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Religion_Explained_by_Pascal_Boyer_book_cover One of the first things that the author of 2002’s Religion Explained had to address is the fact that everyone thinks they have the “explanation” for religion. Unlike quantum physics, or even population genetics, people think they “get” religion, and have a pretty good intuition and understanding of the phenomenon without any scholarly inquiry. Most people grew up religious, and know plenty of religious people. Naturally everyone has a theory to sell you informed by their experiences. This is clear in the comments of this weblog where people start with an assumed definition of religion, and then proceed to enter into a chain of reasoning with their axiomatic definition in mind, totally oblivious to the possibility that there might be a diversity of opinions as to the important aspects of religious phenomenon. This causes a problem when people begin at different starting points. Religion is obviously important. That is why Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations used it to delimit civilizations. Religion is also expansive.

In modern times the expansiveness can be a problem in terms of getting definitions right in any sort of conversation about the topic. On the one hand adherents of “higher religions” often dismiss supernatural beliefs outside of the purview of their organized systems as “superstition,” constraining the space of possibilities to an absurdly narrow set (this can be taken to extremes when narrow sects define all religions outside of their umbrella as “cults”). At the other extreme there are others who wish to include “political religion” more wholeheartedly in the discussion. In my opinion doing so makes it difficult to discuss religious phenomena in a historical context, as political religion is relatively novel and recent. Theological-Incorrectness-Jason-Slone As a phenomenon with many features it is not surprising that there are many other traits which resemble religion, but this logic rapidly leads to loss of any intelligible specificity. Therefore as a necessary precondition I tend to assume that religion must have supernatural agents at their heart. Basically, gods. But, all the accoutrements of organized “higher” religions, which crystallized in the period between 600 BC and 600 AD (from Buddhism to Islam), are not necessary to understand religion. In fact, as outlined in books such as Theological Incorrectness, taking the claims of organized world religions at face value can mislead in terms of the beliefs and behaviors of the mass of the rank and file, whose spiritual world is still strongly shaped by the same cognitive parameters one finds in primal “animistic” faiths. Summa Theologica is not only impenetrable to the vast number of believers, but it is totally irrelevant. And yet the concerns of intellectuals loom large in any attempt to understand the nature of higher religions, because they tend to occupy positions of power, prestige, and prominence. And importantly, they are the ones writing down the history of their faith.

9780195178036 It is useful then to differentiate between religion in the generality, which likely has deep evolutionary roots in our species. This is characterized by modal intuitions about the supernatural nature of the world. A universe of spirits, gods, and unseen forces. Then there are the complex processed cultural units of production and consumption which are the “world religions” of the past few thousand years, which have achieved a sort of stable oligopoly power over the loyalties of the vast majority of the world’s population. They are not inchoate and organic, bottom up reifications of the foam of cognitive process, perhaps co-opted toward functional or aesthetic purposes. Rather, world religions are clearly products of complex post-Neolithic agricultural societies which exhibit niche specialization and social stratification. They are the end, not the beginning. A complex melange of distinct cultural threads brought together into one unit of consumption for the masses and the elites, which binds society together into an organic whole. Think of the world religions as the Soylent of their era.

warandpeaceandwar The historical context of this is well known, all the way back to Karl Jaspers. Over two thousand years ago the ideas which we would later term philosophy arose in the eastern Mediterranean, in northern India, and northern China. They were absorbed by various organized religions in each locale. The complex social-political order of those years also persist in the institutional and bureaucratic outline of these religious organizations. Ergo, the Roman Catholic Church is the shadow of the Roman Empire. The Sangha probably reflects the corporate nature of South Asian society even at that early time. Though some set of elite practitioners of these religions tended toward philosophical rationalism, others were attracted toward mystical movements which elevate the existential and esoteric elements of religious experience. Both mystical and rational variants of religion exhibit a commonality in that they are patronized by elites with leisure to spare upon introspection or reflection. Formal liturgical traditions co-opt the human propensity for heightened emotional arousal in collective group contexts to ritualize subordination and submission to central authorities, which serve as the axis mundi which binds the divine to the world and proxies for the gods.

0226901351 This only scratches the surface of the phenomenon in question. And these are not academic matters; religion is a powerful force in the world around us. This is why studies such as this in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Broad supernatural punishment but not moralizing high gods precede the evolution of political complexity in Austronesia, are heartening to see. The importance is not the topic of study, or even the conclusion, but the methods. Using phylogenetic techniques the authors get a crisper understanding of the dynamics. Even if one quibbles with their conclusions one can at least grapple with it formally. Nature has a good piece surveying the response, though please ignore the hyperbole in the title!

The gist of this conclusion to me seems to be similar to the one in relation to lactase persistence: cultural and social change set the preconditions for evolutionary change, evolutionary change did not trigger cultural and social change. Complex multi-ethnic expansive societies arose somewhat over 2,000 years ago. The world religions developed in this environment as natural adaptations, which allowed for these societies to persist over time and space in a manner that was recognizable. The diffuse world of gods and spirits were distilled down to the portable essence which would serve to bind and tie diverse peoples together (in practice for much of history this only applied to the elites, as the populace still retained what basically could be termed folk paganism). The verbal models supplemented by formalism is probably what is needed to truly gain a deep insight into the nature of a phenomenon as slippery by ubiquitous as religion.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Cognitive Science, Religion 
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  1. 2 of my favorite clues:
    On possible animism/shamanism shown in Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”: https://everymagicalday.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/simplified-history-of-faith-practices-part-3-early-religious-ideas-zoolatry-animism-and-shamanism/ “Her lower half is human and upper half is bison.”

    On rule learning and behavior imitation:

    Does our attention to seek cause and effect lead to superstition/religion?

  2. At the other extreme there are others who wish to include “political religion” more wholeheartedly in the discussion. In my opinion doing so makes it difficult to discuss religious phenomena in a historical context, as political religion is relatively novel and recent.

    Eh, Nebuchadnezzar, servant of Marduk, would beg to differ.

    • Replies: @Priss Factor
    "Eh, Nebuchadnezzar, servant of Marduk, would beg to differ."

    Pharaohs too.
  3. i provide links so that readers who are not clear about definitions, as is the POINT OF THIS POST, can be clarified. that is NOT what political religion is. you may have your own definition of what political religion is, but please make sure to use terms that are common to what most people use in the future.

  4. A very nice post, but, of course, I want to quibble.

    The mind/body problem remains unsolved and maybe is unsolvable. Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained” is a bad joke: the text belies the title. See also Tallis’ “Aping Mankind” for a critique of neuroscience. (His is one.)

    Thomas Nagel summarizes the problem in his recent “Mind and Cosmos.” Our modern reductionist science does not seem able to deal with the mind problem. Nagel thinks something is missing from our assumptions. Saying religion is hardwired misses Nagel’s point and merely deflects attention from the issue.

    As an agnostic, I cannot take seriously the Catholicism of my youth. Yet, retired after 37 years of teaching engineering and science, I am a deep skeptic as well of the whole science establishment and its scientism.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    what does the mind/body problem have to do with this post? stay on topic!
    , @GW
    Have you checked out Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism? I'd do that if you haven't already. He makes a convincing case that naturalism is incompatible with the strong rationalism inherent to the physical sciences.

    David Chalmers deals with self-consciousness quite a bit in his work. He basically argues it is the one inexplicable thing about our existence. We can explain human thoughts, behaviors, emotions, etc. on evolutionary principles save this one thing.
  5. @Bill P

    At the other extreme there are others who wish to include “political religion” more wholeheartedly in the discussion. In my opinion doing so makes it difficult to discuss religious phenomena in a historical context, as political religion is relatively novel and recent.
     
    Eh, Nebuchadnezzar, servant of Marduk, would beg to differ.

    “Eh, Nebuchadnezzar, servant of Marduk, would beg to differ.”

    Pharaohs too.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i'm going to start banning people based on this shit. START LOOKING UP THE DEFINITIONS. let's go back to the first paragraph:

    "This is clear in the comments of this weblog where people start with an assumed definition of religion, and then proceed to enter into a chain of reasoning with their axiomatic definition in mind,"

    tempted to close this thread.
  6. @bob sykes
    A very nice post, but, of course, I want to quibble.

    The mind/body problem remains unsolved and maybe is unsolvable. Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" is a bad joke: the text belies the title. See also Tallis' "Aping Mankind" for a critique of neuroscience. (His is one.)

    Thomas Nagel summarizes the problem in his recent "Mind and Cosmos." Our modern reductionist science does not seem able to deal with the mind problem. Nagel thinks something is missing from our assumptions. Saying religion is hardwired misses Nagel's point and merely deflects attention from the issue.

    As an agnostic, I cannot take seriously the Catholicism of my youth. Yet, retired after 37 years of teaching engineering and science, I am a deep skeptic as well of the whole science establishment and its scientism.

    what does the mind/body problem have to do with this post? stay on topic!

  7. @Priss Factor
    "Eh, Nebuchadnezzar, servant of Marduk, would beg to differ."

    Pharaohs too.

    i’m going to start banning people based on this shit. START LOOKING UP THE DEFINITIONS. let’s go back to the first paragraph:

    “This is clear in the comments of this weblog where people start with an assumed definition of religion, and then proceed to enter into a chain of reasoning with their axiomatic definition in mind,”

    tempted to close this thread.

  8. i provide links so that readers who are not clear about definitions, as is the POINT OF THIS POST, can be clarified. that is NOT what political religion is. you may have your own definition of what political religion is, but please make sure to use terms that are common to what most people use in the future.

    OK, fair enough. You are right: it is a novel theory. Whether it is a novel phenomenon or not is a matter for discussion elsewhere.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    fwiw, i have stated that i don't think political religion is a particularly useful definition for what's going on.
  9. Immigrant from former USSR [AKA "Florida Resident"] says:

    Razib Khan: “Unlike quantum physics, or even population genetics, people think they “get” religion, and have a pretty good intuition and understanding of the phenomenon without any scholarly inquiry.”
    .
    I can not claim to have any intuition on population genetics, even less on religion;
    and I can witness that scholarly inquiry is required in almost any field of human activity.
    But mostly it helps to be surrounded by scholars from early years on.
    I humbly believe that it is applicable to Mr. Khan himself as well.
    .
    Traditional … .

  10. @Bill P


    i provide links so that readers who are not clear about definitions, as is the POINT OF THIS POST, can be clarified. that is NOT what political religion is. you may have your own definition of what political religion is, but please make sure to use terms that are common to what most people use in the future.
     
    OK, fair enough. You are right: it is a novel theory. Whether it is a novel phenomenon or not is a matter for discussion elsewhere.

    fwiw, i have stated that i don’t think political religion is a particularly useful definition for what’s going on.

    • Replies: @Bill P

    fwiw, i have stated that i don’t think political religion is a particularly useful definition for what’s going on.
     
    Yeah, I didn't mean it personally (that isn't how I roll -- ideas either stand or they don't independent of the individuals who propose them). It's just that the "political religion" theory strikes me as another one of those attempts to make fascism/Nazism some beast that arose out of nothing, which gives the lie to the "secular" philosophy it's supposed to be based on.

    From my investigations into the issue, I suspect religion is hardwired and integral to humanity. I lean toward the Jaynesian hypothesis, and I think it merits more research.
  11. My understanding is that the current view in Religious Studies tends to be that the category of “religion” is misleading when applied in a pre-modern context, even from the Axial Age to the late medieval period. Everyone has always had gods and other supernatural entities, and sometimes other people’s gods are your people’s demons. Christianity developed categories of the faithful, heathens and heretics, while Islam had believers, unbelievers and peoples of the book. But it is really with Locke and then the First Amendment that it becomes important to have a category of religion, because you need to have something you tolerate while keeping separate from the state.

    Of course, for scientific purposes, you can stipulate any definition of “religion” you want to use to delineate your domain of study. But the question, “Why do people believe in supernatural agents?” is on a totally different order from “Why did post-Reformation Europe first fight about theology and ritual and then decide those issues should be segregated from politics?”

    Once you are into the First Amendment question, then there is a difficult line-drawing exercise where belief in supernatural beings may not be the most important issue.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    Of course, for scientific purposes, you can stipulate any definition of “religion” you want to use to delineate your domain of study. But the question, “Why do people believe in supernatural agents?” is on a totally different order from “Why did post-Reformation Europe first fight about theology and ritual and then decide those issues should be segregated from politics?”

    yes. i don't find religious studies particularly interesting, because the field as a whole is a little too weepy and emotional for my taste ;-) people from religious studies backgrounds have cried about spirituality in front of me a little too much for my taste.

    Once you are into the First Amendment question, then there is a difficult line-drawing exercise where belief in supernatural beings may not be the most important issue.


    agree with winnifred fallers sullivan in *the impossibility of religious freedom*
  12. Karen Armstrong argues (I’m not really off to a strong start here, admittedly) that the Buddha created the monastic saṅgha in order to preserve the germ of his native people’s republican ideals in a world that no longer had a place for them in the political sphere. Since this is a pithy and, to modern republicans such as ourselves, comfortable conclusion, I tend to assume that it’s basically false, but she might be on to something in some way/shape/form. It’s well known that (by most accounts) the Buddha’s Šákya kin constituted an oligarchic republic, comparable to the famous republics of the ancient Mediterranean, rather than a monarchy. It’s slightly less well known that the Buddhist scriptures are set against the backdrop of the political-military competition between early centralised monarchies, the prototypes of the later Maurya empire. Furthermore, according to these stories, the Śākyas were massacred in their entirety during the Buddha’s lifetime by one of those monarchical powers and the Śākya state destroyed.

    (Basically OT from here:) The Śākyas as described in Buddhist literature are distinctive in two ways: their republican state and their unusual marriage customs. The latter surfaces in two putative facts: the Śākyas’ legendary origin from brother-sister marriages among a king’s sons and daughters (I recently read a paper about this by Jonathan A. Silk) and their contemporary practice of cross-cousin marriage, which was probably considered illicit in Vedic society. I tend to suppose that the incest legend was an etiological myth to explain the marriage customs. Cross-cousin marriage might point to some kind of historical link to Iran, although Jayarava Attwood has argued that cross-cousin marriage is only mentioned in late Sri Lankan texts and so could simply reflect south Indian marriage norms. On the other hand, Michael Witzel and Attwood have argued for an Iranian origin of the Śākyas on other grounds, which might imply that the similar sound of the words “Śākya” and “Śaka” is not a coincidence.

    This is the Silk paper I mentioned: http://www.academia.edu/534452/Incestuous_Ancestries_The_Family_Origins_of_Gautama_Siddh%C4%81rtha_Abraham_and_Sarah_in_Genesis_20_12_and_The_Status_of_Scripture_in_Buddhism

  13. GW says:
    @bob sykes
    A very nice post, but, of course, I want to quibble.

    The mind/body problem remains unsolved and maybe is unsolvable. Dennett's "Consciousness Explained" is a bad joke: the text belies the title. See also Tallis' "Aping Mankind" for a critique of neuroscience. (His is one.)

    Thomas Nagel summarizes the problem in his recent "Mind and Cosmos." Our modern reductionist science does not seem able to deal with the mind problem. Nagel thinks something is missing from our assumptions. Saying religion is hardwired misses Nagel's point and merely deflects attention from the issue.

    As an agnostic, I cannot take seriously the Catholicism of my youth. Yet, retired after 37 years of teaching engineering and science, I am a deep skeptic as well of the whole science establishment and its scientism.

    Have you checked out Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism? I’d do that if you haven’t already. He makes a convincing case that naturalism is incompatible with the strong rationalism inherent to the physical sciences.

    David Chalmers deals with self-consciousness quite a bit in his work. He basically argues it is the one inexplicable thing about our existence. We can explain human thoughts, behaviors, emotions, etc. on evolutionary principles save this one thing.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i have read plantinga's work. or perhaps i should say i expended some of my life on that...
  14. @GW
    Have you checked out Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism? I'd do that if you haven't already. He makes a convincing case that naturalism is incompatible with the strong rationalism inherent to the physical sciences.

    David Chalmers deals with self-consciousness quite a bit in his work. He basically argues it is the one inexplicable thing about our existence. We can explain human thoughts, behaviors, emotions, etc. on evolutionary principles save this one thing.

    i have read plantinga’s work. or perhaps i should say i expended some of my life on that…

  15. @Pithlord
    My understanding is that the current view in Religious Studies tends to be that the category of "religion" is misleading when applied in a pre-modern context, even from the Axial Age to the late medieval period. Everyone has always had gods and other supernatural entities, and sometimes other people's gods are your people's demons. Christianity developed categories of the faithful, heathens and heretics, while Islam had believers, unbelievers and peoples of the book. But it is really with Locke and then the First Amendment that it becomes important to have a category of religion, because you need to have something you tolerate while keeping separate from the state.

    Of course, for scientific purposes, you can stipulate any definition of "religion" you want to use to delineate your domain of study. But the question, "Why do people believe in supernatural agents?" is on a totally different order from "Why did post-Reformation Europe first fight about theology and ritual and then decide those issues should be segregated from politics?"

    Once you are into the First Amendment question, then there is a difficult line-drawing exercise where belief in supernatural beings may not be the most important issue.

    Of course, for scientific purposes, you can stipulate any definition of “religion” you want to use to delineate your domain of study. But the question, “Why do people believe in supernatural agents?” is on a totally different order from “Why did post-Reformation Europe first fight about theology and ritual and then decide those issues should be segregated from politics?”

    yes. i don’t find religious studies particularly interesting, because the field as a whole is a little too weepy and emotional for my taste 😉 people from religious studies backgrounds have cried about spirituality in front of me a little too much for my taste.

    Once you are into the First Amendment question, then there is a difficult line-drawing exercise where belief in supernatural beings may not be the most important issue.

    agree with winnifred fallers sullivan in *the impossibility of religious freedom*

    • Replies: @April Brown
    Nothing like getting backed into a corner at a party by somebody who wants to talk about how they are "spiritual, but not religious" to completely ruin the evening.
    , @Spike Gomes
    In my defense, I only moaned and gnashed my teeth. I never wept. ;-)
  16. @Razib Khan
    Of course, for scientific purposes, you can stipulate any definition of “religion” you want to use to delineate your domain of study. But the question, “Why do people believe in supernatural agents?” is on a totally different order from “Why did post-Reformation Europe first fight about theology and ritual and then decide those issues should be segregated from politics?”

    yes. i don't find religious studies particularly interesting, because the field as a whole is a little too weepy and emotional for my taste ;-) people from religious studies backgrounds have cried about spirituality in front of me a little too much for my taste.

    Once you are into the First Amendment question, then there is a difficult line-drawing exercise where belief in supernatural beings may not be the most important issue.


    agree with winnifred fallers sullivan in *the impossibility of religious freedom*

    Nothing like getting backed into a corner at a party by somebody who wants to talk about how they are “spiritual, but not religious” to completely ruin the evening.

    • Replies: @Robert Ford
    just once i want someone to tell me that they're religious but not spiritual:) it'd be refreshing.
  17. @April Brown
    Nothing like getting backed into a corner at a party by somebody who wants to talk about how they are "spiritual, but not religious" to completely ruin the evening.

    just once i want someone to tell me that they’re religious but not spiritual:) it’d be refreshing.

    • Replies: @Pithlord
    I'd describe myself that way. I like rituals and church hierarchies and canon law, but I think Hobbes was vindicated when he said we are no more than matter in motion.
    , @Sandgroper
    My childhood was full of those.
  18. I’ve noticed that in matters of religion people seldom agree, especially on the Internet. I am sure it must be frustrating to someone like Razib who wants to have a conversation and is trying to understand the whole phenomenon or cluster of phenomena that go under the rubric of religion. Maybe Wittgenstein’s notion of family resemblances (that was his term wasn’t it?) would come in handy here: there is no single or well-defined set of features which characterize that to which the word religion refers, but rather a shifting intersection of features. I just thought I would throw that out there. No one thing is essential, not even the supernatural.

  19. @Robert Ford
    just once i want someone to tell me that they're religious but not spiritual:) it'd be refreshing.

    I’d describe myself that way. I like rituals and church hierarchies and canon law, but I think Hobbes was vindicated when he said we are no more than matter in motion.

  20. @Robert Ford
    just once i want someone to tell me that they're religious but not spiritual:) it'd be refreshing.

    My childhood was full of those.

  21. I’m not a Constitutional scholar and perhaps I’m simply transposing my own libertarian views on the founders (feel free to correct me), but I’ve never understood why freedom of religion is viewed in legal circles as the ultimate trump card. For me, the First Amendment is not a random laundry list of freedoms. It is a coherent defense of a person’s right to live in accordance to a moral system. To live under a moral system, one must be able to speak, write, assemble and (if religious) worship freely. To bring it back to the aforementioned Sullivan article, I think Hobby Lobby should have the right to deny contraceptive coverage for whatever reason they like. It doesn’t matter to me whether their opposition to contraceptives was derived from the edicts of a magical sky being or by some non-supernatural belief system. The government has no business forcing people to do something that they believe is morally wrong

    It is probably because of this ideological baggage (and likely ignorance, I’m 23 and thus likely don’t have the wide knowledge base that many here would have) that I would be one of the people that would be tempted to lump political ideology in the same category as religion. If the goal of studying religion in an evolutionary context is to understand something general about the human animal, religion and ideology relate to our adaptation(s) of moral systems to organize ourselves in groups. To me the supernatural component seems like more of a separate issue of how we conceptualize the world. The nexus of the two is at religions as you define them: morality enforced by supernatural powers. I mean, doesn’t this quote from the nature article speak to a distinctiveness of the two components?: “The most immediate way to do this is to align yourself with a supreme deity and then make lists of things people can and cannot do, and these become ‘morals’ when applied to our social behaviour.” To illustrate separately:

    “Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud—that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee—that you do not care to live as a dependent, least of all a dependent on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling—that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others.”-Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

    “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”-Revelation 22:14-15

    Both relate to the importance of honesty. For Rand, reality will supposedly punish liars by making them “pawns”. In the Bible, liars are not allowed in God’s kingdom. Though Rand lacks the requisite “supernatural” part, it seems like a religion to me because in a way it is enforced by punishment. Am I wrong to clump the two because this is an over-generalization? Or is your opposition to the clumping more to do with the fact that “religion” would lose its specificity as an operational definition?

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    but I’ve never understood why freedom of religion is viewed in legal circles as the ultimate trump card.

    people place an inordinate emotional valence to religion. for many it notionally trumps all other identities. this doesn't always happen in practice, but the 'world religions' have a whole ideology about why they are the most important aspect of someone's identity. the legal stance is an acknowledgment of an anthropological fact. many of us atheists wish this weren't so, that religion would simply become another obscure private hobby. but if it became such a thing it wouldn't really be religion. in fact, militant anti-religious sentiment is strongest in areas where religion is not a coercive monopoly, but still has a very powerful influence on the public space (e.g., the modern west). in contrast, in areas where religion is more diffuse and privatized, such as east asia, strident anti-religious sentiment isn't as common. more it's just apathy or confusion (in east asia powerful public space monopolizing religions have arisen in the past, see buddhism in the early tang and also in 16th century japan, but they were crushed by the state and elites).

  22. @Senator Brundlefly
    I'm not a Constitutional scholar and perhaps I'm simply transposing my own libertarian views on the founders (feel free to correct me), but I've never understood why freedom of religion is viewed in legal circles as the ultimate trump card. For me, the First Amendment is not a random laundry list of freedoms. It is a coherent defense of a person's right to live in accordance to a moral system. To live under a moral system, one must be able to speak, write, assemble and (if religious) worship freely. To bring it back to the aforementioned Sullivan article, I think Hobby Lobby should have the right to deny contraceptive coverage for whatever reason they like. It doesn't matter to me whether their opposition to contraceptives was derived from the edicts of a magical sky being or by some non-supernatural belief system. The government has no business forcing people to do something that they believe is morally wrong

    It is probably because of this ideological baggage (and likely ignorance, I'm 23 and thus likely don't have the wide knowledge base that many here would have) that I would be one of the people that would be tempted to lump political ideology in the same category as religion. If the goal of studying religion in an evolutionary context is to understand something general about the human animal, religion and ideology relate to our adaptation(s) of moral systems to organize ourselves in groups. To me the supernatural component seems like more of a separate issue of how we conceptualize the world. The nexus of the two is at religions as you define them: morality enforced by supernatural powers. I mean, doesn’t this quote from the nature article speak to a distinctiveness of the two components?: “The most immediate way to do this is to align yourself with a supreme deity and then make lists of things people can and cannot do, and these become ‘morals’ when applied to our social behaviour.” To illustrate separately:

    "Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud—that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee—that you do not care to live as a dependent, least of all a dependent on the stupidity of others, or as a fool whose source of values is the fools he succeeds in fooling—that honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others."-Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

    "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying."-Revelation 22:14-15

    Both relate to the importance of honesty. For Rand, reality will supposedly punish liars by making them "pawns". In the Bible, liars are not allowed in God's kingdom. Though Rand lacks the requisite "supernatural" part, it seems like a religion to me because in a way it is enforced by punishment. Am I wrong to clump the two because this is an over-generalization? Or is your opposition to the clumping more to do with the fact that “religion” would lose its specificity as an operational definition?

    but I’ve never understood why freedom of religion is viewed in legal circles as the ultimate trump card.

    people place an inordinate emotional valence to religion. for many it notionally trumps all other identities. this doesn’t always happen in practice, but the ‘world religions’ have a whole ideology about why they are the most important aspect of someone’s identity. the legal stance is an acknowledgment of an anthropological fact. many of us atheists wish this weren’t so, that religion would simply become another obscure private hobby. but if it became such a thing it wouldn’t really be religion. in fact, militant anti-religious sentiment is strongest in areas where religion is not a coercive monopoly, but still has a very powerful influence on the public space (e.g., the modern west). in contrast, in areas where religion is more diffuse and privatized, such as east asia, strident anti-religious sentiment isn’t as common. more it’s just apathy or confusion (in east asia powerful public space monopolizing religions have arisen in the past, see buddhism in the early tang and also in 16th century japan, but they were crushed by the state and elites).

  23. So religion just popped up when humans shifted from a hunter gatherer based social organization to a stratified, larger more complex agriculturally based organization?

    Is religion a social artifact from the old Neolithic structures, or a new adaptation?

    If you accept that a society is bio-cultural algorithm of genes and learned behaviors, and it constitutes one of many possible solutions to group survival in a given environment; how does religion as a component of this new social organization promote the fitness of the group? Does it mitigate (as a work around) genetically determined social traits that were a better fit in the old bio-cultural algorithm?

    We lived in small hunter gatherer bands for thousands of years. No doubt we were under selection for genetic traits and learned social behaviors (culture) that helped us survive in those groups.

    I would suggest that religion improved the fitness of societies. It was a method for humans to purposely influence patterns of collective behavior of much larger groups, without wasting as much energy on coercion. It would have been wildly more efficient to replace the external force of the club with internal restraints of guilt in the occident and shame in the peoples of the orient. Moreover, it allowed scalability in human organization. When done right, smaller tribal structures without the direction and coordination of the new religious superstructure with its larger scale would not have had a chance.

    Genetic technology appears to offer a similar opportunity for humans to engineer the genome like we have done with social organization using politics and religion. No wonder eugenics and it’s successor genetic engineering are taboo subjects for polite dinner conversation.

    The old bio-social algorithm of the small hunter gatherer organization still exists in practice on a very limited basis, but I believe the genes are still there, although under selection pressure AND drift because our social and technological innovation have so radically changed the environment as experienced by the individual human organism.

    Many of the old traits, and in fact the physical structures still remain. The brain structure retains and has integrated the old hardware (medulla, amygdala etc) with the new hardware (big prefrontal cortex).

    Religion helps the individual live with these cultural and physical dualities, which are both artifacts and components of various bio-social algorithms..

    So tonight, I am going to a church social function to be with my tribe. It is not too large, so I will have the comfort of knowing nearly everyone. I will share my food with them and they will share theirs with me. We will be a community in the most primal of ways, and as the fire dies, and the embers glow, my wife, my children and I will go to our home and our dog.

    I will pray to a god my prefrontal cortex does not believe in, the child in my lower brain will be comforted, the raging fearful terror that lives with him will be calmed, and I will sleep peacefully.

    I have gotten over my overt atheism, not because God has come to me in a dream, but because it serves no constructive purpose. The current industrialized secular culture in the West does not seem to be working out so well in combination with the collective occidental genome. Other peoples seem to be performing better, if population growth is the true measure of fitness, than the West without its God.

    It appears that Islam an Orthodox Judaism understand this. Russia appears to have relearned the lesson to some degree. China and the West, who knows? May the best algorithm win.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    you need to be more concise. in any case, i think religion has roots in the paleolithic. it's not new.

    If you accept that a society is bio-cultural algorithm of genes and learned behaviors

    the term 'bio-cultural' is bandied about in a way that often makes no sense or adds no value. it's like saying if you "accept that history is the outcome of newtonian mechanics."
  24. @Muse
    So religion just popped up when humans shifted from a hunter gatherer based social organization to a stratified, larger more complex agriculturally based organization?

    Is religion a social artifact from the old Neolithic structures, or a new adaptation?

    If you accept that a society is bio-cultural algorithm of genes and learned behaviors, and it constitutes one of many possible solutions to group survival in a given environment; how does religion as a component of this new social organization promote the fitness of the group? Does it mitigate (as a work around) genetically determined social traits that were a better fit in the old bio-cultural algorithm?

    We lived in small hunter gatherer bands for thousands of years. No doubt we were under selection for genetic traits and learned social behaviors (culture) that helped us survive in those groups.

    I would suggest that religion improved the fitness of societies. It was a method for humans to purposely influence patterns of collective behavior of much larger groups, without wasting as much energy on coercion. It would have been wildly more efficient to replace the external force of the club with internal restraints of guilt in the occident and shame in the peoples of the orient. Moreover, it allowed scalability in human organization. When done right, smaller tribal structures without the direction and coordination of the new religious superstructure with its larger scale would not have had a chance.

    Genetic technology appears to offer a similar opportunity for humans to engineer the genome like we have done with social organization using politics and religion. No wonder eugenics and it's successor genetic engineering are taboo subjects for polite dinner conversation.

    The old bio-social algorithm of the small hunter gatherer organization still exists in practice on a very limited basis, but I believe the genes are still there, although under selection pressure AND drift because our social and technological innovation have so radically changed the environment as experienced by the individual human organism.

    Many of the old traits, and in fact the physical structures still remain. The brain structure retains and has integrated the old hardware (medulla, amygdala etc) with the new hardware (big prefrontal cortex).

    Religion helps the individual live with these cultural and physical dualities, which are both artifacts and components of various bio-social algorithms..

    So tonight, I am going to a church social function to be with my tribe. It is not too large, so I will have the comfort of knowing nearly everyone. I will share my food with them and they will share theirs with me. We will be a community in the most primal of ways, and as the fire dies, and the embers glow, my wife, my children and I will go to our home and our dog.

    I will pray to a god my prefrontal cortex does not believe in, the child in my lower brain will be comforted, the raging fearful terror that lives with him will be calmed, and I will sleep peacefully.

    I have gotten over my overt atheism, not because God has come to me in a dream, but because it serves no constructive purpose. The current industrialized secular culture in the West does not seem to be working out so well in combination with the collective occidental genome. Other peoples seem to be performing better, if population growth is the true measure of fitness, than the West without its God.

    It appears that Islam an Orthodox Judaism understand this. Russia appears to have relearned the lesson to some degree. China and the West, who knows? May the best algorithm win.

    you need to be more concise. in any case, i think religion has roots in the paleolithic. it’s not new.

    If you accept that a society is bio-cultural algorithm of genes and learned behaviors

    the term ‘bio-cultural’ is bandied about in a way that often makes no sense or adds no value. it’s like saying if you “accept that history is the outcome of newtonian mechanics.”

    • Replies: @muse
    Concise - agree.

    It is extremely useful because out here amongst the commoners, the interplay of a culture and its genome with the environment, and thus fitness is not understood. If it can be understood, it is often rejected.

    If we ever hope to have better policy, this relationship needs to be more accessible, implicit in the nomenclature, and widespread.

    If there is a concise way of explaining it, I am all ears, because I am struggling.
    , @TB
    I think it's difficult to understand the phenomenon of religion if one leaves out the usage of mind altering plants, animal poisons and mushrooms throughout the history of mankind and the supernatural experience that can be produced by the central nerve system when these interact with different receptors. All is one is a timeless classic.
  25. @Razib Khan
    you need to be more concise. in any case, i think religion has roots in the paleolithic. it's not new.

    If you accept that a society is bio-cultural algorithm of genes and learned behaviors

    the term 'bio-cultural' is bandied about in a way that often makes no sense or adds no value. it's like saying if you "accept that history is the outcome of newtonian mechanics."

    Concise – agree.

    It is extremely useful because out here amongst the commoners, the interplay of a culture and its genome with the environment, and thus fitness is not understood. If it can be understood, it is often rejected.

    If we ever hope to have better policy, this relationship needs to be more accessible, implicit in the nomenclature, and widespread.

    If there is a concise way of explaining it, I am all ears, because I am struggling.

  26. ” the mass of the rank and file, whose spiritual world is still strongly shaped by the same cognitive parameters one finds in primal “animistic” faiths .”

    Animistic faith is I believe all there is to religion . It’s somewhere deep in our makeup , the mass of the rank and file understand religion better than the elites . Knock wood .

  27. TB says:
    @Razib Khan
    you need to be more concise. in any case, i think religion has roots in the paleolithic. it's not new.

    If you accept that a society is bio-cultural algorithm of genes and learned behaviors

    the term 'bio-cultural' is bandied about in a way that often makes no sense or adds no value. it's like saying if you "accept that history is the outcome of newtonian mechanics."

    I think it’s difficult to understand the phenomenon of religion if one leaves out the usage of mind altering plants, animal poisons and mushrooms throughout the history of mankind and the supernatural experience that can be produced by the central nerve system when these interact with different receptors. All is one is a timeless classic.

    • Replies: @donut
    What those mind altering plants, animal poisons and mushrooms produce is not something extraneous to us . It's there to be found one way or another . Any crisis or trauma forces us in that direction . The very thin veneer of , what ? Sophistication is a delusion . We are still only equipped with the same mental capacities that our neolithic ancestors were and when faced with the unknown and under enough stress will respond the same way . Even Mr. Khan .
  28. @TB
    I think it's difficult to understand the phenomenon of religion if one leaves out the usage of mind altering plants, animal poisons and mushrooms throughout the history of mankind and the supernatural experience that can be produced by the central nerve system when these interact with different receptors. All is one is a timeless classic.

    What those mind altering plants, animal poisons and mushrooms produce is not something extraneous to us . It’s there to be found one way or another . Any crisis or trauma forces us in that direction . The very thin veneer of , what ? Sophistication is a delusion . We are still only equipped with the same mental capacities that our neolithic ancestors were and when faced with the unknown and under enough stress will respond the same way . Even Mr. Khan .

  29. Tribes of hunter-gatherers also have religions so religion pre-dates large multi-ethnic societies. Early states that were religious were not multi-ethnic and it was common for each ethnicity to have its own religion until much later.

    Some have speculated that the turn to agriculture, which is apparently baffling, has its origins in the need to practice religious rites in a stable location.

  30. I just started reading “Religion explained” and one thing that struck me was the parallels between culture or religion and language. At least in the Chomskyan tradition that I adhere to, language is “an instinct to acquire an art” (in Pinker’s words, borrowing from Darwin). Languages are different, but only certain kinds of language are humanly possible. A child exposed to language will acquire it effortlessly within the critical period, but without such exposure she will be unable to do so later. Boyer makes many similar claims about acquisition of religion. I find the theory fundamentally plausible, but note that our theory of religion still has a way to go before it can acquire the precision of current linguistic theory.

    Another parallel between religion and language is that, yes, everybody seems to think he has a valid opinion about what it is, where it comes from and how it’s learned. Razib’s complaints of people spouting bullshit theories on religion reminds me a lot of fellow linguists complaining about how language issues are discussed in the popular press.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    language is the best case scenario for the naturalistic explanation of culture (to the point where some people bracket it outside of culture). i think religion is less clear and distinct. in addition, there's a lot of argument whether the cognitive aspect of religion is adaptive (or just a byproduct), while everyone agrees about language's utility. that being said, i think religion broadly construed is a human universal because it's part of 'evoked culture.' that is, any normal environmental inputs will produce religion in a human society.
  31. @Razib Khan
    fwiw, i have stated that i don't think political religion is a particularly useful definition for what's going on.

    fwiw, i have stated that i don’t think political religion is a particularly useful definition for what’s going on.

    Yeah, I didn’t mean it personally (that isn’t how I roll — ideas either stand or they don’t independent of the individuals who propose them). It’s just that the “political religion” theory strikes me as another one of those attempts to make fascism/Nazism some beast that arose out of nothing, which gives the lie to the “secular” philosophy it’s supposed to be based on.

    From my investigations into the issue, I suspect religion is hardwired and integral to humanity. I lean toward the Jaynesian hypothesis, and I think it merits more research.

  32. Life in this modern world is barely endurable and unutterably bleak as we have relentlessly drained the wonder out of it . Some where the mystery is still hidden with all it’s unknowable glory and immense undiminished power and that is what the spiritual impulse in us yearns for and seeks .

    • Replies: @donut
    And BTW there is no god to help us there . We are left alone each one to find it by him self .
    , @jtgw
    I think this is exactly the kind of armchair theorizing that annoys Razib. I'm a religious man myself and I don't find your notions entirely foreign to my own experience, but you should really try to support it with more than introspection. Do you have evidence that most religious people have the same motivations as you describe here, for instance? Boyer's book suggests not necessarily, e.g. many pre-institutional religions don't seek all-encompassing explanations for life's mysteries, but are more pragmatically tuned to particular events in everyday experience.
  33. @donut
    Life in this modern world is barely endurable and unutterably bleak as we have relentlessly drained the wonder out of it . Some where the mystery is still hidden with all it's unknowable glory and immense undiminished power and that is what the spiritual impulse in us yearns for and seeks .

    And BTW there is no god to help us there . We are left alone each one to find it by him self .

  34. We are all as lost as this :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lS2nX4fuzqc#t=171

    And yet being lost is where our hope lies .

  35. @donut
    Life in this modern world is barely endurable and unutterably bleak as we have relentlessly drained the wonder out of it . Some where the mystery is still hidden with all it's unknowable glory and immense undiminished power and that is what the spiritual impulse in us yearns for and seeks .

    I think this is exactly the kind of armchair theorizing that annoys Razib. I’m a religious man myself and I don’t find your notions entirely foreign to my own experience, but you should really try to support it with more than introspection. Do you have evidence that most religious people have the same motivations as you describe here, for instance? Boyer’s book suggests not necessarily, e.g. many pre-institutional religions don’t seek all-encompassing explanations for life’s mysteries, but are more pragmatically tuned to particular events in everyday experience.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    to be fair, some of donut's "comments" are kind of funny. at least he's concise, even if the value-add is in stylistic flourish, rather than substance.
  36. Annoying Razib is only an ancillary benefit . Evidence ? I don’t care for any evidence other than my own personal experience . And it’s not “armchair theorizing” it’s bitter personal experience . And while I wouldn’t wish any spiritual pain on anyone , spiritual pain is ultimately the only way to break the chains that bind us . It drives us to seek an answer .

  37. @jtgw
    I think this is exactly the kind of armchair theorizing that annoys Razib. I'm a religious man myself and I don't find your notions entirely foreign to my own experience, but you should really try to support it with more than introspection. Do you have evidence that most religious people have the same motivations as you describe here, for instance? Boyer's book suggests not necessarily, e.g. many pre-institutional religions don't seek all-encompassing explanations for life's mysteries, but are more pragmatically tuned to particular events in everyday experience.

    to be fair, some of donut’s “comments” are kind of funny. at least he’s concise, even if the value-add is in stylistic flourish, rather than substance.

    • Replies: @donut
    Even a turd has substance .
  38. @Razib Khan
    to be fair, some of donut's "comments" are kind of funny. at least he's concise, even if the value-add is in stylistic flourish, rather than substance.

    Even a turd has substance .

  39. “even if the value-add is in stylistic flourish, rather than substance.”

    I’m sincere if nothing else but I’ve got no formal education so a lot of what you say goes right by me so I don’t get that .

  40. @jtgw
    I just started reading "Religion explained" and one thing that struck me was the parallels between culture or religion and language. At least in the Chomskyan tradition that I adhere to, language is "an instinct to acquire an art" (in Pinker's words, borrowing from Darwin). Languages are different, but only certain kinds of language are humanly possible. A child exposed to language will acquire it effortlessly within the critical period, but without such exposure she will be unable to do so later. Boyer makes many similar claims about acquisition of religion. I find the theory fundamentally plausible, but note that our theory of religion still has a way to go before it can acquire the precision of current linguistic theory.

    Another parallel between religion and language is that, yes, everybody seems to think he has a valid opinion about what it is, where it comes from and how it's learned. Razib's complaints of people spouting bullshit theories on religion reminds me a lot of fellow linguists complaining about how language issues are discussed in the popular press.

    language is the best case scenario for the naturalistic explanation of culture (to the point where some people bracket it outside of culture). i think religion is less clear and distinct. in addition, there’s a lot of argument whether the cognitive aspect of religion is adaptive (or just a byproduct), while everyone agrees about language’s utility. that being said, i think religion broadly construed is a human universal because it’s part of ‘evoked culture.’ that is, any normal environmental inputs will produce religion in a human society.

    • Replies: @iffen
    Razib,

    I just finished one of the books on your reading list and I want to share a couple of sentences that explained so much of how and why to me.

    The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony

    “Negative evaluations associated with the dying language lead to a descending series of reclassifications by succeeding generations, until no one wants to speak like Grandpa any more. Language shift and the stigmatization of old identities go hand in hand.”
  41. The gist of this conclusion to me seems to be similar to the one in relation to lactase persistence: cultural and social change set the preconditions for evolutionary change, evolutionary change did not trigger cultural and social change.

    Well, wouldn’t you say that it’s more like the two are intertwined? Gene-culture co-evolution. Rapid social changes aren’t brought about by equally rapid evolutionary changes, but rapid social changes can be the result of a “critical mass” of sorts of slow evolutionary changes being reached. The rise of secularism today is perhaps one good example. The “genetic potential” has been building for generations (or at least has been built, since I’m sure present day selective forces are going in the other the direction), but the confluence of modern events is what set the dominoes in motion.

  42. “Even a turd has substance .”

    I was wondering why that was posted and mine wasn’t.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    1) that commenter has contributed more than brain farts in the past, so some slack. especially since the comments were short and funny in a car-crash sort of way

    2) i recall your comment was long and somewhat rambling, and frankly didn't contribute much original insight to me. i'm tolerant of the latter issue, as sometimes people just want their opinions expressed, but please be more concise and clear in the future if that's your aim. the longer your comment the less likely i'm to clear it if it's inchoate or not nearly as novel as you might think it is.

  43. @Drapetomaniac
    "Even a turd has substance ."

    I was wondering why that was posted and mine wasn't.

    1) that commenter has contributed more than brain farts in the past, so some slack. especially since the comments were short and funny in a car-crash sort of way

    2) i recall your comment was long and somewhat rambling, and frankly didn’t contribute much original insight to me. i’m tolerant of the latter issue, as sometimes people just want their opinions expressed, but please be more concise and clear in the future if that’s your aim. the longer your comment the less likely i’m to clear it if it’s inchoate or not nearly as novel as you might think it is.

  44. @Razib Khan
    Of course, for scientific purposes, you can stipulate any definition of “religion” you want to use to delineate your domain of study. But the question, “Why do people believe in supernatural agents?” is on a totally different order from “Why did post-Reformation Europe first fight about theology and ritual and then decide those issues should be segregated from politics?”

    yes. i don't find religious studies particularly interesting, because the field as a whole is a little too weepy and emotional for my taste ;-) people from religious studies backgrounds have cried about spirituality in front of me a little too much for my taste.

    Once you are into the First Amendment question, then there is a difficult line-drawing exercise where belief in supernatural beings may not be the most important issue.


    agree with winnifred fallers sullivan in *the impossibility of religious freedom*

    In my defense, I only moaned and gnashed my teeth. I never wept. 😉

  45. I wouldn’t say I want religion to be obscure. I’m a closeted atheist and most (if not all) of my family and friends are religious. It likely is a faith in God that animates them to do good and brings them solace in rough times. For that reason I don’t have any desire to proselytize or explain my non-belief. I think it would be hard to do so without seeming insulting to something that they hold dear. Despite their support for a few things I support (no creationism in science class), lots of people commonly represented as representatives of the Atheist movement come across to me as smug elitists, analogous to adults that relish telling toddlers that there is no Santa Claus.

  46. @Razib Khan
    language is the best case scenario for the naturalistic explanation of culture (to the point where some people bracket it outside of culture). i think religion is less clear and distinct. in addition, there's a lot of argument whether the cognitive aspect of religion is adaptive (or just a byproduct), while everyone agrees about language's utility. that being said, i think religion broadly construed is a human universal because it's part of 'evoked culture.' that is, any normal environmental inputs will produce religion in a human society.

    Razib,

    I just finished one of the books on your reading list and I want to share a couple of sentences that explained so much of how and why to me.

    The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony

    “Negative evaluations associated with the dying language lead to a descending series of reclassifications by succeeding generations, until no one wants to speak like Grandpa any more. Language shift and the stigmatization of old identities go hand in hand.”

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    this is the right thread for this comment? shouldn't it be the open thread? just curious if you made a mistake.

    that's a mouthful of a sentence :-) please note that anthony has updated some of his views in light of genetics....
  47. Also from “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”: “Traditional people and, I think, people of the Paleolithic had very probably some…two concepts which change our vision of the world. They’re the concept of fluidity and the concept of permeability. Fluidity means that the categories that we have…man, woman, horse, I don’t know, tree, et cetera… – can shift. A tree may speak. A man can get transformed into an animal and the other way around, given certain circumstances. The concept of permeability is that there are no barriers, so to speak, between the world where we are and the world of the spirits. A wall can talk to us, or a wall can accept us or refuse us. A shaman, for example, can send his or her spirit to the world of the supernatural or can receive the visit, inside him or her, of supernatural spirits. If you put those two concepts together, you realize how different life must have been for those people from the way we live now.”

    “In north Australia, for example, in the 1970s, an ethnographer was on the field with an aborigine who was his informer, and once they arrived in a rock shelter. And in that rock shelter, there were some beautiful paintings, but they were decaying. And the aborigine started to become sad because he saw the paintings decaying. And in that region, there is a tradition
    of touching up the paintings time after time, so he sat, and he started to touch up the paintings.
    So the ethnographer asked the question that every Western person would have asked: “Why are you painting?” And the man answered, and his answer is very troubling, because he answered, “I am not. I am not painting. That’s the hand, only hand, spirit who is actually
    painting now.”

    Seems that so long ago, we already we so prone to seeing agency in everything. And for looking for cause and effect. Just a thought…

  48. @iffen
    Razib,

    I just finished one of the books on your reading list and I want to share a couple of sentences that explained so much of how and why to me.

    The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony

    “Negative evaluations associated with the dying language lead to a descending series of reclassifications by succeeding generations, until no one wants to speak like Grandpa any more. Language shift and the stigmatization of old identities go hand in hand.”

    this is the right thread for this comment? shouldn’t it be the open thread? just curious if you made a mistake.

    that’s a mouthful of a sentence 🙂 please note that anthony has updated some of his views in light of genetics….

    • Replies: @iffen
    I was going to use the open thread but then I read this:

    "language is the best case scenario for the naturalistic explanation of culture"

    and for me it solidified the idea that language is a really big deal.(biggest?)

    Yet, today it is a code that can be translated by a computer into another code that means the same thing and I am not sure that I think that is true anymore. I'm not sure they are just words that can be separated from the people who use them.
  49. @Razib Khan
    this is the right thread for this comment? shouldn't it be the open thread? just curious if you made a mistake.

    that's a mouthful of a sentence :-) please note that anthony has updated some of his views in light of genetics....

    I was going to use the open thread but then I read this:

    “language is the best case scenario for the naturalistic explanation of culture”

    and for me it solidified the idea that language is a really big deal.(biggest?)

    Yet, today it is a code that can be translated by a computer into another code that means the same thing and I am not sure that I think that is true anymore. I’m not sure they are just words that can be separated from the people who use them.

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