Humans: A pattern seeking species

May 26, 2007 at 7:55 am 14 comments

One of the great aspects of this blog is your participation. Here are a couple comments from Simen’s Another One Bites the Dust blog.

From Karen:

Quotation Mark 3We’re predisposed, as pattern-seeking mammals, to find “causes” for things we can’t explain.This is why we’re all so riveted by stories of any kind – movies, TV shows, novels, theater. These big brains of ours love explication and resolution.

It think it also explains why most of us are predisposed to believe in the supernatural. It’s likely that there is/was a evolutionary advantage to making up answers and inventing rituals that help us blunt or deny the reality and finality of death.

What happens is that as science begins to provide provable explanations for many of these things, supernatural belief gets continually edged into smaller and smaller “gaps.” Quantum physics is the new “gap” for many believers, though it’s not likely to provide a refuge for the supernatural once it begins to be better understood.

When Benjamin Franklin invented the lightening rod, preachers all over New England ranted Quotation Mark 4and raved against him! They actually taught that lightening and thunder was god’s wrath being “poured out” on evil people – and they thought Franklin was playing god with his invention that kept many “wicked” people from dying in house fires.

From fellow blogger, BeepBeepItsMe:

Quotation Mark 3We are a pattern seeking species. Through our ability to differentiate similar from dissimilar, we are able to produce complex environments like blogs for example. The language we use on blogs is a complex pattern of symbols, shapes, and sounds which we are able to make sense of through the processes of similar and dissimilar – the processes of visual and auditory discrimination.

If we think back to out tribal ancestors, this ability to form visual and auditory patterns of recognition would have been a survival advantage. Not only would it have helped mankind to be able to progress to more and more complex technological and cultural concepts – but it would have enabled many of our ancestors to survive, literally.

CatNot only are we pattern seeking animals, we are a species which is honed evolutionary for physical survival. The ancestor who was in the forest at night and saw a shape in the woods with which he/she was unfamiliar, would have probably quickly visually processed if the shape was friend or foe. If the shape could not be quickly identified as a friend, or as something harmless, it would have been advantageous from a survival point of view to assume that the shape was harmful. And as the natural world was distinctly more harmful to human survival than it is now for many of us – the wary individual would have been one who assumed harm.

Of course, when he or she got back into the comfort and security of the tribe and the fire, he/she would have described this menacing shape which confronted him in the darkness. As danger lurked in nature in either human or animal form – the shape, whether it was a tree trunk or not – may have been interpreted to be a threatening combination of something human-like but not human, animal like, but not a known animal.

We can still see this survival mechanism in play with other herd species such as zebras or deer. It is advantageous to assume the worst when grazing on the plain. The deer which is “spooked” over a small sound or an odd shadow, may increase the survival of himself and also the herd.

So fear or anxiety is a survival mechanism, but continual fear would be deleterious as the processes of living would not occur if a species was in a continual state of fear or apprehension. The trade off to this survival mechanism is that in many circumstances the fear is irrational. How many times in a herd situation, is the herd frightened by a sound or by something visual which does not pose any threat to its existence?

So basically as a pattern seeking species which is honed through evolution towards survival, we are fearful of situations, sounds, and images which we can even slightly define as a potential threat. These threats, irrational and imagined in many instances, take on the attributes and characteristics of KNOWN threats. Human being’s known threats are other humans and other powerful animals – which is why these “mysterious” sounds and shapes take on the attributes and characteristics of known dangers. So a shape in the forest becomes human-Quotation Mark 4 but not completely human and a sound in the forest, or in the house becomes the sound of an animal predator.

Fear can be useful, even when that which is feared is irrational.

Entry filed under: The de-Convert. Tags: , , , , , , .

Speaking in Tongues: Shandalahai! Harmonization by Omission

14 Comments Add your own

  • 1. beepbeepitsme  |  May 26, 2007 at 5:54 am

    And if I can better qualify the last part.

    Fear can be useful, even when that which is feared is irrational.

  • 2. Simen  |  May 26, 2007 at 8:44 am

    So basically, what you’re saying is that as a survival mechanism, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Of course, too much anxiety, especially in a self-conscious species, can lead to suicidal behavior, which is the opposite of what we want from an evolutionary standpoint.

    Karen said:

    What happens is that as science begins to provide provable explanations for many of these things, supernatural belief gets continually edged into smaller and smaller “gaps.” Quantum physics is the new “gap” for many believers, though it’s not likely to provide a refuge for the supernatural once it begins to be better understood.

    It’s important to note that quantum mechanics really is so well understood that those who claim it’s a refuge for the supernatural haven’t understood it (and neither will I pretend I understand it). It’s counterintuitive, but it’s entirely natural. I’ve seen internet mysticists use an argument roughly of the form:

    1. Quantum physics is weird.
    2. Quantum physics is true.
    3. [Insert mystic concept] is weird.
    4. Therefore, [Insert mystic concept] is true.

    It’s laughably wrong. Not that I think that’s what Karen was doing.

  • 3. Karen  |  May 26, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    1. Quantum physics is weird.
    2. Quantum physics is true.
    3. [Insert mystic concept] is weird.
    4. Therefore, [Insert mystic concept] is true.

    It’s laughably wrong. Not that I think that’s what Karen was doing.

    No, I know exactly what you mean. In fact, I’ve seen people follow that exact 1-4 process that you listed in order to justify all kinds of strange, New Age beliefs as well as more traditional religion.

    With the CERN collider coming on line in the next couple of years, we may indeed start to understand some of that “weirdness” and sort the facts from the theory. That may very well quench the tendency we’ve noticed to “fit” the supernatural into science.

    The other “last refuge” is the brain, I think. As neurologists begin to get a better handle on how the brain works, and how our thoughts are all related to chemical and electrical signals, that arena will start to be squeezed shut, too. I mean, it’s very unromantic to think of love as a complex but predictable series of chemical reactions, but that seems to be what it boils down to, rather than something that is inspired from an external source like a deity.

  • 4. epiphanist  |  May 26, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    (supernatural belief gets continually edged into smaller and smaller “gaps.” )

    Not so. Love is no secret.

    http://epiphanist.wordpress.com/self-portrait/secret/

  • 5. Simen  |  May 26, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    The attitude to the brain is peculiar. Consciousness feels as something separate from matter, so people will assume it is. Yet nobody seems to have anything useful to say about consciousness or the human mind on a dualistic worldview, and if they have, they won’t publish it in peer-reviewed journals for the world’s scientists to tear it apart. No doubt they will tell you it’s because scientists are biased against them, while in reality it’s because they don’t have anything true to say.

    Epiphanist, poem isn’t the ideal argument form. Do you have anything to say? If so, please say it in cleartext.

  • 6. Karen  |  May 26, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    The attitude to the brain is peculiar. Consciousness feels as something separate from matter, so people will assume it is.

    Yes. It’s highly intuitive to imagine a dualistic mind-body, or physical-spiritual system, so it makes all kinds of “sense” to us to imagine that we are eternal beings that exist temporarily in finite bodies.

    However, there’s just no evidence for that to be true. It’s sort of like how it’s intuitive to think that the sun revolves around the earth, or that everything in nature had a “designer.” From our perspective, all that makes sense!

    One problem: it’s all wrong.

    There is some great work being done now in terms of studying consciousness – how it arose, whether other species have it, etc. Certainly the large primates, dolphins and elephants have some amount of self-awareness, which is interesting.

  • 7. beepbeepitsme  |  May 26, 2007 at 8:51 pm

    There appears to be evidence of chimpanzees deliberately making spears as tools. I would suggest that this tool making activity requires a degree of consciousness or self-awareness. The ability to plan indicates that a species has an appreciation of time – not by necessity time as humans know of it – but it is planning for a future activity. This suggests an understanding of at least “now” and “later” – if you get my drift.

    Chimpanzees ‘hunt using spears’

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6387611.stm

  • 8. epiphanist  |  May 27, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    Hello Simen.
    Which part of “Not so.” were you struggling with? It is one simple concept.
    The verse at http://epiphanist.wordpress.com/self-portrait/secret/ has at least nine concepts (Where’s Wally?) and an illustration so it is not surprising then that you floundered with it.
    The important line for you is “In acceptance comes understanding” which is the exact opposite of the approach you are suggesting to me. I was never fond of an anal retentive thought process.
    Einstein said it as well as anyone “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.”
    I agree with you that you should not be part of the Dumb Disneyland Religion thing which is so prevalent in America. Having established what you are not is zero challenge though. The hard yards (or metres) are still in front of you.
    Grace and Peace.

  • 9. Simen  |  May 27, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    I’m sorry, but your writing doesn’t make sense at all. Either it’s stating the obvious (“We are who we are”) or it it nonsensical (“The secret is that there is no secret”).

    I also think that “in acceptance comes understanding” is an incredibly stupid concept. So religion doesn’t make sense until you accept it? That’s like saying “X doesn’t make sense unless you accept that X is true” – of course X is true when you have defined it as such!

    Insulting others isn’t a very good argument form either.

  • 10. Epiphanist  |  May 28, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    Hello Simen,
    Only being prepared to make sense of things in your own terms is genuine evidence of a closed mind.

  • 11. Karen  |  May 28, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    Only being prepared to make sense of things in your own terms is genuine evidence of a closed mind.

    How else could someone possibly “make sense of things” if not on their own terms? Do you mean that what you are saying only makes sense to you, but others should accept it anyway, even if it’s nonsensical to them?

    I don’t understand…

  • 12. Epiphanist  |  May 29, 2007 at 8:04 am

    Preparedness is the issue here. How do you learn, grow or discover if you won’t move beyond what you already know?

  • 13. watermelonpunch  |  March 31, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Whoa, a year out of date, but I came across this discussion, and simply had to interject because of a terrible misuse of the english language that has caused much misunderstanding, ironically, and not just here.

    “I also think that “in acceptance comes understanding” is an incredibly stupid concept. So religion doesn’t make sense until you accept it?”

    It IS a stupid concept if you think of that in terms of a scientific mindset and you have a firm grasp of the english language and all the vocabulary words at one’s disposal to communicate.

    But I know from my studies, that when people speak in terms of spirituality or social harmony and the like, and they say, “acceptance promotes understanding”… I don’t think they’re trying to communicate that you will somehow be instantly taught the whys, wherefores, cause & effect issues of something through your acceptance of it.

    In this context, they mean the word UNDERSTANDING = TOLERANCE.

    In other words, literally, Acceptance promotes Tolerance. And this, I think, is a fair logical statement, and perfectly in line with what is generally known about psychology.

    Like I said, this isn’t a very good usage of the english language to use the word “understanding”. But it IS the gist of most religious assertions that promote acceptance.

    Of course the more fundamental dogmatic believers in whichever religions, or even in science or any other topic of study, will contort some quote or other, some slogan or other, to fit their agenda, regardless of how inaccurate or untrue.
    And frankly, I personally think that’s what happened here with that little interchange. That’s my opinion.

    But the original meaning of that assertion is true – acceptance promotes tolerance. I know this to be true because of my own practice, my own thoughts, and my own feelings.

    BUT, I think there’s psychologically tendency for many people (at least among people that I have known), to STRONGLY DESIRE that understanding promote tolerance. Many people want that badly.
    In that, if one could only understand why someone did something, it would be acceptable, and therefore tolerable. This strong desire keeps a lot of people stuck suffering, I think. It keeps people stuck in hope misplaced. Seeking answers they’ll never like, and maybe never believe. It keeps people stuck in putting up with crap. And then if left to fester in that stuck state, it leads to war – of one kind or another.

    It’s why sociopaths/psychopaths are so frightening to many people – because the answer of “why” behind many heinous actions, just isn’t acceptable or even fathomable to most people. “Because I wanted to and it gave me pleasure”, for most people, just won’t be an understandable reason for committing heinous crimes. Yet there’s ample evidence it’s absolutely true of some people deemed sociopaths/psychopaths.
    Which is why people get really riled in calling for punishment of them, they want revenge (war). It brings up very deep feelings. They feel the presense of evil.
    Perhaps justifiably, I don’t suggest allowing known serial killers who’ve mass murdered to roam the streets freely. And I don’t suggest that it’s a desirable attitude by any stretch of the imagination.
    However, non-acceptance, is not very logical, not for the survival of the many, and not for mental peace either.
    It makes far more sense to accept that other people may be beyond your ability or desire to understand. And that acceptance can help you SAFELY tolerate people like that in the world. Not tolerate what they do, but tolerate that they exist.
    First, by being more conscious and aware that there are people who operate and think differently, and protect yourself from them in whatever ways are reasonable considering the fact they do exist. And second, in not “taking it personally” – ie: this person wronged me/my fellow/society because they are fundamentally different from me in a way I don’t understand, not because they’re the same as me, think like me, so they must really hate me/my fellow/society and they must be evil… and therefore I am urged to war/resentement/mental discontent.

    In this way, acceptance not only promotes tolerance. It’s actually a viable intellectual reasonable rational method of approaching the world of SOCIETY.

    Does this concept/method work in “hard science”? I don’t know that there’s any parallel or not. And it’s irrelevant in this discussion, I think.
    Because whoever first asserted the concept of “acceptance promotes tolerance” was definitely talking about practical matters of human interaction and mental ease, and at the time of conceiving the concept, probably NOT AT ALL concerned with the geology of mars, the chemical make-up of human blood, string theory, possible dimensions in the fabric of the cosmos, nor the effects of electricity through conduits. It is concerned with the practical matters of human interaction and personal peace.

    That’s not to say there’s no advantage to acceptance – and moreover leaving go of attachment, in the scientific process. Just as some people’s attachment to Earth at the center kept them from believing Galileo’s observation, scientists, too, can become too attached to some theory or whatever, be unwilling to accept (and therefore unable to see) new evidence, and therefore remain stuck. It’s not unheard of. Human failings can befall most humans at some point or another, so it’s best not to judge too harshly. ;)

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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