Re: Religous Variation

Dwight W. Read (dread@ANTHRO.UCLA.EDU)
Wed, 31 Jul 1996 07:36:29 -0700

McCreery comments:
>A "theory of mind" would be interesting if it could explain these
>variations. It would also, then, be more powerful than the sociological
>explanations which remain confined to tendencies at the level of
>groups.Why? It would, presumably, account for variation in more detail. I
>have yet to see anyone here propose even the outlines of what such a theory
>would look like.

Accounting for variation is, indeed, problematic. I suggest, in rough
terms, that there are three main components that must be taken into account:
(1) the external, physical world. (2) the social world and (3) the human
brain/mind. None of these seems individually to be sufficient for the task,
though in specific cases one or the other may play a greater role. E.g.,
given the harshness and high risk of surviving in an Arctic environment, it
is not surprising the extent to which there is reliance on actions which are
presumed to increase the likelihood of success in hunting, such as doing the
proper rituals and observing the relevant taboos to ensure that animals
being hunted will "want" to be killed by the hunter. But even here there is
an implicit assumption about the brain/mind; e.g., that the brain/mind
"requires" this kind of behavior to "satisfy", in some sense, how the
brain/mind is processing information. And that cannot be separated from the
social context if only because the role that "culture" (which owes its
existence to the social context) plays in forming for the indiviual
brain/mind the meaning to be attached to indiviual experiences.

In less constrained circumstances, the range of "free play" available to the
social context (and to the range of solutions deemed acceptable by the
brain/mind--the role of the brain/mind in all of this becomes much clearer
if one considers alternative kinds of brain/minds such as Data in Startrek
who represents a fanciful creation that assumes a dichotomy between
"rational thinking" and "emotion" is truly possible) becomes much
larger,hence much messier.

D. Read