Monday, April 18, 2011

My Random Meme of the Week #3

Have it read to you on youTube
Do we anthropomorphize inherently?
Have you ever noticed that everything "metaphysical" or "supernatural" ultimately is about we humans.  Whether it be a an exaggeration of our abilities, a projection of ourselves as the cause for all things, or the insistence that everything is here to aid us. When we hear a strange noise, see something we don't understand, or feel something strange, it's just we humans  in another form or human like beings (ghosts, spirits, angles, daemon sprite).  When random events happen, good or bad, it must be because of some human like purpose or intent to reward or punish us (fates, destiny, Karma, luck) or because some human like being wanted it to happen (guardian angels, animal spirits, ancestors, demons, gods). When we look at our world an need to figure out how it works or how it got there, it can only be some super being with all the intelligence, purpose, emotions, and vanity of we humans that did it (God, universal consciousness, ).  When we look into the heavens and play connect the dots, those pattern we imagine must have meaning and be meant for us humans (astrology). When some one dies, we know humans are indestructible and they are going to a better (or worse) place (heaven, hell, afterlife, Hates, Valhalla, nirvana,) or they will start a new (reincarnation). And it goes on and on. But Why?

In a past post, I suggested that we do it because that is how we fill voids of our own ignorance. Namely when confronted with the unknown or unexplained, we anthropomorphize. My strongest evidence is that supernatural beliefs are truly universal across all ancient human societies and indeed the evidence of super natural practices (cave paintings, human burial, statues) is sometimes used as an indicator of "modern humans". The rejection of the supernatural in atheism, naturalism, and skepticism has only become a significant social movement in the past few centuries as science and an rational way of looking at the world has become the norm. Even though the roots of rejection of supernaturalism go back to mans earliest philosophical origins, it is really only recently that we see it creeping into the domain of the common man.  But this fact leads us to wonder on the broader question of why do we fill our voids in knowledge with ourselves? Why do we always tend to anthropomorphize what we don't know? And I don't really know.

Some time ago, I remember reading that some scientists hypothesize that our intelligence evolved so that we can better interact in a social environment and figure out who's doing what to whom. If this is so, then it occurs to me, that it could be possible that our brains evolved the ability to recognize human like activity , much like we evolved the specialized ability to recognize faces even when they are not there. Do we instinctively see the world through a narcissistic filter? Is it that human social interaction is the default model for us to explain things?  Does some part of us, inherently recognizes human traits like intelligence, purpose, intent, motive, emotion, consciousness, etc. in activities and environments regardless of whether it actually includes humans? If we do, which traits and how does it work? I think it would be very important to find out if we do inherently anthropomorphize. If it can determine if we do, could allow us to tease out some of how our mind works and shed a little light on the artifacts of our earliest ancestors.  More significantly the answers to these kinds of questions could help us find out why we believe what we do and maybe ultimately be able to over come much of the woo that infest human society. I tend to think that these questions are answerable and that there are sufficiently imaginative researchers out there to take on such a challenge. Mind you, If there similar research underway or if this is an old concept already studied and discarded,  I'd like to know.

1 comment:

  1. It might be true. There are apparently two fundamentally different processing paths for animate and inanimate objects. I suppose it's not impossible that our main way of classifying a new object in one of those categories could be based on prediction failure with respect to normal physical laws. If that's true, it could be that all kinds of ideas that don't have an empirical basis conforming with inanimate matter would be processed in a path capable of attributing desires and goals.

    (Comment transfered by Ray Higgins from comments in my youtube video of this post.)