Origin and Nature of Supernaturalistic Beliefs

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Origin and Nature of Supernaturalistic Beliefs

#1  Postby Teuton » Sep 11, 2010 12:51 am

http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/10-09-08/#feature

(Lindeman, Marjaana, and Kia Aarnio. "The Origin of Superstition, Magical Thinking, and Paranormal Beliefs: An Integrative Model." Skeptic 13, no. 1 (2007): 58-65.)

Two book recommendations:

* Boyer, Pascal. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books, 2001.

* Pyysiäinen, Ilkka. Supernatural Agents: Why We Believe in Souls, Buddhas, and Gods. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
"Perception does not exhaust our contact with reality; we can think too." – Timothy Williamson
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Re: Origin and Nature of Supernaturalistic Beliefs

#2  Postby THWOTH » Sep 11, 2010 1:33 am

That was quite an interesting read. Along with the implicit conclusion that superstitious thinking etc is childish thinking, the article is summed up pretty well by this section..

The article wrote:...we define superstitious, magical, and paranormal beliefs as category mistakes where the core attributes of mental, physical, and biological entities and processes are confused with each other. Of course, not all superstitions are category mistakes. For example, many adults regard physical force as a material substance, which it is not.27 What differentiates other category mistakes from superstitions is that in superstitions the category mistakes always include a confusion of core knowledge. Also, category mistakes can be perceived as superstitions only insofar as the statements are believed to be literally true. Thus, metaphorical and allegorical expressions that deliberately confuse the properties are not superstitions (e.g., “A well-functioning memory is a goldmine”).

Thanks for posting Teuton :thumbup:
"No-one is exempt from speaking nonsense – the only misfortune is to do it solemnly."
Michel de Montaigne, Essais, 1580
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Re: Origin and Nature of Supernaturalistic Beliefs

#3  Postby Teuton » Sep 11, 2010 1:47 am

"[R]eligious concepts invariably include information that is counterintuitive relative to the [ontological] category activated.
'Counterintuitive' is a technical term here. It does not mean 'strange', 'inexplicable', 'funny', 'exceptional' or 'extraordinary'. What is counterintuitive here is not even necessarily surprising. That is, if you have the concept of cologne-drinking. invisible persons, and if everyone around you talks about these visitors, you cannot really register puzzlement or astonishment every single time it is mentioned. It becomes part of your familiar world that there are invisible persons around who drink cologne. In the same way, Christians and Muslims are not surprised every time someone mentions the possibility that an omnipotent agent is watching them. This is completely familiar. But these concepts are still counterintuitive in the precise sense used here, namely 'including information contradicting some information provided by ontological categories'. ... [W]e must remember that the ordinary sense of the term 'counterintuitive' may be misleading. (The neologism 'counterontological' might be a better choice.)"

(p. 65)

"[T]here is only a rather short Catalogue of Supernatural Templates that more or less exhausts the range of culturally successful concepts in this domain. Persons can be represented as having counterintuitive physical properties (e.g., ghosts or gods), counterintuitive biology (many gods who neither grow nor die) or counterintuitive psychological properties (unblocked perception or prescience). Animals too can have all these properties. Tools and other artifacts can be represented as having biological properties (some statues bleed) or psychological ones (they hear what you say). Browsing through volumes of mythology, fantastic tales, anecdotes, cartoons, religious writings and science fiction, you will get an extraordinary variety of different concepts, but you will also find that the number of templates is very limited and in fact contained in the short list given above.
Indexing supernatural themes in this way has all the attractions of butterfly-collecting. We know where to put various familiar themes and characters in our systematic catalogue of templates, from listening trees to bleeding statues and from the Holy Virgin to Big Brother."

(pp. 78-9)

(Boyer, Pascal. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books, 2001.)


"BASIC DOMAINS OF INTUITION:

Spatiality: Location in space
Physicality: E.g., liquids
Solidity: Natural objects, artifacts
Living kinds: Plants and animals
Animacy: Liveliness, goal-directedness
Mentality: Beliefs and desires
Social Position: Social relationships
Events: Events and acts
Temporality: Everything exists in time
...
Interestingly, we can also manipulate the concepts and images triggered in the mind, creating new conceps that do not respect the boundaries of an 'intuitive ontology'. In this way, we create what Boyer calls 'counterintuitive' representations. In my previous writings, I have thus suggested that the notion of 'supernatural agents' be replaced by the concept of 'counterintuitive agents.' I am now forced partly to change my mind, because spontaneous attribution of agency to physically unidentified sources does not seem to be counterintuitive. The HADD, HUI, and HTR model actually imply that people perceive disembodied agency as a natural category. Yet it is also possible to form counterintuitive representations of agency by adding some extra feature or by denying something that is natural (as shown by the plus and minus symbols in the following list). Moreover, it is not always clear in practice whether a representation is or is not counterintuitive. The cross-domain formation of counterintuitive representations is presented in 'Counterintuitive Combinations' below.
Counterintuitive representations are formed by tacitly assigning the represented entity to an intuitive ontological category, while recognizing that it contains elements that contradict intuitive expectations concerning that category. Typical intuitive ontological categories are persons, animals, plants, artifacts, and natural objects. Boyer claims that a catalogue that uses these basic intuitive ontological categories and includes only breaches of physical and cognitive properties associated with those categories virtually exhausts cultural variation in this domain.

COMBINATIONS OF COUNTERINTUITIVE REPRESENTATIONS:

CATEGORY:
POSSIBLE VIOLATIONS (–, +)
Spatiality:
– Location of a nonexisting thing
+ Spatiality and mentality
Physicality:
– A liquid that is nowhere
+ A liquid that understands
Solid objects:
– Solid object that is nowhere
+ Artifact with mentality
Living kinds:
– Plant or animal without physicality
+ Plant or animal with high-level mentality
Animacy:
– Animacy without spatiality
+ Animacy with mentality (without spatiality)
Mentality:
– Mentality without spatiality or biology
(+ Omniscience)
Social Position:
– Denial of intuitive relationships
+ Adding a relationship ('son of God')
Events:
– Intuitively expected event does not take place
+ Intuitively not to be expected happens
Temporality:
– Immortality (no death)
+ Immortality (boundless afterlife)

This is not an exhaustive list of intuitive domains or of all the possible violations of intuitive expectations; it is meant merely to convey the general idea. I will try to provide some flesh for the bare bones here. For spatiality, it is difficult to find an example of a representation of an existing thing that yet is nowhere; it is difficult or impossible to separate mere 'existence' from 'existing somewhere.' A combination of spatiality and mere animacy might be represented by the idea of the will-o´-the-wisp, for example. When we combine spatiality, animacy, and mentality (but without biology), we get the typical idea of a ghost as a mist-like, animated entity. The angel of the Lord who appears to Moses 'in flames of fire from within a bush' (Exod. 3:2) also counts as an example.
A solid object that is nowhere comes close to being a contradiction in terms. Perhaps a layperson who asks where the space-time of scientific cosmology exists is trying to represent something like a solid object that exists but is nowhere (because there is nothing outside of the space-time). In folk traditions, such an idea is unknown. On the other hand, natural objects and artifacts that have mentality form a recurrent theme in folk traditions. Examples range from magic wands and amulets to things such as the image of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland, which is believed to work miracles. Some related examples might be cases of physicality and animacy (without biology). A case in point might be the Arthurian sword, embedded in an anvil that was in turn embedded in a great stone, with the words 'Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England'. The idea here seems to be that the sword was somehow alive yet only something physical, without biology.
The category of living kinds includes, for example, invisible plants and animals or animals capable of miraculous transformations. Another kind of example is animals that talk or think like humans.
Animacy without spatiality may be difficult to find, but nonspatial animacy combined with mentality might be represented in certain very abstract conceptions of God: God exists but is nowhere.
Such representations also exemplify mentality without spatiality (but mentality without animacy is difficult to conceive). Another example is 'pure consciousness' understood as a kind of 'knowledge by identity,' or knowing something by virtue of being that something. In Buddhism, we find the idea that the supposed objective support of cognition ('vijnanalambana', roughly: material things) is 'nothing but idea' ('vijnaptimatrata') or 'mind only' ('cittamatratam') (Samdhinirmocanasutra 8.7-9). The idea of the Buddha before he was born exemplifies mentality without biology, as does Paul's idea of a resurrection body: 'Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God ... the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed' (I Cor. 15:50-52). An interesting question is whether it is possible to add something counterintuitively to mentality. Boundless mentality, such as omniscience, may or may not count, depending on whether a category violation really is or is not involved.
Social positions can also be counterintuitively represented, as when people imagine someone to be the child of elves, of an evil spirit, or of God. I remain undecided on whether this really is a case of counterintuitiveness.
Counterintuitive events are typified by miracles such as a man walking on the water, a dead person rising physically from the dead, and so forth.
Finally, there are violations of temporality such as immortality. This can be conceived of as either a denial of biological death or as adding life to the condition after death. This is usually regarded as a violation of intuitive biology, but in addition, the temporal dimension is here represented counterintuitively. Exceptional longevity and a very fast growing up also belong to this category. The buddhas, for example, supposedly take on the semblance of being old, even though in reality they have overcome old age."


(Pyysiäinen, Ilkka. Supernatural Agents: Why We Believe in Souls, Buddhas, and Gods. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. pp. 23-26)
"Perception does not exhaust our contact with reality; we can think too." – Timothy Williamson
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Re: Origin and Nature of Supernaturalistic Beliefs

#4  Postby THWOTH » Sep 11, 2010 2:03 am

You taking notes for an essay <T>? :D
"No-one is exempt from speaking nonsense – the only misfortune is to do it solemnly."
Michel de Montaigne, Essais, 1580
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