Wednesday, December 14, 2005

InG we T - Attachment Theory

In God We Trust
Introduction 1.6- Attachment Theory

In Page 72 of the book attachment theory is presented as a possible explanation for religious tendencies. Basically people who tend to care about others, view God as caring for themselves. In psychology language, they tend to project their views onto God. People that have a strong need for personal relationships tend to view God on a very personal level. Unfortunately Jungian or Freudian styled analysis is used a bit too much in the discussion and proof texting of these ideas.

I have no doubt that people strongly anthropomorphize God. We tend to make God into whatever we want. These views don't change who he is, although they certainly change what we are willing to accept or see. In effect nebulous ideas of God morph into the ultimate brand. God becomes anything we want, turning as it were into an abstract form to which we can aspire. To me these tendencies smack of irreligion. They set people up in direct conflict with reality or future reality. Religion becomes an escape route to hold onto a hoped for reality. Of course this idea is rather ironic in light of my posts on creating heaven. Nonetheless the distinction lies in the level of congruence with one's environment. To my mind irreligion promotes discongruence, supported by faith tests. Useful religion promotes congruence where environmental factors must be fully accommodated.

So it was unfortunate that more time wasn't spent on explaining how personal bonding to God can be seen as an anthropomorphizing of abstract thought. At least he did give several counter examples to the Freudian mother replacement theory that unfortunately belittles a rather interesting idea.

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.

Monday, December 12, 2005

InG we T -Causal Problems

In Gods We Trust
Introduction 1-5 - Causal Problems

A fair amount of time is devoted to psychological ideas and tests of agency. While the complicated writing style gets a bit tedious, especially for those who may have seen much more clear and concise explanations of the same, eventually the discussion hits upon some interesting points.

Unobservable or longer-term productions, such as the complex spatiotemporal patterns of stars, geography, seasons, plants, animals, societies, and people themselves, have no intuitively natural causal interpretation. Human cognitive architecture does not appear to have been selected to spontaneously appreciate such long-term causal histories, in the sense that such an appreciation would represent a solution to a problem of some functional relevance to hominid existence. Agency detection is deployed as the default program for processing and interpreting such information, but in an "extended mode" much as layfolk, philosophers, psychologists, and even many biologists readily (over)extend the concept of a class or lawful "natural kind" to species and other groupings of similar but genetically distinct individuals.

As usual, there are some interesting applications in the deciphering of the quote and the section in which it lies. God gets created as people try to find meaning for events that out last mental analytical programming. Our tendency to explain actions in terms of a directing force goes awry as we apply it in abstract realms. In one sense, God becomes an entity that explains abstract goals.

While I think this type of thinking is indeed a natural inclination for people I am glad that the restoration is based on very pragmatic foundations. As I have mentioned before, this type of abstraction, while supposedly honoring God, may be akin to a type of paganism that removes any of the actual realities of divinity.

I think some of the recent comments about Joseph Smith's foibles fit in here. Just how human can we allow prophets, or even Jesus to really be? It seems like we prefer abstract perfection over reality.

InG we T - Sexual Selection

In Gods we Trust
Introduction 1.4 - Sexual Selection

The second chapter of the book comes across rather tedious, well at least if you are comfortable with evolution related concepts. One interesting point was a brief mention of the relation of religion to sexual selection. Unfortunately this passing reference on page 23 was more of an allusion that a substantive point. This is unfortunate as the idea seems intriguing, even if it hand waving and a priori justifications are all that its discussion can really lead to.

Lots of obscure traits arise due to sexual selection. Is religion one? Coming from a male perspective, I would certainly say women tend to find powerful, stable, secure individuals attractive. This is especially true if they have potential. Some people I know feel very reassured to know that someone always has a little bit more knowledge of the subject at hand. Not that most people ever want to hear about it :), only that it is comforting in case of. Does religion fill this role? As it is often unverifiable, does it's veracity even matter?

If religion hold a promise of potential, it is possible that visible potential is what mates may select for. From an evolutionary sense one could say that we have not yet evolved to distinguish between visible potentials that have substantive promise, and those that are more ethereal. Of course one could also say that such selection has already taken place, and the predominance of religious tendencies show that the potential religious beliefs proffer actually is substantive. I doubt many in Atran's field of study would appreciate this idea, but, like any other number of ideas, it does seem plausible. Unfortunately evolutionary psychology has a very hard time with definitive answers on evolution related issues.

To me the idea of religion as a sexual selector is enticing. Was it once associated with governmental potential? Was it associated with story telling ability? Was it merely associated with abstract thought? Many of these correlations seem to extend beyond sexual adaptation. Even if religion per se is not the adaptation, is it correlated with other advantageous adaptations. ex Can you really being an abstract thinker without religious metaphysics crossing your mind? In this sense, is religious thought an evolutionary spandrel, or it is actually a selecting factor?

No Logo

Branding, as we have seen, is a balloon economy: it inflates with astonishing rapidity but it is full of hot air. It shouldn't be surprising that this formula has bred armies of pin-wielding critics, eager to pop the corporate balloon and watch the shreds fall to the ground. The more ambitious a company has been in branding the cultural landscape, and the more careless it has been in abandoning works, the more likely it is to have generated a silent battalion of critics waiting to pounce. Moreover, the branding formula leaves corporations wide open to the most obvious tactic in the activist arsenal: bringing a brand's production secrets crashing into its marketing image. It's a tactic that has worked before.

Naomi Klein, "No Logo", pg 345

As I continue to read through Naomi Klein's book, it is amazing how many religious like tendencies she, and perhaps the neo-humanist movement she represents, espouse. For instance, the quote above, as well as most of the book, seem to show that one of the prime focusses of counter-culture styled groups is showing the establishment how wrong they are. Despite appearances, it really does seem that a prime interest is in proving others wrong. Obviously this in couched in more positive terms; minority rights, prevention of abuse, overthrow of hegemony, etc. However, there does seem to be a strong sense that the un-informed masses need to be shown how to distinguish between proper concepts of right and wrong.

In reality this seems like a religious like attempt to establish, or maybe just define good and evil. There is an attempt to create an enforceable morality, ostensibly through multiplicative effects of individual choice, where a gradations of right & wrong are rejected in favor of religious like professions of faith. Situational complexity is ignored for a summative judgment of overall effects. The movement Klein represents seems to want to enforce a relatively arbitrary standard of wrong. In many cases, explanations of complexity are only seen as rationalizations that skirt the righteousness of their attack. In this sense, an environment that forces the uniformed masses to choose sides is being created.

Whether we like to believe it, it seems hard to argue against the idea that morality is based on dogmatic preference. Certainly some things are more beneficial for a society than others, but I wonder if much of this isn't due to congruence of standards with societal needs rather than the existence of universal absolutes. This is not to say that absolute standards don't exist, only that in practice we normally deal with a level of morality that extends well beyond this base standard. And so, in practice there is a very real fight for litmus tests that define what is right and what is wrong. Choices contrary to dogmatic standards become seen as uniformed unless they either acknowledge or reject certain litmus tests. In this sense, it is the focus of opinions as right, wrong or uniformed that is so similar to religious like tendencies.

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?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

InG we T -Commitment Theories

In Gods we trust
Introduction 1.2 - Commitment Theories

Commitment theories are mindblind. For the most part, they ignore or misrepresent the cognitive structure of the mind and its causal role. They cannot in principle distinguish Marxism for monotheism, ideology from religious belief. They cannot explain why people can be more steadfast in their commitment to admittedly counterfactual and counterintuitive beliefs-that Mary is both a mother and a virgin, and God is sentient but bodiless- than to the most politically, economically, or scientifically persuasive account of the ways things are or should be. For commitment theorists, political and economic ideologies that obey transcendent behavioural laws do for people pretty much what religious belief in the supernatural is supposed to do.

I'll admit it, this last sentence stumped me for a while as I was reviewing things. I believe it is similar to what I was thinking about in my post on humanist religions. What makes something a religious is the way it is treated. This is an interesting, but I think, unworkable side step around the the main issue of scientific vs. religious knowing.

However it does lead to the interesting question that I think is raised in Judges with Gideon's scientific like testing of revelation. If revelation is treated in a scientific fashion, is the knowledge obtained from it science based or religious based? How universal do the dogmatic foundations of belief have to be before something moves from a religious realm to a scientific realm? It seems like community access and verifiability is the stumbliing point. But is this an appropriate limit if the validity of spiritual knowing is limited to oneself? In this sense, is it ever possible for religious based knowledge to be scientifically provable, at least on an individual basis?

Good questions aside, it is interesting to note how religious tendencies do seem to facilitate belief in counter factuals. Perhaps part of this is due to religion's entry point - the risk of abuse of this trait is offset by the necessity of having it to get the ball rolling with the type of faith based communication we obviously must have with the divine.

To get back to one of the central issue of the quote, are "transcedent behavioural laws" the hallmark of religious sytled belief (whether that be traditional religion, modern humanism, etc), or is the tendency to over idealize belief the most appropriate demarcker?

Keeping Personal Revelation Personal

On a similar note to InG we T - commitment theories, I think the issue of keeping personal revelations personal comes up. I believe there is a Joseph Smith quote somewhere (I could be wrong) that says the reason we don't get more revelations is that we don't keep them personal enough.

There are two takes on this idea. One is that sacred experiences, promptings and presumably, but not necessarily, the ideas associated with these should be kept to one's self. This builds upon the idea of not casting pearls before swine, although one certainly need not make such a negative association.

The other take is to say that, in most instances, we apply our individual revelations, ideas, and thoughts as if they had communal value and meaning. In this sense, we over apply the extent of meaning. Because ideas seem correct to us, R-movies, caffeine, etc we tend to assume they will eventually be as appropriate for everyone. The problem, therefore, is that we can't keep from applying things and ideas, that may be specific for us, onto others.

I think the whole idea of ambiguity comes up in this regard as well.


branding god

see the main issue about 2/3 the way down to where my comment on this lies.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Divine Dialogue

Over at Ned Flanders comment shake down, Clark had a phrase I have been trying to alliterate for some time "dialogue by force." Of course he used the American spelling but, then we all know, communication is context dependent.

The issue revolves around a minority's concept of dialogue. The other week I was listening to CBC or something and heard various native groups complaining that, even though they were given seats at a first native conference, they weren't allowed to have a true dialogue with the government. While I obviously could be wrong about the specifics, a tangential background story, led me to believe that the only way people would accept that a dialogue had happened would be if the government responded in action to the issues. I think this is quite a distinction from most conceptions of dialogue.

I think most people consider dialogue simply as a type of two way conversation. Each person's comments are modified to fit context, communicator and receivers. The exchange is, to the extent of the open mindedness and skills of each group, dynamic. But is action a required part of dialogue?

I think for some feminist origined groups the answer would be yes. Dialogue only happens as you move forward. Thus there is no level of response that is appropriate, only an ever increasing level of response. While I tend to see this as an infantile version of fascism, it certainly seems to be a sticking point between "establishment" and "reformers". More specifically it seems to be a slippery slope fight with idealists that think more is always better.

So how does this relate to Mormonism? I think it is parallel to some complaints ex-mo's have of the establishment and its lack of response to perceived issues. Can you say the establishment hears you if they are impersonal and the only way you can judge response is through action? Do individual really even want action? I think the answer is yes if it is in their direction, no if it is pejoratively labeled entrenchment. Personally I think much of the animosity in this regard centers around democracy.

Being in an ongoing federal election this idea certainly seems relevant. Multicultural theory seems to favor the idea that minority voices are important. The diversity they bring increases efficiency through novelty, and unique insight. As a result, it is the responsibility of such groups to make their voices heard. However, once the circular dialog effect discussed kicks in, this becomes a loaded issue. Why? Because in a democracy it is also the responsibility of the establishment to enforce majority issues, limiting non-representative derailment from special interest groups. Thus the circular nature of feministic dialog can become very restricting if it is carried out without trust, and complete comprehension of the role of each side.

In some ways this seems to be the bloggernacle cafuffle. Are opinions heard despite arbitrary management? The only way dialogue without action is possible is in an environment of trust and comprehension. Quite interesting when you apply this concept to our communication with God. Do some see his hand in everything because they feel that means they are having a dialogue with the divine? Do some need little response because they trust that concerns are heard despite a lack of action?

InG we T - Introduction

In Gods we trust
1.1 - Introduction

The introduction to In Gods we trust is jam packed. By itself it is quite an enticing thought starter. The subheading should give one a good taste of its content.
-why is religion an evolutionary dilemma
-why are religions and cultures not entities or things
-what is an evolutionary landscape
-why are Mickey Mouse and Marx different from God

One of the big questions I initially had revolved around the premise that "religions are not adaptations and have no evolutionary function as such." If this is the position taken I hope to see some discussion about the clustering of evolutionary traits. Not being up on the proper bio lingo, I had better explain what I mean.

When an adaptive trait is manifest, often other changes are clustered with it. For example developing webbed feet could mean one is more prone to certain skin conditions. All changes that occur with a mutation may not be adaptations. Some are merely carried along with the rearranging of genes or gene expression. Thus religious tendencies don't have to be adaptive, they only have to be associated with other adaptive traits. A few months ago I was pondering the question as to whether the strength of certain components of our religious tendencies would have been necessary to allow government formation and other important social functions.

I guess we'll see if this point gets followed. From the introduction, I suspect that this question may be too difficult to discern, and thus be useless for academic work (sociology excepted of course :).

Monday, December 05, 2005

Favorite Posts - November

Jim Faulconer has a great post suggesting that some forms of religion may encourage idolatry. In particular he mentions that valuing a construct, perhpas due to systematic theology, over the real, or revealed, may lead one to idolatry. This is because we are worhsipping what we create rather than the thing we are trying to describe. This seems like some of the problems some forms of protestantism has. The crreds become tantamount to scripture and systems of interpretations equivalent to revelation.

See Life Differently is a blog I had bookmarked some time ago, but haven't checked in on for quite some time. Looking for a bit of novelty in my reading lists, I stumbled on it again. Generous orthodoxy has quite a few interesting links. Trust the Spirit seems similar to a number of posts last month on the bloggernacle. Orthodoxy also seems similar to quite a few Mormon takes on translations and revelations. The Creedal topic could have been promising but seemed to skirt around the main issue. If one accepts creeds as a necessary part of religious heritage, what is to stop us today from making the equivalent of our own creeds. It seems that they really get validated by time, rather than by anything else. Sure the majority agree to them, but what the majority pushes needn't always be right. Accepting that God's will always ensures proper direction seems to be too deterministic for me, although I am aware it isn't so for many others (or at least not once significant time has lasped).

The Spinozist Mormon has a very good discussion on seer stones. The comments are the highlight. We seem to be afraid to acknowledge the possible use of seer stones. While individuals can assume what ever reason they want for this hesistency, it is probably correct that they cause people to think in terms of dictographic revelation. Since this doesn't happen much (if at all), at least not so that it gets reported as a "thus saith", we assume they don't exist, or don't work. However, one possible conclusion is that they just act as inspirational tools for a more conventional form of personal revelation.

Geoff at New Cool Thang had a good post and lots of good comments on the theological foundations of momon religion. I came in too late to post anything, but figure the merits of the creation account will percolate up again in a week or two, once people have had a time to digest some of the big issues. Personally the Pearl of Great Price is far and away my favorite scripture. I just can't get over how much is in there.

I lost track of the last half of November, so consider this an abbreviated list.

InG we T - Expectations

In Gods we trust
1.0 - Expectations

Who can resist a book whose subtitle is "The evolutionary landscape of religion". While some people like befuddling themselves with questions of when commandment A is more appropriate than commandment B, I find hard fundamental questions much more entertaining. It seems like a good way to keep oneself humble, and hence teachable. After all, from a naturalistic perspective, religious positions already seem so improbable I can't imagine why one would want to meld their hard won personal experiences within an inflexible paradigm. Extracting reliable knowledge from revelation is difficult enough, why make it more so by insisting that the baggage of construction is without err.

Thought provoking posts like The Main Issue at Issues in Mormon Doctrine intrigue me. They force me to step back and rexamine the possibilities that underlay my beliefs. Is my testimony of God's reality contingent upon his existence as an ex nihlo creator? Do my assurances about the reality of Adam force me to conclude that non-adamic homonids were really an impossibility? Is Adam's ascendance to God any more improbable if his mortal existence was through evolutionary lines rather than, ID direction or outright divine manufacture? With these ideas in mind I bought "In Gods we trust" with aspirations to see where my social and biological baggage about religion could lay. After all, there is not much point in making tradition a trump card if one is after anything non-circular.

In Gods We Trust

In Gods We Trust by Scott Atran (another review here) deals with the evolutionary landscape of religion. In it, he offers a well researched analysis of how supernatural religion is a natural consequence of our basic natures.

This book is written from a decidedly atheistic point of view. While it certainly isn't written in a pejorative way, it certainly can be a challenge to some types of testimonies. If you came into the book looking for ways to try and distinguish genuine religious experience from societal baggage, it certainly can lead to some interesting, and self defacing insights. As with any book, the more one looks for personal applications, the more one gets out of it.

Overall, I don't think this book will have a wide appeal for mormon audiences. To build something constructive from it requires a unique perspective on religion. The unnecessarily complex writing style in much of the book will further filter the audience. This is unfortunate because the experimental detail backing claims is quite nice to see. Unlike most anthropological or sociological works, assumptions are made minimally. Those with a science bend will feel comfortable with the style of presentation. Those interested in a light read will be disappointed.

During this next month I will be starting a series of posts on this book. While this seems to be a bloggernacle trend of late, I don't think my posts will summarize much of the book. Instead they will focus on interesting ideas that the book brings out in my world view. I would like to take about 1 week a section, meaning this should be a month long event. Along the way I will try and summarize my general reactions. So far it has been intriguing. It is just too bad I can only take it in short doses before getting bogged down with tangential ideas and issues.