Summary: In human societies, the organizing power of a belief is far more important than the validity of the belief itself. Indeed, it is not a requirement that the central beliefs even be sane, because their truth is relatively unimportant. What is vital is the reliability of belief in belief amidst a large population.
Like other social primates, humans evolved to exist in small tribes, in which two core survival mandates coexisted: the cohesiveness of the tribe against outgroups, predators, and other challenges; and relative status and loyalty of members within the tribe. The size of primate tribes is generally limited by the size of a primate brain, because “ knowing ” another tribe member and keeping track of “ what they ’ re up to ” takes a lot of brain power. If you don ’ t keep track of them by constantly policing their loyalty, they might oust you, diminish your status, cheat and take your share and have sex with your mate; which you, likewise, are programmed by your genes to do to them. Humans have the largest primate brains and thus had the largest tribes, but still this was limited to roughly ~150 close relationships before the ability to keep track of the others broke down 45 . (This was proved to be true for experimental utopian communities, like New Harmony, IN, in the early 1800s, which fell apart when they got too big 46 .) So, for the bulk of human history, the various human species lived in groups that size or smaller. However, our own species stumbled on a way of getting past that limit, resulting in our ability to form far larger and more powerful units, which out-competed and/or killed off all other human species and competing large predators. This was the “ supernormal stimuli ” of fantasy beliefs. For instance, if there is a narrative about a giant mind-reading porcupine which punishes cheating tribe-members, one doesn ’ t need to keep complex track of whether some tribe-members are cheating, just simply whether they believe that the mind-reading porcupine will “ get ” them if they cheat. To the extent one can assess those around them genuinely believe in the mind-
Powered by FlippingBook