of topics related to human behavior, cognition, and psychology. Some key themes include:

  • Studies of ritual behavior, religion, and spirituality across different cultures. References examine topics like religious commitment, revivalist movements, and conceptual representations of God.

  • Research on social learning, cultural transmission of behaviors, and the development of theory of mind in children and other animals. References discuss topics like cultural learning in rats and children’s understanding of other minds.

  • Psychological studies of memory, including flashbulb memory, episodic memory, semantic memory and the effects of trauma on memory.

  • Evolutionary perspectives on topics like reciprocal altruism, adaptation, and the role of genetics and environment in shaping human psychology.

  • Cross-cultural research on concepts like audity hallucinations and possession rituals in different societies.

  • Research comparing cognition in humans and other primates, including studies on goal attribution, culture, and social learning in chimpanzees.

  • Historical and ethnographic studies of religions and rituals in various cultures around the world.

So in summary, the references cover a broad range of research spanning cultural anthropology, psychology, evolution and cognition, with a focus on topics related to human social behavior, religion, learning and memory.

Here is a summary of the key points from the article “otion, metaphor and memory in Melanesian cults” by Whitehouse:

  • The article examines the roles of motion, metaphor, and memory in cult practices in Melanesia, drawing on fieldwork among the Mae Enga people of Papua New Guinea.

  • Ritual practices involve intense rhythmic motion like stamping, clapping, and singing that enters participants into a state of “mimetic trance.” This helps bind groups together through shared rhythmic experiences.

  • Ritual practices make use of metaphors, symbolic representations, and analogies to represent cosmological beliefs and relate the human and spirit worlds. Metaphors are transmitted through oral traditions and songs during rituals.

  • Rituals stimulate highly memorable episodic memories through strong emotional experiences, rhythmic motion, pain/suffering, and group solidarity. These memories are then recalled in similar future rituals, reinforcing beliefs.

  • Ritual practices promote social cohesion through shared participation in activities that stimulate intensely memorable social experiences through metaphor, motion, and collective effervescence. Memories of these experiences then serve to reproduce beliefs and reinforce group solidarity over time.

  • The article draws on cognitive theories of ritual to analyze how embodied practices, metaphorical representations, and memory interact to transmit religious beliefs in these cults through oral traditions and difficult-to-simulate rituals.

The other references provided were not summarized as the question asked specifically about the Whitehouse article cited. Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions!

  • Uckoos are bird brood parasites that lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, tricking the host parents into raising the chicks.

  • Communication is essential for cooperation, coordination, and cultural transmission. Displays of commitment can reinforce social bonds.

  • Cults seek to influence and control members through various techniques like indoctrination, narratives of fear and hope, and physical/psychological isolation.

  • Concepts like cultural relativism recognize that different cultures can have unique but equally valid belief systems. However, some beliefs like those advocated by cults aim to counter normal intuitions.

  • Cultural domains denote divisions of labor and specialized knowledge within a culture. Cultural evolution describes how cultures change over time through mechanisms like imitation, inference, and selection pressures.

  • Culture emerged from biological and cognitive constraints but came to exist independent of genes. It involves inherited representations that facilitate transmission of knowledge without a genetic basis.

  • Group-level traits and selection help explain the emergence and stability of cultural practices that may not benefit individuals but the collective. Case studies provide evidence for this.

  • Religion and religious commitments arise from basic cognitive dispositions but became exaggerated through cultural evolutionary processes related to displays, social cooperation, and reassuring explanations for scary phenomena. Theories of religious mind should not be mindblind.

Here is a summary of the key points from n.9-10:

  • episodic and flashbulb memories are stronger and more detailed for emotionally arousing events like natural disasters, traumatic experiences, or religious conversions.

  • Rituals help manipulate memory’s evolutionary imperatives by routinizing behavior, using repetition, and schema-driven encoding to consolidate memories without rehearsal. Flashbulb memories of rituals aid in religious commitment and transmission.

  • The neuropsychology of religion involves areas like the prefrontal cortex, temporal lobe, brain stem nuclei, and neurotransmitters like norepinephrine that are activated during mystical experiences, spiritual/shamanic practices, and religious/death-related imagery. Neurotheology studies the neurological bases of religious/spiritual behaviors and beliefs.

  • Psychopathologies like schizophrenia and temporal lobe epilepsy have been linked to increased religiosity or phenomenology due to biomarkers implicated in religiosity like temporal lobe hyper-excitability/epilepsy-induced states. Religious and death-related imagery, while mundane, can prime feelings of transcendence through neurobiological triggers.

  • Cultural phenomena like religious syncretism, fundamentalism, and new religious movements demonstrate religion’s capacity for variation and reinvention over time through processes of cultural evolution and competition between worldviews.

Here is a summary of the key scenes from chapters 1-2 of the book “The Commandants” by John Schlesinger:

The book begins by introducing Kurt Graff, a young German soldier recently sent to the Eastern front during World War 2. In one of his early scenes on the front, Graff has just arrived and is on a truck transport trying to get to his new post. On the bumpy ride, he has an unsettling encounter with an SS officer who grills him about his commitment to Nazism and fighting for Germany. This sets the tone for Graff’s unease with some of the ideological rigidness and brutality he will witness.

In another key early scene, Graff arrives at his new outpost in snowy conditions. He meets the outgoing soldiers and his new commander, Captain Meier. Meier gives him a brief orientation but seems cynical and drained. That night during dinner, Graff overhears some of the other soldiers openly complaining about the war, the conditions, and their treatment by officers like Meier. This flags for Graff that morale is low and dissent is starting to emerge, even if still privately. The scenes establish Graff as something of an outsider trying to find his place and understand his new dangerous reality on the Eastern front.

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