Monday, February 14, 2005

Evolution - Are we kidding ourselves?

No this isn't another evolution post. Well, not really. I am still working througg Why we lie. This book deals with deception from an evolutionary psychologist's perspective. Going through Sunday, I found another interesting section.

Our minds are anticipatory engines equipped by natural selection with intimations of the tasks required for survival. At that fateful moment when our species became its own main predator, these well-practiced cognitive routines swung into action in the social arena.

And a short while later

An artful wheeling-dealing species must must have a knack for predicting controlling, and understanding behaviour. In order to do so, it must have an intuitive grasp of how to infer others' mental states and how these mental states work together to produce behaviour. For this reason, we spend a good deal of our time trying to figure out the mental states of others-their beliefs, desires, goals, and fears-so as to manipulate their behaviour in ways that serve our own interests.

Now Smith, being more wary than I, doesn't immediately jump to the thought, like I am going to, that much of our mental processes may have evolved to enable us to figure out other people rather than to try and figure out ourselves. Thus the mind is less of a self-reflexive tool that it is an external-anticipatory one. In the next paragraph (page 106), Smith states;

A savy social operator needs to have an excellent grasp of human self-interests, because it's impossible to beguile others unless you understand what makes them tick. However, self-deception, which is also essential for competent social manipulation, pulls us in the opposite direction, leading us to disavow knowledge about human self-interest, and encouraging a rather naive conception of human nature.

I think ties in to some of what I was trying to get at last year when I talked about everyday zealotry & cultural cults , well at least as much as it relates to the encouragement of a naive view of human nature. People have a tendency to want to fit in to groups where they understand the "unconscious" language that Smith used to pillar the preceding quotes. To my mind, people need venues where the sincerity of actions (and ideas) can be easily referenced. So in my view, cults would, ironically enough, provide a venue where things are reliable, at least within their predetermined dogmatic confines. Of course to outsiders most stereotypical cults have leaders who are purposely acting from without these confines. This could also be their draw. If one is willing to fully accept a number of common far out beliefs, chances are that this person's world view is similar enough to yours to make them again, ironically enough, reliable in a intra-deceptional role. Of course by this I don't mean that they won't deceive, only that it will be easy to pick up on these deceptions.

Now what other consequences would Smith's ideas have for religion?

For one, I think it makes it easy to see the motivations for humanist perspectives. Another is that it makes having a very tight community, keyed up on potential differences necessary to analyze the value of member stated "God said" proclamations. If all I have to do is say "God said give me all your money," I am at a pretty big advantage over you. Thus members should, somehow, be very sensitive to possible deception. Perhaps this explains some of the animosity that unfortunately exists over religion. People are naturally hesitant about accepting others when they can reach an apparentely deceptive conclusion from the same set of base facts.

1 comment:

chris g said...

A good take against evolutionary psychology can be found at mixing memories