AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE IN A BELIEF SYSTEM?

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AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE IN A BELIEF SYSTEM?

Post  Aussie John on Fri Sep 17, 2010 3:45 am

The concept of God could only have come from an early ancestor using a rationalization to resolve a problem. This statement only makes sense if you imagine yourself existing in an environment that existed 12000+ years ago. Try to see yourself walking across an open field with a friend who is 20 meters to your right. He is struck by lightning and is killed. You have absolutely no idea of science. You do however have the ability to ask why.
What choice would you have, except to use a rationalization to come up with any answer your creative mind sees fit to invent? The big problem is that we still use rationalizations in the same way now as we did then.
If I were to define 'rationalization' in evolutionary terms, it would go something like this;
Its purpose is to provide an immediate answer which will assuage consciousness and prevent further lines of inquiry into reasons beyond the immediate explanation. In addition, the rationalisation, by its very nature, is reactive and does not contain much by way of reasoned input. It does this for no other reason beyond expedience.
I sincerely hope that someone will either challenge this idea or at least comment on it. Bearing in mind that 12000 years is a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. Our appearance would not have changed and neither would our neural pathways.

2buckchuck Today at 6:09 am
Perhaps what I'm thinking is related to your suggestion - it seems to me that an advantage having a belief in a deity confers is the comfort and security blanket it offers when experiencing bad times. There's a sense that one can do something (pray, sacrifice goats, or whatever) about the sometimes threatening things that happen in this world. That we atheists see this as delusional doesn't negate that religion brings comfort to many when their life is troubled. That sense of comfort may help them to survive difficult times.
Another possible evolutionary advantage would be the unity achieved through belief in a common ideology - the "us vs. them" aspect of religion that provides a common cause. Of course this also tends to degenerate into violence against "them", as history suggests (and is thoroughly documented in the 'sacred' texts). It's a kind of religious Darwinism at work here - only the fittest religions survive - which would be somewhat ironic.

Hi 2buckchuck,
I am really grateful that you have responded to ‘AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE’. It gives me the opportunity to try to understand how someone else approaches this problem. I’m afraid that I have used shorthand in the statement on Evol Advantage. I felt that to explain the above fully, would require a book.
The reference to 12000+ years refers to a time before the advent of village life, when we were completely nomadic. I am presuming the following;
A) There would have been competition for food. Probably our greatest struggle would have been against other humans.
B) We would have moved in small groups. Maintaining your position in a group would have been tenuous, in other words, if you didn’t pull your weight, you would have been banished to a hostile environment, with no hope of surviving alone. Very likely, your leader would have ruled autocratically.
C) Language would have been fairly primitive and our ability to conceptualize would have been limited to the areas where we had a need to extend ourselves. Such as finding food, hunting, and perhaps in finding creative expression, such as carving.
D) We would have been very reactive, operating more on instinct alone. We would not have had the benefit of any real ability to interact intellectually with ourselves or our environment, simply because of the absence of sophistication in our language.
In other words, the edge we lived on was a realm of uncertainty, between life and death.

Living under those conditions would make it imperative that our decision making process was both fast and was supportive of our need for continued survival. Our modern capacity for reason would not have been appropriate, simply because, by the time a decision was made, we would very likely be dead. Reason is too slow, instinct would have prevailed.
A very good example is one that we still use today, albeit unconsciously. And that is the emotion of anger. Anger has the capacity to suspend reason, making way for an instant response. A strong emotional response such as this makes it possible for a reaction so violent that appropriateness of the behaviour does not even enter into the equation.
Now, this is where it gets interesting. Because we are able to reason, we have a built in need to justify whatever our actions happen to be. We deny any instinctive control over our responses and we resort to the rationalization. This mechanism allows us think that reason controls our actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. The definition I have quoted above, which I will repeat here;
‘Its purpose is to provide an immediate answer which will assuage consciousness and prevent further lines of inquiry into reasons beyond the immediate explanation. In addition, the rationalisation, by its very nature, is reactive and does not contain much by way of reasoned input. It does this for no other reason beyond expediency'.
The rationalisation is instinctive; it is there so that immediate response is possible. We are deluded if we think we are always under the control of conscious intelligence.

When we make a rationalisation, we tend to integrate it so that other life experiences we have, will actually work to support it. From a little seed it grows out of all proportion, during the whole process, intelligence is not applied. All we do is use more and more rationalisations until we wind up with a prehistoric monument that is virtually impregnable to any reasoned assault.

What you have said in your previous response helps to perpetuate the delusion inasmuch as it does not offer any other option to thinking in terms of rationalisations. People do use religion in the way you suggest. It is precisely because they do use it this way that the monolith has grown to the monster it now is.

Our real need is to understand exactly the nature of the internal mechanism that perpetuates a nonsense status quo.

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Re: AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE IN A BELIEF SYSTEM?

Post  2buckchuck on Fri Sep 17, 2010 6:08 am

I guess my problem with your concern over rationalization is troubled by a few points:

1. It's not clear to me just how rationalization confers any evolutionary advantage. I don't understand the mechanism you're proposing. Rationalizations aren't biological, they're individual and/or cultural. If communication between individuals is so ineffective as you propose, I'm not clear on why particular rationalizations would spread from one individual to the next.
2. Anger is a bad example, it seems to me. Anger is related to the fight-or-flight response and its affect on evolution is clear.
3. To rationalize might be instinctive, but rationalizations could vary widely among individuals. What explains the rise of shared rationalizations? I guess this is the same as point 1, above.
4. You've made a LOT of assumptions about pre-agricultural life. You may be right, but ... some of them may not be valid.

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Re: AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE IN A BELIEF SYSTEM?

Post  Aussie John on Fri Sep 17, 2010 10:32 am

Hi 2buckchuck,
Yet again I need to thank you for forcing me to use a clearer means of expressing an idea. I hope this does not sound condescending; I am very sincere in my appreciation.
We Aussies have our origin in a convict past and our absence of respect for irrational authority is something that most of us are very proud of. That attitude also applies to so called experts who need to be brought to account over questionable premises based on flawed evidence and logic. Some of them seem to have a desire to have everything conform to the way they want it to be. Remember that America has its origins in a fundamentalist Christian philosophy and to be born into a culture like that, almost certainly ensures that all of its members will be contaminated to some degree. I am not trying to point score here. But how many people claim to be Atheist, but still retain a degree of superstition.
A classic case of flawed research is from the Anthropologist, Margaret Mead; her conclusions have impacted on the social sciences for most of the 20th century. Her view was that you are able to subject people to almost any set of conditions and they will adapt, regardless of any evolutionary predisposition. The same goes for the Psychologist, B. F. Skinner; as a result there are a huge number of people who are in total denial regarding instinct having any impact on behavior at all.

Re: AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE IN A BELIEF SYSTEM?
2buckchuck Today at 5:08 am
I guess my problem with your concern over rationalization is troubled by a few points:
1. It's not clear to me just how rationalization confers any evolutionary advantage. I don't understand the mechanism you're proposing. Rationalizations aren't biological, they're individual and/or cultural. If communication between individuals is so ineffective as you propose, I'm not clear on why particular rationalizations would spread from one individual to the ne
xt.
Your basic assumption is that we rationalize because it is a learned behaviour. Whereas, I am saying that a rationalization fits the criteria of an evolutionary predisposition. First of all it works hand in glove with strong emotion, such as anger, the emotion could also be outrage. An emotion is capable of suspending reason; it does this for a very good reason. If you try to think a problem through, in an emergency, when your survival is under immediate threat, this is not a good survival strategy. An emotional response is infinitely faster than reasoning. (Joseph LeDoux – ‘THE EMOTIONAL BRAIN’). Also your own life experience should tell you this.
Now, the link between the rationalization and the emotion is where, in my ever so humble opinion, the confusion lies. In this post I will include a Utube post which shows two male roos fighting. If you are able, in your imagination, to superimpose two human males, instead of the roos. The animals reach a point where one has had enough and it withdraws from the fray. In a kangaroo, this is seen as an instinctive response, in a human it is also an instinctive response, but for the human, it is necessary for the losing combatant to use a rationalisation to support the emotion. The rationalisation will be very fast and would probably be a thought like; ‘I can’t win this’. At this point we would withdraw from the fight. This is a stumbling point that a fundamentalist culture cannot move beyond. We are blind to instinct and the reason for this is because it is an established pattern that has been the main reason for our survival down through the ages. In order for it to function optimally, it needs to remain hidden. This is not true of course; the fact is that if we don’t start taking responsibility for our insane, irrational behaviours, then our future is indeed bleak. I mentioned above that a rationalization fits the criteria of an evolutionary predisposition. It does this inasmuch as it supports an immediate response that is not necessarily based on reasoned thought. Do not think that rationalization means that it is a process of making something rational. I psychology, the exact opposite applies.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVq7Mo6LY-A – Fighting kangaroos.
Rationalization and evolutionary advantage. --- It allows you to make a decision without having to use long winded processes when speed of decision making is of the essence. Definitely an advantage.
I don’t think I mentioned anything about communication between individuals being ineffective. In fact, I think the opposite is true. The early man who made the rationalization about his friend being killed by a bolt out of the blue, would certainly have passed the experience on. And probably be believed. I am assuming here that he made a less than informed rationalization which probably included Gods and Demons, etc.

2. Anger is a bad example, it seems to me. Anger is related to the fight-or-flight response and its affect on evolution is clear.
WHY? And what effect?

3. To rationalize might be instinctive, but rationalizations could vary widely among individuals. What explains the rise of shared rationalizations? I guess this is the same as point 1, above.
4. You've made a LOT of assumptions about pre-agricultural life. You may be right, but ... some of them may not be val
id.
WHICH ONES? --- I guess it doesn’t matter really, we all adapt to our specific environments. The environment for an American Indian is very different to an Australian Aboriginal or an Inuit Eskimo.

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Re: AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE IN A BELIEF SYSTEM?

Post  2buckchuck on Mon Sep 20, 2010 8:19 am

I think what you're calling "rationalization" is what I've heard called "heuristics" in decision theory. I have no basic problem with instincts having some impact on our evolution - we are certainly not wholly rational beings, which surely has been an element of some significance as we have evolved.

Anger isn't a rationalization, it seems to me, unless we're operating with very different definitions. It's an emotional response as part of the fight-or-flight system that enables us to either fight over or flee some confrontation, which clearly has been an important part of our evolution.

No, it's not that I dislike talking with you, but it would be good to have other opinions and thoughts.
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Re: AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE IN A BELIEF SYSTEM?

Post  Aussie John on Mon Sep 20, 2010 9:02 am

Hi again 2buckchuck,
In bold below is what I actually wrote in the previous post. Nowhere have I said that anger is anything other than an emotion. What I have said is that I feel we are blind to instinctive behavior and when we do have an instinctive response we use a facsimile of reason (IE, The rationalization) to explain the behavior in terms we can accept intellectually. I don't know decision theory. My understanding of heuristics is to arrive at a conclusion based on using a process of eduction.

Anger has the capacity to suspend reason, making way for an instant response. A strong emotional response such as this makes it possible for a reaction so violent that appropriateness of the behaviour does not even enter into the equation.
Now, this is where it gets interesting. Because we are able to reason, we have a built in need to justify whatever our actions happen to be. We deny any instinctive control over our responses and we resort to the rationalization. This mechanism allows us think that reason controls our actions.


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Re: AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE IN A BELIEF SYSTEM?

Post  Rweav on Thu Oct 07, 2010 7:01 pm

When one speaks about an evolutionary survival advantage one usually is refering to either: 1.) a physical ability, 2.) aesthetics 3.) physical response (i.e. the fight or flght response). Not a belief/rationalization.

This is not to say that religion or "spirituality" can't be explained by evolution. For example, some neurologists have hypothesized that religion is an emergent property of the brain. That is to say, religion (or the various aspects of religion) have emerged over several million years of human evolution from the combination/connection of various brain system (i.e. limbic system, frontal lobes, speach areas, etc).

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Re: AN EVOLUTIONARY ADVANTAGE IN A BELIEF SYSTEM?

Post  Aussie John on Fri Oct 08, 2010 5:51 am

Hi Rweav,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVq7Mo6LY-A --- Check out the point at which the kangaroo withdraws from the fray. It is an instinctive response. In your imagination, see a human male at the same point. The human is also subject to instinctive response. But, the human will invariably have a thought which supports the instinct. This thought, we call a rationalization, it is there because there is a need for the instinct to remain hidden. This is because awareness is always the precursor to change and if change happens in this particular area, your continued survival could be at risk. Always, an automated response is faster than a response which has to be thought through. The rationalization works to maintain this important status quo. The rationalization has evolved to satisfy this need. The unfortunate consequence to this evolutionary step is we tend to use the rationalization inappropriately. It is a fast decision making process and it contains little by way of reasoned thought. It is not difficult to think of a myriad of rationalizations that make no sense whatsoever.

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Yes, belief could be an advantage....

Post  corynski on Tue Nov 16, 2010 11:22 am

Greetings All

I read anthropology in college (BA UC Berkeley, 1964) and would suggest that yes, religion aids in evolutionary development. Religions are governments to my mind, and as humans moved from animism and nature worship to God worship, somewhere along the way the groups centered around ideas of the most powerful individuals in the group. Julian Jaynes, in his book titled "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind", 1976, suggests that early homosapiens hallucinated, both audio and visual, their deceased leaders, and thus that person would lead the group under the auspices of the former leader, who had 'gone to sleep with his fathers'. I have read some interesting criticisms of Jaynes, but his ideas seem logical enough to me.

In fact, religion seems the logical choice as the backbone of a society, if it weren't for the 'god' problem. The 'Gods' need to show up is my feeling, or the whole show lacks credibility, and that's what has happened. If there were really 'gods and goddesses' I'm sure we would know it.
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