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?