“The Hyperactive Agency Detector”?

“The Hyperactive Agency Detector”? March 2, 2019


The sun ringed with cloud, above clouds
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons


Do you care about the environment?  Do you care about human lives?  About the economy?  About the welfare of endangered species?


This essay is really, really, really important:


“Why Renewables Can’t Save the Planet”


It would be nice — but not merely nice; it’s actually vitally and urgently important — that there be an infusion of data, reason, and common sense into discussions of the future of our planet and the living creatures who live upon and depend upon it.




My interest in geology continues.  And it doesn’t hurt that I live in the American West.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park?  Really?  Seriously?  Well . . .


“A deeper understanding of the Grand Canyon: After 100 years as a national park and eons as a geological wonder, the American icon continues to reveal layers of its past and of the landscape ahead”




“Pluto’s and Charon’s Craters Reveal a Solar System Deficit: The New Horizons spacecraft recorded images of craters that imply an unexpected dearth of small objects in the Kuiper Belt.”




Here’s a very short little piece that . . .  Well, I won’t complete that thought.


“What Is Stupidity?”




I cite another passage from Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2018).  This insight isn’t original with him — I first encountered it in Stewart Elliott Guthrie, Faces in the Clouds: A New Theory of Religion (1993) — but it’s worth repeating:


Perception of things as tools . . . occurs before or in concert with perception of things as objects.  We see what things mean just as fast or faster than we see what they are.  Perception of things as entities with personality also occurs before perception of things as things.  This is particularly true of the action of others, living others, but we also see the non-living “objective world” as animated, with purpose and intent.  This is because of the operation of what psychologists have called “the hyperactive agency detector” within us.  We evolved, over millennia, within intensely social circumstances.  This means that the most significant elements of our environment of origin were personalities, not things, objects or situations.  (39)


Now, I realize that the notion of a “hyperactive agency detector” can be and has been used as a reductionist explanation of theistic faith.  But my own application of it is rather different.  For one thing, I think that it points to the genuinely fundamental character of mind or agency in the universe.  The position that I’m feeling my way toward on secular grounds is one that is entirely congruent with the doctrine of my faith — namely, that intelligence is as elemental and eternal as are matter and energy.  Perhaps, in a sense, even more so.  Further, before we ever arrived on this planet, we lived in a community of intelligent agents.


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