posted by on 2007.03.07, under Uncategorized

There is a fantastic article in the New York Times on the evolution of religion, detailing the work of Scott Atran and others who have been trying to figure out just why humans hold counter-intuitive ideas such as believing our consciousness continues after death – or that a mind or spirit disembodied from physical form exists and created everything. Its a long read, but a great argument and lead-in to the research. Here is a chunk from the middle:

“Whether or not it is adaptive, belief in the afterlife gains power in two ways: from the intensity with which people wish it to be true and from the confirmation it seems to get from the real world. This brings us back to folkpsychology. We try to make sense of other people partly by imagining what it is like to be them, an adaptive trait that allowed our ancestors to outwit potential enemies. But when we think about being dead, we run into a cognitive wall. How can we possibly think about not thinking? “Try to fill your consciousness with the representation of no-consciousness, and you will see the impossibility of it,” the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno wrote in “Tragic Sense of Life.” “The effort to comprehend it causes the most tormenting dizziness. We cannot conceive of ourselves as not existing.”

Much easier, then, to imagine that the thinking somehow continues.”

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