Pragma Synesi – interesting bits

Compendium of interesting bits I come across, with an occasional IMHO

“Theory of mind” required for belief in god

According to Jesse Bering, you need a “theory of mind” in order to believe in a supernatural being — supported by fascinating psychological experiment, described below.  Great read.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs: Seeing God in tsunamis and everyday events

By Jesse Bering | Sunday, March 13, 2011

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March 24, 2011 Posted by | brain, psychology, religion | | Leave a comment

If you pray you won’t stray

Research shows that praying for your partner stops you from straying. Now if they could figure out what atheists should do to stay faithful…

From The Economist, August 28, 2010:

Faith and Faithfulness

Praying for your partner stops you straying

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March 9, 2011 Posted by | behaviour, psychology, religion | , , | Leave a comment

Explaining Religion

“Explaining Religion” is a three-year European scientific collaboration involving scholars from 14 universities. Some of their intriguing experiments are detailed in the article below.

From The Economist, Mar 19th 2008:

The science of religion:Where angels no longer fear to tread

Science and religion have often been at loggerheads. Now the former has decided to resolve the problem by trying to explain the existence of the latter

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February 26, 2011 Posted by | behaviour, economics, psychology, religion | | Leave a comment

Sense of control and religion

I was reading David Ropeik‘s blog “The perception gap: An explanation for why people maintain irrational fears” and came across this paragraph:

“…When we are uncertain, as are parents with autistic kids, we grab on to anything that answers our questions, because that sense of knowing affords us a reassuring feeling of control. Control is vital to anyone who is afraid, worried, uncertain…”

sense of knowing allows us to predict the future, and thereby giving us control (whether imaginary or real).  Being a better predictor of future is definitely a great help in survival — an evolutionary advantage, so it’s not surprising that humans have a built-in need for control.  The problem is that not everything is predictable, making us feel less in control and therefore unhappy.  Religion fills in that gap beautifully.  The basis for most (all?) religions is that there is a supernatural being (god) that controls all the things we can’t predict.  We can increase our sense of control by appealing to this god (praying, sacrificing, etc.) who will on occasion grant our wishes.  Which explains why religious people are happier than the unbelievers — they believe they have control over the unpredictable when the unbelievers have to accept that there is nothing they can do to affect the unpredictable.  This could also explain why it is so hard to give up faith: you’re asking someone to give up some of their control.

February 10, 2011 Posted by | imho, religion | , , , | Leave a comment

Sex and the Bible

Not exactly what I thought it’s going to be.  Just shows how important it is to go to the actual source and try to understand it in the context of the times.  From Time magazine, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010:

What the Bible Has to Say About Sex

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November 8, 2010 Posted by | Bible, religion | , | Leave a comment

Suffering leads to belief in god

It seems misery loves supernatural explanations…

Excerpt from “Bering in Mind”‘s  God’s in Mississippi, where the gettin’ is good:

…. In an article soon to be published in Personality and Social Psychology Review , Harvard psychologists Kurt Gray and Daniel Wegner argue that human suffering and God go hand-in-hand because our evolved cognitive systems are inherently unsatisfied with “sh*t happens” types of explanations (that is to say, reality). The main gist of their argument is that, since we’re such a deeply social species, when bad things happen to us we immediately launch a search for the responsible human party. In being morally vigilant this way–in seeking to identify the culpable party–we can effectively punish blameworthy, antisocial people, thus preserving our group’s functional cohesion and preserving each individual’s genetic interests. That’s all fine and dandy, say Gray and Wegner, when someone punches us in the face, steals from us or sleeps with our girlfriend; but when our misfortune is more “abstract” (think cancer or a tsunami) and there’s no obvious single human agent to blame, we see the hand of God.

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October 15, 2009 Posted by | psychology, religion, sociology | , , , | Leave a comment

Your brain on religion

Religion can be very useful: reduced stress, lower anxiety, improved cognitive abilities. But nothing comes without a price: religion hinders the ability to fix your mistakes.

From The Globe and Mail, March 5, 2009:

This is your brain on religion

Believers record lower levels of anxiety, which can boost performance but also hinder the ability to fix mistakes, study finds

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October 3, 2009 Posted by | behaviour, brain, religion | , , , | Leave a comment

Politics drives religion

How game theory and politics play part in the evolution of religion.  From Time magazine, Monday, Jun. 15, 2009:

Decoding God’s Changing Moods

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June 30, 2009 Posted by | Bible, politics, religion | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World

Humans have a tendency to see patterns in everything, even when there is none (“patternicity”);  there is also the tendency to assume there is an agent causing actions (“agenticity”), explained in the article below.  I am thinking that the “agenticity” could be an extension of our “patternicity” — since we see the pattern of  cause-effect so often, when we do not see the cause, we make it up (the invisible agents).  What do you think?

From Scientific American Magazine –  May 19, 2009

Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World

A Skeptic’s take on souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens and other invisible powers that be

By Michael Shermer

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May 23, 2009 Posted by | behaviour, creationism, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, religion | , , , | 1 Comment

Superstition, Ritual And Conspiracies

I believe religion (and superstition etc.) arose to help humans feel more in control in situations where they had none (Why Religion?).  This research by Jennifer A. Whitson and Adam D. Galinsky found that lack of control indeed increases our brains’ ability to see patterns, even when there aren’t any.  So it is all about control (or lack thereof) after all…

The original research article (Lacking Control Increases Illusionary Pattern Perception) abstract:

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January 20, 2009 Posted by | behaviour, brain, religion | , , , | 2 Comments