The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

May 23, 2009

Confusion at the highest level / flesh doings

Confusion at the highest level

Baldwin/Sondheim performance in convulsed SL landscape at 800m
{mutual 'go here' commands to/against each other's spheres} - prepoetry pngs

flesh doings

five analytical images devolved from webcam -

The prepoetry is expansion, spew, continuous negotiation, computer
The (analytical) flesh is contraction, exactitude, compartmentalization,
computer flow.

The flesh of prepoetry is prepoetry.
The analytical flesh of prepoetry is analytical flesh.
The prepoetry of analytical flesh is analytical.
The prepoetry of flesh is flesh.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 23 May 2009 00:46:19 -0400
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World

Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World

A Skeptic's take on souls, spirits, ghosts, gods,
demons, angels, aliens and other invisible powers that

By Michael Shermer
From the June 2009 Scientific American Magazine

Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens,
intelligent designers, government conspirators, and all
manner of invisible agents with power and intention are
believed to haunt our world and control our lives. Why?

The answer has two parts, starting with the concept of
"patternicity," which I defined in my December 2008
column as the human tendency to find meaningful
patterns in meaningless noise. Consider the face on
Mars, the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich,
satanic messages in rock music. Of course, some
patterns are real. Finding predictive patterns
in changing weather, fruiting trees, migrating prey
animals and hungry predators was central to the
survival of Paleolithic hominids.

The problem is that we did not evolve a baloney-
detection device in our brains to discriminate between
true and false patterns. So we make two types of
errors: a type I error, or false positive, is believing
a pattern is real when it is not; a type II error, or
false negative, is not believing a pattern is real when
it is. If you believe that the rustle in the grass is a
dangerous predator when it is just the wind (a type I
error), you are more likely to survive than if you
believe that the rustle in the grass is just the wind
when it is a dangerous predator (a type II error).
Because the cost of making a type I error is less than
the cost of making a type II error and because there is
no time for careful deliberation between patternicities
in the split-second world of predator-prey
interactions, natural selection would have favored
those animals most likely to assume that all patterns
are real.

But we do something other animals do not do. As large-
brained hominids with a developed cortex and a theory
of mind-the capacity to be aware of such mental states
as desires and intentions in both ourselves and others-
we infer agency behind the patterns we observe in a
practice I call "agenticity": the tendency to believe
that the world is controlled by invisible intentional
agents. We believe that these intentional agents
control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top
down (as opposed to bottom-up causal randomness).
Together patternicity and agenticity form the
cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism,
polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New
Age spiritualisms.

Agenticity carries us far beyond the spirit world. The
Intelligent Designer is said to be an invisible agent
who created life from the top down. Aliens are often
portrayed as powerful beings coming down from on high
to warn us of our impending self-destruction.
Conspiracy theories predictably include hidden agents
at work behind the scenes, puppet masters pulling
political and economic strings as we dance to the tune
of the Bilderbergers, the Rothschilds, the
Rockefellers or the Illuminati. Even the belief that
government can impose top-down measures to rescue the
economy is a form of agenticity, with President Barack
Obama being touted as "the one" with almost messianic
powers who will save us.

There is now substantial evidence from cognitive
neuroscience that humans readily find patterns and
impart agency to them, well documented in the new book
SuperSense (HarperOne, 2009) by University of Bristol
psychologist Bruce Hood. Examples: children believe
that the sun can think and follows them around; because
of such beliefs, they often add smiley faces on
sketched suns. Adults typically refuse to wear a mass
murderer's sweater, believing that "evil" is a
supernatural force that imparts its negative agency to
the wearer (and, alternatively, that donning Mr.
Rogers's cardigan will make you a better person). A
third of transplant patients believe that the donor's
personality is transplanted with the organ. Genital-
shaped foods (bananas, oysters) are often believed to
enhance sexual potency. Subjects watching geometric
shapes with eye spots interacting on a computer screen
conclude that they represent agents with moral

"Many highly educated and intelligent individuals
experience a powerful sense that there are patterns,
forces, energies and entities operating in the world,"
Hood explains. "More important, such experiences are
not substantiated by a body of reliable evidence, which
is why they are supernatural and unscientific. The
inclination or sense that they may be real is our

We are natural-born supernaturalists.


Portside aims to provide material of interest
to people on the left that will help them to
interpret the world and to change it.

Submit via email:
Submit via the Web:
Frequently asked questions:
Account assistance:
Search the archives:

Generated by Mnemosyne 0.12.