Cognition & Perception
Cognition is the mental act or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses. Cognitive processes use existing knowledge and generate new knowledge. Cognitive processes are analyzed from different perspectives within different contexts, in a number of fields, including: neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology, education, philosophy, anthropology, biology, and computer science.
Perception is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the presented information, or the environment.
Nine Laws of Cognition
- There are no benefits without costs.
- Action molds perception.
- Feeling comes first.
- The mind can override perception.
- Cognition mirrors perception.
- Spatial thinking is the foundation of abstract thought.
- The mind fills in missing information.
- When thought overflows the mind, the mind puts it into the world.
- We organize the stuff in the world the way we organize the stuff in the mind.
Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought
The Leap of Belief
In the modern West, belief has effectively become a synonym for opinion or judgment – a space of autonomy rather than a prescription for its exercise. And, because opinion or judgment is so essential to modern societies, to ask ‘What do you mean by believe?’ would abdicate the right of people to decide for themselves what belief is. Beliefs locate us in the world – they identify us as consumers, voters, and voluntary participants in civil society, identifying us in a vast, multidimensional matrix of free choice.
To demand criteria for belief, to challenge the notion that all kinds of judgment and opinion are basically commensurate, would threaten an important mechanism by which modern people engage in the world. Modern belief is the sense that belief is synonymous with private judgment, and therefore modern people believe or disbelieve according to their own conception of whether a given proposition is credible.
Belief in Practice
As a matter of practice, some version of rationalism is at the heart of how many people claim to make their judgments, about religion as well as other things – they consider the evidence for or against a claim. And yet, while ‘reason’ may be a conventional component of modern belief, people are sovereign over the criteria of judgment as well as judgment itself, and their reasons are answerable to no one.
People who believe whatever a charismatic leader tells them, for instance, or who refuse to listen to new evidence that might change their minds, are not acting in accordance with most understandings of rationalism – but they would still claim to be using their judgment as independent finders of fact.
The Birth of Modern Belief
Ethan H. Shagan
Most of the spirits and deities of foraging and hunter-gatherer societies did not have moral concerns. Such gods may have wanted to be appeased with sacrifices and rituals, but they were typically unconcerned with moral transgressions, which preoccupy the Big Gods of major world religions.
Many of the local gods and spirits were not even fully omniscient to be good monitors of moral behavior – they perceived things within village boundaries and not beyond, and they could be manipulated by other rival gods. Religion’s early roots did not have a wide moral scope. Nevertheless, despite their relative infrequency in the supernatural scope of hunter-gatherer societies, powerful, omniscient, interventionist, morally concerned gods – Big Gods – managed to proliferate over time through cultural diffusion, population expansions, and conquest.
Advent of Big Gods
Prosocial religions, together with their Big Gods who watch, intervene, and demand hard-to-fake loyalty displays, facilitated the rise of cooperation in large groups of anonymous strangers. In turn, these expanding groups took their prosocial religious beliefs and practices with them, further enhancing large-scale cooperation in a runaway process of cultural evolution.
Religious intuitions developed (for example: mind and body separation, and the continued existence of mind after the body perishes), which support widely held religious beliefs and related practices, such as gods, spirits, and souls of various types and characteristics. Once that happened, the stage was set for rapid cultural evolution – nongenetic, socially transmitted changes in beliefs and behaviors – that eventually led to large societies with Big Gods.
Eight Principles of Big Gods
- Watched people are nice people.
- Religion is more in the situation that in the person.
- Hell is stronger than heaven.
- Trust people who trust in God.
- Religious actions speak louder than words.
- Unworshipped Gods are impotent Gods.
- Big Gods for Big Groups.
- Religious groups cooperate in order to compete.
Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict