Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Woo

Today’s Jesus and Mo strip came with this caption:

An interesting study from Helsinki is the basis of this strip.

That study, from researchers in Helsinki shows that believers tend to accept other forms of woo, like the consciousness of inanimate objects like rocks. An excerpt:

Researchers said their findings suggest people’s lack of understanding about the physical world means they apply their own, human characteristics to the whole universe, “resulting in belief in demons, gods, and other supernatural phenomena”.

This confusion between mental and physical qualities “has [also] been recognised mainly among ancient people and small children”, they added.

The scientists compared religious believers to people with autism, saying both struggle to distinguish between the mental and the physical, although autistic people are at the opposite end of the spectrum because they often see the world as entirely physical and struggle to understand the mental state of others.

Strong stuff! And of course the Pair of Prophets doesn’t like it:

2016-10-26

68 Comments

  1. Posted October 26, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Get your telos out of my ethos.

  2. rom
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I must admit I struggle with this consciousness lark. What is consciousness? It certainly involves a whole bunch of chemistry … changes in electron densities around atoms etc. these things happen when rocks warm and cool?

    If we juxtapose the Chopraian view against Susan Blackmore’s?

    http://www.susanblackmore.co.uk/Books/Tenzen/question1.htm

    • somer
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      A very inert consciousness – I don’t think anyone will be in mourning for the smashing of their local rock pile !

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 26, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

        Oi! Gerrorf moi rocks!
        [Grumble, mumble] Bloody non-geologists, messing with my little wocky-rockies!

        • somer
          Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

          Apologies, apologies for my ignorance. I think high ranges are nice, will that compensate?

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 27, 2016 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

            Having just had my hearing aids re-tuned, I can actually hear the high ranges now. Sounds like a right cat fight.

    • Posted October 27, 2016 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

      I find it useful in these kinds of discussions – be it consciousness, free will, mind or whatever – to take a step back from the muddled way in which the terms are used by some and ask: why did our ancestors come up with those words in the first place?

      Generally it was not because they wanted to push some agenda but because they perceived a difference that needed a word to describe it.

      In the case of conscious, they found that there was a marked difference in behaviour between an unconscious (sleeping, knocked out, or dead) and a conscious person, and between a rock and a conscious person.

      There is no Chopra or Blackmore involved at that stage; and whether the difference is physical or spiritual is a good research question but will have no bearing on the utility of the term consciousness, no matter how it is answered, because the difference is still there and needs a word to describe it.

  3. Posted October 26, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    The first report I read linking autism and atheism was a self-report survey on Wrong Planet, an autism forum on which I occasionally post.

    The idea seems plausible to me. Autism is defined (e.g. By Simon Baron Cohen) as a deficiency in Theory of Mind, the interpretation or projection of intention onto others.

    If you extend that concept onto non-human phenomena, such as weather or earthquakes, it’s easy to think of their destructive power as a manifestation of anger. Likewise, if you continue to project Theory of Mind onto corpses it makes sense that their spirit lives on elsewhere, or that they can rise from the dead.

    An interesting thing about tests for autism is that one involves the subject being asked to interpret the behaviour of geometric shapes in a cartoon to see if they see motivation behind their actions. What’s odd is that those who fail to see motivation are assumed to lack theory of mind when, in fact, geometric shapes have no motivations, so logically autistics are correct and the test is really detecting an illusion non-autistics are subject to.

    I’d avoid using the term ‘spectrum’ when referring to belief vs autism though. The word ‘spectrum’ already has a meaning in this context and the opposite of autistic is neurotypical. It’s like when someone says a high functioning autistic or an Aspie as ‘borderline autistic’. I know what they are getting at but ‘borderline’ Alfreda has a meaning in psychology, and it refers to a personality disorder.

    • Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      ‘Alfreda’ = ‘already’.

      Autocorrect does have a mind of its own.

      • Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

        Just what is the psychological meaning of “borderline Alfreda”?
        😉

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 26, 2016 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

          Southern border of the Kingdom of Mercia in about 890 CE, wasn’t it? (IIRC, the daughter and partial heir of Alfred the Great was “Alfreda”, plus-or minus a few dipthongs.)

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 26, 2016 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

          Spinach.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      If you extend that concept onto non-human phenomena, such as weather or earthquakes, it’s easy to think of their destructive power as a manifestation of anger.

      A pet peeve of mine is the habit of talking about “treacherous” for weather, earthquakes, volcanoes etc. The Wallace argument applies, very thoroughly : “I could not be a traitor [to whoever], for I was never [whoever’s] subject.”
      It’s like, if I put a sock in a rock, then hit someone with it, the sock getting the blame, not me. s/sock|rock/rock|sock/

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Comparing religious people to people with autism, or with ancient people and small children would not get you a front row seat in the church.

    Was just reading the breaking news from the Vatican regarding cremation. It has apparently been allowed since way back in 1963 but further guidance was necessary. Resurrection must of course be maintained and it is not a good idea to keep the ashes at home. This would deprive the Christian community as a whole of remembering the dead. Funny, I thought one would remember based on what they knew of the person who died.

    It goes on to say the dead body is not the private property of the relatives. Scattering or divvying up cremation ashes is also not allowed. Scattering in the air or sea would give the appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism. So you see – being highly interested in what you are doing when naked is not the half of it.

    • rickflick
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      I strongly suspect that the church benefits financially from more burials in their cemeteries. But mainly, I suspect, their rational for these directives is simply to keep the faithful under better control. With the Church bleeding members over the past decades, this makes good business sense.

      • eric
        Posted October 26, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        Not “better” but maybe “constant.” I don’t think its much more complicated than authoritarians gotta authoritate. You want to establish that you’re in control, a good way of symbolically doing it is to control even meaningless minituae.

        Though I had to laugh at the pantheism reference. So if using your remains as fertilizer for many trees implies you believe in tree spirits, what does it say that most Catholic graves have hundreds if not thousands of grass plants growing on them?

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

          I like the part about saying you are not sharing the memory with everyone if you keep grandpa on the mantel at home. Sure, putting grandpa in the ground is our way of sharing.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      It wants to control our bodies, especially female ones, when we’re alive. And then tries to control what we do with our dead bodies. Go fuck yourself C. church.

      It amazes me that the church does not even remotely seem to realize how ridiculous it sounds making these proclamations.

      We “lapsed” catholics are like reformed smokers. We are the biggest pain in the ass to still practicing ones.

    • eric
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

      Another thought I had (on the RCC proclamation) is: the RCC seems awful concerned with appearances of heresy for an organization that claims their deity is omniscient. Does it really matter if scattering your ashes gives ‘the appearance of’ pantheism? Didn’t the big guy know what the deceased really believed?

      Their claim that keeping ashes in a cemetery is going to result in people keeping the deceased more in mind is also ludicrous. The average person may visit their dead parent’s gravesite maybe once a year, but they’re in their own house every day.

      I have to say, the whole thing reads very venally; a set of cemetery proprietors making up theological arguments for why you should use their services rather than an alternative.

      • darrelle
        Posted October 27, 2016 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        ” Does it really matter if scattering your ashes gives ‘the appearance of’ pantheism?”

        It is enough to make you wonder if the RCC clergy lacks faith that their god is real. That leads to the question, why the charade? Why work so hard to maintain your flock’s belief in the story? Following the money gives the game away. Unless you believe.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      I thought one would remember based on what they knew of the person who died.

      What, that they paid (or their estates paid) for a calibration plate for studying lichen growth rates to be engraved with a date and erected to sample the local meteorology.
      I’m trying to remember if any of my relatives got buried, and if so, where. I could probably work it out, but it’s hardly something that sits anywhere near the front end of attention. I don’t know detailed rates, but I’ve ferried about as many friends and family to a crematorium as to some sort of graveyard.

  5. dabertini
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Yes, sort of like believing in cleansing and detox!! What a load of crap!! No pun intended.

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    We were just recalling the other day about how when the kids were little they would believe anything someone told them, no matter how absurd. So for a time one sibling believed the other was really a robot. And on another occasion one of them was terrified that if I pushed a certain button in the car that it would activate their ejection seat (I am still sorry about that one). And of course there was Santa.

    Young children are naturally very delusional, and cannot be responsible for voting or holding public office. The highly religious are barely distinguishable from them.

    • Posted October 26, 2016 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Which cruel soul told the poor kid that the other kid was a robot? Reminds me “Breakfast for Champions”.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        I don’t recall specifics, but most likely I did it in playful, nonsensical fun and was surprised that I was believed.

        • eric
          Posted October 26, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

          My father told my son – at that time, two or three years old – that a dog would eat him (in jest). Years later, my son still doesn’t like dogs. Its sad but true what you say about kids’ credulity.

          Though in their defense, its probably evolutionarily or culturally sensible. The most rapid method for acquiring information and understanding at that age is arguably “trust adults.” And for millions of years it probably worked great, because our ape ancestors probably didn’t mess with their kids’ minds because they weren’t that sophisticated. We are now, and we do mess with them, but the learning mechanisms haven’t caught up to that fact. Telling your kid something incorrect and having them absorb it like it’s God’s Own Truth is sort of the intellectual equivalent of a duckling imprinting on a dog: superficially it may look idiotic, but what you’re seeing is merely the rare mistake from a highly successful strategy.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 26, 2016 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

            My father told my son – at that time, two or three years old – that a dog would eat him (in jest). Years later, my son still doesn’t like dogs.

            Sadly, this PETA site is still under construction.

    • Posted October 26, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      “Young children are naturally very delusional, and cannot be responsible for voting or holding public office.”

      But enough about Trump…

  7. Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Some of the questions I’ve seen on teleological reasoning are actually quite tricky.

    I suspect many here wouldn’t be able to answer ‘True or false: a kettle whistles to let you know it is boiling.’

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      The kettle question is just a word game so the trick lies in the phrasing and not the reality of the situation. How did your animal friends answer the question?

      • darrelle
        Posted October 27, 2016 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        “How did your animal friends answer the question?”

        One of them answered, “The kettle question is just a word game so the trick lies in the phrasing and not the reality of the situation.”

        You see, we are the animals that Speaker To Animals speaks to.

    • MKray
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      Easy… that’s a metaphorical `let you know’. The misunderstanding of metaphor is a major problem in science communication.

    • somer
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Most phrases are misleading without enough context

      Philosophical logic based on phrase analysis too often doesnt give context. Langusge taxes its meaning from larger context and sometimes even then it could mean several things.

      The answer is “No” because we know more info than the phrase which doesnt tell us that humans make kettles to boil water, and if the kettle whistles when boiling it is because of steam generated by boiling water – so we know it is ready.

      • somer
        Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        language takes its meaning not language taxes its meaning!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      The designer of a kettle whistle uses their understanding of the physical chemistry of water to convert thermal energy into air pressure waves whose interpretation is up to the observer.
      Your question is rife with hidden assumptions.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      Hah, nice one.

      Both true and false, depending how you interpret the statement.

      True that the kettle whistles because its designer intended it to do that as a signal.

      False that the kettle itself has any intent.

      I think anybody here would know this but it takes some careful picking-apart of the wording to make the distinction.

      cr

  8. Mike
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Not only Kids are gullible, the amount of crap on the internet that people believe in is mind blowing

    • darrelle
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      Which allows the Trumps of the world to flourish.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      I’m not so sure. A lot of times I think it’s the adults, not children, who have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Consider the uproar over the Harry Potter books, role-playing games and the like.

      • Posted October 26, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        Adults may distinguish between fantasy and reality, but they still need fantasy. I do at least.

        • rickflick
          Posted October 26, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

          Human societies depend on myth to sustain themselves. Communism has it’s proletarian promise, Capitalism has faith in transactions, democracy depends on a shared myth of “equality”, religion also cements governments.
          This is an important thesis of “Sapiens” by Yuval Harari. Imagination and the realm of the “unreal but helpful” separates Homo sapiens from the other animals.

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          I think you missed part of my point. It’s the adults who don’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. They take things too literally. They think that because children read about imaginary magic, the kids think magic is real, not just something that works in the world of the book (or game). Many adults think that all fiction mirrors reality, but children know otherwise.

          I got introduced to science fiction and fantasy at the tender age of nine. I threw myself into the genres; when I read The Hobbit, I was Bilbo*, but when I closed the book, I knew I was in the real world. My mother supported and encouraged my reading habits – in face, she adopted many of my own tastes. We’d have lively discussions about the characters in this or that story, sometimes even speculating about what they were doing after the story ended. My father, a literalist, never understood this. He couldn’t grasp how anyone could be concerned about the doings and welfare of a character that only existed on a page. I always felt a bit sorry for him because of his lack of imagination.

          But adults need that part of them that never grows up, and reading fantasy and science fiction as an adult still does that for me. I can re-read Lord of the Rings and still be Frodo for a while. But unlike conservatives, I know the boundaries of that otherworld snap shut when I close the book.

          • E.A. Blair
            Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

            *I tried rereading the book from other characters’ points of view, but that was difficult because the narrative was overwhelmingly Bilbocentric.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 26, 2016 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

            Well put. Adults can get totally absorbed in a story, and feel real emotions for the characters (I said ‘real’ emotions, what would a fake one feel like?) ‘Cult’ TV series are a case in point. (I’ve done it, but if I told you which series I’d have to kill you all 😉

            But – even amidst this, we – or most of us – know perfectly well the gap between fiction and reality, even as we regard with pity those few fans who go over the top and apparently can’t turn off.

            This is not new. Charles Dickens experienced the same thing with his serialised novels.

            cr

          • darrelle
            Posted October 27, 2016 at 8:12 am | Permalink

            In my opinion the ones who are damaged are the ones who can’t immerse themselves in a good story. I feel sorry for them.

            Of course, I also feel sorry for those few who can’t distinguish reality from their favorite story-verse. But I think there are far fewer people with that kind of problem than TV shows and uptight religionists would have us believe.

  9. J.Baldwin
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    It’s a statistical certainty that we all hold false/untrue beliefs of one kind or another about the world. Of course we don’t know which of our own beliefs are untrue–otherwise we wouldn’t hold them as true. Theory of Mind is a likely reason for attributing intentions to physical objects (real or imagined). We go with what we know.

    The more pressing questions concern what is the consequence of holding a particular belief. This question keeps me coming back to this blog.

    • Posted October 26, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      In many systems of epistemic logic (which I am otherwise skeptical of the merits of), the only one who can prove he has no false beliefs is one who in fact has some. A hypothetical agent which *actually* had no false beliefs could not know that, only believe it.

      How plausible are these formalizations? Dunno, have to think more.

  10. rickflick
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Why people are superstitious and believe in myths is a question that haunts me (here ‘haunts’ is a metaphor). I never have a really satisfying feeling that I understand the mindset, and it bugs me. Of all the reasons put forward, this is somewhat new to me and helps with that understanding. Science to the rescue.

  11. Sastra
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Many other researchers have come up with the same findings, though the connection between religion and what some call egocentrism has been hypothesized for a long time. The fact that young children tend to think this way supports the regular insistence on God/the supernatural being an intuitive truth — something we all know about, deep down. If ‘growing out of it’ is treated like abandoning instinctive knowledge, it’s easy to see how believers might honestly believe that nonbelievers secretly believe after all.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I was pretty sure I’d read this story before too. It’s probably one of those things that comes round with new wrinkles … as often as a “Respected Paris Laboratory” launches a new wrinkle-smoothing concoction.

  12. Mark R.
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I must admit being guilty of occasionally calling my computer “stupid”.

    • eric
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      In a strict sense, you aren’t wrong; a computer lacks intelligence.

      • Posted October 26, 2016 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        Ah, does it? Ok, all you Searlians and Dennettites, let’s have a debate. Ready, go!

  13. MP
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    So they are using a Mac?

    Windows – the OS of non-believers

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Because of the half eaten apple on the lid – it’s an emblem of the ’cause’ of Original Sin.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Huh? I would have thought non-believers were more likely to use Linux. Because, like, they refuse to trust Micro$$oft any more than Apphole.

      Can we haz a Holy War now?
      😉

      • Dominic
        Posted October 27, 2016 at 5:08 am | Permalink

        I have a Mac Mini – but I never could get to the core… but I have also Windows 7, 10, XP, & Linux… not an expert though at any of ’em!

        • MP
          Posted October 27, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          I also have a mac-Mini and a Linux at home and Windows at work and an Android phone. This is kind of more being OS – agnostic, and hence not an atheist.

          Perhaps a true sign of an atheist is the ability to operate a computer without requiring OS?

  14. grasshopper
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    “Stupid computer.”
    “Yes, it’s time we got a new one.”

    I am starting to look old – time to replace all my mirrors.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 26, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Mirror mirror on the wall. What the hell am I looking at?

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 26, 2016 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

        Mirror, Mirror on the wall. Can you see where my glasses are?

  15. Posted October 26, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I curse at stones, steps etc when I stub my toe. But I don’t have a consolatory conversation with them afterward.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 27, 2016 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      I do that regularly. I find a good round of swearing helps relieve the pain (a real effect, I think it’s been documented). Then of course Murphy’s Law takes effect and some stranger magically appears from nowhere to hear it all.

      Most notably on one occasion on a deserted track above Whatipu, I had met no-one on the track at all, my toe unerringly found the only root for hundreds of yards, and after a particularly earnest and sincere round of swearing I rounded the next corner and found, admiring the cliff view from the only viewpoint on the track, two teenage girls and their uncle. Fortunately they were highly amused by the incident.

      cr

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted October 27, 2016 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        I should add that, from their point of view, it must have been funny – they had stopped to admire the view, nobody within miles, when all of a sudden a burst of swearing destroyed the tranquillity.

        cr

  16. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 26, 2016 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    And I thought the faithful were more likely to persecute talkers-to-rocks. Words like ‘pagan’, ‘heathen’, ‘idolater’ etc spring to mind.

    Besides, I *like* rocks.

    cr

  17. Dominic
    Posted October 27, 2016 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Yes – I never did understand why people opt for Apple!😉


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