General, Research, Technology

Brain evolution explains faith in God and supernatural phenomena

No matter how surprising it seems to you and me,but believing in supernatural powers is actually natural. Almost 6 billion people around the world consider themselves to be in that other religion, and this is 84% ​​of the world population. It is expected that in the coming decades, these numbers will only increase. According to surveys, up to 90% of US citizens believe in some kind of higher spiritual power or God. In Russia, according to the Levada Center, more than 50% believe in God and various supernatural powers. It turns out that people tend to believe in the unbelievable. This, of course, is not new to anthropologists, because the origins and ubiquity of religious beliefs can be explained by evolutionary theory.

Belief in the supernatural developed with us. This is a natural evolutionary process.

How does evolution explain religion?

Today, there are two main hypotheses thatexplain the belief in the supernatural: firstly, our ancestors developed certain mental abilities useful for survival and reproduction, which predisposed them to religious beliefs. Then, out of the many emerging beliefs, individual religions spread and survived. The fact is that deities and rituals promoted cooperation between people. But the second hypothesis suggests considering the first evidence: the idea that religion is an accidental by-product of cognitive abilities arose for other reasons. Recall that cognitive abilities or skills call higher brain functions, which include the ability to speak, think, navigate in space, etc.

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For religion, as we know it, necessaryvarious spiritual components. Scientists identify three trends that are pronounced in humans, but minimally in other species: we look for patterns, determine intentions and learn to imitate. These are cognitive adaptations that helped our ancestors survive. So, we love to find a connection and patterns where they really are not: for example, to predict the future of fortune-telling on coffee grounds or ascribe intentions to non-existent forces, blaming evil spirits for all troubles. At the same time, we are ready to go to great lengths if only the misfortunes stop - that is how sacrifices and fasting appeared. Thus, our adaptive mental abilities could lead to religious beliefs.

We tend to “animate” inanimate objects, even geometric shapes

Psychological prerequisites for religion

According to the first hypothesis, searching for an example forImitation has obvious advantages for finding food, avoiding predators, weather forecasting, etc. Moreover, we constantly observe the world, trying to deduce causal relationships. The result is in person: almost every one of us happened to wear happy socks for an important meeting, put a nickle in shoes during exams, divine on tea leaves and even see Jesus face on a cheese sandwich. Also, do not forget about the “Theory of Reason” - the understanding that others have beliefs, desires and goals that affect their actions. Mind theory allows us to have complex social relationships and predict how others will behave. According to experts, our desire to attribute the mind to inanimate or imaginary objects is an extreme degree of the theory of reason. Classical psychological experiments have shown that people “animate” even geometric shapes. Moreover, people apply the theory of reason to the forces of nature, the spirits of their ancestors and invisible gods. The results of MRI scans showed that areas of the brain associated with the theory of the mind are activated when people hear about Divine emotions and his participation in worldly affairs.

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Rituals helped our ancestors pass knowledge to future generations

Finally, the natural tendency of excessiveimitation predisposes us to the adoption of religious practices. Instead of relying on experience and trial and error, people learn most of the skills from other people: "the monkey sees - the monkey does." So, many cultures have developed methods to make toxic plants edible. As a result, their ritual actions, including complex and labor-intensive movements, were transmitted to descendants. Thus, copying others, even if the reasons are not obvious, can help survival. This mentality applies to religious practices. In other words, if the prestigious members of your community sacrificed deer every solstice to the deer, you would probably do the same.

Thus, the developed features of the brain, suchboth the theory of reason and excessive imitation played an important role in the emergence of religions in human society. It turns out that no supernatural beings are needed to explain why people believe in them. It's all about natural evolutionary processes.