Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Do people know what their religious concepts are?

This is an interesting question. In my experience the answer is definitely negative. I find that most people don't actually know what they believe (not just about religion, but about morality, philosophy, and all sorts of abstract things).
Do people know what their religious concepts are? This may seem an absurd question, but it is in fact an important question in the psychology of religion, whose true answer is probably in the negative. In most domains of mental activity, only a small part of what goes on in our brains is accessible to conscious inspection. For instance, we constantly produce grammatical sentences in our native tongue with impeccable pronunciation, often without any idea how this is done. Or we perceive the world around us as made up of three-dimensional objects, but we are certainly not aware of the ways in which our visual cortex transforms two retinal images into this rich impression of solid objects out there. The same goes for all our concepts and norms. We have some notion of what they are, but we certainly do not have full access to the way our minds create and sustain them. Most of the relevant mental machinery that sustains religious concepts is not consciously accessible.

Why Religion is natural
Even more interestingly, we are hard-wired not to admit we don't know. Patients with brain injuries have shown that when the brain doesn't know a fact about the self (for instance, they can't remember why they put on a sweater), it makes one up after the fact rather than admitting it doesn't know.

So it's not bad enough that people make decisions without understanding the assumptions and beliefs that go into those assumptions; they actively resist the knowledge that they don't know their underlying assumptions.

In other words, we evolved to be ignorant.

1 comment:

  1. So I have an excuse; now I feel better - LOL