Thursday, December 08, 2005

InG we T - Depth processing

In Gods we trust
Introduction 1.3 -Depth processing

All religions have core beliefs that confound these innate expectations about the world, such as faith in physically powerful but essentially bodiless deities. These beliefs grad attention, activate intuition, and mobilize inference in ways that facilitate their social transmission, cultural selection, and historical persistence. New experiments suggest that such beliefs, in small doses, are optimal for memory. This greatly favors their cultural survival. - Atran, In Gods We Trust

The idea of depth processing has always interested me. It just makes sense. It is interesting to ponder the effect it has on our view of the world, especially in relation to religion. If religion provides yet another layer of interpretation, shouldn't it be a useful tool in helping us better comprehend, or at least remember things?

For instance, I personally remember things better if I see them as well as hear them. Obviously this is because I am a visual learner. However I remember things much better if I can extract a core meaning from them. My brother, and I are some of the few people that explain what a movie is about, not by going through the plot, but by first starting to explain the authors premise. (This makes it hard to describe most hollywood movies to people. They usually have little premise. AI, Ronin, Frailty, Houses of Sand and Fog, etc however are quite easy to talk about.) The extra associations made with a concept make it easier to remember. One merely describes the core idea you have rather than describing numerous unconnected episodes. (This seems similar to the idea I read in Pinker where he mentioned that we remember objects based on expansions of a few basic shapes. ie a chair will be remembered as a square with a few stretches here and there, a few rounded bits, and a bit of a tilt. Extra schemas get used for other details such as cushions. In effect it is a very novel jpeg like compression)

If religion adds another layer in comprehension, it should prove a useful tool. Obviously religious tendencies aren't going to help us remember a chair any better, but they may help us with more socially related questions. How does this person's actions mesh, not just with my schemas on personal interaction, but on the metaschemas that religious tendencies may provide. Is it another filter that better enables decisions of "fit"? Does it provide another layer to improve memory of people's actions and motifs?

Just a note, Atran does discuss a corollary to this issue in quite a bit of depth later on. However, the discussion centers around the memorability of slightly counter-intuitive ideas. At least as far as I am aware, he doesn't discuss the concept that religious thought can add another layer to the interpretation of data, thus making things more memorable through depth processing. Perhaps part of this is due to the fact that little work has been done on this area. Not being a cognitive scientist, I can't say. Any details on this point?

1 comment:

jeff g said...

The way I interpret this part of the book (Boyer spends about half of his book discussing this single point) is in terms of memetics.

The flaws of memetics are that it doesn't at all addressed the origin of variability and there really isn't any substrate which could count as a replicator of any kind, thus calling into question the idea of "heritability." It also side steps the questions of what, exactly, the selective pressures might be.

The strength of memetics, however, is in it account of the "selfish meme," namely that what is best at reproducing will be what will reproduce. This is exactly what I (tentatively) thing Atran plans to do with this section. Namely, what happens to be most memorable according to our cognitive natures is what will tend to be remembered, and therefore transmitted best in any given society. This would be especially important in a totally oral tradition.