Steve talks to Prof David Bjorklund about the interaction of development and evolutionary pressures. They discuss the development, emergence, and possible adaptive function of belief, theory of mind, and executive function. They also discuss the development of the field Evolutionary Developmental Psychology[embed_video youtube=”http://youtu.be/noSTM1GVioQ” vimeo=””][/embed_video]
What is the function of belief?
Published On: October 16, 2011
Most of this post also appears on the current thread on this blog relating to multi-level selection. I have added the first section and repeated the rest here because it is also relevant to the question ‘Is belief in the supernatural adaptive?’
Dr Michael Blume’s recent research suggests that religiosity is indeed currently adaptive. I believe that religiosity has usually been an adaptive human behaviour ever since one of our ancestors ‘suggested’ that the violence of the electric storm meant that the god-of-the-mountain was angry. Recent research by Justin Barrett and also by Deborah Keleman would support the notion that we are genetically wired for religious belief. In the article I refer to below, I explain one of the mechanisms that has resulted in our present priming for religious belief.
Given that a particular organism exhibits a trait that appears to be adaptive [or neutral], David Sloan Wilson suggests six evolutionary mechanisms that may have been at work over evolutionary time. Individual selection and cultural selection appear in his list but I want to suggest another mechanism – an interaction between these two factors – that does not appear in the list. I am referring to Genetic Priming that I introduced to the ‘Biology of Religion’ blog on 24 March 2011. See http://www.scilogs.eu/en/blog/biology-of-religion/2011-03-24/the-genetic-priming-of-religiosity-guest-post-by-john-jacob-lyons
I suggest that Genetic Priming starts to kick-in as soon as an organism hits upon a behaviour that turns out to be consistent and adaptive. This sets up an inter-generational positive feedback loop between the adaptive behaviour and the genome that eventually results in all organisms in the species being genetically primed for the adaptive behaviour. Just a simple trigger from the environment is then needed for the adaptive behaviour to be manifested. Examples range from nest-building in birds to our own predilection for religious behaviour.
Over several years, I have had informal (verbal/ email) endorsement for the principles of Genetic Priming Theory from several eminent scientists including Prof.Daniel Dennett (Philosopher/ Evolutionary Theorist) and Prof. Sir Patrick Bateson (Biologist). I realize that I need empirical testing before I can publish formally but devising/ expediting such tests has proven to be the block to date.