Friday, October 23, 2009

Patternicity, agenticity, religion & paranoia

Dr Delicious wrote an awesome little thang on patternicity, a concept that is so obvious and yet has changed the way I look at the world. In a nutshell, people tend to find meaningful patterns in the random-ness of life.

If you live in the savanas in the tall grass, its a good thing to be alert when the grass moves. Maybe its the wind, sure, or maybe its a predator. Better to be alert even if there is no threat than to miss the threat and be lunch.

But sometimes people take the pattern-searching too far. This month's Psychology Today suggests...

Dopamine rewards us for noting patterns and finding meaning in sometimes-insignificant events. It's long been known that schizophrenics overproduce dopamine. "The earliest stages of delusion are characterized by an overabundance of meaningful coincidences," explain Paul D. Morrison and R.M. Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London. "Jumping to conclusions" is a common reasoning style among the paranoid, find Daniel Freeman and his colleagues, also at the Institute of Psychiatry.
Shermer has a mate to patternicity he calls agenticity, the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents. He goes on to say "Together patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms." I'd like to add creationism to his mess.
>>>An easy way to think of the pair is conspiracy theories: we see things happening around us, we look for patterns in the events, and then we look for a who or a what behind it.
Maybe its a coping mechanism. When something bad happens, we'd like to think it didn't just happen, that there was some cause, and someone is responsible. That not only makes sense from chaos -- a pattern -- but it also removes the burden of personal accountability, it's their fault!
>>>>>It all comes down to control: are you in charge, or is some external force?
Agenticity is the force behind leaps of faith. Why do people think its a smart move to pay a 'guru playing God' for the opportunity to sweat? What makes a man decide to run his own daughter down in a parking lot because she's become 'too western?' Or when people see the face of God in a restroom, when children think a man in a book has all the answers, or that wealth & status can create a Lucifer incarnate? They have made the choice to no longer be in charge.

When people decide to put their fate, or the fate of their loved ones into the hands of some external force, the external force -- real or imagined -- takes control. The guru's advice is more perfect than the person's, the father thinks more of pleasing his god than caring for his child, & the basic everyday reasoning skill that would tell a peron, "its just a book, its just a pattern, he's just a man" no longer matter.

It's their fault!

And it turns out dopamine is behind it all, just like in schizophrenics. Religious people are nuts.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know that there was a name for it. I've always felt that the world was conspiring against me when I was having a bad day. I know for a fact that it isn't true, and that the feeling is illogical, but I feel it anyways. "Agenticity" it is!