[ExI] Basis of Belief (Meta)

Lee Corbin lcorbin at rawbw.com
Fri Feb 29 05:24:05 UTC 2008

Keith writes

> [Lee wrote]
>>"beliefs" with a small "b" include perceptions, sensations, 3D knowledge,
>>appreciations of personality differences, recall of favors, what local
>>landmarks there are, and so on and on. We've had them forever, and
>>so do animals.
>>But you are talking about "Beliefs" with a capital "B". In his very nice
>>book "Before the Dawn (Recovering the Lost History of our Ancestors)",
>>author Nicolas Wade mentions the not-very-recent theory that religion
>>evolved as a defense against lies.
> Considering the non existent relation between religions and objective 
> truth, that's a weird theory.

<grin>  What was meant is that you could trust your co-religionists.
Roy Rappaport's 1971 theory was that the language also brought
about the possibility of telling untruths, and that the emergence
of the sacred could "help to maintain the general features of some
previously existing social organization in the face of new threats
posed by an every-increasing capacity for lying".  But I hardly
need all of Rappaport's theory to make the rather (now) banal
point that trust can be extended members of any large group that
one identifies with.

> While the psychological mechanisms for religious beliefs may have 
> figured into the cohesion of groups larger than a tribe, that wasn't 
> the discussion I was looking for.  Groups larger than hunter-gatherer 
> bands are a recent phenomena in genetic selection terms.

Okay, but larger groups may be relatively recent, but as we know---and as
you have brought up---with conceptual advances similar to those Clark
writes about, non-mutational evolution is still going strong.

> Human psychological mechanisms are the result of natural selection in 
> the EEA.  For example, capture-bonding, the psychological mechanism 
> behind Stockholm syndrome, was obviously directly 
> selected.  Something like 10 % of our female ancestors were filtered 
> though this selection process every generation.  Drug addiction is 
> just as clearly a side effect of selection for some other 
> psychological trait.  (Unless you can come up with a selective 
> advantage for lying under a bush wasted on plant sap.)

Okay.  The origins of the mechanisms, brought about by mutation,
are pretty old. But the distribution of the alleles continues to change.

> Since the psychological mechanisms behind religious beliefs are so 
> common, perhaps on a par with the mechanisms behind capture-bonding, 
> those mechanisms must have had a substantial genetic advantage in the EEA.


> But I strongly suspect that "genetic" advantage was in "inclusive 
> fitness" i.e., copies of genes in relatives.  The model is that the 
> mechanisms that lie behind religions (xenophobic memes) were those 
> that fired up warriors for a do or die attempt to kill neighbors when 
> the future started looking bleak.

But why wouldn't an "us-vs.-them" attitude have undergirded such
impulses towards warfare.  They would have, no?  We do know
that even chimpanzee tribes "war" on one another.  I'm just saying
that those xenophobic memes came before language, before memes,
and before modern notions of totally exterminating an enemy on
ideological grounds.

>>Once in place, I will suggest, this evolved towards "us-them" in everything
> How long did this take?  The EEA includes right up to the present, 
> but you have to have a heck of an advantage for a gene to spread in 
> the time since settled agriculture.

Hmm, I'm confused.  (But then that is part of the point of these 
exchanges, to get past confusion.)  I will say now (and I think
I said) that the "us-them" was extremely ancient, probably even
before the EEA. So I am also claiming that with our language-
enhanced brains, we now apply those same instincts to even,
say, whether you are for one sports team or---like your brother
in law who you can't stand, partly for this reason---for a competing
sports team.


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