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Konrad Talmont-Kaminski
KLI Brown Bag
Co-evolutionary cognitive/cultural explanation of supernatural beliefs and practices
Konrad TALMOND-KAMINSKI (Marie Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland)
2010-12-14 13:15 - 2010-12-14 13:15
Organized by KLI

Topic description:
According to the dual inheritance model, religion should be understood as based upon cognitive byproducts that have been coopted through cultural evolution for prosocial functions. This invites comparison with other supernatural beliefs/practices that arise due to the same cognitive mechanisms but which have not been similarly coopted. This difference, Talmont-Kaminski argues, lies behind the magic/religion distinction. Identifying the distinction in terms of the intended effects of magical and religious practices, he shows that the key is to tie the non-cognitive functionality of religious beliefs to the lower epistemic availability of the purported effects of the related practices. While both magical and religious beliefs are largely protected from investigation – which allows cognitive and cultural factors to determine their content – the purported, mundane effects of magical practices are potentially investigable where the social and methodological contexts allow it. Religious practices do not face this problem, however, as their purported effects are supernatural. This means the functions of religious beliefs can play a more central role in stabilising them. The trade-off is that belief in supernatural entities appears to be primarily motivated by ‘evidence’ of their influence upon the mundane, which includes type I errors (such as are produced by the HADD) as well as credibility enhancing displays. This helps to explain why supernatural traditions are magico-religious complexes, with purely religious traditions being unattractive to most believers.


Biographical note:
Konrad Talmont-Kaminski was educated in Australia and Canada and is a past fellow of the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research. Currently, he is on sabbatical from his position at the Marie Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin, Poland, and is finishing his book, to be entitled `In a Mirror, Darkly: How the Supernatural Reflects Rationality.` The book brings together several lines of research that he began during his time at the KLI and is an attempt to provide a coherent theoretical basis for research within cognitive science of religion. Earlier this year was published `Beyond Description: Naturalism and Normativity`, a collection of articles edited by him and Marcin Miłkowski. His philosopher friends say he is too 'psychological', his psychologist friends say he's too 'philosophical'.