In the June 2009 edition of Scientific American, well-known skeptic Michael Shermer discusses human tendencies to find things and agency where they don’t actually exist:
Patternicity [is] the human tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Consider the face on Mars, the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, satanic messages in rock music. Of course, some patterns are real. Finding predictive patterns in changing weather, fruiting trees, migrating prey animals and hungry predators was central to the survival of Paleolithic hominids.
Thomas Gilovich conducted a now classic study regarding our tendencies toward patternicity. The subject was the “hot hand” that many people assume that basketball players get. You know . . . give him the ball. He’s got the hot hand going . . .
But we are also a bit too good at inferring agency:
We infer agency behind the patterns we observe in a practice I call “agenticity”: the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents. We believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down (as opposed to bottom-up causal randomness). Together patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms. Agenticity carries us far beyond the spirit world. The Intelligent Designer is said to be an invisible agent who created life from the top down.
Why do we claim to see things that don’t exist? Shermer concludes that we are “natural born supernaturalists.”
About the Author (Author Profile)Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Belief engine running amok : Dangerous Intersection | August 13, 2011
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