The Dark Side Of Theory Of Mind?

angry_god“Our reputation-conscious ancestors would have experienced a pervasive feeling of being watched and judged, he says, which they would readily have attributed to supernatural sources since the cognitive system underlying theory of mind also seeks to attribute intentionality and meaning, even where there is none.”

That is an excerpt from a summary of a theory about religion from Jesse Bering at the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University in Belfast. The quote is from a story by Helen Phillips in New Scientist “Is God good?” in the September 1 2007 issue, number 2619, pages 32-36. Link to story online, here.

I’m not so sure that I would want to have a mind that contains a “theory of mind” module that seeks to attribute intentionality and meaning even where there is none. I think there’s a word for such a state of mind; isn’t it “delusion”?

If the “cognitive system underlying theory of mind” is also the neurological basis of religious belief or religious sentiment, then I (an atheist) am very glad that I don’t (apparently) have one.

Lili Marlene’s The dark side of theory of mind? first appeared on November 17, 2007 at Incorrect Pleasures, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.  Both in this post and in at least one other of hers still slated to be reproduced, Lili Marlene and Andrew Lehman can be seen to be plowing similar ground; for instance on autism contrasted with a cognitive style that “attribute[s] intentionality and meaning, even where there is none,” see Andrew Lehman’s Superstition and Obsession.

on 04/20/10 in Art/Play/Myth, featured | 1 Comment | Read More

Comments (1)


  1. A very good overview of the propensity to imbue inanimate objects with mind can be found here, a rational argument for the mind states of stuffed animals.

    I have argued for some time, that the theries of thery of mind in autism are lacking, as they do not mine the rich vein of philosophy which underlies them all, only going back in the mind of Simon Baron Cohen to Premack and Woodruff, and the chimpanzees for instance. That is less than half a history and a very poor basis to speculate in my opinion.

    Indeed I think that much of the posturing and positioning that goes on in the field of mental health is actually dangerous because it is based upon forms of hand me down knowledge and group think and entirely lacking in a grounded perspective as to what it all means when subjected to a more rigorous analysis.

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