Re: Evidence for "Big Bang Theory"

Rodney Wines (R_WINES@TRZCL1)
3 May 1995 14:29:51 GMT

In <> writes:

> But science *can* explore experimentally (epidemiologically?) the way in
> which humans create myths, can't it?

Yes, the experimental psych types have "been there, done that".

> It is a perfectly good hypothesis that God is an idea that is to do with
> the way the human brain works. Like seeing and categorising colours for
> instance; an internal function. There may be an equivalent in chimps, or
> mice. I'm not saying there is, but it would be a testable hypothesis, even
> though the tests would be very hard to structure.

Well, a good hypothesis is that god is a bi-product of our (and most other
animals') tendency to look for cause and effect. Find yourself a skinner
box and a stray pigeon, and you too can create your own religeon. Here's
how. This is basically a primer on Operant Conditioning.

You put a pigeon (monkey, person, whatever might be handy) in a skinner
box. The subject of your experiment will start to make random motions
inside the box (and/or repeat previously learned behaviors). If the box is
rigged so that pressing a button will reward the animal with food (drugs,
whatever), then sooner or later the animal will press the button, by
accident if nothing else, and get a reward. It'll then quickly figure out
that there's a correlation between pressing the button and getting the
reward, and it'll exhibit less of other types of behavior and more button
pressing. Of course, if punishment is administered for the button
pressing, the animal will do LESS button pressing.

Now, the interesting thing happens if there's a delay between the button
pressing and the reward (punishment). The animal will have trouble
figuring out exactly WHAT caused the reward (punishment). The animal will
often assume that other behaviors are required in addition to the button
pushing, so extraneous behavior will also be reinforced. This is why if
one is going to discipline an animal, the discipline (positive or negative)
should come as close to the act as possible.

Things get very interesting when this is taken to it's ultimate extreme;
reinforcing the animal COMPLETELY at random. You put the animal in the
skinner box, rig a computer to feed it totally randomly, then go home and
get a good night's sleep, and come back the next morning and enjoy the fun.
You'll find the animal doing all kinds of strange and wonderful rituals.
I've seen pigeons doing little dances over and over again. This is so much
like religious zealots and their rituals that it ain't funny.

This is "superstitious behavior", and it's present even in animals as
stupid as a pigeon. I personally believe that this is the origin of
religion in humans. Determining cause and effect has great survival
potential, but the process goes haywire when there really ISN'T a cause.

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