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Thread: Hunter-Gatherers and the Origins of Religion

  1. Top | #21
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    Humans did not evolve with any a priori knowledge. To say earlier humans were stupid or idiots really makes no sense.

    Russians and Americans are waving phallic nuclear misses at each other, if that is not idiocy I do not know what is.

    Of course we can not know how other creatures think, but we have imagination the root of religion and science as well. Imagination led to controlled fire to spears and arrows to the rest.

  2. Top | #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by abaddon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    Animism, spirits, was a way of explaining characteristics of an object.
    Yes. "Object" is maybe a social construct that wouldn't quite translate into an animist worldview. But I agree with the general point. I think they had their way of explaining why nature's phenomena change, but somehow the same patterns keep repeating and relating in intelligent-seeming ways. Nature works together better than one would expect if it's mindless stuff. The "something" behind it all needed explaining but they hadn't made a materialist lens to use for the explanation. And not because they were idiots but because 1) they hadn't divided reality into qualitative aspects and quantitative aspects (and then eventually relegated the qualitative to "illusory" status) in order for their scientific methodology to "work" at describing and controlling the one remaining half of reality; and 2) they didn't have the same value-assessments about what's intelligent, and what's life, and other not-altogether-fortunate social constructs that moderns have. In sum, their values were different so their worldview was different and so their way of relating with other-than-human nature was different.

    It wasn't an ugly worldview, like some others. They saw "living" and "non-living" phenomena as communicative and therefore some of it qualifying for a degree of personhood. They didn't see humans as distinctive from the rest of nature.
    I wouldn't call people idiots, but my cynicism is showing a bit. In truth we are what we are, should, and will always be. But as I study history and just generally exist in the world it can be difficult to stave off misanthropy.

    Besides that I agree with the view you present here. Religion came about in a world that was pretty unstructured, and where knowledge was mostly inaccessible. In that context our religious history makes sense, but I'd say it's still notable how few of us doubted ourselves.

    And it's still happening today.
    Natural selection was always present, always sorting things out, always selecting for the best fit in the environment. And lets remember that not all those neolithic human environments were equal. Some were more forgiving, some had superior resources, so religiousness there had an advantage.

    I was watching a BBC video the other day and the narrator used the phrase, "Back when we were evolving." It just goes to show that even scientifically literate exercises can get it wrong.

    The ritualized superstitions and beliefs we have have been selected for, and as you say continue to be so. I think it's important to realize that, not because these magic spacemen or that the woo is real, but because it was compatible given the environment.

  3. Top | #23
    Contributor DBT's Avatar
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    Dreams and visions as an experienced 'non worldly' phenomena may give the impression of a non physical world that's populated by gods and spirits. So if someone does not realize that these are brain generated experiences.....

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    Contributor Cheerful Charlie's Avatar
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    https://skepticalinquirer.org/newsle...eath_contacts/
    ...
    Those who suffer the loss of a loved one may experience such anguish and emptiness that they are unable to let go, and they may come to believe they have had some contact with the deceased. “It’s commonly reported that the deceased person has communicated in some way,” says Judith Skretny (2001), vice-president of the Life Transitions Center, “either by giving a sign or causing things to happen with no rational explanation.” She adds, “It’s equally common for people to wake in the middle of the night, lying in bed, or even to walk into a room and think they see their husband or child.” These experiences are sometimes called “visitations” (Voell 2001), and they include deathbed visitations (Wills-Brandon 2000).
    ...

    NDEs, visitation illusions, and more almost certainly are not new with us humans. And these anomalous experiences are almost surely the beginnings of religion.

    https://www.nextavenue.org/why-loved...s-may-be-good/
    ...
    The brain's solution is hallucination, whether it's hearing a voice, seeing an image or both. Dr. W.D. Rees of Wales interviewed nearly 300 people who had recently suffered the loss of a husband or wife. He found that almost half had experienced "illusions or full-fledged hallucinations of a dead spouse," the likelihood of which increased based on the length of the marriage.
    A friend of Sacks named Ray tells the author of his experience just days after the death of his father, when he awoke in the middle of the night and saw a vision of him sitting on the corner of his bed, wearing his khaki slacks and a tan polo shirt. Ray continued: "He sat there for a moment and then said — did he speak or just convey the thought? — 'Everything is all right.'" The vision never recurred, but Ray had no doubt of what he had seen. "I do not know whether this was a hallucination or something else," he told Sacks, "but since I provisionally do not believe in the paranormal, it must have been."
    ...
    Cheerful Charlie

  5. Top | #25
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    Back in the70s I had a roommate from Hawaii from a Pilipino family. He said there was a family tradition of seeing dead relatives soon after death.

    When a grandparent died as a kid he saw him walking down stairs.

    Some people keep ashes of the dead in the living room.

    If you want to understand how it all stared just look at ourselves, feelings and emotions and imagination. Our brains have not changed all thatmuch.

  6. Top | #26
    Industrial Grade Linguist Copernicus's Avatar
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    IMO, animism is a natural outgrowth of basic animal cognition, and not just something that evolved in humans. Brains evolved in nervous systems as a mechanism for recording experiences and using them to anticipate future events that might have an impact on a moving organism's survival and propagation. That is, brains form complex chains of associated experiences. They are guidance mechanisms.

    What is the most basic experience of a human being? Self-awareness, sensory awareness, and motor awareness. We cause things to happen by willing our bodies to move. So it is very natural to impute the same cause to things we become aware of in our environment. Attributing spirits and mental states to animals, plants, and things would be one way to explain and predict their behavior. Personification would just come naturally, because we recognize and explain patterns in terms of experiences that we are most familiar with. All mental models are ultimately grounded in associations with passive sensory and active motor experiences. Gods are the ultimate personification of the external reality that we experience.

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    Veteran Member Treedbear's Avatar
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    Brains are hardwired to identify certain patterns, such as seeing a face in the side of a mountain or on a piece of toast. Animism is probably related to that, but might have proved to be more useful as a way to establish respect for the natural environment. I'm somewhat attracted to Shinto religious practices for that reason. It's served the Japanese civilization quite well especially in modern times.

  8. Top | #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Copernicus View Post
    IMO, animism is a natural outgrowth of basic animal cognition, and not just something that evolved in humans. Brains evolved in nervous systems as a mechanism for recording experiences and using them to anticipate future events that might have an impact on a moving organism's survival and propagation. That is, brains form complex chains of associated experiences. They are guidance mechanisms.

    What is the most basic experience of a human being? Self-awareness, sensory awareness, and motor awareness. We cause things to happen by willing our bodies to move. So it is very natural to impute the same cause to things we become aware of in our environment. Attributing spirits and mental states to animals, plants, and things would be one way to explain and predict their behavior. Personification would just come naturally, because we recognize and explain patterns in terms of experiences that we are most familiar with. All mental models are ultimately grounded in associations with passive sensory and active motor experiences. Gods are the ultimate personification of the external reality that we experience.
    That's an interesting comment. Given that, maybe at it's most fundamental religion is the expression of this cognition, only possible because of our propensity for language.

  9. Top | #29
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    Assigning characteristics allows one to postulate or predict events and connections. A survival characteristic.

    It also becomes form of communication.

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