The Human Truth Foundation


By Vexen Crabtree 2019

#animism #atheism #monotheism #new_age #pareidolia #polytheism #religion #shinto #souls

Links: Pages on animism, Other Religions
God(s)Atheist / Monotheist / Polytheist / Not defined
AfterlifeNot defined
HeritageNatural thought
Area of OriginPrehistoric/universal
Numbers in the UK (Census results)
2001 4012011 541

The belief that all objects contain spirits, and that spirits are found in a wide variety of guises and forms, including appearing in dreams and can be found communicating with us through objects and other indirect means, Animism is a form of traditional belief, and is not a religion in its own right. It was codified by Edward Tylor (1832-1917CE), an anthropologist. In its primitive form, it is based on the experience of dreams, visions, hallucinations and natural events with unknown causes. Deceased people were seen in dreams because their spirit was still alive. Some national religions, such as Shinto, still embody beliefs that are animist in nature and others, such as the New Age, are modern uptakes of the idea1. Psychologists consider most animist beliefs and experiences to be expressions of the subconscious, forms of pareidolia2, and resulting from other subtle internal and subjective psychological effects (such as HADD)3, rather than a reflection of external reality.

1. Hyperactive Agent Detection Device (the Psychology of Religion and Superstition)

#causes_of_religion #pareidolia #psychology #religion #thinking_errors

We are biologically programmed to detect signs of predators (and prey) wherever they may be. This often means being distracted on occasions where slight movements or patterns make us think something ('an agent') is there watching us - possibly even hunting us! "It is far more advantageous to over-detect agency than to under-detect it"4. Hence, the hyperactive agent detection device (HADD). As a highly social species, we are always looking in the shadows for signs of plots, for possible indirect effects of "behind the scenes" actors who are organizing against us - or who are potential allies. Certain circumstances (dim lighting!) heighten our instincts to watch out for secret danger. The evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins says that "we are biologically programmed to impute intentions to entities whose behaviour matters to us"5 and unfortunately, this now includes inanimate forces from "the weather, to waves and currents, to falling rocks"5. Psychologist Justin Barrett originally conceived of HADD and says it is "fundamental to understanding concepts of gods and spirits"4. We Humans excel at abstract thinking and telling imaginative stories to fledge out our feelings. Hence, there are local tribal spirits, sky gods, evil and wild spirits, ghosts in certain buildings, and when most of them are no longer found to exist there is always the eternal creator-God who never really does anything but secretly influences subtle events in the world, seemingly in a manner that makes it an expert at stimulating our HADD while not being detected by any other means. Even in the modern world the attribution of natural events to 'magical' and 'spiritual' causes is an easier way to understand the world than to study it critically.

2. Pareidolia - Seeing False Patterns in Random Data: Faces in Toast, Bible Codes and Conspiracy Theories

#apophenia #pareidolia #thinking_errors

The cognitive process of seeing patterns in ambiguous data is called apophenia. When it happens with images or sound, it is pareidolia. They're common 'errors in perception'6. The cause is partly biological. A part of our brain, the fusiform face area, actively looks for shapes, lines or features that might possibly be a human face. It does so devoid of context, and reports with urgency and confidence when it thinks it has results. That's why most pareidolia involves the perception of human forms in messy visual data. It "explains why some people see a face on Mars or the man in the moon [... or] the image of Mother Teresa in a cinnamon bun, or the Virgin Mary in the bark of a tree"7. Auditory pareidolia is responsible for when we mistake a whistling breeze for a whispering human voice. When people listen with expectation of hearing a voice they will hear spoken words in pure noise8.

We often misperceive random events in a way that supports our own already-existing beliefs or hunches9 and it goes against our feeling of common-sense to even consider our perception wrong. Psychologist Jonah Lehrer says "the world is more random than we can imagine. That's what our emotions can't understand"10. The tendency for people to see more order in nature than there is was noted as long ago as the thirteenth century by Roger Bacon - he called such errors due to human nature the 'idols of the tribe'11. To study pareidolia sociologists have presented true sets of random results and analysed subject's responses to them. Coin flips, dice throws and card deals have all revealed that we are naturally prone to spotting illusory trends12. Pareidolia results in superstitions, magical thinking, ghost and alien sightings, 'Bible codes', pseudo-science and beliefs in all kinds of religious, nonsensical and supernatural things12,13,14.15