Dennett discusses evolution of religion

 
SteveThomas
 
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22 January 2009 09:00
 

Published yesterday:
http://thedartmouth.com/2009/01/21/news/religion/

All right, he nails it. Beautifully. Please correct if you know this to be wrong, but I think it’s a lancet fluke embryo (Dicrocoelium) he’s talking about that turns infected ants into mind-controlled robots, climbing against their natural will to the tips of grass blades so they will be eaten by larger animals. 

But in terms of human behavior: the basic mechanism by which these memes replicate, so powerfully and mindlessly passing themselves from one generation to the next is…???

 
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22 January 2009 11:32
 
SteveThomas - 22 January 2009 02:00 PM

But in terms of human behavior: the basic mechanism by which these memes replicate, so powerfully and mindlessly passing themselves from one generation to the next is…???

That depends upon the person. For some, a religious practice is inculcated at an early age and simply becomes part of the person’s basic psychology - it is part of the cultural socialization process. For others, a particular religion fulfills a particular emotional or social need, and the basic dogmas of that faith are then accepted just like one adopts the membership rules of a club. Still others have a conversion or enlightenment experience that personally convinces them of the truth of the particular faith that gave rise to the experience. This last group really does not represent the passing of a “meme” (if such a thing exists) from one generation to another, but of the power of a particular faith to have a new, life-changing impact upon certain individuals. There is no “one size fits all” phenomenon when it comes to people adopting a specific religious belief.

 
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22 January 2009 22:07
 

Thanks, teuchter, for reply and the effort.

I’m troubled by the concept of “memes.”

Songs, for instance, do get “stuck” in people’s heads, though, usually whether they like it or not.  Is there reason to think other thoughts or actions can’t? (Songs stuck in my own head I doubt I could characterize as exactly “high fidelity”.)

The word “Memes” appears in the article; it’s a word I generally stay away from myself—though it’s hard to argue certain absurd behaviors (destructive ones) have repeated themselves for a very long time, apparently out of the reach of reason’s ability to do much of anything about.  And, more incidentally than anything: since political ideology is itself very much a group thing: couldn’t the urge to decide “I’m a this” or “a that” be a variation of the same trick that religions use?  A force that seeks to persuade others to “Copy me”?  (Precisely what genes, even more incidentally, are themselves all about?)

The experiment you cite regarding consensus is interesting, though since Muzafer Sherif’s experiments with consensus and social norm formation were done in 1936, and since the researchers named in that article were all apparently themselves social psychologists or anthropologists, I’d think the only people involved who ought to have been much surprised by the results should have been the subjects.  I appreciate the point about the autistics being the only carbon-copy-like repeaters in that scenario, but it strikes me that general, low-fidelity obedience suits most religions’ purposes, most of the time, just fine.  (Note the tremendous ‘diversity’ of it.)

Whatever terms are used, Dennett advocating studying the thing as a natural phenomenon is something that I think deserves applause. 

There is no “one size fits all” phenomenon when it comes to people adopting a specific religious belief.

Bruce:
Maybe not, especially viewed from the surface.  But maybe underneath there does exist a common thread.

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23 January 2009 05:24
 
Bruce Burleson - 22 January 2009 04:32 PM

That depends upon the person. For some, a religious practice is inculcated at an early age and simply becomes part of the person’s basic psychology - it is part of the cultural socialization process.


Here in the West and probably almost everywhere else religion and religious ideology is part of our socialization process, period. Not for some, for all of us. We’re all socialized to be geared toward religious belief.

Bruce Burleson - 22 January 2009 04:32 PM

Still others have a conversion or enlightenment experience that personally convinces them of the truth of the particular faith that gave rise to the experience. This last group really does not represent the passing of a “meme” (if such a thing exists) from one generation to another, but of the power of a particular faith to have a new, life-changing impact upon certain individuals.


Right ... as if memes aren’t part of the socialization process.

People like Francis Collins may have genuine spontaneous emotional experiences (I’ve had several, two that were powerful to the point of being overwhelming), but oddly enough people tend to interpret them within the context of how they were socialized to interpret such experiences. This is unmistakably clear, particularly to those who aren’t wearing heavily tinted dogma-colored glasses (more particularly those of us who have taken them off and remember what the world looked like with them on). In no way does such a conversion suggest it’s free from the influence of socialization. Pretty much nothing anyone consciously does is free from the influence of socialization. The real question here is why believers would think otherwise, particularly for a special situation, and do those who claim to really.

Bruce Burleson - 22 January 2009 04:32 PM

There is no “one size fits all” phenomenon when it comes to people adopting a specific religious belief.


There is one—they didn’t get there through intellectually responsible, critical, analytical processes, but rather they eschewed them, if by act of will or by having been geared to do so through socialization, or by some combination of the two. In any case religious faith is inherently a failure of genuine, sincere, responsible critical thinking.

Byron

 
 
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23 January 2009 08:06
 

SkepticX - 23 January 2009 10:24 AM

a failure of genuine, sincere, responsible critical thinking.

And the way to coerce people into embracing and defending blindness and denial while dropping the truth as though it were the anthrax sandwich is…?

How about plain, simple cruelty?  The deliberate use of fear, pain, humiliation on those less powerful.  It’s systemic in the world, pervading relationships in the family, religions, schools (through all educational levels) and government. 

Religion has been one of the most blatant dispensers of stupification there has ever been.  Has very much the Concorde Syndrome as well as the Stockholm syndrome (or some variant) going for it.  But it’s been very good for me personally these last few years to see it become more and more effectively unmasked as nothing more than the simple bully that it is.  I like Dennett’s optimism; I hope he’s right (that religion will lose its “perceived dominance” soon).  But I hope those looking at it in the meantime will also recognize that religion is not the only institution in which blindness, stupidity and fear is “nurtured”.

Steve

 
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23 January 2009 10:24
 

‘Faith’ might be a more important Meme than religion. One leads to the other. Once this idea of believing in things that there is no evidence for is accepted, religions can be constructed to justify the belief.(confirmation bias in psychology) ‘Faith’ seems to be the culprit, not religion, per se. I think SH would agree. Religion may be a secondary Meme spawned by a primary Meme.

Damn, made up my own theory in 1.3 minutes.

Sorry, I am a slow typer.

 
 
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23 January 2009 11:03
 
McCreason - 23 January 2009 03:24 PM

‘Faith’ might be a more important Meme than religion.


Yup.

Faith is like an intellectual enzyme that allows the mind to digest putrid ideas.

Byron

 
 
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23 January 2009 11:09
 

Thanks teu. I don’t speak well however, or type well either so….not looking forward to any engagements.

Dawkins refers to memes as like viruses. Thoughts, ideas etc., that infect the brain and get and passed on. Controversial of course but…an explanantion of sorts.

All the worlds great thinkers would die to know the answer as to why some people believe in or partake in ‘faith’ and some do not. It is one of our greatest mysteries. Along with why people think the USA is a christian nation. grin That one is almost as befuddling.

 
 
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23 January 2009 11:11
 

Nice Byron. Except that I would rephrase. A meme is like an ‘anti-intellectual’ enzyme.  tongue wink

 
 
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24 January 2009 19:05
 
teuchter - 22 January 2009 04:01 PM

I think ideology arises from the material conditions of life, including the very material brain as it exists in a material set of social relations.

Hello teuchter,

It’s difficult for me to understand what you say above. I can understand how being oppressed can cause one to feel oppressed and even how that can lead to the original memetic birth of dogmatic political and economic ideologies, (that are themselves oppressive), but I don’t see how that causes religious dogmatism to arise at all.

Dogmatic m ideas or meme’s originate with individuals, but are adopted by swarms of individuals. It is not necessary that the replication of the meme be high fidelity, as Atran suggests. Fidelity is only necessary in science, where the faithful reproduction of specific meme’s is how we describe objective reality. You believe that E=MC2 because you have faith that that meme has been objectively verified by some number of independent subjects.

For those meme’s with no objective basis in reality, there are as many variations as there are believers. There is no objective verification to which believers might refer their faith.