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root
04-27-2006, 03:51 PM
I was reading an intereting article today by Robin Dunbar studies evolutionary psychology and behavioral ecology at the University of Liverpool, UK. Thought I would share it so have hand typed it:

Perhaps your sentiments lie with Karl Popper. Religion, argued the great philosopher of science, lies in the realms of metaphysics and is not open to scientific enquiry. That is the line most biologists take to justify sidestepping the issue. But there is no denying that religion and gods are a core part of human behaviour. That's why I and a growing number of biologists think we must offer some insight into the questions of why religion exists and at what point in human evolution it began.

Humans exhibit one feature that is very odd by animal standards, namely our extraordinary willingness to accept the will of the community and even to die for it. This level of altruism is the key to our success, allowing us to exploit cooperative solutions to the problems of individual survival and reproduction. For these to work, however, the individual has to be prepared to trade immediate personal interests for long-term gains. And high levels of group conformity expose us to the risk of free riders - those who take the benefits of sociality but will not pay the costs.

Of course, we can and do control free riders with policing and appeals to decency. But in the end, both strategies carry only so much weight: who cares if you don't like what I do if I gain enough by doing it. Religion offers a significant advance because the threat of intervention by forces beyond our control - whether now or after death - offers a level of penalty that far exceeds anything the civil estate can manage. But it only works if people believe in the existence of a shared supernatural world.

That's where our species' special talent for mind reading comes in. This phenomenon is best known in the form of "theory of mind": the ability to understand that someone else has a mind driven by belief-states. This might be represented in the sentence: "I believe that you suppose that there is a supernatural being who understands that you and I want to aspire to behave decently." It is this kind of thinking that enables us to go beyond holding personal supernatural beliefs to organising religion as a shared, social phenomenon.

So, our brains allow us to create gods and religions. But is this ability simply an accidental product of the evolution of big brains, or is it an adaptation? My own studies show that in primates, including humans, the volume of the neocortex - and especially the frontal lobe - is directly correlated with group size and social skills. In other words, the evolution of brain size has been driven by the need to provide the computational capacity to support the social skills needed to maintain stability among large groups. And in the case of humans, these social adaptations include religion.

By recognising that religion requires a large amount of mental power, we can also start to ask when it might have evolved. Plotting theory of mind abilities as a function of brain size in our fossil lineage suggests that the complexity required to support religion is likely to have arisen very late in our evolutionary history. It could not have happened before the appearance of Homo sapiens half a million years ago, and possibly not until anatomically modern humans appeared 200,000 years ago. That tallies with evidence for the evolution of language, another prerequisite for religion.

Of course, religion isn't all stick and no carrot. While religious sanctions help enforce conformity, religious experiences make us feel part of the group. Once again, evolution seems to have furnished us with mental mechanisms that make this possible. In recent years neuroscience has revealed the so-called God-spot - part of the brain's left parietal lobe, responsible for our sense of spatial self - an area that shuts down when individuals experience ecstatic states (New Scientist, 21 April 2001, p 24). As well as being linked with a sense of "oneness with the universe", it also creates the blinding flash of light associated with trances and religious experiences.

But perhaps the most powerful device for reinforcing commitment to the group must be endorphins. These brain chemicals are released when the body is under stress. It's surely no coincidence that most religions involve practices such as flagellation or long periods spent singing or dancing, which trigger a flood of endorphins whose opiate-like effects make us feel relaxed and at peace with those we share the experience with.

So, gods are created by big brains to prevent free riders benefiting from cooperative society without paying the costs. But religious experience can also be seen in a more positive light, as a way to help reinforce the group's effectiveness as a bulwark against the vagaries of the natural world.
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wilberhum
04-27-2006, 04:54 PM
There are some really interesting thoughts in the article. I have tried to get some insight on the evolution of religion. The fact that we can find some religious artifacts but they really do not explain what the people believed. There are multiple reasonable theories, but none can provide proof, only insight.
Though the middle of the article was quite interesting, I think it starts out with some fallacies.

That is the line most biologists take to justify sidestepping the issue.
Sidestepping the issue? There is nothing scientific about god. So not bringing god into science is like not bringing math into civic law.
But there is no denying that religion and gods are a core part of human behavior.
It is only a core part for those that believe in god and/or religion.
Humans exhibit one feature that is very odd by animal standards, namely our extraordinary willingness to accept the will of the community and even to die for it.
There is nothing odd about this. It is a behavior exhibited by most pack animals.
Religion offers a significant advance because the threat of intervention by forces beyond our control.
That is only valid if you assume that there is a power in control and it will help you.
That's where our species' special talent for mind reading comes in.
Humans can read minds? I have spent over 10 years trying to figure out what my wife is thinking. I haven’t got it right yet.

But, all in all, quite interesting. Thank you for sharing it.
Wilber
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mirage41
04-27-2006, 05:08 PM
Originally Posted by wilberhum
There are some really interesting thoughts in the article. I have tried to get some insight on the evolution of religion. The fact that we can find some religious artifacts but they really do not explain what the people believed. There are multiple reasonable theories, but none can provide proof, only insight.
Though the middle of the article was quite interesting, I think it starts out with some fallacies.

That is the line most biologists take to justify sidestepping the issue.
Sidestepping the issue? There is nothing scientific about god. So not bringing god into science is like not bringing math into civic law.
But there is no denying that religion and gods are a core part of human behavior.
It is only a core part for those that believe in god and/or religion.
Humans exhibit one feature that is very odd by animal standards, namely our extraordinary willingness to accept the will of the community and even to die for it.
There is nothing odd about this. It is a behavior exhibited by most pack animals.
Religion offers a significant advance because the threat of intervention by forces beyond our control.
That is only valid if you assume that there is a power in control and it will help you.
That's where our species' special talent for mind reading comes in.
Humans can read minds? I have spent over 10 years trying to figure out what my wife is thinking. I haven’t got it right yet.

But, all in all, quite interesting. Thank you for sharing it.
Wilber


A lot of socialogists and and neuroscientists agree that as the human brain developed and we became capable of foresight it came with a major problem that other animals don't really have to deal with - the knowledge of our own mortality.

The religious/spiritual center of our brains developed to be able to cope with the consciousness of our own impending end. So I think the desire to find supernatural answers that tell us we can live forever is a biological adaptation to cope. I have some books related to this, like the God Gene. I'll try to find some links that expand this topic.

Of course religion is just a negative by-product of this "spiritual" center of our brains combined with the growth of city states and priestly classes.
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root
04-27-2006, 06:00 PM
Religions like Islam have contributed greatly to todays society, for within a blink of an eye which is still too longer of time span in evolution so I would say within a nano second the Human mind has had to adapt from this:



This was once home for the Neanderthals until they were "evicted" by modern humans who then moved in and formed stronger social groups they needed and for social networks. A pool of people one knows and shares information with. The increased knowledge of a larger region made Modern humans more able to compete successfully for resources in the Caucasus mountain valleys.

36,000 years later (the nano-second) in evolutionary term we find ourselves here:



religion I believe helped to stabalise this explosion in social interaction and the development of knowledge. As a species, it is a remarkable adaptation that our brains have gone from primal instinct to social adaptation so quickly I am not at all surprised that many humans still need to hold onto religion as a way of coming to terms with life as we know it.

Adaptation to Urban life is one of the grates i believe open air observatories for evolution and not just for humans, other animals too are being observed in an everyday struggle to adapt and survive. An animal is said to be in an evolutionary illusion or trap when it does something it has evolved to do, but at the wrong time or in the wrong place. The concept may help explain why so many squirrels get squashed on city streets, For millions of years, squirrels have evolved to cross open spaces as quickly as possible, without wasting time watching for predators that they would not be able to escape anyway. Crossing modern city roads in such a manner has a devastating effect on squirrels, thier adaptation already shows signs of changing where only the new adapted squirrel stays alive long enough to reproduce.

Birds are the same, especially crows. I remember being a kid and my dad peeping the horn to scare the crows off the road, now I hardly need to do that. Crows are adapting and fly off before I get close enough to squash em in my car, now instinctive to them, passed on by the adapted crows who then reproduced and contributed to a genetic inprint that gave the crows an instinctive survival advantage.............

Perhaps religion is on par with santa clause. At first, the children behave and we threaten them with "santa don't bring bad kids pressies, so behave". By the time they reach ten they realise santa does not actually exist but they are mentally capable and nurtured to be reasonably well behaved. Perhaps as a civilization grows older we too realise that the "God" story is not the truth, but we are advanced enough to know wrong from right and live peacefully in a modern society.
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