December 21, 2010

Causes and reasons

I've frequently heard people say "everything happens for a reason." Often when people say this, they seem to imply that there is a greater purpose behind apparently unrelated events.

It would be more accurate to say that everything happens due to causes, although we are not always able to ferret out what the causes are. Still, we seem hard-wired to attribute our experiences to conscious, purposeful agents or beings that are acting in some way.

(This might explain why I attribute deliberate evil intentions to a machine when it doesn't act the way I want it to. Or why some winters--like this one so far--seem to have nasty personalities.)

Evolutionary psychologists believe that this is an adaptation that has helped us survive. Among early humans and our non-human ancestors, thinking that a predator might be behind an unexpected sound would prompt defensive actions that could save a life. This tendency is referred to as agency detection.

Often we're wrong in attributing agency to things that just happen, but in evolutionary terms the consequences of a false positive are not as bad as that of a false negative. Being mistaken in trying to escape an imagined tiger isn't as costly as not trying to escape from a real one.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that agency detection is behind belief in supernatural beings when things go bump in the night or when we have good or bad experiences. Overly active agency detection can manifest itself in paranoia or seeing conspiracies behind every that that happens.

It seems that humans are pattern seeking animals. And if we look for a pattern, we'll probably find one, whether it makes sense or not. The universe probably isn't personally out to get us and probably won't go out of its way to do us special favors either, but sometimes we see things that way.

TAXING AND SPENDING. Here is a look at the biggest right wing untruths about this perennially favorite political topic.

NOT TERRIBLY STIMULATING. Here's a pessimistic assessment of President Obama's deal with congressional Republicans on tax cuts and unemployment.

ENDING HOMELESSNESS. Here's an interesting approach that seems to be working.

OH GOOD. Forty percent of Americans believe that humans were created 10,000 or so years ago. To tell the truth, I thought it would be more.

COLD CASE. Scientists have found the remains of a 50,000 year old Neanderthal family in Spain that appears to have been the victims of cannibalism.



Hollowdweller said...

The Bible Says

Ecclesiates Ch 9

11I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. 12Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them.

Surely it is one of the most realistic books in the bible.

hollowdweller said...

PS: I've always wondered if the mysterious giants, the Nephilim in the bible were the Neanderthal's mythologized.