Putting Social Brain Mechanisms To The Task Of Figuring Out Unknown Natural Phenomena

Last fall, Wired reported on a study published last fall (“Neuroanatomical Variability of Religiosity.” By Dimitrios Kapogiannis, Aron K. Barbey, Michael Su, Frank Krueger, Jordan Grafman. Public Library of Science ONE, Vol. 4 No. 9, September 28, 2009) which finds religious people have extra activity in the neurological brain regions indispensable for social intelligence:

Brain scans of people who believe in God have found further evidence that religion involves neurological regions vital for social intelligence.

In other words, whether or not God or Gods exist, religious belief may have been quite useful in shaping the human mind’s evolution.

“The main point is that all these brain regions are important for other forms of social cognition and behavior,” said Jordan Grafman, a National Institutes of Health cognitive scientist.

the capacity for religious thought may have bootstrapped a primitive human brain into its current, socially sophisticated form.

Grafman suspects that the origins of divine belief reside in mechanisms that evolved in order to help primates understand family members and other animals. “We tried to use the same social mechanisms to explain unusual phenomena in the natural world,” he said.

This is consistent with the research that those with Asperger’s, who have diminished capacities for social understanding, also do not think at all in intentional personal terms when thinking up explanations of natural phenomena (unlike non-Asperger’s atheists, for example, who have normal dispositions to think about nature as being guided by personal intentions but deliberately choose not to due to rational considerations).

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