2016-07-02

Theory of mind & Religion

Reinventing the wheel is hard, reusing it is easy.
Humans made sophisticated tools during the early stone age. The next generation had to learn the necessary techniques. Teaching was required. The human eye became white allowing one to accurately guess focus and attention of pupils. Moreover, early humans collaboratively defended their group against predators in the savannah. Knowing how others react makes a defense more successful. Humans developed the ability called theory of mind. Small toddlers recognise, when they don't know how to proceed and request the attention of their parents. Preschoolers understand how the mind of others work. Understanding patterns and anticipating reactions payed off.

When the wind picks up speed and the sky turns grey, it was advisable to return to one's cave. Again, it was useful to recognise the patterns. Humans had learned how to do that with respect to other humans, assuming a mind to recognize was all it required. Reusing the recently acquired theory of mind is much simpler than inventing science from scratch. Thunder and lightning were soon associated with Thor. Interacting with other humans is the norm, hence early humans tried to enter negotiations with the deities. Sacrificing an ox in order to gain goodwill might be just that. 

At first, there were deities for each and every phenomenon. Then, it turned out that there is a connection between everything - all the gods were replaced by the assumed superior creator, the single god most people worship. When people resort to made by god  in the lack of a scientific explanation, they are applying the older and more developed mental model, which in addition is accessible to intuition. Science is a recent human invention and quite often intuitively inaccessible - moreover it requires learning, while the theory of mind is acquired during early childhood.

The gods became obsolete, because humans do no longer need the theory of mind to understand nature - they have science instead.


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