Tuesday, November 11, 2014

reflective elaborations on intuitions - what sort of beliefs are religious beliefs?


wustl.edu |  Religious beliefs are, from a cognitive standpoint, a puzzling phenomenon. They are not empirically motivated and often contradict the believers’ own assumption that the world obeys a set of stable rules. They are also  apparently very different from one cultural group to another. Assuming that we have cognitive systems because these provide us with reliable information to navigate our environment, it would seem that being strongly committed to hugely variable, non-empirical beliefs is wasteful if not downright damaging (McKay & Dennett, 2009). While some evolutionary anthropologists and psychologists conjecture that such beliefs may actually have adaptive adavantges (Bulbulia, 2004; Irons, 2001), others see them mostly as by-products of other, adaptive cognitive functions (Boyer, 1994b, 2001). This debate is orthogonal to the question, How do such beliefs occur in human minds? One possibility is that religious representations consist in post-hoc explicit elaborations on common intuitions (Boyer, 1994a, 2001). In this perspective, beliefs about ancestors are parasitic on intuitions about persons, as notions of contagious magic are on intuitions about pathogens, and beliefs about the afterworld are on intuitions about dead people (Boyer, 2001; Pyysiainen, 2001). But, if religious beliefs are derivative, what sorts of “beliefs” are they, and how do they get triggered and sustained in cognitive systems?