This is where it begins. Religion and superstition as child abuse. Scamp isn’t really dead, he’s gone to doggie heaven.
What does that mean? It means the child is forced to start thinking in terms of dualism, as if there is something non-physical about living things, a spirit or soul or essence of some kind which is not part of their body, despite growing there, and which survives death. Dualism is the first step on the road to being enslaved by fundamentalist religion. And we inflict this lie on the smallest children because we are too cowardly to tell them the truth: when things are dead that’s it. The ultimate naked truth is that we live, then we die. And that is all there is to it.
Science has no compelling evidence for the existence of mind or spirit separate from the body. If this is so important why is it so hard to appreciate and prove? If you assume that there is a god who has designed the universe intelligently you have to conclude that he wants people to be unsure of the existence of mind and spirit. You have to conclude that if there is an intelligent designer who wants you to believe in him but has deliberately ensured that there is no credible evidence for the existence of mind and spirit he’s a bit of a malicious bastard.
Our brains easily accept the concept of spirit and even the smartest and most rational of us at times seem to grant inanimate objects wills and desires. I believe that is not because there really are spirits inside cars and computers and orange juice cartons that want to thwart us, it is simply that our brains are wired up to think in that way because it is often a useful short cut that allows us to find a solution quickly. Implying a mind in something can help us work out what “it wants to do”. A child’s toy breaks on Christmas Day, you open it up without much idea of what to expect but a hunch that knowing that it has been designed for a purpose and it “wants” to achieve it will help diagnose what the problem might be. There wouldn’t be a wire dangling there not attached to something, looking into the mind of the designer you know that if there is a wire it must be designed to contact with something, an electrical contact, where is it? Ah! There it is. Solder that wire back and it will work again. You don’t need to know what the wire joins up and why, just as you don’t need to know why a stranger might want to abduct you as a child in order for the belief that there is a purpose to be enough to be helpful in aiding or foiling that purpose. It was the theory of a mind working towards a goal that enabled you to fix the device you didn’t really understand. A theory of mind is incredibly useful but it sets up false propositions. Toys don’t actually want to be played with. They don’t really have characters. The theory of mind that we have found so useful starts to bite us, never harder than in the form of religion and other superstitions.
The huge boon that is a theory of mind and a mind tuned to use it comes with a price. But this is common in evolution, benefits have drawbacks: the feathers that allow flight require lots of preening, the long leg bones of a horse enable it to run fast but are also vulnerable to fractures, the huge size of our craniums allows us to be really smart but kills several of our mothers in childbirth. Religion is the downside of having a brain that is pre-shaped to develop a theory of mind. Without a theory of mind we would be dullards, unable to follow the plots of a soap opera, autistic, lacking imagination. We could learn by copying, to a degree, but not like we can do now. Imagine a chimp poking a stick in a termite’s hole. A chimp without a theory of mind would not copy that action unless he could see the first chimp eating lots of termites as a result. But with a theory of mind copying could be much more productive, why was the other chimp doing that? Why would I do something like that? Perhaps… And then start thinking why would the termites be on the stick? Looking into the mind of the termites helps to refine the technique, the termites would be defending their nest against attack, make the stick behave like an attacker and more termites will attack it. Hang on. Have termites got minds? It doesn’t matter, that kind of thinking helps the cunning animal with the theory of mind but at the same time opens up the mind to attack by dangerous ideas. Termites have minds with wants and desires and fears. Do they? It doesn’t really matter, if you act as if they do you are more likely to succeed. If termites have minds what about clouds and mountains? Religious and superstitious concepts are born because we got smart, religions were a side effect, the worm within the fruit.
Now we are smart enough to understand not only the minds of inanimate things but the minds of ideas and religions. We can understand how religions have succeeded in enslaving us, how ideas they promote help them to be promoted. Of course religious ideas do not have minds, but just like termites, imagining that they do helps us to defeat them.
The worm has turned. Help, my analogies are eating each other!