Did Evolution of Human Imagination 50,000 Years Ago Trigger Belief in God? (A Weekend Feature)
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October 11, 2009

Did Evolution of Human Imagination 50,000 Years Ago Trigger Belief in God? (A Weekend Feature)


6a00d8341bf7f753ef01156fbe9adf970c-500wiFrench-British anthropologist, Maurice Bloch, of the London School of Economics believes that humans alone practice religion because they're the only creatures to have evolved imagination. The development of imagination occurred at the time of the Upper Palaeolithic 'revolution' 40-50,000 years ago. Bloch challenges the popular notion that religion evolved and spread because it promoted social bonding, as has been argued by some anthropologists (Image is prehistoric rock painting from south of Spain).

According to Bloch's theory, initially humans had to develop the essential brain architecture to imagine things and beings that don't exist physically, and the possibility that people somehow survive on after their death.

Once this was acquired, we had access to a form of social interaction unavailable to any other creatures on the planet. Exclusively, humans could use what Bloch calls the "transcendental social" to unite with groups, such as nations and clans, or even with imaginary groups such as the dead. He explained that the transcendental social also permits humans to follow the idealized codes of conduct linked with religion.

"What the transcendental social requires is the ability to live very largely in the imagination," New Scientist magazine quoted him, as saying.

"One can be a member of a transcendental group, or a nation, even though one never comes in contact with the other members of it. Moreover, the composition of such groups, whether they are clans or nations, may equally include the living and the dead," he added.

He argues that no animals, not even our nearest relatives the chimpanzees, can do this. Instead, he says, they're restricted to the routine and Machiavellian social interactions of everyday life.

The reason for this, he says, is that they can't imagine beyond this immediate social circle, or backwards and forwards in time, in the same way that humans can.

Bloch believes our ancestors evolved the essential neural architecture to imagine before or around a time called the Upper Palaeological Revolution, the final sub-division of the Stone Age.

"The transcendental network can, with no problem, include the dead, ancestors and gods, as well as living role holders and members of essentialised groups," he said.

"Ancestors and gods are compatible with living elders or members of nations because all are equally mysterious invisible, in other words transcendental," he added.But Bloch argues that religion is only one expression of this exceptional ability to form bonds with non-existent or distant people or value-systems.

"Religious-like phenomena in general are an inseparable part of a key adaptation unique to modern humans, and this is the capacity to imagine other worlds, an adaptation that I argue is the very foundation of the sociality of modern human society," he said.

"Once we realize this omnipresence of the imaginary in the everyday, nothing special is left to explain concerning religion," he added.

Posted by Casey Kazan.

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Source Links:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13782-religion-a-figment-of-human-imagination.html

Bloch has detailed his findings in the journal of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Comments

I don't know anything about his religion, but my cat certainly has an imagination. I can watch him in the garden battling invisible foes and sometimes he will pretend that dead prey are alive again.
I will admit that he'd be no good at the "transcendental social" thing - he hates other cats.

The Primitive/Intuitive Connection

1. Quote: "Bloch challenges the popular notion that religion evolved and spread because it promoted social bonding, as has been argued by some anthropologists",

Ad: Of course the religious/mythological feeling caused some social bonding in all local tribes, but the important bonding was/is that of the connection with the creative forces.

2. Quote: "According to Bloch's theory, initially humans had to develop the essential brain architecture to imagine things and beings that don't exist physically, and the possibility that people somehow survive on after their death".

Ad: Things that are obvious for the naked eye does not need any imaginative development - and things hidden does just need the ability of the genuine primitive intuition in order to be discovered.

That is: The Sun, the Moon, some few Planets, Stars and Star constellations, the looks of the Milky Way - and all living things on Earth are very easily understood. But when it comes to the creative and bonding forces behind all this, the primitive intuition is needed in order to understand all this - not the imaginative or speculative powers.

Then: Quote: "....... the transcendental social also permits humans to follow the idealized codes of conduct linked with religion".

3. Quote: "Once we realize this omnipresence of the imaginary (primitive intuition - my adding) in the everyday, nothing special is left to explain concerning religion," he added.

Ad: And once we realize that all religions and mythological telling origin from the same Earthly cosmological conditions, we understand that all religions and mythological telling origin from the very same wells of knowledge.

- I´ve been interested in Mythology for some 30 years now - after some spontaneous out-of-body experiences - and I want to invite you to my Mytho-Cosmologically site http://www.native-science.net with lots of global Rock Art, cultural and Astronomical images, all dealing with real Cosmological aspects of Mythology.

On the site there is a brief Power Point Presentation of the basically Mytho-Cosmological ideas as I understand the Ancestral knowledge.


All the Best from
Ivar Nielsen
Natural Philosopher

Being a Buddhist, (that means learn and study from mind and enviorement in a proactive way), I understand very well some themes of this post, but lack of imagination in animals it is not what you see, they play alone, I see my dog playing alone, and that require imagination for sure, they can't imagine a warp drive, but surely they have imagination. I agree with Ramdon Walker ^_^ and Ivar Nielsen, but is a good post, better than the last ones.

[for someones that talk about grammar errors, I'm spanish a speaker, please a little of mercy... ^_^]

For a site that lauds the glory of science, it is very ironic that at every opportunity you bash the king of sciences.

To see a science, astrophysics to zoology, in its purest light, is ultimately a theological endeavor. The role of theology is to critique the "pure" sciences when they make claims that the field cannot possibly substantiate. Science needs theology. Theology needs science. And ultimately the two will meet and be fully reconciled.

The 50,000 year time frame came from the analysis of the human genome which has been going on for about ten years or so. You can read about it in Nicholas Wade’s Before The Dawn.
Religion did not exist before we had the language that we have evolved into. That same language evolution brought us the ability to develop conceptual thinking and that, in turn led us to forming ideologies and their dialectic, rational thought.
Religion is related directly to our credulity or ability to believe anything, no matter how bereft it may be of logic. Most of our literature, such as the Bible is utopian, including most science fiction. We all hope that there is some great eye in the sky looking down on us and concerned with our well-being.
If you stop and think about it, this is the ultimate ego trip. But if it were not for ego trips, many of us would never get to travel at all.


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