martes, 15 de mayo de 2012

Purposiveness without a purpose

Religion is the subject (however implicitly stated) of an interesting phrase in Darwin, which stresses the importance of group selection. A group with closely-knit ties, mutual altruism, and a spirit of individual sacrifice for the group would possess a competitive advantage. "Together we stand, divided we fall". Nationalism, too, or patriotism, is a kind of religion in this sense. But, apart from their role as social glue, there must be something to religions which is psychologically advantageous from an evolutionary viewpoint: perhaps that is the sense (the illusion) of an aim or purpose in the thinking individual's life and actions - above all once they have been subordinated to the ideals of the group. I mean a ready-made purpose you can stick to without having to look too much around for it, which may be disorienting and costly from the point of view of energetic efficiency. After all, many thinking individuals can't waste their time thinking about what they should be thinking about.

(A comment on Sacred Fictions, in The Storytelling Animal).

I suppose this reflection (together we stand, divided we fall) may apply at many levels. At the the level of world civilization, in which fanatical nationalisms and religions are a dangerous element of confrontation.  And at the level of the individual, who may also be a house divided against himself when the same person is intellectually, socially or emotionally committed to different or even contrary ideological systems.


L'homme ne poursuit que des chimères.
Man follows only phantoms.
The last words of Pierre-Simon de Laplace, according to Augustus De Morgan. 


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