Tuesday, December 13, 2005

InG we T - Supernatural Uncertainty

In Gods we trust
Introduction - 1.5/6 - Supernatural uncertainty

It is this cognitive architecture that makes it natural to render a supernatural interpretation of events under conditions of uncertainty.

This seems similar to my recent post on leavening, and some of my other posts. Well maybe I should say it was more like what I was trying to get at, not necessarily what was conveyed.

People seem not to like ambiguity. The modern media seems to harp on this idea. We don't want to hear that there are lots of possibilities that could happen. We don't like to hear that some rather nasty outcomes, while unlikely are possible. Most people have a hard time accepting continuums in this regard. It is similar to a titration graph, where there is little tolerance for moderate values. Either something is completely likely, or completely unlikely. Compounding this tendency, people seem hesitancy to build on probabilities. If we don't deal very well with single probabilities, we deal even worse with compound probabilities. No wonder many people have a natural tendency to avoid uncertainty by creating overly perfect explanations. Idealism lets us make an uncomplicated world.

Personally I think dealing with a grey world is a key aspect in our progression. As the publicity surrounding Tookie seems to show, some people don't want to deal with complexities of situations. They would rather have things framed in black or white. They prefer inaction to dealing with complexities. They have a religious like fear of accepting that every action is tinged with multiple shades of grey. To avoid doing something wrong, often a cry for more freedom and leniency is heard. I am not so sure if all those cries are for freedom itself, or for a freedom from with having deal with a world where some innocents are inevitably punished in every action that tries to accomplish good. In effect an extreme level of acceptance may just be a way of not having to deal with the realities of complexity.


jeff g said...

I'm not sure that I read him the same as you do here, for he does say that he is not simply talking about "cognitive dissonance" or something like that. However, this could be due to the little attention which he dedicates to this point.

At one point he says something like when we hear something as realize its just the wind, that's the end of it. Then he goes on to maintain that other times we seem to believe that it isn't just the wind after all, but instead a supernatural agent. I wasn't very clear on this part.

I think what he was getting at is that we aren't simply "uncomfortable" with uncertainty, though this is certainly true. What our minds do, and this without any conscious thought at all, is detect telic control in our environment and, again without conscious thought, we come to a tentative conclusion that there is some agent which is responsible. In the absence any disconfirming certainty, this conclusion is prone to remain.

Boyer elaborates on the unconscious nature of such processes far more than does Atran and it really offers a quite different, and more plausible account in my opinion.

jeff g said...

BTW, have you thought of getting a "recent comments" sidebar?

chris g said...

The blogger hack sidebar, doesn't seem to work that well for me at my other blog, so I haven't bothered here. Plus I rarely get comments so I have pretty much not bothered with it. That probably explains how sloppy I am getting with posts. However, I will admit today it is getting pretty hard to keep track of things. At least I get email notificaitons though, so that makes it easier for me, though obviously not for anyone else :(

chris g said...

Atran does take the approach you mention, not the idea of ambiguity I expanded on.

I find the telic control issue a hard one to argue against. It certainly seems likely this is a default mental position. It also appears quite applicable to mormon concepts of testimony, especially with his explanation of orgasmic mental unison near the end of the 3rd section (6th chapter?). I think one can certainly over apply it though. Can we ever accept intelligent direction on clues alone? At some point in our lives we obviously made this jump. ie the impluses from our eyes correspond to things we can experience with other imputs.

People tend to avoid this slippery slope with the concept of familiarity. Thus I think the wind question gets answered because it can be expalined in terms of things we know. We usually avoid discussion of these "jumps" because they seem so fundamental and universal. Not every one experiences them though, take autistic kids for example.

So it does seem like a decision to include spiritual experiences as a valid sensory experience really is just personal judgement. The paradigms we have most likely determine the weightings used.

I think the Boyer section you mentions sound interesting. Telic control certainly seems like a hard question to answer. Is this because it is framed like an intelligent design styled question?

jeff g said...

I just finished the 6th chapter and thought I'd give an update. While I certainly agree that one can suggest that we are psychologically geared to "feel good and right" while experiencing such things, it doesn't seem like this is much anything new. At this point in the book it seems almost as if he is simply going down a list of psychological tendencies which match up with what we experience in religion and pretty much leaving it at that. There doesn't seem to be too much flow or direction in the overall argument if there is one at all.

That is one thing which I like about Boyer's book in that while one can think "what's the point?" for the most part of a chapter or two, he is always clear about where he is coming from and where he is going before he moves on to another area. That said, however, there were a lot of questions which Boyer didn't address which Atran did pick up in his treatment. He gives a stronger account of "slightly counter intuitive" elements as well as evolutionary pyschology in the beginning. Nevertheless, at this point I am left wondering what the discussion about EP was about in the first place.

I highly recommend reading the two books together for they seem to compliment one another fairly well.