Our Caveman Brains

Our Caveman Brains June 29, 2009

No one is immune—the question is whether we cultivate or counteract our natural cognitive fallacies.

A professor at the University of Guelph, Prof. Davis has spent the past 20 years paying attention to the use of such seemingly benign phrases: “It was a sign,” “Thank God” and even “Good luck.” To him, such phrases reflect a “caveman logic” that helped our ancestors survive the Pleistocene Age, but which is keeping our species from realizing its true potential.

“We don’t have to default to those kind of explanations. But we do. And that’s what caveman logic is really about,” Prof. Davis said during an interview at his home. “We continue to default to the same magic explanations that our caveman ancestors did. I can’t put them down for doing it — they didn’t have any information to work with. But I certainly do wonder about my fellow humans when they do the same thing.”

“No one is immune to this kind of thinking,” he says. “The message of the book is that we have to try to recognize these patterns and act to avoid them. That’s not always easy.”

“Our problem is not with the adequacy of the cognitive mechanisms we have inherited; it is with the inability to turn them off,” he writes. “They work all too well and too frequently.”

“I would be more optimistic about our species’ chances for survival if pseudoscience, organized religion, and a host of other delusions were voluntarily taken off the table,” says Prof. Davis, an atheist.

“We need to see our defective Stone Age minds for what they are if we ever hope to drag ourselves, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century …. Our bodies seem to be standing up rather well; it’s our minds that are slipping into obsolescence.”

“We name our daughters Faith and Hope. We never name them Doubt or Skeptic,” Prof. Davis says. “Those are not valued traits. I believe they should be.”

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